The Memorable Voyage of the Barque Adamant Courtesy of the Wallace Early Settlers Museum, Riverton
The 267 immigrants who sailed from Gravesend for New Zealand by the barque ADAMANT in the 1875 must have been impressed with such a fine sounding name. From the illiterate among them must have liked the sound of ADAMANT. Adamant meant something hard and unyielding, something that would not be deflected from its course. But no ship could have been more inaptly named. The immigrants knew that their destination was a place called Bluff, at the bottom end of the middle island of New Zealand, which they expected to reach in under three months. Immigrants for Bluff were at sea for five months But five months were to pass before they were to step ashore in New Zealand, and in those five months much was to befall. They were to experience mountainous seas and dead calms, their ship was to wander erractically backwards and forwards across the heaving Atlantic at the whim of a drunken captain - a captain who was to drink himself to death before the voyage was over - they were to run aground off the coast of Brazil, they were to encounter icebergs, and they were to run short of provisions. And there were others on board besides the captain who were never destined to see land again. And yet the Adamant was to reach Bluff with four more passengers than the number that embarked at Gravesend, for besides deaths there were also several births on board the Adamant. Amoung these 262 passengers were Ebenezer Johnson, his wife and three children, including a nine months old son, Frank. Ebenezer kept a diary of the voyage and from his notes, as well as from extracts from the Journal of Charles Simmons, published in the Southland News soon after the arrival of the Adamant at Bluff, it is possible to build up some kind of picture of the astonishing events that made the journey such a memorable one to those who sailed in the Adamant. Most of the passengers suffered from seasickness on the first few days out and no doubt many of them were despondent at saying farewell forever to England. Their last sight of the Homeland was the Lizard Lighthouse, which they passed three days later - and having at last said their good-byes to the past they set their course steadfastly for the future and the land of promise Down Under. From the married men a number were picked out to act as monitors to see that there was no smoking or striking of matches among the passengers during the night. During his watch Ebenezer whiled away the time watching the phosphorescent glow of the water as the ship ploughed her way across the Atlantic. He was something of a poet at heart, and he thought the effects were very beautiful. He said so in his diary. He noticed, too, that the water of the Atlantic was of a different colour from that in the Thames and in the Channel. In the Thames it was muddy from the traffic of ships of all ports of the world, the Channel was green, and the Atlantic was blue. Clean and Tidy At 10 on Sunday morning they had to muster to pass the Captain to see that none was fasting or ill. "We have to be clean and tidy and we have prayers on the poop and then Sunday dinner", wrote Ebenezer Johnson. "We have got plum pudding and meat pie and piece of fat and lean Pork. Sunday School has been started by one of the Plymouth Brethren and all children over five years are compelled to attend, and as many more as like." Ten days out they struck a gale and many of the passengers who recovered from their first sea-sickness were down to it again. Ebenezer records that his wife - Ellen was "rather queer" - and then, on the 23rd a child who had been ailing died and was committed to the sea from the poop, the doctor reading the burial service. The bell tolled, just as it would from the belfrey of the village church. As they neared the tropics the weather become hotter with calm glassy seas and magnificent sunsets. The death of the child was balanced a few days later by a birth on board ship. The passengers noticed another strange thing as their journey took them away from England. The stars that were so familiar to them fell lower and lower in the heavens, and new ones appeared. The beloved North Star which shone so brightly over their heads was now down to the water's edge. And there were many more new stars than they ever saw at home. To while away the time Ebenezer started a singing class and found there was no stinting of food. New bread, baked during the night, was served hot for breakfast everyday, and they actually were given more vituals than they could possibly eat. "We have got four tons of preserved meat not yet touched, and carrots and potatoes and onions all preserved", wrote Ebenezer. Sometimes they would speak to a passing ship and then there was great excitement, everyone rushing up on deck to watch the exchange of signals by flags. So far everything was going smoothly - even monotonously. There was some illness aboard, as was common in those days of sailing ships, and to break the tedium of the voyage both sailors and passengers would arrange concerts in the evenings, just as they do today in the most modern liners. On August 16th they crossed the Equator and the old ceremony of greeting Father Neptune and shaving the new chums who had not crossed the line before was carried out with the customary horseplay. Two days later Ebenezer records that they were approaching the coast of Brazil - and from that moment a dark shadow seemed to fall across the ship. At 7pm while a concert was in progress, some of the passengers noticed that they were heading directly into the land then rockets were fired by people on shore to warn them of their danger. Just in time the ship sheered off, but it was an unnerving experience for those who saw what had happened. It spoilt all enthusiasm for the concert which came to a sudden end. The Captain And now it was evident that there was something radically wrong with the Captain. The Adamant was kept tacking about the Brazilian coast for the next three weeks, and as this part of the world abounds in coral reefs the passengers and crew were in hourly expectation of disaster. ANd then at 10 o'clock one night, they ran aground aand there was pandomonium aboard, with men running about and women crying and looking for children, at the same time scraping a few articles together and