THE VOYAGE OF C. WARREN ADAMS
Published in: A Spring in The Canterbury Settlement, 1853
It was on a lovely morning in the early part of June, 1851, that the good ship
"Canterbury" was signalled to take her depparture from the East India Docks on
her voyage to New Zealand.
An emigrant ship on the eve of her departure presents an extraordinary spectacle
to the inexperienced eye. The noise, confusion, and bustle on board, - the busy
hammering of the carpenters finishing the different cabins, - gangs of "lumpers"
hoisting in the huge casks and packing-cases, and stowing them in the ample
hold, - the constant arrival of the different classes of passengers, anxiously
watching the descent of their little property down the gaping hatchway, or
turning to console some weeping wife or mother, quitting, perhaps for ever, her
much-loved home, or gazing with eyes of wonder upon the busy scene - bewilder
the novice as he first sets foot upon the deck. The state of the " 'tween
decks," also, as it is termed, is little different.
The chief cabins are crowded with confused heaps of furniture, which the owners
are endeavouring to arrange and reduce to order, - servants are running hither
and thither, and in their embarrassment hindering rather than assisting their
masters, - outfitters are looking for their customers, with articles forgotten
or not ordered until the last moment; whilst the half-distracted passengers are
almost ludicrously endeavouring in the midst of the unaccustomed tumult, to get
their furniture and luggage securely stowed in their little cabins, as though in
anticipation of the immediate presence of the dreaded sea-sickness. To the
inexperienced eye there seemed but little chance of getting clear of the dock by
the appointed time. Despite, however, of the tumult and confusion the ship moved
from her station to Gravesend, and on the Sunday afternoon was beating down the
Channel, and fairly under weigh for the Canterbury Settlement.
Divine service was performed by our chaplain for the first time on board that
afternoon, and the scene was a most impressive one. It was raining heavily, and
the service was therefore on the lower deck. It brought together all the various
classes of emigrants; and whilst amid the strangeness of the scene and the
unaccustomed motion of the vessel, we offered up our common prayer to our common
Father, all were awfully impressed with the consciousness that we were to be
close companions during a long and wearisome voyage, isolated wholly from the
rest of the world, and subject to one common lot and one common hazard.
It was not until the Bay of Biscay was passed, and we began to approach the
smooth tropical weather of the N.E. trade wind, that my fellow passengers began
to recover from the effect of sea-sickness; our dinner table then filled, and we
began to plan amusements for the voyage.
There are few things more pleasant than the outward passage between the
latitudes where the N.E. trade wind prevails. The weather is generally warm and
fine, the ship maintains a steady course, the horrors of sea-sickness have faded
from the memory, and all on board have fallen into the regular lounging, dreamy,
lotus-eating sort of existence which characterises life during a long voyage.
On a short voyage the thoughts are from the beginning fixed on the end of the
trip; but in a long voyage, like the one to New Zealand, the probable date of
the arrival is seldom contemplated until the Cape is rounded, and the passengers
find themselves in the midst of the favouring gales, which form the
characteristics of the high southern latitudes. Leaving the N.E. trade wind,
which fails in about 10░ N., we reach the region of the "Doldrums," or calm
latitudes about the Equator. Here vessels are sometimes becalmed for many weeks.
These latitudes extend from the N. E. trade wind to about 4░ N., where we fall
in with the S.E. trade wind, which continues nearly to the Cape.
A little north of the Line the Southern Cross is first seen. When viewed under
favourable circumstances it is a beautiful constellation, though by no means
equal to the Ursa Major, or to many others of the Northern Hemisphere. The
sunset and sunrise of the Tropics are peculiarly beautiful; a circumstance which
may ariso partly from the extreme shortness of twilight, which fades into
complete darkness immediately the sun has sunk below the horizon, and which
thereforo displays to great advantago the various brilliant tints. So sudden is
the change from day to night, that I have often witnessed the phenomenon of a
stream of sunshine along the waves on one side of the ship, and of moonlight on
A tropical night at sea is a truly magnificent scene. I have often known the
moonlight sufficiently bright to read by without difficulty; and the effect of
the deep blue sky, the water of a still darker and richer tint, and the
brilliant moonlight pouring over overy sail and rope and spar, and lighting
overy little ripple with a momentary gleam, form a scene of tranquil beauty
which must be seen to be understood.
Another great beauty of the nights at sea is the intense phosphorescence of the
water. Every little splash and ripple causes a thousand bright but evanescent
sparkles. The wake of the ship is a perfect milky-way of nebulŠ and shooting
stars; and the dolphins and "Portuguese men-of-war" seem like bright moons far
below the surface of the water. The most beautiful instance of this sort I
remember to have seen was in the North Pacific, during a passage from Sydney to
San Francisco, when a whale of about fifty feet in length swam for some time
close alongside of the ship, looking like some huge monster in armour of
burnished silver set with diamonds. His spout, as he rose every five minutes to
the surface, resembling a fountain of brilliant stars.
