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The Voyage 1874

Judith Cranefield, Dunedin, New Zealand, is a grand-daughter of Joseph South(1). Her mother, Elizabeth Scott nee South (1889 -1987), was the ninth and youngest child of Joseph(1) and his second wife, Mary-Ann Dutton. He was father of eighteen children from both marriages. Judith has undertaken extensive research into the emigration to New Zealand of Joseph(1) and his family in 1874 and their subsequent history. This research has discovered a diary, held by the Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin, kept by Henry Bennewith, a fellow passenger on the same voyage aboard the "Buckinghamshire" between March-May 1874. Judith has prepared a synopsis of the story told by the diary which provides a fascinating insight into the experiences of these early emigrants.   


The Voyage 1874

Joseph and Mary South and the five youngest of the South children emigrated from London to New Zealand in 1874 on the "Buckinghamshire" which left East India Docks on 4th March and arrived in Otago Harbour on 29th May. They left no records of their long journey but a fellow passenger, Henry Bennewith did keep a diary and this is now lodged at the Otago Settlers Museum. It provides an interesting insight into the experience and shows that in this peak year of immigration for the colony of New Zealand the "Buckinghamshire" was a well run ship and made a fast though very stormy voyage.

Henry's account is not an intensely personal one. He was one of the fortunate immigrants who had travelled before and he did not get seasick. Accommodated in single men's quarters, he was escorting his mother, sisters and brother to a new life in New Zealand. His intention was to return to England to marry his fiancee who had been unwilling to emigrate, and he did this. The diary was sent by his granddaughter in England to the Settlers Museum.

The passengers boarded the ship on the 4th March and set about cleaning up the sleeping areas allocated to them. The 200 single men were divided into messes of eight and each appointed a "captain" of their mess whose responsibility it was to fetch stores and water and send food to the galley to be cooked. Aware that cleanliness was all-important Henry was pleased to know that the quarters were to be disinfected twice each week at sea. He found his fellow passengers in single men's quarters to be a "very passable lot". Among them would have been Arthur South who was 14 and therefore too old to be with the rest of his family in their quarters. All the single adult men had to take turns at being "constable" during the voyage.

Henry observed that the single women were all together "nicely fitted out" near the captain's cabin and under the control of a matron. A "manservant" was appointed from married quarters to bring them their cooked food. They were to be allowed out on the upper deck for a while each day. The rules for the single women were very strict.

He expressed confidence in the captain who had 40 years experience and in the doctor "A nice gentleman in every respect". Henry outlined his role:- "He is our head officer. He holds a responsible situation here, having the entire charge of all the passengers. All grievances have to come before his notice, and if the case deserves punishment he is the one to inflict it on the guilty parties. He stands before the captain and is sent out especially by the New Zealand government for the purpose of commanding order and preserving and promoting happiness among us."

'The "Buckinghamshire moved slowly down river and stopped to send stowaways ashore and to take on more passengers. A disaster nearly occurred when the engine room caught fire, but it was soon put out. (the engine at that time would probably have been installed for the fresh water condenser) After a number of checks on the safety of the ship while off the coast of Dover, the "Buckinghamshire" left on 11th March in squally weather. The bad weather was to continue for several days and Henry commented on how he was having to eat by himself because the others were all seasick.

They ran into good weather in the Bay of Biscay and at this point their voyage nearly ended as a French ship with its watch asleep narrowly missed running them down. For the next month the days were fine and increasingly hot. A single woman had a miscarriage and Henry commented "very suspicious." The travellers were now allowed to get into their boxes in the hold and were distressed to find that some had been broken open and that clothes had been taken.

They were making good time. On reaching the tropics by the end of March the heat grew intense and many people were severely sunburnt. Lime juice was issued. At this point the "poop" had its first occupant. A young man was put in there on bread and water "for playing practical jokes." One can but wonder what he did to deserve such a punishment. It was so hot the men lay on the deck at night. It is interesting to know that was possible on the "Buckinghamshire" as many immigrant ships provided very little deck space for people on "assisted- passages". The single women certainly were still locked in at night. Everyone took great pleasure in seeing whales, dolphins and flying fish and they all enjoyed the Sunday services which broke the monotony of the voyage.

