Shipboard Diary of John Fraser, 1887-8.
Of Ballindalloch, Banffshire
(Provided by a descendant, reproduction requires their permission)
Plymouth to Port Chalmers by Ship, then to Christchurch by Train.
December 28th 1887
Arrived in Plymouth at 4.30pm after twenty five hours travelling, per rail, were
assailed by the usual fraternity of Cabmen Porters & all anxious for a fare.
After studying the “pros and cons” of the situation we decided not to go to the
Depot tonight: as we were told that we would not get out after we once went in;
so we went to Liddicotts Temperance Hotel, had a refreshing bath & tea then
wrote some letters and went out to post same. Had an hour or so walking about
the place but as it was dark we did not get a very good sight of it so we soon
went in to bed.
Thursday December 29th 1887
Rose after a refreshing night’s rest, had breakfast then went out to purchase
some small sundries for the voyage, before going into Prison, i.e. Depot.
Returned and paid Hotel Bill, (which was very moderate,) then started for the
Depot, at which we arrived just before dinner & in time to be initiated into the
mysteries of serving table & be elected to the “honourable position” of Captain
of the Mess. Helped to carry in boxes into the Luggage room in the afternoon.
After tea I wrote some letters then had a promenade within the limits of the
prison yard & were told to go to bed & all duly warned to keep very quiet, which
injunction was sadly neglected.
Friday December 30th 1887
Was wakened by the bell about 6am, and by the time we got up, folded our beds
Soldier fashion, washed & dressed the bell was ringing again to warn us to
prepare the prison fare “Bread and water”, the water by the way was very black
and dirty looking, but then it might have been intended for tea. Passed the day
in the liveliest way available got my boxes examined & they passed muster.
Helped to load small boat with Luggage in the afternoon. In the evening we
listened to a very instructive address given by a Clergyman who came to visit
us. There were a good many new arrivals during the day & our number is nearly
Saturday December 31st 1887
Rose early to prepare for embarking. We were all (about 200) examined again by
the Doctor got our contract Tickets & went on board a small steamer to be taken
out to “Ionic” which was lying off. The “Ionic” sailed at about 1P.M. after
which we had dinner /first meal on board. As there was something new to look at
I spent a pretty lively afternoon “dodging” about on deck. I went down to Cabin
to tea but got a little squeamish when I saw the people sick so I went on deck
again. As we are entering the Bay of Biscay it is getting rather rough & I am
told that we will have thirty six hours of it. Went early to bed in bad fettle.
Sunday January 1st 1888
Awoke after a pretty good nights rest, dressed as unceremoniously as possible &
went on deck as I was not hungry for any breakfast. Had rather a dull day of it,
as it was rather rough to make much of reading and there was no service as the
majority were sick. We sighted two sailing vessels during the day. Went to bed
early but not to sleep as the rough weather continued & increased.
Monday January 2nd 1888
Passed a very amusing but restless night, very rough, every tin plate, pannican,
box and bucket contrived to break loose and roll from side to side every heave
of the vessel and the Constable joined in chorus shouting from time to time “Tie
up them dishes can’t you.” But everyone seemed to disclaim proprietorship to the
offending articles, so they rattled away till morning when their respective
owners had an exciting scrimmage for their property which they found almost all
in numbers or otherwise damaged. Rose a little better but did not partake of
anything at breakfast time. Recovered “slow but sure” & was rather hungry for
dinner, “Oh hunger, thou canst tame the lion And now wi’ John thy strength art
tryin” It soon calmed down when we got out of the Bay. We did not see any ships
today but plenty birds & porpoises.
Tuesday January 3rd 1888.
Got up in splendid fettle sickness altogether a thing of the past, washed &
dressed & had a walk on deck before breakfast, this being the first morning I
managed to shake off laziness. Passed most of the day reading & walking about on
Wednesday January 4th 1888
Still in good spirits & fully prepared to make a vigorous attack on the porridge
at breakfast time. Sighted a sailing vessel in the morning. The vessel is
shipping some heavy seas today & it is rather amusing to see people who are
quietly sitting reading or talking, get totally drenched by a heavy sea and more
especially so if you are out of reach of it yourself. In the evening the wind
turned more favourable and about 10P.M. I happened to go on deck & helped the
sailors to hand ropes as they were putting up sail. I had a good half hours work
then I went below, had a good feed of oatcakes & cheese & went to bed.
