The Perrin Family Emigrate to
The Voyage of the ship Berar
London, October 15th 1874 to Wellington January 22nd 1875
Written by Suzanne Perrin
The Perrins were assisted immigrants, and the total cost of their passage to the government was £94.5.0. Farm labouring was one of the occupations qualifying for assisted passage by the New Zealand government, and Charles appears on the passenger list as a farm labourer from Kent. Whether he was or not is unclear. However, it was common for people living in London to travel south to Kent as seasonal workers, picking hops, apples etc.
Emigrants were accommodated in different parts of the ship - Charles (aged 38) and Sophia (39) were amidships with the four youngest children, Alfred (aged 8), Sophia (5), Henry (3) and Stephen (1). Mary (17) joined the single women aft, and Charles (15) and Fred (12) were with the single men forward.
Like most passengers, they joined the ship at London docks after a stay of three weeks at the Blackwall Depot, which would have been a nightmarish experience, as the barracks type accommodation was crowded, noisy and lacking in privacy. But even worse, it was a breeding place for disease - measles and scarlet fever were widespread in England at this time, and an advanced case of scarlet fever was allowed on board despite the protestations of the other Berar passengers. Accounts of emigrants staying at the Blackwall Depot, which could hold up to 700 people, tell of sermons, singing, magic lantern shows, minstrel shows etc., which helped to while away the time.
They embarked on 15the October 1874 from the South-west dock of the East India Docks of London. A quotation from Walter Savill of Shaw Savill & Co gives a first hand impression of the conditions there in those days - The traveller was faced with a scene of pandemonium and filth. There was a forrest of masts and bowsprits of ships berthed bow-to on the quay. Noise of porters, milling crowds, baggage cargo, dock workers, crew, horses and carts. The Berar had a full complement of 362 passengers:- 135 male, 100 female, 53 boys, 58 girls, 16 infants. Their nationalities were 324 English, 5 Scotch, 25 Irish, 6 French, 1 German, 1 Indian. Charles kept a diary, a full and lively description of their voyage until 20 December 1874, by which time his black notebook (with an Almanac for 1874 in the front) was full of his pencilled account.
Their experiences paralleled those of many immigrants:- the bad weather off the Cornish coast and Bay of Biscay, heat of the tropics, becoming becalmed, the catching of an albatross, home-made entertainments on board. The voyage was marred by deaths caused by the scarlet fever that was raging on board. For the final 5 weeks of their trip which was not recorded in the diary, between 20 December 1874 and their arrival in Wellington on 22 January 1875, they sailed through the "Roaring Forties" in cold, wet and rough conditions with no sight of land. The hatches were battened down and the passengers were only allowed on deck under strict supervision. Spirits were often low in the dank, wet atmosphere below decks, especially with the scarlet fever affecting nearly every family on board.
There were 4 births and 19 deaths during the voyage, and 2 more deaths at the quarantine station at Somes Island after arrival. The final passage through Cook Strait to enter Port Nicholson was very hazardous, and the pilot took the ship straight to the quarantine station because it would have been flying (yellow) signal flags to signify sickness on board. At Somes Island the ship was fumigated and painted, and the passengers and crew had to wait for clearance.
The Wellington newspaper for 23 January 1875 recorded The ship Berar from London with immigrants arrived last night; 89 days out on passage. There have been 21 deaths from scarlet fever on the voyage. Still 20 cases under medical treatment. The fever made its appearance the day after leaving London. Ship has been placed in quarantine; probably be detained a fortnight. By early February the immigrants had been dispersed to various provinces. The Wanganui Chronicle of 9 February 1875 reported 32 Berar immigrants for Foxton and 41 for Wanganui.
While in quarantine the Perrins heard of the
shocking fate of the Cospatrick on
which they had nearly sailed. It caught fire on 18 November 1874 and sank at latitude 37oS,
latitude 12oE. There were only 3 survivors, making this one of the greatest
maritime disasters, with 470 lives lost. The Lord Mayor of London opened a fund for
dependent relatives, and the New Zealand Government contributed £1,000, taking the total
to £2,575 for the "Cospatrick Relief Fund", and the papers of the time were
full of the news, and new safety measures were advocated for fire at sea. The impact that
the disaster of the Cospatrick had on the English populace can be judged by the fact that
the news was widely promulgated even through rural England. A memorial to the victims of
the Cospatrick disaster was erected on the village green at Shipton-under-Wychwood,
Oxfordshire, from where many of the victims had come. Also, the vicar diarist Francis
Kilvert, then resident in Chippenham, Wiltshire, recorded:-
Monday, Childermas Day (28 December 1874) - To-day we heard by short telegram of the awful calamity of the burning of the emigrant ship Caspatria (sic) near the Cape of Good Hope bound for New Zealand. Four hundred and forty persons burnt in her (actually 429). One boat reached St Helena with three survivors who had lived on the flesh of their companions.
Meanwhile Charles and Sophia had to submit their evidence to a Royal Commission of Enquiry into the circumstances attending disease on board the ship Berar. The Commission reported 120 cases of scarlet fever during the voyage, 20 on arrival, and the deaths of 16 children and 3 adults; Roy White (aged 24), Frederick Benson (aged 42) and William Clayton (37). It was found that:
immigrants as a body were a good class of people and many have already found employment
The submissions by Dr P N Newell (surgeon to Berar)
The ship needed a bathroom;
There were too many passengers on board, especially young children;
More ventilation was required between decks;
Food generally was good - only onions poor quality that would have been injurious to health;
Order and discipline was very good amongst passengers;
There were some dirty people on board - refusing to keep selves and place clean;
Spread of disease alarming, and that Alice Cogger brought the disease on board.
The Westminster Agent General's conclusion on 29 June 1875 on Dr Newell, Surgeon Superintendent of the Berar, was that We do not consider it advisable that he should again be entrusted with the charge of an emigrant ship. This was despite the testimonials of several passengers including Charles and Sophia in support of the doctor.
The Perrins joined immigrants bound for Nelson, and Charles found employment as a storekeeper, and they set up house in Tasman St. One year later Nelson Clement was born (15 July 1876), then Edith Fanny 3 years later (24 September 1879). The Nelson Guide Book and Directory of 1887 gives us:- PERRIN Charles T, Tasman St. This was the address at which their eldest child, Mary Ann married a Scot, George Francis Frew on 1 January 1884, and also where Sophia (5th child) married Richard Huffam on 4 February 1891.
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