The Voyage of the "Strathallan"

In the evening the ‘single men’s band’ played on the deck.
Life on an Immigrant Ship Bound for New Zealand

page 4

2/12 Letters for Home

   26th November ‘Blowing stiff all evening and night.’ Strathallan diarist John Morris made his diary entry for Friday the 26th and also described the furling of the sails ‘clewed up the royals etc’. Then the fourth recorded incident for the month is noted. ‘First mate knocked a cabin passenger down on the poop.’ Although there is no further comment knocking down a cabin passenger would be a serious offence.
    27th November ‘On Saturday’ the Reverend Alabaster recorded that, ‘our course mended a little and all yesterday we progressed pleasantly though not as fast as on previous days’. The breeze must have been quite strong as Morris wrote ‘Gus B—washed shirts etc., and the wind blew them all to pieces’. Gus was Augustus Bambridge a 30 year old married man and although he was an ironmongers porter he recorded his occupation as farm labourer when he applied for assisted passage. He was married to dressmaker Charlotte Reeve but had left her and their children in Shoreditch. Augustus was going to disembark at Lyttelton but then would move to Timaru where Charlotte and the children joined him in 1862.
    28th November Both diarists recorded fine weather and the Reverend went on to describe his Sunday. ‘In the morning I preached on the season and its duties. The presence of so many dissenters made me especially anxious to point out the beauty and advantage of the catholic Christian seasons’ Advent the first season of the Christian year begins four Sundays before Christmas Eve.
He then goes on to record that for the evening sermon he preached on the subject of ‘death the first of the four last things’ – (death, judgement, hell and heaven). Although he considered that he had found himself ‘of late increasingly weak and diffusive in my preaching’ when he preached that evening he found that ‘God gave me great freedom and the deep silence during and after the discourse gave me hopes that it struck home with some at least’.
He distributed religious tracts which ‘were thankfully received’ but before the end of the evening he recorded ‘we had passengers promenading the deck in anything but the Sabbath spirit.’ Because of this ‘misconduct of certain passengers’ the captain took ‘measures’ in regard to the single women, but he does not explain any further. On some of the ships Sundays were very strictly observed.
    29th and 30th November ‘All however has passed off’ wrote the Reverend the next day in reference to Sundays misconduct. John Morris doesn’t mention the Sunday services or the behaviour of the passengers. He notes that there were, ‘two ships in sight, the first since the 21st’. They were becalmed all day. ‘Whales blowing about the ship.’ And with the fine weather a ‘five mile walking match was held on the poop’.
The next day the ship Julia came alongside. She was bound for Liverpool but needed tar and twine. This gave the opportunity for letters to be sent back to England. The Reverend used his ‘manifold writer’ (a carbon copying device) to communicate with friends in Oxford, Cornwall and London ‘at one and the same time’.
At dinner that evening the Captain told the Reverend that he intended because of the ‘fresh arrogance of Mr Roxworthy’ (a cabin passenger who must have annoyed the Captain) not to take the northern course across the southern ocean but the southerly circle. Unfortunately this course meant that they would face colder weather and stormier seas. ‘I privately remonstrated with him on the responsibility he incurred by so doing,’ wrote the Reverend, ‘and warned him that in the case of harm to health I should try if the law did not provide a remedy’. Under these threats of action, whatever they might have been the captain relented. ‘Though hasty he has both good sense and good feeling,’ added the Reverend.
John Morris in steerage was unaware of the drama in the cuddy, he was busy observing from the deck. ‘Saw a large sun fish’ and he also wrote that it had been a very hot day, and they had been ‘becalmed with the sea as smooth as a sheet of glass’.
    1st December The weather was ‘rather cooler’ with the ship moving at about four or five knots. A shoal of porpoises was seen and the 1st mate tried to harpoon one. ‘In the latitude of the Cape (South Africa) at last’ recorded John Morris.
    2nd December ‘Ship going 9 to 11 knots’ noted Morris and he also recorded that at, ‘12 o’clock: 36deg. lat. South 27 deg, long West.’ He noticed ‘several large albatrosses in sight’. Now in the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope the Strathallan
was still in the South Atlantic and would sail south east taking advantage of the prevailing westerly winds.

Where are We?

   Navigators used latitude (lines around the earth and parallel with the equator) and longitude (lines running north and south) to chart their position. At midday when the sun was at its highest point a sextant was used to measure the angle of the sun and by consulting tables latitude north or south of the equator could be established. An accurate chronometer with time set at Greenwich Mean Time was read at midday when the sun had reached its highest point. For every hour the clock recorded on either side of mid-day they knew they had progressed 15 degrees of latitude west or east of Greenwich. The intersection of latitude and longitude established the ships position.
The speed of the ship was measured by ‘heaving the log.’ The log was a piece of wood dropped over the stern and let out behind the ship using a fine line with measured knots tied in it. William Smaill recalled how a ‘sandglass’ was used and when the sand had passed from the top chamber the log-line was stopped and reeled in and the knots on the line counted to give the estimated speed of the ship.


