1914 - Hewett, Ellen. Looking back, or, Personal Reminiscences (2nd ed.) - I. THE VOYAGE OUT, p 1-8

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  1914 - Hewett, Ellen. Looking back, or, Personal Reminiscences (2nd ed.) - I. THE VOYAGE OUT, p 1-8
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'COMING events cast their shadow before them.' This saying was certainly exemplified in my case, for the first missionary meeting I ever attended as a child of ten years old was on behalf of the Maoris of New Zealand. So interested did I become in the accounts given of that (then) savage race of people, that I accepted a missionary box on their behalf, but little did I imagine when asking for pennies the tragic part that the Maoris would play in my future life.

At that time my parents had no thought of leaving their home in the 'Belgravia' of Liverpool for New Zealand--then literally the 'uttermost part of the earth,' but after repeated financial losses on the Stock Exchange, my father's health gradually gave way, and my mother --having heard glowing accounts of the climate of New Zealand--persuaded him to go out there.

I have never forgotten my feelings as I told my music master that my lessons must end, for we were all going to New Zealand. His kind eyes filled with tears as he sorrowfully said, 'Poor child, poor child, and I had pictured for you a musical career!'

Then came the parting with all my school-fellows and teachers, and, hardest of all, the parting with my married sister. She wanted me to stay with her in her beautiful home in the North of England, where I had spent some of my happiest days; but love of my parents, sisters, and brothers made it impossible to let them all go without me.

It was during the exceptionally severe winter of December, 1854, when great blocks of ice were floating down the River Mersey, that we embarked on board the fine ship Earl of Sefton, of the White Star Line, bound for Melbourne.

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The difficulty of embarking during that stormy blizzard was so terrible that it diverted our thoughts from the heart-break of parting with our beloved ones. The small tender that conveyed us from the pier-head to our ship tossed about wildly, till it seemed quite impossible that we could ever get on board. My father was the first to make the attempt with my little sister in his arms, and, but for the timely aid of two sailors, they must have fallen into the sea. One man actually did so with his portmanteau; he was only rescued with great difficulty, and was so much bruised that he was in the doctor's hands for several weeks. 1

There were 300 emigrants on board, amongst them many Germans; and these, when the weather grew calmer, would assemble on deck and sing the songs of their Fatherland. Their good and steady behaviour was an example to the other emigrants, many of whom were anything but peaceable.

Becalmed in the tropics, time hung heavily on our hands, and to relieve the monotony one enterprising person sought out the captain and obtained permission for a boat to be lowered, and for some of us to go for a pull. I was one of the party. We all got into the boat in great spirits and excitement. The sailors were charged to lower slowly and carefully--but, alas! one of the pullies would not run, so the boat was tilted up, with the result that we were all nearly pitched out. Of course, the girls shrieked, and only by clinging on with all our might did we escape falling into the sea. A sharp reprimand from the officer in charge resulted in our support being hoisted to an even keel, and the second attempt was successful, and down we went. But, to our surprise, instead of being perfectly steady, the boat rose and fell with the swell--which is never absent on the deep ocean--in a most disturbing manner. Our ship--full-rigged--looked gigantic as we gazed at it from the boat, but it was so solitary! Nothing was in sight, only that endless expanse of water, and we all begged to be taken on board again as quickly as possible. The decks of our ship were crowded with the passengers watching us, and just for diversion they

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cheered us as we were hauled up in our boat to the poop deck. We were so glad to be on board, and realized a little of the difficulty there must be, in time of shipwreck, to launch a boat or raft.

That same day, while the passengers were dining, the captain gave the sailors permission to bathe in the sea, but soon we heard the cry of 'Shark! shark!' and the last sailor was only on board just in time to escape from a huge creature, which a few minutes afterwards was caught and hauled on board. Full of excitement, we all rushed up on deck to see the shark as it floundered about, but we kept at a respectful distance, and thought the ship's carpenter very brave when he chopped off its tail, which quietened it. The two pretty little pilot fish that accompany the sharks swam round the ship for some time afterwards, apparently greatly perturbed by the loss of their big protege.

