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HomeAbout MeWhat's In A NameBirth N Z FamilyNew Zealand FamilyFrom CornwallPorthcothan FamilyJoseph TrevethanThomas TrevethanHelston FamilyPerranzabuloeCardinhamCornwall Middle AgesCoat of ArmsTrevethan the PlaceTrevethans In History Australian FamilyCanadian FamilyAmerican Family


Ready to leave for the other side of the world

Adventure and Hardships

Regrettably it has not been possible to find out anything about the ships that the Trevethans came to New Zealand on, and this remains one of the major gaps in my knowledge of our family history. However from other recorded voyages it is possible to gain some insight into the good times and hardships our forbearers went through to come to New Zealand.

Before departure all the emigrants would have been marshalled on the poop, and examined by the ship’s doctor as they came down onto the main deck. Moving down stream to the open sea all the four hundred or so passengers would be on deck craning their necks to catch a last view of their friends, whom they were unlikely to ever see again. As they passed other vessels in the harbour channel there would be cheering and finally just before they left the main stream for the vast open sea, there would have been an inspection by the Customs Officers. Only now would they finally have felt aliens to their own country of old England.

On into the open sea, leaving the familiar land marks, and as the waterway becomes wider with scarcely any land in sight and the light of the first day fades, the moon comes up in the sky. There would have been the great excitement of the unknown and the voyage ahead but also the deep loneliness at leaving their parents, families and country behind forever.

The next morning for some, the depression would have set in, and on board the minister would have comforted those who were so distressed by their departure. With tears in their eyes many would have wondered if they had made the correct decision to set out on this voyage to the new promised land on the other side of the world.

There would have been days with a fair wind when spirits were high and their vessel moved along at a good pace of fourteen knots and others when the wind came from the wrong direction allowing the ship to travel at less than one knot an hour and so make very little progress by the end of the day. The passage would seem at times like this to be going to take for ever.

On a fine day the passengers were delighted by the porpoises turning over and over close to the side of the ship and when the sea was like glass, so smooth and clear the passengers would fish over the side in the hope of some fresh food.

Emigrant ship leaving for the new world
Imagine how these normally land-faring people felt to be on a ship far out in the middle of the ocean for the first time. There would have been much sickness on board caused by the ship rocking backwards and forwards in a most uncomfortable and unfamiliar motion. People complained of sore bones as with the constant rocking of the vessel they found it to be a continual strain to keep themselves upright. Overcome with sea sickness some would need to be carried up the ladder from their beds and then down again. Even men of the strongest constitution would have succumbed to it, women the same and children sick in all directions would have been a pitiful site to see with their parents unable to help them. Another major concern on many ships was lice which seemed to have infested many people.

As the voyage progressed there would have been storms of the like that people from the land never visualised happening. The wind must have raged to a fearful height and whistled through the rigging as the ship rocked like a cork and raced up and down the troughs of the ocean at speeds of over fourteen knots. The crew of forty men and boys would have battled with the sails which would have been filled like a bow ready to burst with the pressure and cracked with enough force to split them. On occasions the wind would have been so strong that one sailor would have been unable to manage the wheel by himself and had to have help. Many must have feared for their lives and wished that they had never set out on this voyage.

At times the ship would have given a mighty heave and all on board must have thought that their vessel was going over onto her side. The women would have screamed and the children must have been very frightened. Imagine the galley where the tea for all four hundred passengers ended up on the deck, mixed together and running out of the cook house across the open deck and down into the sea. Down below all their possessions would have been on the floor, flung from their places on the shelves.

Passengers were often very frightened as on some days they could hardly see across the deck as the rain was so thick and the sky so fearful and black. Down below at times like this it would be nearly completely dark as the hatches would be closed and sealed with an oil cover put on them to keep the horrid sea out. Even then water would find its way through all the caulking and need to be continuously mopped up to stop all their belongings becoming wet. They would be able to hear the rain falling very heavily on the deck.

At times they thought their ship was going to capsize when they and their belongings were thrown to the deck, all sprawling on the floor together with the women screaming and the children being frightened. In fact one account recorded that the floor was like a “general shop” containing all sorts of things, with their water bottles emptied and some slop pails that were tired of carrying their burden emptying themselves amongst the debris.