Chronometer, sandglass and log, and sextant. D Charllwood The Long Farewell

9/12 Stormy Weather

   3rd December Another ship was always a welcome sight and John Morris entered in his voyage diary that while they were becalmed the King Phillip was nearby. A troopship it was destined for Bombay in India with between five and six hundred troops who cheered the Strathallan and the bugler played Home Sweet Home and Cheer Boys Cheer.
    In his diary the Rev Charles Alabaster recorded a conversation he had with cabin passenger Twemlow regarding the colony. Twemlow had a cattle run in Otago next to ‘my old subrector Parson Andrew’. Parson J C Andrew was for a time the runholder at Otematata Station. A large rock beside Lake Aviemore is still known as Parson’s Rock, supposedly where he preached a Christmas day sermon to the other runholders.
4th December ‘Stiff breeze. Plenty of sail on,’ with ‘the ship going before the wind from 10 up to 13 knots. The water rising under the bows like a great plume of white feathers,’ wrote Morris. The ship must have been carrying too much sail as the ‘main-top-gallant yard arm (was) carried away’.
    5th December Alabaster recorded, ‘on Saturday night (the day before) the wind came on to blow and by morning the ship was ploughing her way under three sails through a sea which might well be called mountains high.’ ‘We are most of us anxious,’ continued the Reverend, ‘and not without reason as the Captain expressed his conviction that it was the most trying weather the ship was ever in’.
Being Sunday he held two services below, ‘and did what I could to encourage the emigrants who to do them justice bore up very well though in a miserable plight. The water every now and then dashed down the hatchways and the deck leaked in every direction so that there was not a dry place to be seen and even the beds were wet.’
Morris also recorded Saturday nights storm noting that at one time, ‘we shipped a sea up the whole of the starboard side, the ship lying right over on the water, carrying away everything loose on deck and flooding the ‘tween decks a foot deep in water’. Later the next day the gale eased after the ship had been carried 270 miles at speeds up to 13 knots.
    6th December The next day there were still heavy seas but less wind and Morris went below to ‘get things right in the hold’. He noted ‘all in a mess among the stores’.
The entertainment for the day was ‘shooting albatrosses on the poop in the afternoon’ while Hepwoth (a cabin passenger) ‘caught a Mother Carey by entangling it in a long string trailed from the stern and jerked over any passing bird’. The Rev Alabaster recorded, ‘we are surrounded with Albatross, Cape Pigeons, Cape Hens, Stormy Petrels, Sea Hawks and Whale Birds’. The ship was sailing at 12 knots all evening. ‘Splendid sailing,’ recorded Morris.
    7th December Tuesday brought a ‘fine morning’. Later in the day there was a, ‘concert at night and grand chorus in bed’.
    8th December ‘Wet morning,’ noted Morris. During the night the ship had reached 13 knots and was said to have run 324 miles in 24 hours but John Morris wrote, ‘doubtful’. In the evening a new band was started and the ‘ship was rolling very much’. He also records they are ‘about the longitude of the Cape (South Africa) and 45 degrees south,’ so the ship had sailed further south since the 2nd of December.
    9th December The day brought, ‘light winds’ with, ‘the ship rolling dreadfully’. In the evening the ‘single men’s band’ played on the deck. From his diary comments John Morris was probably a member of the band.
    A week without fisticuffs was a rarity and there were two incidents on the 9th. ‘Sailor Jack knocked the boatswain down,’ and there was a ‘fight between Clark and Jim the sailor’. Assisted emigrant John Clark was a 23 year old agricultural labourer and shepherd from Aberdeen who was going to disembark at Timaru.
The Strathallan is about to begin its easterly journey across the Great Southern Ocean into the Roaring Forties. There would be strong winds and rough seas.

Storms at Sea

   Storms at sea were probably the most frightening part of the voyage for the assisted emigrants. If the hatchway was open, water sweeping the decks would pour into steerage and if the hatchway was covered, the emigrants were in darkness, with the ship rolling and plunging and the sound of the gale in the rigging and the sails.
Frederick William Sidwell a passenger on the Jura which reached Dunedin in 1858 described (using his own spelling) a storm. ‘Had a ver ruf day the sea running mountains high, the ship realing to and frow like a drunkin man, chists upsetting. Watter cans pots & pans tumbeling in all directions.’ As well some of the passengers were, ‘seek’.
    On another ship Fanny Davis travelling in the single womens area of steerage left us with her descriptions of stormy weather. ‘All at once there arose a cry that we were sinking and of course that added to the general confusion and many were on their knees praying who had perhaps never thought of the name of God before.’
After the worst storm on the journey she wrote, ‘the wind blew in a perfect hurricane and every now and then the ship seemed perfectly under the water and it poured down the hatchway in a perfect deluge. It is at such times as that we feel the comfort of having a top berth as the people in the bottom ones got washed out of their beds. The screams of the people as each wave comes down the hatchway was enough to make the stoutest heart tremble. Many were fainting away and the Matron was running about crying and instead of comforting people, making them more frightened. No one can form any idea of the scene that have never been in a like predicament.