Our next excitement was 'Neptune.' We saloon passengers were all invited to go on deck, and were looking about and asking, 'What is there to see?' when suddenly we were all deluged with salt water, which the sailors had taken up the rigging in buckets. We were told it was our 'christening' for crossing the Line for the first time! As to the poor apprentices, they were captured and dragged from their hiding places, blind-folded, and led up on to the deck, where a large sail, full of salt water, was prepared for their reception. After they had been lathered with mustard, and scraped with a rough piece of iron, and a tar pill put into their mouths which held their teeth together, the board on which they were sitting was suddenly tilted over, and they all fell spluttering and struggling into the sail, and of course thought they were in the sea. It was horrible and cruel, but most of the emigrants and sailors were much amused, as there was really no danger to life.

Then over the side of the ship came Mr. and Mrs. Neptune, as though arriving from the bottom of the sea. Neptune wore a hairy coat, with sea-weed hair and beard, and Mrs. Neptune with dress, bag, bonnet, and umbrella. Their questions and answers were very funny,

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and they amused every one, and all would have passed off pleasantly had the passengers but obeyed the captain's orders, and not given intoxicating drink to the sailors.

Instead of this, however, they managed to get and distribute the spirits too freely, and this resulted in a serious quarrel amongst some of the passengers and crew. When the captain and officers interfered, the sailors all mutinied, together with a large number of the emigrants. The ladies in the saloon were ordered to lock themselves in their cabins, and the men's revolvers and pistols were loaded. When the sailors saw that the saloon and second-class passengers were armed they hesitated. Then the captain stepped on to the bridge between the two decks, and the first mate on the other bridge, each with a revolver, and the captain said, 'The first man who attempts to cross either of these bridges will be shot.'

No one ventured, but as it grew darker, two or three of the ringleaders managed to get on to the poop unseen, and one of them aimed a blow at the mate's head, but he was promptly knocked down by one of our saloon passengers. At the same time a Spanish sailor tried to plunge a dagger into the captain's back, but he was knocked down by the second steward. This steward was thought to be rather a dull sort of man, not liked by the captain, but many of us knew that he was good and kind, and we were glad that he had been able to distinguish himself by saving the captain's life. The other ringleaders were captured, handcuffed, and tied to the mizzen-mast, where they remained all night.

Early the next morning my father asked the captain to allow him to speak to them. My father said if they would ask the captain's forgiveness he would also intercede; and as they were really repentant, the captain forgave them, but the Spaniard who had tried to kill him was kept in 'irons' for the rest of the voyage.

The day after the mutiny, all the passengers and crew were ordered on deck at 2 p.m., and at that time the decks were crowded. The captain paced the deck silent and grave; no one appeared to know what was going to happen, and there was a dead silence, until the captain called out, 'Set to work, there!' 'Aye, aye, sir!' was

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the answer, and soon a sloping plank was fixed on the bulwark of the vessel, such as would be used at a funeral at sea.

A sort of horror possessed us all, as we had visions of some tragedy taking place, until we saw a large cask of rum being hoisted up and placed on the sloping board. With one push it fell into the sea. Then cases of brandy, wine, beer, all shared the same fate, until the vessel was cleared of all intoxicating drink, with the exception of a little that was kept in case of accidents or illness.

It was a fine, bold stroke of the captain's, and a severe but well-merited punishment to those who had disobeyed his orders.

After passing through the tropics, we got a little out of our course, south of the Cape. The weather became stormy, but there was no complaint from the sailors at the loss of their grog. The captain gave them hot coffee instead, which they all enjoyed, and we were all cheered from time to time by their sea songs as they hauled in or put out more sail.

Soon after this we experienced a terrible gale; we were 'hove to' for three days, and as the storm abated, we saw in the distance five water-spouts appearing to form pillars and archways of water. Fortunately, we were far distant before they burst.

The weather was now getting very cold, and we were going steadily along at eight knots an hour, when one day we heard the cry, 'Man overboard!' He had fallen from the bow of the vessel, and was hauled up at the stern; a rope had been thrown immediately to him. He was a fine strong man, a Norwegian, and it seemed incredible that he had been able to put his arms through the slip-knots whilst battling with the waves and swimming. He was very exhausted, and his arms very sore, but otherwise he was unhurt.

