JOURNAL OF WILLIAM HARRIS
(London to Auckland on the British Empire)
I got my luggage from Waterloo Station to the East Indian
Docks by cab on the 1st November 1879. All the ship's cargo
and passengers luggage was taken on board the same day. Slept
but little during the night on account of cold and noise of
Sunday, November 2nd. Our ship (the British Empire) was
towed to the entrance of docks in the morning and in the after-
noon to Gravesend. Services on board morning and evening.
Monday, November 3rd. Morning spent by the crew in getting
ready for the Board of Trade surveyors who came on board about
midday and passed the ship; during the night (about.1 o'clock)
we started being tugged as far as Beachy Head when the wind was
favourable. But soon after the tug left the wind changed to
N.V. which caused us to tack all the way.
Thursday, November 6th. We were passed by the "Orient"
for Australia, second largest ship afloat. This is her first
voyage. A Falmouth pilot came on board and got us to Falmouth
on Friday 7th about 5 a.m. The remainder of the passengers
came on board (about 50 making over 300). The livestock were
shipped consisting of 20 sheep, 16 pigs and about 70 fowls and
a large case of ducks. We drew up anchor and set sail at 3 p.m.
A tug took us out of the harbour. Saw several porpoises outside
Falmouth Harbour. Before the tug left us a young man, a
regular rake, who confesses to have run through £1000 in 3 years
had been drinking heavily; had treated a sailor till he was drunk.
The sailor then went to the poop where the captain and 1st mate
were and demanded to be set on shore. The mate ordered him down
and not going he gave a slight kick which hit the sailor on the
lip. The captain also touched him with his foot. The sailor
then went to his bunk and returned with a knife which he held
over the mate. The mate ran to the saloon and fetched a revolver
but two passengers had held down the sailor and the captain order-
ed the 3rd mate to put him in irons - which was done and on the
return of the tug he was taken to Falmouth. He was a fine fellow
and we all felt sorry to see him in such a plight. He was telling
me his history previously. His father was an estate manager in
Scotland in an excellent position. He brought his son up to the
grocery but he ran away and became ship's carpenter and I am told
he holds a captain's certificate. In the night we saw the last
of the Lizard and of land.
Saturday, 8th November. Wind light from south. Steering S.W. by W.
Wednesday, November 12th. Thank God we have passed the Bay
of Biscay; we had but little wind but a heavy swell. The vessel,
owing to no lading between decks, rolling fearfully; water coming
on deck and almost every one dreadfully sick. In the evenings we
see phosphorus. One evening under the stern it was splendid. We
saw a lot of porpoises in passing the Bay. We are now going at a
good speed; no ships seen for the day.
Saturday, November 22nd. I have not been very well and have
not ventured to stay below deck to write but now am better and
have recovered my appetite. Since my last remarks we have passed
into the tropics and find it very warm but not yet excessive. Saw
some black fish (a species of whale) yesterday also two or three
birds. Two days since much amusement was caused by two passengers
going up the rigging when two sailors ran after them and lashed
them fast when they had to pay their footing of a bottle of whisky
each. How different is life on board ship to living at one's home,
we have to fetch our rations, cook the rice and flour etc., wash
up dinner things and look out sharp that we are not done in some
THE CAPTAIN is a Scotsman very cool and shrewd, likes humorous
sayings and is fond of telling his experiences. He has been
Master of the British Empire for nine years and boasts on not
having cost the owners anything by loss of rigging or ships damage.
During last voyage there Was a dispute amongst the crew in the
night as to whose turn it was at the wheel. A Greek or Maltese
drew a knife and stabbed a Scotsman. But being tried at Colombo
the punishment was only 18 months imprisonment'. A few days later
one of the crew was in the rigging and fell on deck being killed
on the spot.
Sunday, November 23rd. Service in the morning as in the
Church of England, in the evening by a Wesley local preacher
named Stephenson from Hull. A good service, weather fine but
Monday, November 24th. Becalmed till evening when a breeze
sprang up accompanied by tremendous rain, thunder and sheet and
Tuesday, November 25th. As an old Irishman (aged 75) was
walking on deck this morning about 5.30 he fell and fractured his
thigh very badly and is not expected to recover. The doctor is
Thursday, November 27th. Entered the M.E. trades which are
gradually increasing in force going 9 miles an hour in latitude
about 14 N. In the evening a pleasant entertainment took place
consisting of singing, reading and recitation.