comforting one another in preparation for taking to the lifeboats should it become necessary. There was no sign of the Captain and the doctor took charge, sending all the women below and the men up on the poop deck, where they ran to run backwards and forwards across the ship to work it off the reef as only the forepart was aground. After about an hour of this they felt a movement under their feet and found theat the ship was beginning to slip back into deep water. Heartened by this this they went back to their work with renewed enthusiam and in another hour the ship was clear of the reef and heading out to sea. By this time they discovered the reason for the captains absence. He was in the D.T..s. There was panic among the single girls when the ship went ashore as the doctor had made a practice of locking them below decks at night and they could not see what was afoot. The fear of the unknown had entered their souls, and the situation was not improved when an irresponsible Irishman shouted down at them that they were all doomed. All kinds of weather were encountered during the next week or two, from torrential rain and a wind so strong that it was necessary to take in all the sails and run along before the wind with bare masts to a day of absolute calm in which the ship made no headway at all. Next the Adamant is reported 10 miles off the Cape of Good Hope, having crossed the South Atlantic and here the sea was so rough that the waves were washing over the ship and flooding them down below. The top gallant mast was also carried away, but they passed another ship that had lost most of its rigging. The wind still bad after they had left the Cape 400 miles behind but they had good sport fishing for birds, catching four Cape pigeons, one mollyhawk and an albatross 10 feet across its wings from tip to tip. By this time there had been four births on board the ship, and on OCtober 17th a girl was born, but she died the following day. Everybody by this time was heartily sick of the trip, and the condition of the captain was causing a great deal of whispering among the passengers. He never came out of his cabin now and it was reported that the drink was in truth killing him. They felt the shadows of his unhappy presence everywhere, and added to this was the thought that they were long overdue at their destination. The death of one of the single girls the day after she had given birth to a child added to the brooding air of tragedy, and presently the temperature dropped suddenly as if in keeping with their spirits. Two huge icebergs, standing about 400 feet out of the water and fully eight miles around, stood not far off, and from these came an icy wind that pierced the passenger's bones. On the first day of November they were awakened about 3am by a great fell of the ship, which upset everything that was not tied up and nearly tipped them out of their beds. The wind had been blowing hard when without warning it stopped and began to blow just as hard from the opposite direction, driving them back. The sea was rolling heavily behind them and it was a wonder they were not driven under. Pitiful Life Ends By this time the captain was reported to be dying - a diagnosis that was confirmed the following day at 6pm when the captain's pitiful life ended. He was buried at sea half an hour after noon on the next day and from then on the ship was under the command of the first mate. And now the weather began to improve and once again they found themselves becalmed in a hot sea. The long voyage was beginning to tell on everybody and Ebenezer reports in his diary that while they were all reasonable well they were weak and were doing little. There were still 2,000 miles to go tobacco was nearly done and the men were smoking coffee, tea, cinnamon and paper and snuff; they were even grinding up old pipes to make things taste of tobacco. On November 19th another baby was born, but it lived only a few hours; and several women were very ill. By this time the ship was beginning to run short of provisions. The passage was indeed proving much longer then anyone had expected and now all the meat, butter and tea were eaten, and what flour was left was bad. However, in spite of all their mounting hardships they had the knowledge that they were on the last lap of their journey to buoy them up. That last lap was the Tasman Sea, but it took them two weeks to cross it, and all the time the weather was growing rougher and their provisions dwindling to vanishing point. Altogether, they were heartily sick of the voyage, some of them wishing they had never come and others wondering if they would ever reach port and not caring much if they didn't. All this made the last stage of the voyage a nightmare; but at last they were struggling their way up Foveaux Strait, and from there they signalled to Bluff asking for a boatload of bread to be sent to the starving ship's company. Some hours later a small sailing craft met the ship off the point, but even their luck was out, for the heavy spray had made most of the bread unfit for consumption. But even the longest lane, the weariest voyage, comes at last to an end, and at last the Adamant was safely berthed at Bluff and the streets of Invercargill were full of many new arrivals who attracted the alert attention of a reporter of the Southland News. In her five months at sea the Adamant had aquired a heavy marine growth, and so the ship was beached and scrubbed before she took her departure. Ebenezer Johnson, the man of poetical fancies, could not help feeling as he stepped ashore with his family that there was something wrong about the name of the ship. Tributes Charles Simmons, in the part of his journal that was published in the Southland News, says that considering the length of the voyage the health of all on board was particullarily good, which "says much for the attention of the surgeon and the officer, who on their part affirm that they have never sailed with a better class of passengers. "Among the six deaths on the voyage was that of a married woman named Mary Ayling". Before landing at the Bluff an address was drawn up, signed by all the passengers, and presented to the Chief Officer, G.H.Tipman, in the following terms: [Content of Address yet to be located] Converted to electronic form by Corey Woodw@rd
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