The weather became colder still; sea-birds came in crowds; it was an incessant delight to watch the albatross. Some we caught measured 15 ft. to 17 ft. from tip to tip of their wings. There were also birds the sailors called 'molly hawks,' large brown birds with

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beautiful eyes and heads, so little frightened that they would sometimes hover close over the deck. Then there were Cape pigeons, Mother Carey's chickens, and flocks of birds as far as the eye could see.

At this time we noticed our captain was getting more silent and looking anxious. He had men on the forecastle on the 'look out' constantly, and at last they cried, 'Icebergs ahead!' The next day we were surrounded by them, some like small white islands, others like large white palaces. All the telescopes and field glasses were in constant use trying to find a Polar bear. We were evidently in danger, and for a week, until we were clear of the icebergs, the captain never went to bed.

Just before arriving at Melbourne we had lovely weather, and as we neared the land, after our three months at sea, we thought we could smell roses, mignonette, and violets; and we became quite sentimental over a little land bird which flew into our rigging!

We caught some fish, 'barracoota,' and thought them a delicious change after all the salt meat, preserved potatoes, and a mixture they called preserved milk.

When we left England a few coops of poultry were on board for the saloon passengers, but many soon died, the rest were eaten, and so we were reduced to salt beef and pork, and biscuits. How different from the luxuries provided in these days for the ocean-travelling public on our magnificent steamers!

While anchored in Hobson Bay, waiting for the emigration officer, we amused ourselves by fishing, and caught quantities of schnapper; very nice eating they proved, and a great change from the ship's menu.

The emigration officer--a very handsome and young-looking man--was, after his inspection, chatting with some of the saloon passengers, when my mother asked, 'Is it not unusual for one so young to be in so responsible a position? But,' she added, 'if you are as good as you are handsome, your duties will be well done!'

He laughed, and said, 'I am nineteen, and a married man; my wife is fourteen, and I always say she is my guardian angel.'

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Then he looked at me, and said to my mother, 'You will not keep your daughter long; she will soon leave you to be married.' We all exclaimed, 'Oh, no!' But his words proved true.

Melbourne was very primitive in 1855. We stayed at a nice boarding-house for a month. Then, because my father had a quantity of luggage, agricultural machinery, and a large galvanized iron house in pieces, he chartered a small brig to take us to Nelson, New Zealand.

The journey took nearly three weeks, and nothing of importance happened until one night, when becalmed in the Sounds, a squall came on quite suddenly, which took our little brig 'aback,' and we were in danger of going down stern first. Soon all hands took in the sails, but being short handed, the man at the wheel had to leave his post. The wheel was spinning round, and my father thought the rudder might break, so, without waiting to dress, he ran up on deck and held the wheel. He was very tall and pale, and wore a straight white garment down to his heels, and a tall night-cap surmounted by a tassel. With the moonlight on his smooth-shaven face and white headgear and garments he must have looked weird and ghostly indeed.

When sail was shortened, the sailor came to take over the duties of steering, but the sight of the 'ghost' at the wheel was too much for him; he gazed in awed amazement for a moment, and then rushed into the fo'castle, answering the mate's question with, 'There's God Almighty at the wheel!' The mate, with an impatient exclamation, ran up the steps, and he also stood aghast; then back he went. My father by this time concluded the joke had gone far enough, so, amid roars of laughter, he made himself known and resigned his self-imposed duty.

The magnificent scenery in the Sounds was very awe-inspiring to us all, especially to my father, who could scarcely be induced to go to his meals--he could not tear himself away from the grandeur and majesty of those rocky mountains rising precipitously out of the sea and towering skywards. Some were bathed in sun-

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shine, others in deep gloom. But my mother, affected differently, exclaimed, 'Oh, what a fearful place to come to!' She was thinking of farming and home-making, and wanted to see grassy slopes with sheep and cattle browsing!

Soon we arrived at Nelson. The weather was lovely, and our spirits revived. We were thankful to leave our small vessel and visit the township, which was primitive, but very attractive and pretty, and the people there were most kind and friendly.

1   See A in Appendix, page 90.

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