Thursday January 5th 1888
Rose to find it a very nice morning, washed & dressed had a walk on deck then
had breakfast after which we sighted a steamer. Most of the passengers engaged
writing letters to post at Teneriffe. Went to assist in the store with other
three fellows, had a jolly hour’s work for which we were fully repaid with some
nice lunch. After which we went on deck and discovered a nice corner at the
Stern where we could sit in the fresh air and have a chat with the girls unseen
by the Matron, who who was very strict and and would hardly allow any one under
her charge to look at any of the other passengers. Reached Teneriffe about
11P.M. Spent most of the night on deck being somewhat amused by the manner in
which the Portugese & Spanish effected sales of their fruit, tobacco, cigars
etc. On asking the man the price of some hats which he had for sale he informed
me they were “six’ee peeny” taking that for six a penny I thought to myself that
hats are a cheap article of clothing in this part of the world, but not wishing
to have so many as six I was about to purchase a halfpenny worth when someone
informed me that he meant six pence each, which was more like the thing. The
natives continued coaling the vessel most of the night at which they were very
active but they made a hideous noise. Fruit and tobacco are very cheap here,
oranges at 40 to 60 for a shilling tobacco1/6 a lb. cigars 3/6 to 6/- a box of
Friday January 6th 1888
Left Teneriffe about 7A.M. After dressing had a look to Island of Teneriffe, the
scene is interesting in the extreme. The conical peaks sloping almost from the
shore covered with fruit trees of all description and terminating in different
peaks looked very pretty in the morning sun. The volcanic peak looks very barren
towards the top but with the aid of a glass trees can be seen a long way up. The
houses are nearly all white brick, low and flat roofed mostly one storey high
but there are a few distinguished looking buildings and they all present a clean
lively appearance from here but some of those that have been ashore say that the
streets are very dirty.
January 7th 1888
Rose in splendid spirits getting to like sea life better every day. We are
enjoying very fine weather now and it is very pleasant to sit on deck reading,
or having some game to pass time. Passed no ships and no appearance of land
Sunday Jany 8th 1888
Rose and dressed as usual. The Captain conducted service in the First salon in
the forenoon and in the Second Salon in the evening both of which I attended and
as we were allowed to visit the ladies in the afternoon I went to bed thinking I
had a busy day’s work.
Monday January 9th 1888
Always fine weather, no sick people now. Some commotion taking out boxes wanted
on the voyage. Saw a great number of porpoises during the day. In the evening we
had a nice dance & some songs and violin music. We are now fairly into the
tropics and it has been pretty warm during the afternoon and especially so below
Tuesday January 10th
Weather is somewhat cool today as the sun is clouded and a few drops of rain
falling. My day of the “dish cloot” today so I have a little more exercise than
usual. Read most of the spare time during the day & in the evening we had some
music & songs.
Wednesday January 11th
Heavy shower of rain in the morning, which cleared up after breakfast time and
continued fine during the day. Weather nice and cool taking into account the
latitude we are in. In the evening there was a religious meeting which I
attended and liked very well after which I had a walk on deck and then tumbled
into bed. I am sure it would feel rather cold at home at this date if you would
turn in with only a thin sheet & counterpane to cover you, but I find that
articles quite enough here.
Thursday January 12th
Weather continues fine, not half so hot as I expected it would be. We crossed
the line at 10A.M. this morning. Sighted a four masted steamer in the afternoon.
Friday January 13th 1888
Nothing of interest to take note of today. Saw some flying fishes. Always busy
reading or some such employment to pass time. In the evening there was a dance,
but as I did not feel inclined to dance in this latitude I had a promenade round
the deck instead.
Saturday January 14th 1888
Rose in bad fettle with a headache – and without an appetite and the ship’s fare
though good enough when one is hungry is not very appetising. My day of serving
table, washing dishes & so that amused me for some time. In the evening there
was a sort of concert among the third class passengers. It was well attended and
there was some of the songs very good but the performers were no doubt placed at
a disadvantage having to perform in the open air as there was none of the cabins
large enough below after the concert there was a short dance.
Sunday January 15th 1888
The orders for Sunday are that everything must be kept clean but do nothing that
can be conveniently left till Monday. After breakfast there is some time to walk
about before service as it begins at 10.30A.M. Attended service in Salon in the
forenoon it was well attended but there seemed to be a great many like myself
who were not accustomed to the English Church. Some time after Service we had
dinner. I enjoyed dinner better today as my headache is quite gone. In the
evening I attended Presbeterian Service which some of the passengers conducted
among themselves. It was very well attended and at the close it was arranged to
have a Bible Class on Tuesday and Friday evenings.
