Douglas Mary's Letters Home
Mrs Douglas Mary Dunsmore McKain wrote these letters to her children in England
while travelling to New Zealand on board the ship Olympus and after arriving in Wellington.
"My beloved children,
As there is a ship in sight I take the opportunity of writing a few lines to let you know we are all in good health and spirits. I wrote to you and to Mary, to Mrs. WAUGH, and to Nathan LOTON on the 10th of January, by the ship WHITBY of London, bound for Cork. We passed five vessels that day.The captain went on board the Whitby with six of the cabin passengers and then the Whitby came actually alongside of the Olympus, to the great terror of most of us, who could see the danger of two such ponderous machines coming so near each other. To add to the terror of the two commanders, the vessels refused to answer the helms and I fully expected the next move would crush them together. The seamen had to cut some of our ropes, and then to our great joy, the space between the vessels widened. The Whitby dropped astern and soon after, our captain and the other gentlemen came on board and brought a Cape sheep with them. The Whitby soon after left us, and we gave them three cheers, which her crew returned.
We spoke to only one of the other vessels, the JANE, of Glasgow, bound for New Zealand. She came near us at 6 o'clock in the evening and our captain invited her captain to breakfast with him the next morning, which invitation was accepted, and the Jane lay to for us all night.But we kept her at a respectful distance as we had been dreadfully alarmed by the too near approach of the Whitby. The next morning they brought the captain a present of fruit which they had brought from St. Jagos where they had remained two or three days. I got one of the bananas which is a most delicious fruit. They stopped on board about two hours and then left us. They saluted us with one of their cannons, which our people returned by a discharge of small arms. She was soon out of sight as she was a much faster sailer than the Olympus.
On the 15th Jan., we crossed the Line at 9 o'clock in the morning. Our superintendent, Dr. FEATHERSTON, ordered a glass of rum to be served out to each adult. In the evening the sailors claimed the privilege of introducing Neptune and his wife on board. But there was no shaving or any ribaldry to extort money. Everyone who chose to give did it freely. I gave them 1/-, as much as I could afford. The sailors collected about £3 (3 pounds) and they finished the evenings amusement with a song.
Your brothers and sister are well and happy. James works very hard helping the second mate getting the emigrants stores out of the hold. If you were to see him sometimes you would think he was just come out of a coal pit.
I wrote you an account of the storm we encountered in the Bay of Biscay, but the danger from the Whitbys proximity to us on the 10th was more apparent and the captain was more alarmed.
We have plenty of good provisions. The water is getting very bad but we have it mixed for drinking with lime juice and sugar one day and next day half a pint of grog.
On the 27th Jan. there was a fine boy born on board and he and his mother are doing well. On the 29th we got out of the tropics so the most unhealthy part of our voyage is over. There have been three deaths on board, all children, which I think is not many in so long and perilous a voyage.
One of the emigrants has a violin and plays on it most evenings and many of the people dance on deck. We have singing and jokes of all sorts, and as a contrast, a man was put in irons one day for striking his wife. The assistant superintendent is not liked and has, this week, been suspended for striking one of the emigrants. So you see we have sport of all sorts.
Robina is teaching a class of children.
Kiss the dear children for me and tell them that one day the sea all around the ship was covered with great fish called porpoises. There seemed to be thousands of them. We have also seen a great number of what the sailors call black fish which are very large.
I have got into the way of making nice light bread. The steward gave me a small piece of yeast and showed me how to mix it and from time to time I save a piece and by that means have constant supply of fresh bread. If we had double the quantity of flour and half the quantity of biscuits, we should do well. Each adult has 2 lbs. of flour a week, but I soak a little biscuit in water to pulp and mix it with my flour either for bread or pudding. But I did not bring spices or carbonate of soda with me, which was a great neglect. Oh! we do so long for a little cheese. The little we brought with us was much appreciated while it lasted. There is some misunderstanding between the superintendent and the captain. They do not associate, nor do they dine at the same table. But I do not know but what it is in our favour, as the doctor insists on our rations being served out according to the scale in our rules. Our potatoes are all used and we have rice instead. Our tea is served out dry, and our coffee raw, and we roast it ourselves, which we much prefer to do.
