The Voyage of the "Strathallan"

Alan wrote: I would be pleased to see the articles used on a permanent basis as a resource for Strathallan researchers. 25 May 2010
Life on an Immigrant Ship Bound for New Zealand

Introduction May 2010

The ship Strathallan made the first direct passage from The United Kingdom to Timaru in New Zealand arriving on 14th January 1859. The assisted immigrants who were passengers on the ship are considered to be the founding pioneers of the town and in 2008 to mark the anniversary of the ships arrival the South Canterbury Museum published the book Timaru at Last South Canterbury’s Strathallan Immigrants.

A series of articles written by Alan McKenzie were published in the Timaru Herald relating the day to day story of the voyage using information from two shipboard diaries and other diaries kept on similar ships. The articles published on the Past Times pages of the newspaper are reproduced here with some slight editing, additions and illustrations. The first column appeared on Tuesday 30th September 2008 and continued each week until Tuesday 13th January 2009 in all a total of 16 articles. 

Alan McKenzie

30/9 Timaru’s Strathallan Immigrants

   January 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival at Timaru of the immigrant ship Strathallan. The Strathallan was the first ship to bring immigrants directly from the United Kingdom to Timaru and arrived on the 14th of January 1859. During the next few days 110 new settlers landed on the beach behind the present Landing Services building near the old Atlas Flour Mill. One of their number recorded at the time that there were only four or five houses in sight. These immigrants were collectively the founders of the town of Timaru and the anniversary of their arrival will be marked in January next year.
    The assisted immigrants arriving here were among the many thousands who left their native land to make a new life in distant parts of the world. In the 1800’s the United Kingdom was one of the wealthiest countries in Europe but the wealth was unevenly distributed with many men working long hours and receiving wages as low as ten shillings a week. Living conditions both in rural and urban areas were unhealthy with humble cottages in the country often being damp, unsanitary and partly derelict and in the cities people worked in factories and lived in crowded and depressing slums in the poorer areas of the towns. Between 1846 and 1860 it is estimated that 3 500 000 emigrants left the United Kingdom. About 80% of these emigrants left for North America. Of the destinations, New Zealand was the least favoured due to the three month sea voyage of 12000 miles to a country half way around the world, it being the longest journey of any migratory group of people in recent times.
    In New Zealand the early colonists had already established themselves but needed workers and servants to work their farms and businesses. Here in South Canterbury the Rhodes brothers had arrived in the early 1850’s and taken up the Levels run, a vast tract of land between the Opihi and Pareora Rivers and stretching to the Hunter Hills. They were followed by others and the need for shepherds and servants increased as land was taken up.
