Monday, May 27, 2013

Trip of a Lifetime

Until recently, how the Topliss family arrived in New Zealand was a mystery. I knew it was some time in the early 20th century but detailed passenger lists were seldom published in the papers then and family stories were vague. Not being able to find out this pretty basic piece of information annoyed me so when I saw that had a database for UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960, Topliss was one of the first names I typed in. To my delight, I quickly found Ada and her sons Lancelot (Lance) and James (Bert) on the 1910 voyage of the Corinthic.

Never satisfied with just names and dates, I then did a bit of searching on Papers Past to see if there was any information on voyage. Given that shipping to New Zealand was pretty routine by then, I didn't hold out much hope of finding anything interesting but I was very wrong. Turns out that the passengers of the Corinthic not only witnessed a full solar eclipse, but they also had excellent views of Halley's Comet. For two boys of eight and six, I would have thought that these events would be pretty memorable yet there seems to be no family stories that mention them. That omission has now been rectified.

Heart of the City by Lauren Bavin;
Chalkboard Wordart - Travel by Lauren Bavin
.Journalling reads:
In 1910, Ada Topliss and her two sons, Lance (8) and Bert (6), left England to join her husband James in New Zealand. They travelled on board the Corinthic, a relatively modern steam powered vessel built to transport both passengers and refrigerated meat (a practicality for a ship on the New Zealand run). On the way, they were treated to two astrological events. A solar eclipse occurred on May 6:

“The chromosphere was dark red, and exceptionally large, extending to one-third of the width of the corona. Half a dozen bright stars were visible up to the zenith almost, and the ship’s officers were able to take bearings. During totality, beautiful opalescent lines played among the clouds near the horizon, verying from purple to rose to gold. The light on the sea was of a greenish-grey colour, about equal in strength to the moon in her first quarter.” NZ Herald 16 May 1910

“The total eclipse lasted about four minutes, during which it was too dark to see in the cabins, though it was quite possible to move about on deck. The opalescent lights were very beautiful, and the sea took on a dark green hue, instead of the usual deep blue. Through glasses it was possible to see stars, but these were not visible to the naked eye.” . NZ Herald 17 May 1910

If an eclipse wasn’t thrilling enough, the family also had a very clear view of Halley’s comet. Although the comet’s return had been long expected, there was considerable nervousness because of speculation that the tail of comet contained poisonous gas that could extinguish life on Earth. No such doomsday occurred of course and instead the passengers and crew of the Corinthic were treated to an excellent view of the comet:

“She came up over the port bow regularly every morning, and as the weather kept pretty clear throughout we were never without our “coffee and comet”” said an officer of the Corinthic, which arrived from London via South Africa and Hobart yesterday afternoon. The sight of the great comet rising clear and clean out of the southern ocean is said to have been a particularly brilliant one, and those in Wellington who saw the comet yesterday morning can have no doubt as to the beauty and impressiveness of the sight. The ship’s report, always a very stiff and formal document, records that “an interesting observations made during the voyage was Halley’s Comet, which has been visible each morning at about sunrise since leaving Cape Town, sometimes the corona, shining very distinct and bright.” Dominion, 17 May 1910

The family’s arrival in Wellington must have been a little anti-climatic after all of this excitement!

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