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 the other. 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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