    About 1857 Timaru’s first resident arrived in the person of Samuel Williams. He was returning to Timaru having been a member of the Weller brothers whaling gang in 1839 when they established a station here. With him was his wife Anne Manry and their daughter Rebecca. They took over a small cottage that George Rhodes had used for a short time after his marriage in 1854 and conducted an accommodation house for the occasional travellers who passed through the district. It was situated near the present Landing Service building and it was there in 1857 that their son William Williams was born - the first European child to be born in Timaru. Apparently his first cradle was a gin case. The next person to arrive was Captain Cain in February 1857 and later in the year Henry Le Cren. They had arrived to operate a landing service and store. It is recorded that Henry Cain slept under a tarpaulin with his supplies until a store was built. Captain Belfield Woollcombe arrived in July 1857 as the Government Agent and was responsible for a wide variety of official records and duties. He built his home at Ashbury. Strong Work Morrison from the Shetland Isles arrived and was employed by Captain Cain as a boatman in charge of the boats used to load and discharge cargoes. Timaru’s first doctor Edward Butler offered medical services from a small house near the present ANZ Bank having arrived in 1858. The few others living here may have included the ‘very lawless mob of runaway sailors’ that Henry Le Cren referred to later when he complained about the lack of suitable men to manage his contract to load and discharge cargoes from the beach. A census taken in 1858 noted there were 16 people living in and near Timaru.
    With the colonists continuing need for a serving class of people the Canterbury Provincial Government decided to provide financial assistance to suitable men, women and their families to travel to New Zealand. This would allow labourers, servants and other skilled workers to start a new and hopefully better life servicing the farming community and the newly established towns. When the immigrants did arrive at Lyttelton they were quickly absorbed into the local workforce and South Canterbury did not benefit from their arrival. In 1858 George Rhodes at the Levels recorded in a letter to his brother that even though he ‘was prepared to pay an annual wage of £30 it was useless to try and get single girls’ as servants. With continuing pressure from South Canterbury colonists, the decision was made to send an immigrant ship directly to Timaru.
    To encourage men to apply for assisted passage a pamphlet was prepared and distributed throughout the United Kingdom. It stated that the ship Oriental (later the Strathallan replaced the Oriental) had been chartered and assisted passage would be granted to sawyers, carpenters, shepherds and farm and general labourers prepared to take up work in the colony. Assisted passage meant that the Provincial Government would subsidize the cost of the passage for both adults and children. The ship would sail early in October 1858 from the Catherine Docks in London directly to Timaru then to Lyttelton. In very positive terms the pamphlet described Timuru [sic] as a recently established town where sections were selling well and the district as one of the most thriving in New Zealand. To workers poorly paid for their labours it appeared an attractive proposal and from England, Scotland and Ireland men and their families prepared to leave their homes on the greatest adventure of their lives. Unfortunately like many schemes that seem too good to be true they would find that the journey and their future in New Zealand while it might have some rewards would not be without its problems.