Leaving the Tropics, vessels proceed down the S.E. trade wind, and in a few
weeks reach the rough seas and heavy westerly gales off the Cape of Good Hope.
It is very unusual for vessels bound to New Zealand to touch at the Cape, as
their object is to keep as far South as possible, the wind becoming stronger and
steadier as the higher latitudes are approached. Some ships, in which the new
principle of great circle sailing is adopted, have reached even as high as 60░
south latitude; but the boundary of the ice fields is then too nearly
approached for the comfort of the passengers.
The Canterbury did not go higher than 50░, but the cold was even then very
severe, especially when contrasted with the warmth we had so lately experienced
in the Tropics. Cold is much more felt on board ship than ashore; the
thermometer was seldom, for instance, much below 40░, and yet the cold was far
more intense than is ever experienced in England. The thermometer is, indeed, a
very imperfect test of the real feeling at sea with regard to heat and cold.
On reference to my journal, I find one day marked as very hot, and another
as particularly cold, when the thermometer in both cases was standing at 61░. In
truth, the comparative warmth of the atmosphere depends upon the climate through
which you have passed; and, as the changes of climate are very sudden on board
ship, the difference of temperature is felt at sea much more than on shore.
The principal amusement of this part of the voyage consisted in catching birds,
of which great numbers follow in the wake of the vessel. Amongst these may be
noticed the albatross, the molimawk, the Cape pigeon, and several varieties of
the tern and petrel. The Cape pigeon, which is a beautifully marked black
and white bird about the size of a wood pigeon, will follow the vessel to the
end of the voyage. Two of them followed us nearly five thousand miles, and left
us only when we anchored at Port Lyttelton. It is remarkable that they are never
seen on the coast, except when accompanying a ship. All sea-birds have a
remarkable strength of wing. The Cape pigeon will fly at the rate of twenty
miles an hour against a heavy gale of wind. The albatross also is an
extraordinarily swift bird, and will circle round the ship, when driving before
a gale at the rate of thirteen knots an hour, apparently without a motion
of its wing.
Amongst the various modes of amusement in a long voyage, the publication of a
newspaper may be reckoned. But this species of employment rarely outlives the
calm tropical weather, as the rough motion of the vessel in the heavy seas off
the Cape renders the act of writing a matter of no small difficulty. Our
newspaper was denominated the "Sea-pie," and for some time afforded both
occupation and amusement. It was, however, but short-lived, and died a natural
death after the appearance of the fourth weekly number. Private theatricals are
also frequently resorted to; and the preparation, rehearsals and production of a
small play, which some of our passengers performed on the quarter-deck, was a
great resource for two or three weeks of fine weather. Another amusement, which,
from its sedentary and unintellectual nature, was admirably adapted to the state
of semi-existence into which the most mercurial must fall in the monotony of a
long voyage, and of which I will venture to give a detailed account for the
benefit of future voyagers, was an ancient Egyptian game which we named
Sesostris. It was played by two persons, on a board placed between them, having
twelve small hollows, six on each side. Six tamarind stones were placed in each
of these holes. The first player, taking up the contents of one of the holes,
dropped them one by one into the others, and, taking up the contents of the hole
into which the last stone fell, he proceeded as before and continued the process
until the last stone fell into an empty hole, or into one containing either
one or three stones. In the latter case he pocketed the one or three stones, and
also the contents of the hole opposite; in the former he lost his labour, and
the stones remained in the respective holes. In either case his opponent then
took his turn, selecting a hole from which to take the stones, and proceeding
like his adversary until the stones were exhausted. And thus the game was
continued until all the stones were pocketed, and then the holder of the largest
number was proclaimed the winner of the game. Monotonous and unintellectual as
this game undoubtedly is, it helped us to while away many a weary hour.
Shortly after we had rounded the Cape, our fresh provisions, of which an
insufficient supply had been furnished by the Association, failed; and for the
last three weeks of our voyage we were placed on a somewhat scanty allowance of
salt and preserved meat, the greater part of the latter being almost uneatable.
When our supply of fresh stores first ceased, we were placed in an amusing yet
somewhat serious dilemma, by a construction attempted to be put on our agreement
with the Association, that we should be daily supplied with a certain quantity
of fresh and a certain quantity of salt provisions. It was argued that the
amount of salt provisions was expressly limited by the contract, and that
the cabin passengers could not claim a larger quantity of salt provisions (the
same being only, in consideration of our right to fresh meat, one half of the
allowance to the steerage passengers), because the supply of fresh provisions
had failed. A council of war was in consequence held, and an angry debate
ensued; but the question was ultimately settled by the passengers signing an
agreement to pay for the additional issue if objected to by the Association.
It is perhaps needless to add that such objection was not made.