Some mornings the sea was really awful with the waves rising very high and falling on deck with a heavy thud. It would have been very cold and some emigrants felt that they were nearly starved out with cold and hunger, as even when they were able to get their stores out they had great difficulty in getting it cooked, the cooking galley being about half big enough for the amount of people, and with only one cook.

The passengers must have experienced many bleak days as there are accounts of icebergs, and of snow falling on the decks thick and fast. Records talk of ships with two inches of snow over their deck and children and adults alike collecting snow to throw at each other.

The rations were served out to the passengers every few days and it seems from all accounts that there was never enough due mainly to the poor allowance provided for children nearing adulthood. The diet consisted of about four ounces of preserved meat for each adult and three potatoes, but two children under twelve years had only the same as one adult (one and a half potatoes and 2 ounces of meat). The result was that families of six children and two adults did not have enough food.

Between decks on an emigrant ship
Boys who at home eat as much as a man each day, had to make do with two hard biscuits, three and a half ounces of bread and four ounces of meat on the bone (about two ounces after cooking), rice or oatmeal, twelve ounces per week and of course there was tea or coffee.

Some wished they had not come on the voyage not because of the hardship of the voyage but because of the diet, of which they found there was not enough of some things and very inferior quality of others. Many wished that they had bought flour, sugar and tinned milk with them.

Most ships carried a small amount of live stock on board to supplement the diet for the Captain and officers. Typically there would be on board ten sheep, ten pigs, about thirty ducks and thirty hens.

In the galley there was an oven in which bread was baked three times a week but there was never sufficient of it. On occasions the cook would prepare a large pan of porridge with oatmeal.
Some of the passengers had spare food they had bought with them and one account related that one passenger sold half a large cheese at two shillings and six pence per pound making a very handsome profit. Very high prices would have been paid for such things as tinned meats, cheese, hams, eggs, jams, German sausage, tinned fish, milk and lump sugar as none of these items could be obtained on board for love nor money.

On Sunday mornings all the passengers would have dressed in their best clothes and assembled on deck for their church service. The service would have been taken by a minister if there was one on board or maybe the ship’s Doctor. There was sure to have been a choir of young ladies to lead the singing.

The captain may have made a practice each Sunday of writing, as some did, the ship’s position on a blackboard at noon so the passengers could see the progress of the past week. One Captain made it his practice on Sundays of giving all the children a little amusement by throwing nuts, raisins, figs and sweets from the poop of the ship making the children have to scramble for them. It was an amusement they greatly looked forward to.

Every few weeks the day was spent taking the passengers’ boxes up from the ship’s hold, so that they could take out what ever they wanted before returning them to the hold not to be seen for another month.
On occasions other ships were sighted coming and going from the new colonies and if they were very lucky, another vessel would come alongside and exchange news or take off a bag of mail for those left behind in England.

There would have been a school established on board for the eighty or so children which the parents would have considered a blessing, making it possible to rid themselves of the children for a little time each day. The accumulation of so many children all together in such a small area would have been enough to make their heads ache. Teaching of the children would have been on fine days in a sheltered spot just under the poop with separate classes for boys and girls. With the large number of children, a good number of teachers would have been needed.

There would have always been entertainment on suitable evenings. Some nights, dancing on the main deck and on other occasions concerts put on by the passengers. The concerts for single girls were separate as they were not allowed to intermix with the rest of the passengers and were normally housed on the poop. Music was provided by violin, banjo, cornet and double bass.

On one voyage a concert was held with seven people chosen to sing after the style of the Christy Minstrels. All wore wigs, clean white shirts and had their faces blackened to make them look like Negroes. They sang to an orchestra of fiddles, banjo, double bass and piccolo which were conducted by a conductor complete with his baton. A lot of trouble was taken to decorate the deck of the poop with ship’s lamps and union jacks, and other coloured calico. All the seating forms were covered with red cloth.

Accounts of the voyages I have read mention the many deaths on board these emigrant ships, particularly those of the very young children. The first death of any voyage seemed to throw a gloom over the entire ship which could last for days. In preparation for a funeral the chief mate and ships carpenter would bring a canvas bag on deck and in the bottom of it place twenty pound of iron. They would then take the child, put it in the bag, sew it up and place it on the coffin board at the side of the ship ready for the burial. The Passengers would assemble on deck to witness the commitment of the dead child to the sea. The funeral service was read by the minister if there was one on board, or maybe the ships’ doctor or the captain. The ship’s large bell on the forecastle was tolled and after the reading the captain would glance at the chief mate who would send the corpse gently sliding down a piece of board out of sight and into the sea. Nobody could fail to hear the splash as the child hit the water, and at that moment the shriek of the mother as her child was sent to a lonely and watery grave.