Reference: Alexander Turnbull Library

7/10 Preparing to Leave

   At this time 150 years ago over 235 people mostly unknown to each other and
scattered throughout the United Kingdom had one thing in common. They were prospective assisted emigrants preparing to leave their homes on the ship Strathallan to sail halfway round the world to New Zealand. Of their number about 115 had decided to land at the newly established township of Timaru where they were told there were good prospects of employment in a district that was one of the most thriving in the colony.
    Each emigrant was allocated space on the ship for baggage so chests were named with the family name painted on the outside. It was recommended that a good supply of clothing be taken. Women needed dresses, a pair of stays, petticoats, chemises, cotton and worsted stockings, nightdresses and caps, handkerchiefs, caps, bonnets, a cloak and shawl, boots and shoes, and towels. Men needed jackets, waistcoats and trousers, overcoat, felt hats, shirts, cotton half hose and worsted hose, handkerchiefs, towels, boots and shoes. A family needed a mattress and bolster, blankets and sheets, a coverlet, tablecloths, soap, metal wash-hand basin, knives and forks, a quart tin hookpot, coffeepot, comb, brush, and a supply of sewing materials, tape and buttons.
    In Raydon, Suffolk, two brothers Robert and William Scarf packed what they needed and prepared to leave their village, family and friends. Robert’s wife Jane would need to take additional clothing. Their first child a daughter would be born in Woollcombe’s barn after their arrival in Timaru. Robert’s brother William was married to Letitia. They had two children. Besides packing for the family Letitia included her hand stitched sampler and her husband’s clarinet. Also from the village of Raydon, Henry Butcher was preparing to leave. A 21 year old labourer, Henry would settle in Waimate. Near Raydon in the village of Samford, Jane Scarf’s brother William Double had much to do. He and his wife were bringing their children Caroline, Emily, Anne Marie, Amos, Walter Daniel and their five months old daughter Eliza Ann to New Zealand. They would all arrive here except for infant Eliza Ann. Prospective immigrant Richard Wade an agricultural labourer had married Emma Pywell in Islington, London earlier in 1858. Emma would be unaware that her husband would change his identity after a few years in the new colony. In Surrey young Francis Harrison was packing his carpentry tools ready for the voyage. Little did he know his stay in the colony would be short – he was drowned soon after his arrival in Timaru. In Eaton in Leicestershire, labourers, and brothers John and George Manchester began their journey. They would become founders of the Methodist Church in Waimate and prosperous storekeepers in the town. Nearby in Croxton Keyrial, two Ward families with similar religious views also farewelled family and friends. In Yorkshire, Enoch Barker and his wife Sarah prepared daughters Sarah Ann and Emily Jane for the journey. Sadly the children’s mother would not reach New Zealand. In Norwich, Charlotte Bambridge packed her husband’s clothes ready for the journey but she and their two children would remain in England until her husband decided whether they should all make their home in the colony. The Exleys in Dewsberry in Yorkshire had three sons but two had died in infancy. With their surviving son Albert they prepared for the journey. Also in Yorkshire, tailor William Padget and his wife Martha readied baby Martha to travel to London. On the ship’s passenger list little Martha would be recorded as ‘unnamed infant’. In the north of Scotland two shepherds and their families prepared to leave the Kildonan Valley in Sutherland. George Gordon and his wife Christina would bring their six children and Robert and Isabella McKay would be accompanied by their four children. From Ireland four families, the Gibson brothers and the Wilson and Cairns families prepared to cross the Irish Sea. One of the Irish families would have to rely on charitable aid a few weeks after arriving in Timaru. In Rochester near London, Thomas Paterson had married Margaret Hewitson – only a matter of days before they prepared to board the ship. In Durham, widowed Mary Chapman had married John Hammond in 1854. They would bring with them their son Robert and Mary’s youngest children by her first marriage, John and Isabella. By 1863 Mary would be a widow for a second time. John Thomas Morris was about to leave his work as a waterman in the London docks. He would leave the Strathallan at Lyttelton but then live in Timaru. His shipboard diary would tell in short phrases his observations of the journey to Timaru.
    Another intending passenger is of interest. The Reverend Charles Alabaster and his wife Annie would travel as paying passengers in the Chief Cabin to Lyttelton. He too would keep a diary but would view the daily events on the ship from a different point of view. There were sharply defined social levels both in England and on the ship and Alabaster and Morris would probably only meet when the Anglican priest was carrying out his Christian duties.
    At the docks in London the carpenters were working below decks on the Strathallan. They were temporarily converting cargo space to accommodate the emigrants on the voyage. Here in Timaru, George Rhodes would shortly write to the Canterbury Provincial Secretary regarding temporary accommodation for the immigrants when they arrived. ‘I have two wool stores here (at Timaru) one of them 57 by 30 the other 50 by 12, both of them thatched buildings with roofs in good order.’ He also mentioned that the authorities would need to ‘supply bread and flour as well as coals or timber and to construct a temporary cookhouse.’
    From all corners of the United Kingdom the emigrants would farewell friends and family, most probably, for ever. They were embarking on a journey from which for most of them there was little chance of return. Their next destination was the emigration barracks at the Catherine Docks in London.