Friday, November 28th. Last night when a large number of
passengers were sleeping on dock a sudden squall came on with all
sails set smashing some ropes. The passengers were ordered
below. It is very hot. For two or three days I have had nothing
on but coat, shirt and trousers with straw hat and sometimes
slippers. The old Irishman seems sinking fast. There is pretty
much gambling going on with cards, dice, and tossing coins. On
one night one from our cabin gained about 70 shillings while two
from other cabins lost 27 shillings and 30 shillings. One of
the crew of good musical taste had to sell his concordian but
he lost all his money the same night.
Sunday, November 30th. Distance from Falmouth 2980 miles.
Almost a calm. Services morning and evening.
Monday, December 1st. Entered the S.E. trade winds so our
course went S.S.W. The sailors today buried the "dead horse"
which means when the sailors are engaged they receive a month's
pay in advance - as nearly every sailor spends what he had from
his previous paying. If they did not get the advance they could
not have the necessary outfit. They feel that the first month
they are working for nothing, or working a "dead horse". This
day the month is up and they bury the "dead horse" which is
made to resemble a horse (or at least it is meant to altho'
ours more nearly resembled a great bear). The "horse is placed
on a piece of wood with four wheels and drawn around the deck
three times by several sailors dressed in peculiar style (as
policemen with staves of sailcloth filled with straw and
peculiar hats of the same material and whiskers and long flowing
wigs of white yarn). After being put up by auction and sold
to different bidders (the money being for grog afterwards) it was
hoisted to the main yard arm amid a song with chorus (which
indeed lasted through the procession) a sailor mounted on the
"horse" all the while. When it gets to the yard, a long squib
is lighted and immediately the rope is cut and the "poor old man"
(as the song goes) falls into the sea, and the "dead horse is
Tuesday, December 2nd. Fresh wind course S.S.W. A child was
taken ill last evening with convulsions from teething. It died this
morning and we were told in the afternoon to expect to see a burial
at sea. The sailmaker sewed it up in a piece of sail having
previously put in some pieces of iron to sink it. It was brought
on deck about 4 p.m. on a board covered by the ensign and carried
by the 2nd mate and carpenter to a porthole. The burial service at
sea was commenced by the doctor. When he came to commit the body to
the deep, They raised the inner end of the short plank and the
body slid into the water.
Wednesday, December 3rd. Last night we crossed the line after
25 days from Falmouth and this afternoon the ceremony of shaving
was gone through.
SHAVING AND NEPTUNE. The oldest sailor on board (a man about 65)
was chosen for Neptune. He had a trident which belongs to the
figurehead, (illustration), a very gay cloak and dress with a
crown made of tin and long flowing wig of white manilla. His
"wife' (a sailor boy dressed as a woman) was by his side and
they were escorted by several "policemen" dressed as for a "dead
horse". They walked from the forecastle headed by Smith playing
a brass instrument. Neptune and his "wife" had seats prepared
for them by a sail drawn up at the four corners and filled with
water. A cask was placed before it and the "police" were ordered
to get the first on the list. They caught him by the forecast
and made him sit on the cask. A sailor acting as doctor and
another as assistant prescribed some physic which they had on a
table, composed of salt water, vinegar, etc. which was pressed to
the lips of each candidate for shaving and sometimes a monster
pill was pushed into the mouth. The barber's clerk then took and
lathered the novice's face with lather of flour and water (tar
being not now allowed) and the barber who was the boatswain enquired
which razor was to be used. To bad characters it used to be No.1
like a saw. The second and third being smoother. The boatswain
took the razor about 2 feet length blade and shaves him when two
strong fellows behind take hold of him and pull him backwards into
the water and give him a tumbling and scrub over the head. Then
he is let go to change his dress. There were several shaved
including two volunteer passengers, but one of the stewards whose
name was down hid himself in a bunk and could not be found till
after it was over. When he was found the sailors went after him
and brought him on deck feet before and carried him to the pump
and gave him a good drenching and covered his face in tar and then
threw flour over him. He got into a passion, which of course the
sailors laughed at; but in an hour he was clean and all right again.
