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CHAPTER II.
    The Voyage and Incidents Thereon—Rats on Board, the White Squall, Harpooning a Shark, Burial of the Twins, a Tropical Escapade—Icebergs—Exchange of Courtesies at Sea, etc.

The "Mary Anne" was, as I stated, an emigrant ship, and carried on the voyage about four hundred men, women, and children, sent out chiefly through the Government Emigration Agents. Persons going out in this way were assisted by having a portion of their passage paid for them as an advance, to be refunded after a certain time passed in the colony. The only first-class passengers in addition to C——and myself were two old maiden ladies, the Misses Hunt, who, with the doctor and his wife, the captain and first-mate, comprised our cabin party. In the second-class were three passengers—T. Smith, whose name will frequently appear in these pages, and two brothers called Leach, going out to join a rich cousin, a sheep farmer in Canterbury. Smith was the son of a wealthy squire, with whom, it appeared, he had fallen out respecting some family matters, and in a fit of pique left his home and took passage to New Zealand. His funds were sufficient to procure him a second-class berth, but on representing matters to the captain, who knew something of his family, it was arranged that he should join us in the saloon, hence he became one of our comrades, and eventually a particular friend.

The captain\'s name was Ashby, and he soon proved to be a most jolly and agreeable companion. The first-mate, Lapworth, also became a favourite with us all.

The doctor was usually drunk, or partly so, and led his wife, a kind and amiable little lady, a very unpleasant life. The Misses Hunt were elderly, amiable, and generally just what they should be.

Our cabins we had (in accordance with the usages of emigrant ships) furnished ourselves, and they were roomy and comfortable, but I will not readily forget the horror with which I woke up during the first night at sea, with an indescribable feeling that I was being crawled over[Pg 5] by some loathsome things. In a half-wakeful fit, I put out my hand, to find it rest upon a huge rat, which was seated on my chest. I started up in my bunk, when, as I did so, it appeared that a large family of rats had been holding high carnival upon me and my possessions; fully a dozen must have been in bed with me. I had no light, nor could I procure one, so I dressed and went on deck until morning. As a boy I was fond of carpentering, and was considerably expert in that way. My father thinking some tools would be useful to me, provided me with a small chest of serviceable ones (not the ordinary amateur\'s gimcracks), and this chest I had with me in my cabin. On examination I discovered several holes beneath the berth, where no doubt the previous night\'s visitors had entered. I set to work, and with the aid of some deal boxes given me by the steward, I had all securely closed up by breakfast, where the others enjoyed a hearty laugh at my experience of the night. The captain said there were doubtless hundreds of rats on board, and seemed to regard the fact with complacency rather than otherwise. Sailors consider that the presence of rats is a guarantee of the seaworthiness of the ship, and they will never voluntarily take passage in a vessel that is not sound.

The captain\'s supposition proved true enough, and it was not unusual of an evening to see these friendly rodents taking an airing on the ropes and rigging, and upon the hand-rails around the poop deck, and while so diverting themselves, I have endeavoured to shake them overboard, but always in vain; they were thoroughbred sailors, knew exactly when and where to jump, and flopping on the deck at my feet would disappear, with a twist of their tails amidships.

I do not think that the sailors approved of the rats being destroyed, and rather preferred their society than otherwise.

We soon settled down to our sea life, and the groans of sickness and the screaming of children from between decks ceased in time. Our own party of nine had the poop to ourselves, and were very comfortable; we soon got to like the life, and generally arranged some way of spending each day agreeably. We had a fair library, chess, backgammon, whist, etc., and when we got into the Tropics and had occasional calms, we went out in the captain\'s gig; then further south we had shooting matches at Cape pigeons and[Pg 6] albatrosses, and in all our amusements the captain and Lapworth took part.

There were not many incidents on the voyage worthy of note, but I will mention the most interesting of them which I can recollect. The first was when we encountered a white squall about a week out from England. It was a lovely evening, a slight breeze sending us along some four knots under full sail. We were lounging on deck watching the sunset, and occupied with our thoughts, when suddenly there was a cry from the "look out" in the main fore-top which created an instantaneous and marvellous scene of activity on board. It was then that we witnessed the first example of thorough seamanship and discipline; the shrill boatswain\'s whistle, the captain shouting a few orders, passed on by the mates, a crowd of sailors appearing like magic in the rigging, and in another instant the ship riding under bare masts; a deathlike stillness for a few seconds, and then a snow white wall of foam, stretching as far as the eye could reach, came down upon us with a sweeping wind, striking the ship broadsides, and over she went on her beam ends. Half a minute\'s hesitation or bungling would in all probability have sent us over altogether. There was a shout to us novices to look out—away went deck chairs and tables. The Misses Hunt—poor old ladies—who had been quietly knitting unconscious of any coming danger, were unceremoniously precipitated into the lee scuppers. I seized the mizen-mast, while C—— falling foul of a roving hen-coop, grasped it in a loving embrace, and accompanied it to some haven of safety, where he stretched himself upon it until permitted to walk upright again. The officers and crew appeared like so many cats in the facility with which they moved about; so much so that deciding to have a try myself, I was instantly sent rolling over to the two old ladies, creating a shout of laughter from all hands. The squall lasted about half an hour, and was succeeded by a fine night and a spanking breeze.