14/10 Departure 14th October 1858

   On arrival in London the emigrants were accommodated at barracks until the ship was ready to sail. The crowded sleeping and living arrangements there prepared them for their long sea voyage. At the barracks mess groups were organised and food was provided to each group. Some years later the Reverend Jones recorded a very positive picture of his visit to a barracks. ‘They sat in messes of eight or ten. The captain of each group returned from the kitchen with a large brown oval dish divided down the middle. One half being filled with roast beef the other with potatoes. There was enough and to spare for all. “Ah,” remarked a country looking fellow to me, with his cheek bulged with a huge bite, and a twinkle in his eye, “I wish sir, they would let me stay here for a month.”’ The Rev Jones went on to inspect a ship and its accommodation and although he had reservations about the crowding of the sleeping arrangements he noted that ‘the single woman and men are of course kept scrupulously apart.’
    Arriving at the docks to board the ship would be a new experience for these working class people. The bustle and noise of the final preparations and the jostling of passengers and workmen would confuse and worry the bewildered travellers. On the 11th October with the passengers aboard, the ship left its berth ‘one hour before the tide’ to move to Gravesend.
The Reverend Charles Alabaster boarded the ship on the 12th of October in time to observe the Emigration Inspectors inspecting the assisted immigrants on the deck of the ship. Disease on board ship could be disastrous so passengers were inspected and could be refused passage. Alabaster thought ‘it was a process taking very little time and in the eyes of the initiated a farce so far as the medical end was concerned.’ He did think, ‘it amusing enough and gave one an opportunity of judging the characters of our fellow travellers. They seem in the main decent people, a few very respectable, and a few very dirty.’ John and Letitia Duff, immigrants on the Strathallan for Lyttelton had intended to take an earlier passage on the Clontarf but had been sent ashore when one of their children was observed to be suffering from measles. So the inspection did work in some cases despite Alabaster’s remarks.
    The Rev Alabaster went on to pass comment regarding the cabin passenger’s first meal on board. ‘We had quite a scramble for dinner and wished all day that we had brought a private supply of eatables.’ Apart from the cabin passengers, and down in steerage John Morris was more direct regarding the food supplied to assisted immigrants – ‘poor grub’. Cabin passengers had their meals prepared for them while steerage was organised into mess groups. Each mess group was provided with its allowances and prepared their food with the assistance of the ship’s cook.
While the ship was moored at Gravesend passengers had a last chance to go ashore. Morris recorded that he left the ship with E— possibly Harpin Exley who was destined for Timaru. He also noted that there had been ‘prayer meetings on board.’
    On the 14th of October 1858 the ship set sail and the long voyage began. Alabaster noted ‘our voyage has begun may this and all be for His glory.’ Morris doesn’t seem to have recorded the departure with anything other than the simplest of observations. ‘Cast anchor off Ramsgate. Weighed again at 5p.m. Saw the comet.’ He didn’t name the comet but it was Donati’s comet and was visible over England in October 1858. Giovanni Donati an Italian astronomer had been the first to observe it. Following a path in the skies above us it will return to our view in the year 3898.
    Although their journey had begun with light breezes Alabaster’s wife Annie, a young woman of gentle breeding ‘was taken poorly, sick all day, Emma (a ten year old girl travelling with them) a little out of sorts but better afterwards’. Morris doesn’t at this stage detail how the assisted passengers were fairing below decks but the ship would soon meet stormy seas and all of the passengers regardless of whether they were in a cabin or down in steerage would experience their first of many days of stormy weather.

Immigrant Ships

The Strathallan was one of the smallest immigrant ships chartered to bring immigrants to New Zealand. At 548 tons and 162 feet long it would have just fitted in the Maori Park swimming pool. Built in 1857 she had already made one voyage to New Zealand bringing 289 passengers to land at Port Chalmers in January 1858. The trip was not without incident as Captain Todd was drunk for part of the time. After the death of a woman passenger he ‘was so much concerned that he was drunk for about a week afterwards.’ Fortunately there were few deaths on the trip.
    Accommodation for steerage passengers was temporally erected then removed to allow cargo to be carried on the return journey. There were regulations regarding the number of passengers that could be carried but generally the idea was to carry as many as possible at the least cost. It ‘ was primitive – two rows of bunks one above the other ran all round the ship on the main deck: young unmarried (men) in the fore-hatch, the married and children under 12 years in the main hatch and unmarried women in the after hatch’ . A long table and forms in the centre of the hold provided seating. The cubicle or bunk space was usually six foot by two foot for single persons and married couples had the luxury of another one and half feet. Between the cubicles there were hooks for holding bags that contained what the passenger needed on the voyage- clothing, eating utensils, food and other bits and pieces. Their chests and boxes containing what they were taking to New Zealand were stowed beneath them in the hold. The open hatchway provided light and ventilation. The London Times gave a somewhat negative view of a below the decks scene. ‘Hundreds of men, women and children, dressing and undressing, washing, quarrelling, fighting, cooking and drinking.’ For prospective immigrants this gloomy space was usually their home for about three months.

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