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Cardigan Castle
The voyage of the immigrant ship Cardigan Castle to Lyttelton 1876 - 1877

Throughout this write-up, quotations are used from the Diary of Sarah Stephens and an anonymous poem whose authors were both aboard the Cardigan Castle. This is done to draw attention to the differing perspectives of class in Victorian England.
Both of these are courtesy of The Alexander Turnbull Library.

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The Cardigan Castle, a full rigged ship of some 1200 tons left London, Gravesend on Saturday, September 30th 1876 on it's journey to Lyttelton, New Zealand. Although it had been ready to leave the day before, it had not sailed owing to the sailor's superstition against commencing a journey on a Friday. On board were 320 passengers including Arthur Tilby, the 17 year old (21 on the passenger list) son of Augustus and Esther Eliza Tilby of Southwark, London.

The passengers departed the Blackwall Depot and were taken down the Thames by the steam tug "Royal Victor" to board the Cardigan Castle. The ship was divided into quarters for single women, married couples and single men. Some were very comforted by this separation "... we have the high part of the deck called the poop to ourselves. It is over the saloon. The young men have the extreme end of the ship, forecastle, I think and the married people have the main deck. I am very glad of the division for some of them are very rough."  While others gave it no mind and were more concerned with leaving their home, family and friends "... Almost 300 passengers were assembled on the deck, To give to us a last farewell, Our friend around did flock, And all were grieved to part, And some did in sorrow pine, And most of us we thought of home, And those we left behind."

The ship was towed to the Straits of Dover to commence its voyage. Heading south down the English Channel towards Start Point, the Cardigan Castle started to roll in stormy seas. She reached and departed Start Point on October 2nd sailing south into the Bay of Biscay. The heavy seas spawned by gale force winds and lasting until the 12th of October continued, causing all of the passengers to be laid low with dreadful seasickness. This, apparently, was bad enough to cause many of the passengers to wish they had remained at home.

On reaching the vicinity of Cape Finisterre on the North West coast of Spain, the seas abated and the ship came to a standstill during the night. With the rising sun it was noticed that there were six other ships in view. One of these, the Burmah of Dundee bound for Brazil, was close enough to signal. The evening was fine and a fair wind sprang up which carried the Cardigan Castle out of the Bay of Biscay and into the Atlantic Ocean.

On October 17th the ship passed a long way to the eastward of the Meridian of Madeira which would have brought them closer to the African Coast than they should have been. On the following day and on this heading they passed close enough to the Island of Las Palmas (part of the Canaries Group) to see the town and hillsides of Santa Cruz through a telescope. The peak of the Island of Tenerife, one of the largest in the group, was also seen some 100 miles distant. It was getting hot as the Cardigan Castle sailed into the tropics and closer to the Equator.

As the Cardigan Castle sailed south the temperature continued to rise making it unpleasant for those used to a cooler English climate. On October 27th they reached the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of present day Mauritania, having endured several days of being almost becalmed. Indeed, on October 22nd the Captain reportedly told passengers that "we shall not get to New Zealand for twelve months at this rate."

In the early morning of November 10th 1876, Cardigan Castle crossed the Equator hailing another ship which was following her "... the Captain has sent up two rockets out of bravado, daring her to catch us." From the Equator she commenced the long southward leg of the voyage to Gough Island experiencing a mixture of fine and rough weather on the way. Gough Island, reached on November 25th 1876 was where Cardigan Castle would turn and start "sailing her eastings down". The island was just visible in the distance "as there was a haze on it". The passengers hoped, from here, to be in Lyttelton inside a month.

Suddenly the temperature had become extremely cold and while sailing across the southern ocean, the passengers spent much of their time in their quarters, ice making the decks unsafe. On the night of November 30th, Cardigan Castle passed the Cape of Good Hope. Again it was so cold that the immigrants were forced to be "walking about every moment to keep ourselves warm." Two days later a "large whale" and a ship (the Lalla Rooke, 71 days out of from Liverpool bound for Fiji) were sighted.

The night of December 7th and the following day saw Cardigan Castle in the centre of a severe cyclone at latitude 44.31 south X 45.35 east. During the storm she lost the lower main sail and mizzen top sail while waves washed continually down the hatches and into the cabins. Passengers scurried around with mops and buckets to keep the worst of the water at bay. Cardigan Castle was forced to reduce sail and to travel under topsails only. Later in the day the storm abated and the next 10 days saw calm but cold and damp sailing.

By Christmas Day 1876, the Cardigan Castle was off Tasmania and making good speed towards Lyttelton. December 31st 1876, a fine day with fair wind, saw her off Stewart(s) Island and well on the way to her final destination. For the first few days of 1877, Cardigan Castle was becalmed. So near yet so far from her destination, the Cardigan Castle moved in and out of sight of the Otago Coast and favourable winds. By early afternoon on January 4th Cardigan Castle was approaching Lyttelton and having "turned" was expecting to dock within 12 hours.

Fate, however, cast another stone at Cardigan Castle and her passengers in the form of disease on board. She sailed into Lyttelton Harbour flying the "Yellow Flag" and was directed to anchor alongside the quarantine station at Ripa(pa) Island. The Commissioners boarded Cardigan Castle at 10.00 am on January 6th 1877. It seemed generally anticipated by the passengers that they would be cleared and be allowed to go ashore. The response? "They have been and it is decided that all are to go into quarrantine (sic)." Single males were put ashore at Quail Island and married couples and single women at Ripa(pa) Island.

Quarantine restrictions were taken very seriously. Were anyone to go to the island or the ship without permission, they would be detained there and fined 200. The ship was fumigated and all of the passengers belongings were turned out and spread on the grass or hug on lines to be well aired. Anything that was not aired was to be burned. Even mail written on the islands was not delivered to the mainland before it had been fumigated.

It would be three long months before the last of the Cardigan Castle passengers were permitted to leave the island for their new homes.

Copyright: Denise & Peter 1999