Sunday, September 9, 2012

Westland - Journal of John Hillary, Emigrant to New Zealand, 1869

I picked up Westland by J H Hillary because one of my families came out to New Zealand on the Westland (although on a different voyage). The book consists of diary entries by John Hillary describing his family's journey to New Zealand on the Westland in 1879 (and their return to England in 1880 on the steamship the John Elder), interspersed with comments by his grandson, J H Hillary. For me the diary entries were by far the most interesting, although of course many were about rather mundane subjects. The contemporary author's comments on the other hand tended to be redundant, explaining things that didn't need explaining and interrupting the flow of the diary narrative. The times they did add value was when they touched on the personal. Mr Hillary junior was at pains to point out that his grandfather wasn't quite the purse-lipped religious fanatic he sometimes appeared to be and to me, this added a little more depth to his character.


My prime purpose for reading this was not to find out about the people, but to get more of an idea of what it was like to travel on a ship like the Westland. Not all that much fun in the Bay of Biscay from the sounds of things. This was the first day of the voyage:

"28 November 1879 ....The ship rolls and pitches fearfully, seas break over her and quantities of water come pouring down the hatchways. The few who can keep up are kept very busy ministering to the wants of the sufferers.... Some are very I'll, their upheavals being distressing to hear.... The hatchways are covered with tarpaulin to keep the seas out, and the effluvia between decks on account of the sickness is becoming very unpleasant."

Once through the stormy seas, progress on the voyage slowed with wind becoming less reliable. Lice made an appearance and the situation was dealt with quickly by the ship's doctor:

"8 December 1879 ....Doctor ordered their beds to be brought on deck and searched about eight times, and had their persons stripped and scrubbed in a large tub of water and disinfectants behind a screen."

The author notes that the doctor's prompt action probably avoided a serious outbreak of sickness. A ship that left two days after the Westland lost more than 100 of its passengers by the time it reached NZ.

Mr Hillary senior was most impressed with the Westland and it's provisions:

"10 December 1879 ....she is such a good sailor, so roomly between decks, and the provisions are so plentiful that we cannot use them all. We have fresh bread daily and fresh water. Milk (condensed) twice and preserved meat once for the children daily. Weekly we receive loaf and moist sugar, butter, flour, suet, raisins, rice, oatmeal, pickles, carrots, onions, soup, pepper, salt and mustard, preserved meat, salt beef and pork, also porridge (burgon) every morning. We often have to refuse taking articles as our tins are full. We can have anything we make cooked in a few minutes, and many are living better on ship than they did at home."

Once the ship reached the tropics, those on board struggled with the heat:

"30 December 1879 Having little wind the heat is terrible. Our day dress is approaching the primeval our night -dress being almost quite so."

The heat soon turned to cold as the ship reached the Southern ocean. While the ship's doctor dealt with a measles epidemic, the passengers amused themselves catching albatross. By the end of February they had landed at Lyttleton.

Sadly, the family's experience in New Zealand was not a happy one. Unable to get work, they were on their way back home in September 1880.


No comments:

Post a Comment