Monday January 16th 88
Got up at 4.30A.M. to see the sun rise as I have never seen sunrise in the
Tropics yet but I was disappointed as it was a cloudy morning and the Sun was
not seen untill pretty well through the day. It was not all loss however as I
got a splendid walk on deck before there was many to interrupt me so that I
enjoyed breakfast better today than usual. After breakfast we got orders to take
our beds on deck to air them, so that between that and the taking up of boxes
from the hold we had a little diversion today. Dined on deck today, our table
being removed; as it was on top of the hatches under which they kept the luggage
Tuesday January 17th 1888
Nothing of interest today, indeed it is the same as other days in that respect
as it is always the same as other days in that res thing over again with very
few exceptions. In the evening there was a Bible Class which was pretty well
attended. The sea has been a little choppy today but the weather is splendid.
Wednesday Jany 19th ‘88
Still fine weather. Went through the usual performance of washing dishes & then
some of us began to write letters to post at the Cape which we think we will
reach Sat. night or Sunday morning. Saw no land, ships, birds or anything but
Thursday Jany 19th ‘88
A little rough today but nothing to complain of. Nothing unusual happened today.
Spent most of the day walking about on deck or amusing ourselves at some game or
anything for pass time.
Friday Jany 20th 1888
A little rough today yet there are a few of the passengers sick but none in our
place for which we have reason to be thankful as it is very disagreeable to see
people sick, much more so to be in that pitiable condition yourself. Saw a few
birds today. In the evening a party of us had some Scotch songs, after which I
performed the usual constitutional walk and went to bed.
Sat. January 21st 1888
The week for our mess to clean out the Cabin began today so that we have a
little work after breakfast. Then I walked about on deck for some time. After
dinner everyone was busy writing letters to post at the Cape which we are told
we will reach by 6am tomorrow.
Sunday January 22nd 1888
Wakened by the sailors heaving Anchor about 6 o’clock. Saw land through a port
hole at my head as soon as I got my eyes opened, so I got up and dressed as soon
as possible. They did not Coal hear but took in a fresh supply of water. There
were a few people came on board and sold fruit but they had not much else as it
was Sunday the shops were shut so that they could not get anything else. Fruit
is about the same price here as it is at home except Grapes which are very
cheap. As far as we can see it is a very pretty place here. Cape Town is
surrounded on the Island side by steep hills mostly covered by trees and scrub.
There are some very nice looking houses here with gardens and fruit trees
growing all through the town. It is summer here just now they say the heat was
intense yesterday on land, 105 Deg. in the shade and 130 in the Sun but there is
a nice breeze today so that it is quite cool. There were a few passengers went
ashore but they had not long time as they had to be on board again by 10.30PM.
We picked up fifteen new passengers and started again just before dinner time
and soon lost sight of land as there was a thick fog. The Single Woman’s
relatives are allowed to visit them on Sunday afternoon from 2.30 to 4.30PM so I
spent most of the afternoon with Maggie. After tea there was Presbeterian
Service on deck and after one of the passengers had given a short address there
was a clergyman ( who came on board at the Cape) introduced himself and gave a
very good address which we were all happy to hear.
Monday January 23rd 1888
Rather rough today and a good many of the passengers sick but I am getting used
to the sea now and never felt better in my life. Had some fun keeping the dishes
on the table at meal times as the rolling of the boat upset them every time if
we did not look out. Those who are on deck are amusing themselves as best they
can trying to keep out of reach of the water and laughing at those who are not
fortunate enough to manage that. Some of the 3rd class passengers went on top of
one of the upper decks to be out of reach of the water as there were some heavy
seas breaking over her and after they were all comfortably seated, some reading
& some enjoying a cigar there was a heavy sea broke right over them totally
drenching them all to the great amusement of those who were looking on. Although
I was on deck most of the day I did not even get my feet wet while most of the
passengers got drenched more than once. We saw a great many birds today called
Albatross they are very large birds some I am told measuring as much as sixteen
feet from tip to tip of the wings.
Tuesday January 24th 1888
It is splendid weather this morning and a fair wind but the Current is against
us. It is getting a bit cold now as they are steering south.