Harpooning a Shark

Harpooning a Shark.

Another bit of excitement was the harpooning and capture of a shark which had been following the ship for days. This is always an omen of ill-luck with sailors, who are very superstitious, believing that a shark under such circumstances is waiting for a body dead or alive, and will follow the ship until its desire is appeased. They are always, therefore, keen to kill a shark when opportunity offers. Fortunately, for our purpose, a calm came on while the shark was visiting [Pg 7]us, and he kept moving about under the stern in a most friendly manner. The plan of operations was as follows:—A large junk of pork was made fast to a rope and suspended from the stern, letting it sink about a foot under the surface. C——, Smith, and I were in the captain\'s boat, with three sailors, under the orders of Lapworth, who had taken his stand immediately above with a harpoon. The shark came up, nibbling and smelling at the pork, so close to us in the boat that he almost rubbed along the side without apparent alarm or taking any notice of our presence. He was a monster, nearly nine feet in length, and as he came alongside, his back fin rose some inches above the surface. He did not seem inclined to seize the pork until Lapworth had it quickly jerked up, when the brute made a dash at it, half turning as he did so, and at the same instant received the harpoon through his neck. I recollect the monster turning over on his back, Lapworth swinging himself over into the boat, a little organised commotion among the men, and in a few moments running nooses were passed over head and tail, and he was hoisted on deck and speedily despatched. The body was cut up and divided amongst the crew, some of whom were partial to shark steak. A piece of the backbone I secured for myself as a memento of the occasion.

As if to bear out the superstition I have mentioned, a few days subsequently a death, or rather two deaths, did actually take place; they were the twins and only children of a Scottish shepherd and his wife, both on board. Pretty little girls of eight, as I remember them, playing about the deck, and favourites with all, they died within a day of each other. The father was a gigantic fellow, and I have pleasant recollections of him in after years, when time and other children had helped to assuage his and his wife\'s grief for the loss of their two darlings at sea by one stroke of illness.

There is something more affecting in a burial at sea than one on land. In this instance the little body was wrapped in a white cloth, to which a small bag of coals was fastened, and laid upon a slide projecting from the stern of the vessel ready for immersion. The captain read the Burial Service, all on board standing uncovered. At the words "Dust to dust," etc., the body was allowed to slide into the sea—where it immediately disappeared. The mother was too ill to be present, and the father\'s grief was severe, as it might well be, to witness his child laid in so lonely a resting place in mid-ocean without sign or mark. The following evening a[Pg 8] similar scene was enacted when the body of the other little sister was committed to the deep, and the father had to be taken away before the service was completed.

No ceremonies I ever beheld impressed and affected me so much as the burial of the little twins at sea.

While in the Tropics we had occasional calms, sometimes lasting for two or three days; the sea was like molten glass, and the sun burnt like a furnace. On such occasions we were permitted to row about within a reasonable distance of the ship, so that if a breeze suddenly sprang up we might not be left behind. Once this very nearly occurred, when we had rowed a long way off, after what was supposed to be a whale spouting. We suddenly felt a gentle breath of air, and noticed the glassy surface giving place to a slight disturbance. We were a mile off the ship, but could distinctly hear the summons from aboard, and noticed the sails filling. We rowed with all our strength, stripped to the waist, and succeeded in getting up when the ship was well under weigh. It was a stiff piece of work, and the captain was so concerned and annoyed at our disobedience of his orders that he refused to allow us to boat again during the voyage. We suffered sorely for our escapade, for not knowing the strength of a tropical sun, we exposed ourselves so that the skin was burned and peeled off, and we were in misery for several days, while our arms and necks were swathed in cotton wool and oil.