Saturday, 20th December. Some may fancy that a passenger on
board a ship would be glad to keep a strict diary to pass away the
time. It is a mistake as after first few days the time passes
quickly for there are a great many things to occupy one's time.
I believe that almost all the games and pastimes practiced in the
United Kingdom are practiced here. Besides we have an exchange
of books of every class.
Since my last entry we have had another death - a girl of
11 years of age (of fits which she was subject to). She was cast
into the sea the next day.
We have had some tremendous rolling, the wind being right
aft I saw one young man fall right over the back of his chair
and some nights there is tremendous clatter of things rolling
about and plates and dishes falling from the shelves which may
bring us from our bunks to have a bit of fun and a good laugh.
We are now some hundreds of miles south of the Cape and see
large numbers of ice birds - Albatross, Mollyhawkes, etc. We have
caught nothing yet except a flying fish about the size of a
Herring. It seems very cold after passing through the tropics.
The days are very long now. How different to Europe.
Sunday, December 21st. Position of ship Lat. 40°-30S
Long. 17E 7335 miles from Auckland.
Monday, December 22nd. Ship going slowly which gave us
a chance of catching Albatross which is done with a hook and
line as in fishing. We caught 4 which measured 10ft and 10½ft
from tip to tip of wings and about the size of a swan but
shorter neck and very strong hooked bill. (Illustration).
Tuesday, December 23rd. Dead calm sea like a pond.
Some of our mess disagreed and two left. We expect to get
on better now.
Wednesday, December 24th. I think of the preparations in
English homes for Christmas as we are on the deep in half a
gale with water coming over the bulwarks at times. I have had
a wetting twice today. I have had some Albatross soup which
was very nice altho' many are prejudiced against it. But all
who tasted it liked it. The reason why the sailors won't eat
it appears in an old superstition that they are the spirits of
drowned captains while Mollyhawks are the mates.
Christmas Day. I have enjoyed myself thoroughly today and
not by any means starved, but more than we can eat, such as a
big plum pudding (with three tins of condensed milk in it beside
ground biscuit, spice, a lot of suet raisins etc. It was real
good) potted green peas, lobster, jam etc. as extras.
Friday, 26th December. I have a cold today - kept in my
bunk most of the day.
Saturday, 27th December. Cold worse. Our cook got me some
porridge about 6 a.m. He is a good-natured fellow from
Shropshire and a Primitive local preacher, I had some stuff from
the doctor and took up the chest protector which I had in my bag.
Sunday, 28th December. Position of ship E Long. 49°-496'S
Lat. 42 -5, 5780 miles from Auckland.
My cold still bad and the air cold coming from the icy
regions. Many ice birds about. Three services held on board,
the subject in our part was conducted by a "local" from Warwick
named George Harris.
Monday, 29th December. I am much better. Vessel going moderately.
Tuesday, 30th December. Vessel going beautifully. In
24 hours we sailed over 330 miles making 580 miles in two days.
It is a drizzling rain - the first day We have been driven for
shelter for rain or wind.
Thursday, January 1st 1880. Fine weather and good breeze.
Had fine wind. Had a good plum pudding as at Christmas.
Friday, January 2nd. For four or five days been going about
300 miles average. A boy about 9 years of age died this afternoon.
We are now about 4300 miles from Auckland.
Saturday, January 3rd. Almost a calm but we are in a current
which helps us. The boy who died yesterday was buried this
Sunday, January 4th. Head wind. Saw a whale in the evening.
Monday, January 5th. Strong head wind. We are going far
southward which makes it cold.
Wednesday, January 7th. A favourable wind has come at last
going about 12 knots an hour.
Friday, January 9th. Cold but favourable wind.
Saturday, January 10th. Last night there was a heavy wind
for an hour or two all the crew were on deck and all the night
was spent in working the sails. The vessel went about 16 knots.