Wednesday January 25th
Weather still continues favourable but cold. We are getting along splendid today
with full sail. Nothing worthy of note occurred today. Occupied most of spare
Thursday January 26th 1888
After breakfast we got orders to scrub out our cabin with sand and water, which
took a considerable time as we were all green hands at that. It was my day
washing dishes too and I washed some towels after dinner so that I went through
a great performance today. The birds are still following us from the Cape. There
was one man tried to shoot some today but I don’t think that he even hit any.
Friday January 27th
A little foggy this morning, the watch continued on duty till after breakfast
when it cleared up a little. Today finishes our week of cleaning the Cabin. The
Sailors came to take up boxes wanted on the voyage and disturbed us before we
were done but we managed some how, and we won’t have to do it again for some
time at any rate. Passed the rest of spare time reading and had a dance in the
evening to keep us warm as it is rather cold tonight.
Saturday January 28th ‘88
After breakfast I read most of the morning as I had no cleaning to do. The
weather is still somewhat cold but the wind is favourable. In the afternoon the
Barber was on deck hair cutting and as he had to find a substitute to do his
other work which he was absent I consented to do it for him and went to fill
some cans with water and carry them into the freezing room to be made into ice.
There was a prayer meeting in the evening which I attended.
Sunday January 29th
The weather is much warmer today. No appearance of land yet, we passed near some
island yesterday but not within sight of it. There are some birds still
following us up. I attended service in the Salon in the morning which was
conducted by the Captain as usual and after it Mr Varley addressed the audience,
he gave another in the afternoon on deck both of which were well attended and
attentively listened to.
Monday January 30th 1888
Nothing worth mentioning occurred today. The Sailors were busy giving the ship
an extra cleaning. I spent most of the time reading and running about deck in
the evening there was a dance.
Tuesday Jany 31st
Today is the anniversary of the captain’s birthday. The First and second Salon
passengers had a special dinner and Concert in the evening in honour of the
occasion but there was no difference in our fare.
Wednesday Feby 1st 1888
After breakfast we got orders to take our beds on deck to air them. We put them
on the Upper forecastle deck so it was a sort of holiday to us as we were not
accoustomed to get up there. It was about dinner time before we got permission
to take them down again. In the afternoon I spent most of the time reading. It
has been grand weather this last few days we made a good run yesterday & today
Thursday February 2nd 1888
The weather still continues fine but the wind is not favourable today. I was
reading all day till it grew dark when I had a dance and a walk on deck and then
Friday Feb 3rd 1888
Our day of washing dishes today or as we style it of being “butters” Occupied
spare time reading with an occassional walk round the deck to vary the
Saturday Feb 4th 1888
After breakfast when we came on deck we saw a small whale, probably a young one,
it came above water three or four times but we soon lost sight of it. It was the
only fish of any considerable size we have seen.
Sunday Feb 5th 1888
Very cloudy and a few showers of rain in the morning but it cleared up as the
day advanced. There was the usual service in the salon after which Mr Varley
gave a short address. He gave another in the afternoon on deck and another in
the evening in the married men’s cabin after which I had a walk on deck and then
Monday Feb 6th 1888
The weather is still all that can be desired. After breakfast they took out the
boxes wanted on the voyage and almost everyone were taking out their clothes to
be ready to dress to go on shore.
February 7th to 16th.
I unluckily caught a bad cold and did not make any entries after 6th Feb. But we
reached Hobert on the 11th discharged cargo and sailed again on the 12th. I did
not see Hobert town as I was confined to my Cabin all the time we were there and
most of the remainder of the voyage. We reached Port Chalmers on the morning of
the 16th and after waiting there a little over a day took the train for
Christchurch, which we reached about 8PM.
And now I have fulfilled my promise to keep a dairy during the voyage, as best I
could. If I had not promised to do so I would most assuredly not have done it,
as there was really nothing of interest to take note of, so that I am ashamed to
turn it over to read it myself. If anyone does happen to read the fore going
entries I am sure I give him or her credit for their patience and humbly
appoligise for putting them to so much trouble, for nothing.
Table of Distances
4400 C. Town
6570 2350 Rio Janeiro
10240 5840 3490 Teneriffe
10445 6575 3695 205 Madeira
11655 8386 4905 1415 1210 Plymouth
11946 8671 5196 1706 1501 291 Inverness
Transcribed from the original by Pam Fraser, United Kingdom.
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