All kinds of calamities overtook the passengers on these vessels. On days when the wind was raging and the vessels were very unsteady, accidents were very common. In one account, a woman was walking on deck and had her head thrown against some timber and cut it very badly, another girl was coming down the stairs and fell to the bottom hurting her arm and back, and on yet another occasion a man with a young baby fell down the companionway badly hurting the child. One sailor up in the rigging accidentally let his knife fall and it very nearly fell on a man’s head on the deck, but instead cut his coat lapel!

Fatal accidents as a result of sailors falling from the mast head were commonplace. On one ship a sailor was furling the third bottom sail on the gibbon and fell onto the main deck a distance of fifty feet. He was taken below quite insensible with a number of broken bones and the spine of his back critically injured. He did not live till the next morning.

Most voyages recorded a few births as well and these were a time of great joy for all and in a small part made up for the tragedy of the many deaths. Some of the births however also turned to tragedy as after days of difficult labour and suffering in difficult conditions the child would be born dead, or the new mother would die.

Practical jokes have been played at sea since time began and in one account the young single girls, hearing that they were today crossing the line of the equator, asked the Captain if they could use his telescope to see this event. Naturally the Captain obliged but the girls were unable to see the line. The Captain had a further look and said he could see the line plainly and couldn’t understand why the girls were unable to see it!

On most nights the passengers were in bed as early as eight as by then it was well dark, but it did make for very long nights. Many slept with no clothes on as it was often very hot below decks. To preserve modesty each bed was screened by a curtain in front of it so that it was entirely shut in from
Dunedin 1852
the gaze of others. The beds for married couples were about three foot six inches wide, six feet long and two feet high with a long locker in front to put their belongings in. The height between decks was seven foot six and there was a shelf overhead. Single girls slept in a separate part of the ship and only allowed to visit their mothers every few weeks. Early in the evening the bell would be rung when it was time for the single women to go to bed. Every night there were watchmen chosen from among the passengers to stand four hour watches throughout the night in case any of the sick required assistance.

As voyages near their end, one reads of passengers rejoicing at the end of the journey being near as they were all heartily sick of the confinement of the ship and its continuous motion. Some express the view that they will soon be saying goodbye to the sea and that once on dry land they shall say good bye to the sea forever, as they will never again go in an emigrant ship.

As their destination was close at hand, with only a few more days to go, there were hopes that they would soon see a New Zealand Government steamer bringing fresh stores to their ship. There were worries also that whether their ship would be found healthy enough to be able to set their passengers at liberty in the new land, or whether they would be kept in quarantine. As land approaches everybody is busy with extra cleaning, taking all their bedding out and scrubbing out the berths. Every nook and cranny is cleaned out and scrubbed under the watchful eye of the constable whose duty it is to ensure that the ship is not placed in quarantine on arrival.

Otago Harbour looking towards Dunedin mid 1800's
Imagine the excitement on board as they rounded Stewart Island at the south of New Zealand and started their way up the east coast to the Port of Otago only a short distance away and finally journey’s end. What must it have been like then to have experienced unfavourable winds and delay making their final land fall? Everybody would be down in the dumps as one day’s sailing became two days or even a week, and each day thinking today would be the day they would land after three long months at sea. As the mist cleared on each new day they would be able to see the outline of the hills very plainly which would have put fresh life into them. As they finally approached the harbour they would be able to see the chalk looking rocks, yellow faced hills and in place bush down to the sea. Settlers’ cottages would be able to be seen dotted here and there, along with their cattle in front of the background of mountains still capped with snow.

When time came to finally drop anchor and the steamer came alongside, the excitement must have been almost too much. On board would have come the government officers to check on the health of the new arrivals and no doubt fresh supplies of beef, mutton, potatoes, vegetables and new bread all from their new land. While waiting to be allowed to disembark, their first meal in New Zealand would no doubt be judged the best they had had since leaving England all those months before. And so the emigrants from the other side of the world became New Zealanders and start their new life.
Otago Harbour today looking out to sea


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This site was last updated 26-Jun-2007