Thursday, July 18, 2013

The letter that started my journey

I was very fortunate early in my family history research to be sent copies of letters written by my GG grandfather, Samuel Harris about his life in early New Zealand. It was even more fortunate that his first letter described his family's journey to NZ on the clipper ship the Tornado. Without this letter, I would never have known which ship they travelled on as they appear on the passenger lists as "Mr Harris, Mrs Harris and Harris children (3)".

However, it was the details of the voyage that really grabbed my attention. Finding out that the ship that carried your ancestors nearly ran aground due to the inattention of a drunk captain was quite intriguing:

Freemans Bay, Auckland, October 22 1859

Dear father and mother

I have sent a few lines trusting they will find you all in good health as it leaves us at this time we landed in Auckland on the 27th of Sept. We had a passage of 100 and 6 days. We had a middling passage and should have had but for the blunders that our drunken captain and if it had not been for our worthy mate we should never have seen New Zealand and we made him a present of a purse of 32 pounds as a testimonial for his care and watchfulness during the voyage. His name is Mr Carmichael and the captains name is Aitken and he was a tyrant. On the 11 of July at 8 o’clock in the morning we crossed the line. On the 12th the sailors had a holiday and had a game of what they call shaving all sailors that have not crossed the line before. They tar their faces and scrape it off with a piece of hoop iron. We had three stowaways concealed amongst the sails and they had to be done also. On the 16th Saturday at 1 o’clock in the morning, great consternation, breakers ahead of Cape Rogue South America the ship running hard upon them. Mate acted with great calmness and judgement, great fault found with the captain and much dissatisfaction amongst all the passengers. Captain and mate after this time continually quarrelling through interference of cabin passengers. Ships books and instruments made accessible to the mate. No one had any confidence in the captain, all look up to the mate as a much superior officer. The white foam from the rock looked fearfull at midnight. Five minutes longer would have sent us to a watery grave. We was in sight of them all the next day. We was three weeks down that coast land locked and could not get clear. On July 18 a man passenger died. We had one and two births. Aug 14th passed 3 pekes near the island Trinadad called the Martin Vas Rocks. Aug 21st we had a terable wind wich carried away the jibbon top sail, top sail and foremast royal wich took a week to replace. After this we had not much worth notice. Dear father and mother I hope by the time I write again I shall have better news to send that I have now. Work and money is scarce. House rent and provisions are very dear. This is just the price of everything – house rent 4 rooms 12 shillings, 3 rooms 10 and 8 shillings, fire wood 12 s per ton potatoes 6s per 100, 4lb loaf 1/3, sugar 6d, bacon 1d, cheese 1s 6d, butter 1s 6d, meat 8d, milk 5d a quart, salt 2d lb, tea 4 per lb, wages 5 and 6 shillings a day, vegetables are dear and few but the tide of population that are coming in I think must give a new feature to the colony although at present the numbers coming in are too many for the place as the place is so young. It is a fine climate  no mistake. Trees that you protect in the house grow as big as large currants. Here I never saw anything like the geraniums here. I am working at the docks at present but I don’t mean to stop long as the wages are but 5s a day. So I must conclude with all our best love to you my dear father and mother. Remember us to Elizabeth and Sarah and family, John, Martha, Hannah and Mary and all inquiring friends. Trusting to hear from you but it seems a long, long wile to wait for an Answer but I hope and trust though we thousands of miles distant we shall never forget we are brother and sisters. I have nothing more to say this time. Trusting to here from you as soon as you can. Good bye and God bless you all.

Direct for S Harris
Freemans Bay
Auckland, New Zealand
I was keen to find out more about this trip that could have easily ended in disaster. I found another account of the trip online in the form of a transcription of a private letter. The writer was a little more eloquant than my Sam! Recently, I found two more diaries in the Auckland Museum library describing the voyage. I will be posting my transcriptions here. But what I am really interested in is finding out more about the people involved, especially Captain James Aitken (apparently a drunkard and a tyrant). If your relative was on this ship in 1859, as passenger or crew, I would love to hear from you.

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