Sunday, January 11th. Morning, glass very low nearly all the
sails taken in. About 5 p.m. as we were just commencing tea the
gale came all in a moment from the opposite quarter from which it
was previously blowing. There were eight sails set, the three
upper topsails and foresail were taken in with great difficulty
by "all hands", but the Jib topsail which was of good quality was
torn to pieces; making a noise like thunder. It blew furiously
all the evening shipping seas at times. This is a very rough
part sometimes called by the sailors the "Devil's Funnell".
Position of ship South Latitude 47° E Long. 115¼.
Monday, January 12th. Glass still low and seas very high.
The storm appears to be spent, altho' the captain is afraid to
put up much more sail yet.
Tuesday, January 13th. A child died today of Scarletina.
Wednesday, January 14th. Child buried this morning in the
Thursday, January 15th. The saloon cook's galley was on
fire which caused some excitement. The engine was manned and
it was extinguished in an hour.
Sunday, January 18th. Very fine weather. We have passed
Tasmania. Services held on deck. Several Albatrosses caught
this morning. We have seen no vessel for 4 weeks. Ship's
position. S. Lat. 42 -48. E. Long. 153 -2.
Monday, January 19th. There was a "Bal Masque" this
evening from 40 to 50 took part.
Friday, January 23rd. Dead calm, both life boats out. A
race took place between them. I was one of the crew of the winning
boat. All expected us to be beaten, but we won easily. A shark
was caught afterwards.
Saturday, January 24th. Strong head wind. Six points from
Sunday, January 25th. Last Sunday Mr Veitch (a saloon
passenger, son of the Nurseryman at Exeter) was catching Albatross
and took a chill which brought on scarlet fever and ague. He died
this morning at 3.30. Buried at 7.30, his dead body being on board
about the same time as he was fishing on last Sunday.
Monday, January 26th. No sun taken since Saturday. Head wind.
Several sick of scarletina and measles. 9pm was appointed for special
prayer on our position. Before 10pm the wind blew fair - a splendid
Wednesday, January 28th. Have not been able to take our
latitude since Saturday, and having such a fine voyage before, dead
reckoning was rather neglected and now we don't know where we are.
The captain was up all last night. He looks very anxious. The main
upper topsail yard fell on the lower this morning and was broken.
Sunday, 1st February. Strong head wind in morning. Land vaguely
seen in the distance.
Monday, 2nd February. Cape Brett seen very clearly as well as
a barque which is racing us, It is a fine model with a lot of sail
including skysail. We went a little ahead in the evening. A child
died and was buried.
Tuesday, February 3rd. Owing, it is said, to an error by the
2nd mate, the barque was several miles ahead this morning but a fresh
breeze springing up about 10 a.m. for an hour we nearly reached her.
The wind falling off she has the advantage and is now (3.15pm) about
li miles ahead.
(Evening). Passed the barque a few miles and are passing through
the islands. A child died and was buried this morning, also being
the 8th death.
Wednesday, February 4th. Dropped anchor last night. Splendid
view of town and surrounding country. Another case of scarletina
occurred this morning. When we hoisted the yellow flag about 10am
the officials came from town and ordered us into quarantine. Another
death occurred - a child- which was afterwards buried in the quarantine
island, (pronounced Mota-he). Motahe is about 8 miles from Auckland.
We landed on the 4th on premises which have not been used for four years.
QUARANTINE ISLAND AND LIFE. The island is 432 acres and appears to
be splendid soil in most parts. Trees grow out of the cliff
down to the water's edge. The cliffs are of a rich clay.
There are only soft rocks at the bottom. All the trees are
evergreens, some very large .peaches and gooseberries grow
wild. I saw splendid ferns (in a thoroughly tropical valley)
about 30 to 40 feet high. There are at present only about
500 sheep a few goats and 5 bullocks on it. Altho' warm,
the: air is bracing and clear and not hotter than hot summer
days in England but twice as pleasant. There are numberless
oysters all around the shore and we live on good fresh meat,
bread etc. We leave tomorrow at 8 a.m.
Converted to electronic form by Corey Woodw@rd from material
kindly provided by Jeni Palmer of the GenCentre. Thanks Jeni!
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