After leaving the tropics we had a pleasant voyage and fair winds until we rounded the Cape, where we encountered some rough weather, and at 56° S.L., it being then almost winter in those latitudes, we passed many icebergs of more or less extent. Few of them appeared to be more than ten or fifteen feet above water, but the greater portion of such blocks are submerged, and considerable caution had to be observed night and day to steer clear of them. They were usually observable at first from the large number of birds resting on them, causing them to appear like a dark speck on the horizon. One of these icebergs (according to an entry made in the ship\'s log) was stated to be five miles long and of great height, and we were supposed to have passed it at the latter end of the night so near that "a biscuit might be thrown upon it." I am afraid the entry was open to criticism, and that the existence, or at any rate, the extent of this particular iceberg might have been due to an extra glass of grog on the mate\'s imagination.[Pg 9]

We sighted no land during the voyage, except the Peak of Teneriffe, as it emerged above a cloud; and but few vessels, and of those only two closely. One was a Swedish barque, homeward bound, the other a large American clipper ship. We spoke the latter when the vessels were some miles apart, but as the courses were parallel, she being bound for London, while we were from thence, we gradually neared, when an amusing conversation by signals took place. Our captain, by mistake of the signaller, invited the Yankee captain to dinner, and the reply from the American, who good-naturedly took it as a joke, was "Bad roadstead here." Our captain thought they were chaffing him, and had not the mistake been discovered in time, the rencontre might not have ended as pleasantly as it did. Our captain and second mate went on board the Yankee, and their captain returned the visit. While this was proceeding the two ships appeared to be sailing round each other, and the sight was very imposing. When the ceremonies were over, and a few exchanges of newspapers, wines, etc., were made and bearings compared, the vessels swung round to their respective courses, up flew the sails, and a prolonged cheer from both ships told us this little interchange of courtesies in the midst of the South Pacific was at an end.

I think it was the same night that we experienced a very heavy gale; the lightning, thunder, rain, and wind were terrific, and the sea ran mountains high. I stayed on deck nearly all the night, half perished with wet and cold; but such a storm carries with it a peculiar attraction, and one which I could not resist. I do not know anything more weird and impressive than the chant of the sailors hauling on the ropes, mingled with the fierce fury of the storm, and every now and again the dense darkness lit up by a vivid flash of lightning; the deck appears for the moment peopled by phantoms combined with the fury of the elements to bring destruction on the noble little vessel with its precious freight struggling and trembling in their grasp.

The following morning the storm had quite abated, but the sea was such as can be seen only in mid-ocean. Our little ship (she was only 700 tons) appeared such an atom in comparison with the enormous mountains of water. At one moment we would be perched on the summit of a wave, seemingly hundreds of feet high, and immediately below a terrible abyss into which we were on the point of sinking;[Pg 10] the next we would be placed between two mountains of water which seemed going to engulf us.

I always took a place with the sailors on emergencies, to give a hand at hauling the ropes, and got to be fairly expert at climbing into the rigging. The rope-hauling was done to some chant started by the boatswain or one of the sailors—this is necessary to ensure that the united strength of the pullers is exerted at the same moment. One of the chants I well remember. It was:—
"Haul a bowlin\', the \'Mary Anne\'s\' a-rollin\'.
Haul a bowlin\', a bowlin\' haul;
Haul a bowlin\', the good ship\'s a-rollin\';
Haul a bowlin\', a bowlin\' haul."

The chant is sung out in stentorian notes by the leader, and on the word in italics every man joins in a tremendous and united pull.

Crowds of Cape pigeons and albatrosses accompanied us all across the South Pacific. These birds never seem to tire and but rarely rest on the water, except when they swoop down and settle a moment to pick up something that has been thrown overboard; this is quickly devoured, and they are again in pursuit. The albatrosses, some white, some grey, and some almost black, are huge birds; some that we shot, and for which the boat was sent, measured nine feet from tip to tip of wings.

On August 1st we rounded Stewart\'s Island, the southern-most of the New Zealand group. It is little more than a barren rock, and was not then inhabited, whatever it may be now. Although it was the winter season, and the latitude corresponded to that of the North of England, we remarked how mild and dry was the atmosphere in comparison. Indeed the weather was glorious and seemed to welcome us to the land we were coming to.

On the 3rd of August we sighted the coast of Canterbury, and at daylight on the 4th we found ourselves lying becalmed about 12 miles off Port Lyttelton Heads, from whence the captain signalled for a pilot steamer to take the ship to harbour. In the clear rare atmosphere, and the pure invigorating feeling of that glorious morning, we were all impatient of delay. A couple of fishing boats were lying not far off, and we begged the captain to let us row out to[Pg 11] them and he permitted us, conditionally that we returned and kept near the ship, because immediately the tug arrived we would start. We rowed to the boats and obtained some information from the fishermen, with whom were two of the natives, Maori lads; indeed, I think the boat partly belonged to the Maoris, for these people do not take service with the white settlers. They pointed out to us where the entrance lay, and told us that Port Lyttelton was some five miles further down a bay.

