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 passengers. 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 way. 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 hot. Monday, November 24th. Becalmed till evening when a breeze sprang up accompanied by tremendous rain, thunder and sheet and fork lightning. 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 very attentive. 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 buried. 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 morning. 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 usual way. 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 our course. 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 breeze. 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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