Henry missed his Easter buns on Good Friday, but he does comment on some unusual and rather unwelcome entertainment at that time. The sailors marched around the deck nearly all night banging pots and making a lot of noise. They were angry with Captain Harland who was very strict with them and had banned a traditional celebration called "burning the dead horse" which normally occurred one month out of port. It apparently involved various games and the dragging of a burning effigy around the deck before throwing it overboard. This strange ritual normally signalled the end of the period for which they had been advanced their pay to spend before leaving port.

In an atmosphere of heightening tension a fight broke out between a sailor and a passenger and during a concert one night some drunken sailors broke into boxes in the hold. On 5th April a light was seen in the hold and it was found that a lot of clothing and other personal items had been stolen. A reward was offered to try and find out which sailors were esponsible.

The weather remained fine but a heavy gale one night broke off part of the jib boom and it was carried away. In the stormy weather as they approached the Cape of Good Hope a sailor fell overboard but he was rescued within about half an hour. Albatrosses were sighted and one was shot by the doctor. Henry was amazed by its wing span of over 6 ft.

On the 17th April they were again able to get into their boxes and take the clothes out to air. Already these were very damp and even mouldy. The weather became increasingly wild and very cold. In the heavy gales and rough seas the top gallant yard brake smashed in half. Waves were breaking over the ship which was running "under nearly bare poles" and the sails were taken in. The passengers were terrified. The ship made 248 nautical miles and more each day. In all this wild weather the first baby was born and the captain presented the mother with a sovereign as was customary for the first child born on any voyage. While married couples and their families were kept below, the cabin passengers' accommodation and single women's quarters were swamped out and the captain's table was washed down and broken. Two other immigrant ships bound for New Zealand were sighted during this period of what Henry calls "hurricane weather".

By the end of April and this long time of enforced confinement tempers must have been rising. A married man was lashed up in canvas for striking his wife and threatening the doctor. Then the first tragic death occurred - of a young widow with ulcerated breasts. Within a week a little girl of ten months died. Henry described their burial at sea.

Hail, snow and piercing wind buffeted the ship. This weather had now continued for four weeks. We can imagine the difficulties for Mary Ann, pregnant with her third child, and with four other little children aged six months, seven, nine and eleven, coping with the crowded noisy and smelly conditions below deck, the cold and the seasickness. Arthur aged fourteen and in single men's quarters may actually have been a little better off. No wonder stories of Moses' extreme seasickness have survived.

During this time of what Henry called "pea soup weather" with snow and freezing temperatures, another baby was born. Henry commented that its mother had been a widow for eleven years (he seemed to enjoy these little bits of "scandal"). A child, two years old, died, a man fell down the hold, and the doctor was kept busy with the arrival of two more babies.

The weather suddenly improved in the second half of May as the ship neared Tasmania . Sailors were ordered to "get up the cable" and the call "land ahead" was heard as they passed the Snares in lovely sunshine. They were soon within sight of New Zealand and they could make out mountains, a rocky shore and little houses. Henry recorded the birth of yet another child.

The "Buckinghamshire" anchored at the Heads of the Otago Harbour until the pilot came on board, then the ship was towed into the harbour and anchored on the 29th May. The immigrants were impressed with what they could see. Henry writes of "a splendid harbour surrounded by mountains and forests. The harbour is full of immigrant ships. You can catch any quantity of fish. I have pulled up 30 in five minutes weighing 4 lbs each. They are like cod." On this day when they had finally arrived at their destination another baby died. This one was buried in a local churchyard.

There was no trouble with quarantine as this ship carried no infectious diseases but still the "Buckinghamshire" lay at anchor for nearly a week because there was no room in the immigration barracks. When they were able to move in, he found "a miserable hole ankle deep in water." As they were not immigrating as a family group they will have been allowed to stay there one week. Family groups could usually stay longer. The condition of the place he describes is surprising. New barracks which would accommodate 400 people had been built in 1872 at Caversham for immigrants arriving at Dunedin. However during the month of May 1874, which was the peak period for arrivals, over four and a half thousand people arrived in New Zealand and more of these disembarked at Dunedin than at any other Port. It may well be that the old barracks were opened up again to cope with the influx at the time. They had often been criticised for being in a terrible condition and would certainly fit Henry's description.

The South family must have been delighted to have coped with the long and difficult voyage and to have arrived at fast. Henry Bennewith in his diary of the past three months, concluded: "This ends the ups and downs of our voyage to New Zealand."

J. A. Cranefield M.A. (Hist. Hons.)


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