Stormy Seas London Illustrated News

16/12 Two Deaths

   10th December The rough weather continued as the Strathallan sailed eastwards across the Southern Ocean. ‘The ship still rolling dreadfully,’ recorded steerage passenger John Morris. He also mentioned that the ship was ‘supposed to be 6500 miles from port’.
    11th December ‘Mrs Bishops child (Arthur) died last night’ recorded Morris. The Rev Alabaster wrote that he, ‘read the service over Mrs Bishops little boy, the water washing in about my legs every few minutes’. Morris notes that, ‘child buried between 12 and 1. Heavy seas during the service’. Steerage passenger William Bishop was a gardener from London. Travelling with him was his wife Meddey and their sons Walter and Arthur.
During the day arguments broke out between the captain and the boatswain and then between the boatswain and Little Jimmy the sailor. John Morris’s diary also records there was ‘dreadful weather all day till midnight then it gradually broke off. The second stormy day. Thank God for its abatement.’
    12th December Being Sunday services were held ‘in the cuddy in the morning and under the main hatch in the evening.’ Alabaster also noted that among the cabin passengers there was ‘a gloom over the spirits of all’ because there was dissension between the captain and the doctor, and this spread to differences between the captain and some of the cabin passengers. This problem may have been related to ‘the convivial meeting held (by a group of cabin passengers) that night as on previous Wednesdays and Saturdays’. Probably this was the gentlemens group referred to earlier in Alabaster’s diary. They had ‘instituted a club for convivial purposes’ but had excluded the Reverend. Consequently as a result of the problems the captain ‘forbad the sale of beer or spirits to five of the (cabin) passengers’.
    13th December With following winds the ship was entering a period of steady sailing and colder weather. ‘Stiff breeze. Ship going up to 14 knots, over 300 miles in a day. The best sailing since we started,’ recorded John Morris.
The following day he recorded, ‘another fine days sailing’. He also notes that the ‘hospital was cleared out’. Usually a small area in steerage was set aside as a hospital. There is a note that a few days before the steward went into the hospital.
    15th December The day started with a ‘calm gentle wind’ but later the ship was ‘close hauled; right over on her side. Strong wind.’ At 10 p.m. 13½knots was recorded. Earlier at 9 o’clock in the evening Albert Abbott aged two died. His parents Thomas and Eliza Abbott were from Devonshire and were to disembark at Lyttelton.
While it might appear that the Reverend Alabaster was more concerned with the day to day happenings up on the poop deck he recorded he had been negotiating on behalf of the steerage passengers and ‘an arrangement was made to supply the steerage passengers with porks and meats for suckling woman and invalids’. He also received from the five cabin passengers who had been derived of their refreshments by the Captain ‘their promise as gentlemen not to abuse the favour (so) I got their beer and glass of spirit restored’. A busy man he was ‘endeavouring also to negotiate peace between the captain and the doctor’.
The diary entries of Alabaster and Morris reflect not only their place on the ship but a little about themselves. Many of the Morris entries refer to the state of the weather, the sails used, what can be seen and reference to fights among the emigrants and crew. He is an observer, describing what he sees without telling us what he thinks about the behaviour. The Rev Alabaster leaves no record of fights on the ship, does describe birds seen on the southern ocean, but seems mostly concerned with the pastoral care of the ships company. He leaves no doubt as to what he believes to be acceptable behaviour or otherwise. Two writers in different places on the ship and both with different values.
    16th December No entry in his diary by John Morris. The Reverend Alabaster recorded ‘buried Mr and Mrs Abbott’s child dead of acute bronchitis’. Little Albert Abbott was the fourth small child to die on the voyage and two more would be buried at sea before the ship reached Timaru.

Social Separation

   As would be expected passengers on the ship who paid full fare and were accommodated in cabins were treated differently to those who only paid a part of their steerage passage and were subsidized by the Government. The class system that existed in England continued on the ship. Cabin passengers were served their meals by the ship’s steward, had the best area of the deck for private relaxation and rarely mixed with steerage.
This led to conflict on some ships when steerage passengers didn’t always play by the rules. One case recorded that the steerage single women during the church service started to sing dance hall songs. But it worked both ways. When one gentleman visited steerage to deliver uplifting tracts he recorded he was pleased to see a number of the emigrants reading their Bibles but he sensed that he was not welcome in their area of the ship.
    The Reverend Alabaster noted earlier on the voyage that ‘a hymn raised by some of the emigrants enabled me to get among them and after more singing to preach and pray with them’. His association with the steerage passengers was probably promoted more by his Christian messages rather than genuine friendship. One person who appeared to spend time with steerage passengers was Samuel Butler who would later live at Mesopotamia Station in the headwaters of the Rangitata River. On the ship Roman Emperor he recorded in his diary that he had formed a choir with practice three and four times a week with singing ‘better than you would hear in nine country places out of ten’. He also noted, ‘I have been glad by this means to form the acquaintance of many of the poorer passengers’.


When Mary Thorpe an assisted immigrant died on the Chile in 1873 she was 22 years old. She had a miscarriage and then died of tuberculosis at sea north of the Crozet Islands. Her tragic death demonstrated that sometimes social rankings in society were put aside in times of need. She was buried in a chemise donated by a cabin passenger. Illustrated New Zealand Herald

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