This being the state of affairs, we began counting, with additional eagerness,
the days that would probably elapse ere we should again enjoy a comfortable
meal; and at this period of our voyage one of those singular coincidences
occurred which tend to confirm, beyond the reach of argument, the superstitions
feelings of sea-faring men. Our captain had purchased a monkey from a ship
which we had spoken with near the Line; and from the day on which the animal
came on board our wind ceased to be fair, and of course it was agreed on all
hands that poor Jacko was the cause of our misfortune; and many were the
suggestions to throw him overboard, or otherwise dispose of him. At length
Master Jacko got to the rum-cask, and, applying himself too freely to its
contents, was the next morning discovered dead. Forthwith a favourable gale
sprang up, and the ship made a run of 300 miles within the next twenty-four
hours. From that time also the wind continued favourable, and we advanced
rapidly upon our course.
In passing Cape Lewin, which is the westernmost point of Australia, we fell in
with a heavy gale of wind (indeed this cape is almost as stormy as the Cape of
Good Hope); but as the gale was from the west, we had no occasion to complain.
It is difficult for a landsman to imagine the motion of a vessel in a gale of
wind. The most violent we experienced was during the night of the 10th of
October. It had been blowing furiously, and a heavy sea was running, when
suddenly, at midnight, a dead calm came on, and the vessel, no longer steadied
by her sails, rolled and pitched in a manner wholly indescribable. I was
awakened from a sound sleep by a shower of books rattling about my head, and for
a full hour had to hold on both sides of the bed to prevent myself from being
thrown bodily out of it. At length a light breeze sprang up; and as we spread
our canvass to receive it, the ship became gradually steadier, and we were again
able to walk upon the deck.
On the night of the 15th of October, we passed the Snares, which are three rocks
about thirty miles distant from the southernmost point of New Zealand, and held
our course along the eastern coast towards Banks' Peninsula. As we proceeded
farther north, the weather moderated, and the temperature became rapidly warmer;
and by the afternoon of the second day after passing the Snares we found
ourselves again becalmed and in a soft and genial atmosphere. In the evening the
land-breeze came off laden with delicious sweetness; and though we must have
been at least eighty miles distant from the land, the scent of the manuca, a
beautiful heath which grows to a considerable size, was like the perfume of a
hayfield. As the night darkened we saw far in the distance the red glow of a
huge bushfire. These fires are sometimes of an immense extent. A few years ago
one occurred near Port Philip, the smoke of which darkened the atmosphere at a
distance of 100 miles from the land. The decks and rigging of vessels were
thickly covered with blacks ; and the effect was described to me, by a gentleman
who witnessed it, as singularly awful.
It was on a magnificent spring morning that we rounded Banks' Peninsula, and
sailed slowly along its northern shore, towards Port Lyttelton, or Port Cooper,
its name in New Zealand. After a weary four months' voyage, with no relief to
the undying monotony of sea and sky, the country we were now passing seemed like
a scene from fairyland. Richly wooded hills presenting an endless variety of
form and colouring, - lovely bays running deep into the shore, and sheltered
from every wind, - rich pastures dotted with sheep and cattle, - canoes and
fishing-boats gliding along the shore, - whilst the bright warm sun poured
its rich floods of light over wood and hill and valley, and lighted up the deep
blue sea with myriads of glittering stars, which danced and sparkled with every
motion of our majestic ship.
At little Akaloa, a small bay on the north side of the Peninsula, we took a
fisherman on board, to pilot us into Port Lyttelton. On that afternoon we had
service on board for the last time; and, ahnost in sight of our destined port,
united in offering up our thanksgivings for a safe voyage past, and prayers for
happiness and prosperity in the new life that was fast dawning upon many of us.
Slowly the vessel glided on before the gentle breeze that scarcely filled her
canvass, and the sun was setting as we neared the mouth of the harbour. On our
left lay the richly wooded Peninsula, the scenery of which resembles in many
respects that of the back of the Isle of Wight, but on a larger and grander
scale: on our right were the Canterbury Plains, extending to the hilly region
which stretched far away beyond the snow-capped Kaikoras, to the distant
mountains of the Northern Island. But straight before us lay our land of
promise, - the harbour towards which, for four long, weary months, we had shaped
our solitary course, - the land where the losses and errors of the old life in
the old country were to be retrieved, - the future home of many an anxiously
expectant colonist. Night had set in as we passed betwean Godley Head on our
right, and Adderley Head on our left hand, and entered the harbour of
Port Lyttelton. We found there the Midlothian, which had sailed on the same day
with ourselves, but had forestalled us by more than a fortnight; and exchanging
several rockets and blue lights with her as we passed up the harbour, we dropped
our anchor at midnight, and a loud and hearty cheer from crew and passengers
spoke our arrival in the Canterbury Settlement.
Converted to electronic form by Corey Woodw@rd
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