Before we returned to breakfast we had decided to anticipate matters by going ahead of the ship. We quietly laid in a small supply of food and appeared at the cabin table like good and obedient boys. Incidentally, one of us asked the captain if it would be easy to row into port, and he replied that it would be very risky to attempt it; it was a long way, and the wind or a squall might get up at any moment, or the tide might be contrary, and he positively forbade us to entertain any such idea. All this, however, only increased our desire for the "lark," as we called it, and about 9 o\'clock, having rowed about quietly for a while, we suddenly bade good-bye to the "Mary Anne" and steered straight for the Heads, where we had been told Port Lyttelton lay. Our crew consisted of Smith, the two Leaches, C——, and myself, with a man named Kelson, who was a good oarsman, and we thought he would be useful as an extra hand, but he had no notion of our freak when we started, and was considerably chagrined when he discovered our real intention; he had a young wife on board, whom he feared would be in distress about him.

For some time we pulled away manfully, but at length began with some dismay to notice two facts, one, that we were losing sight of the ship, and the other that the hills did not appear to be any nearer!

Some one suggested returning, but as that would have looked like funk, it was overruled, and we went to the oars with renewed vigour. After some hours pulling we had the satisfaction to find that although the masts of the ship were scarcely visible we were certainly drawing nearer to the land, and could occasionally distinguish waves breaking on the rocks. The coast apparently was quite uninhabited, with no sign of life on land or sea. We had evidently been working against the tide or some current, for we had been[Pg 12] rowing steadily from 9 to 4, which would have amounted to less than two miles an hour, whereas we could pull five. Our course must have been true, as also the directions we received, for on entering between the heads we found ourselves in a lovely bay stretching away to where we were able to discern the masts of vessels in the distance, and soon after a large white object lying upon the shore. To satisfy our curiosity and obtain news of our whereabouts we rowed over and found that the white object was the carcase of a whale which had been washed on shore, and on which several men were engaged cutting it up. These speedily discovered our "new chum" appearance, but with true Colonial hospitality at once offered us a nip of rum, at the same moment somewhat disturbing our equanimity by telling us that if we went on to the Port we would be put in choky for leaving the ship before the Medical Officer examined her.

It was strange and very pleasant to feel the solid ground under our feet after 94 days at sea, and we sat awhile with the whale men before resuming our boat. Then we proceeded quietly down the Bay, which was very beautiful, the dense and variegated primeval forests clothing the lower portions of the hills and fringing the ravines and gullies to the shore, the pretty caves and bays lying in sheltered nooks, with a mountain stream or cascade to complete the picture, and all undefiled by the hand of man. The bold outline of the bare rocky summits, the deep blue of the silent calm bay, and the distant view of the little Port of Lyttelton picturesquely sloping up the hillside.

Seeing no sign of the ship, and fearing to approach the town, we rowed into a little sandy cove, where we fastened the boat and proceeded to ascend the hill to endeavour to discover the ship\'s whereabouts. About half-way we came upon a neat shepherd\'s cottage in one of the most picturesque localities imaginable, and commanding a magnificent view of the bay and harbour. On calling we found the cottage occupied by the shepherd\'s wife, a pleasant buxom Scots-woman, who immediately proffered us food, an offer too tempting to be declined, and we presently sat down to our first Colonial meal of excellent home-made bread, mutton, and tea, and how delighted we were to taste the fine fresh mutton after many weeks of salt junk and leathery fowls on board the "Mary Anne"![Pg 13]

We had finished our hearty dinner, and were giving our loquacious hostess all the news we could of the old country, when the ship hove in sight, towed by a little tug steamer. We ran for our boat and gave chase, but only reached her side as the anchor was being dropped in Lyttelton Harbour. We received from the Captain and Lapworth a sound but good-humoured rating, but there would be no opportunity of further "larks" from the "Mary Anne"! The voyage was over, and a most pleasant one it had been, especially for our small party, and I am sure that no voyagers to the New World ever had the luck to travel with kinder or more sympathetic captain and officers, or with abler seamen, than those in command of the good ship "Mary Anne."

Poor Mrs. Kelson was in sore distress about her husband, whom she persisted in giving up for lost, and doubtless she looked pretty sharply after his movements for a while.

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