Captain WHITE says if this wind continues we shall be in New Zealand in another month.
The boys have lost five caps since we came on board. One of the cabin passengers lost two hats overboard in one day. I have lost several towels while drying them, a new flannel waistcoat of John's and an apron of Robina's.
By-the-by, she is a great
favourite on board. John often wishes you were all here with us. So do I, if you could
have come safely. I think Robina was never so happy in all her life.
April 20th 1841. Here we are at last. We anchored about 10:30 this morning but well not get on shore this day. A vessel sails for London tomorrow so I embrace the opportunity of sending this by her. I will write to you by the next opportunity.
God bless you, my dear children. Kiss your dear little boys for me. We are all well and in high spirits. The vessel I send this by is called the LORD BROUGHAM. Write to me every month. The place looks very mountainous, but the people who came on board give a good account of it. We have an excellent doctor and captain.
Your affectionate mother, D. M. McKain, Adieu,
The Olympus entered Cook's Straits at 8 o'clock at night, 17th April and we cleared them on the 18th at 10 p.m. The approach to New Zealand was most unpromising. On the morning of the 19th, when I went on deck I saw no appearance of vegetation on the land, but a bold, barren rocky or clay coast on every side. All the emigrants were very low-spirited. On that day Epunis son Henry, came on board to pilot the vessel into harbour.
We anchored that night for the first time since we left the Downs. The next morning the anchor was weighed again and we soon entered Port Nicholson where a very different prospect met our view. The mountains are completely covered with timber, reaching within a quarter of a mile of the water's edge. Here are the most beautiful shrubs in full bloom, although I am told this is reckoned one of the worst months in the year, and it is indeed a season of storms.
We finally anchored on the 20th. On the 21st it began to blow hard, and towards night the gale increased to such a height that although we had both anchors out the vessel drifted dreadfully and we were every hour in expectation of being dashed on the rocks. But, thank God, the wind abated and we all came safely on shore on the 23rd, and as fine a day as any I ever knew in England in summer. The fine weather continued for a few days and then it began to blow and rain, and the rain came pouring down through the roofs of the Depot houses until everything was wet and miserable. And what makes it more wretched, there are no fireplaces in the houses. We make fires out of doors to cook by.
On the morning of the 25th we were ordered to attend at the camp stores for our rations. John and James brought home 35 lbs of beef and pork, with tea and sugar for Robina and myself, and on the following week we had the same ration served out by the Companys agent. Then we drew from the ships stores that which had been stopped over and above what we made use of aboard- 31 lbs of rice, 34 lbs split peas, 5 lbs of raisins, 350 lbs of biscuits and a quantity of pickled cabbage, mustard and salt, with 131 lbs of salt beef.
I have taken a piece of land as level as your house floor. The lease cost £4, the rent £12 a year for seven years. John and James are busy building a cottage on it. It is a most delightful situation. We have a full view of the harbour.
On the 20th May, The LORD WILLIAM BENTINCK, one of the companys ships, entered the harbour just that day month after the Olympus and on that day I received letters from my dear, dear children. It was your birthday and wedding day dear Douglas; and it was Cheadle May Fair Day. Oh, I wept bitterly when reading your affectionate letters. Oh, may Almighty God comfort you. My dear Mary, I shall never ask you to follow me.
This is the winter here, yet some days it is most delightful and the sun quite hot. Then again it blows until we think the cottage will go over.
Things are very dear here. Skim milk 8d per quart. They do not sell the new milk- they make butter from the cream which they sell at 5/- per lb. Salt butter is 2/3 per lb, and 9d the two pound loaf. Soap is 7d and soda 8d per lb.
The cabin passengers are very dissatisfied with their situation as their sections of land lay a great way from the town. Some of them are selling their land for a third of what they paid for it, and some are going off to Sydney.
Captain WHYTE and Dr. FEATHERSTON have given us a most excellent character to Colonel WAKEFIELD and other gentlemen. The Captain came to see me at the Depot and when he saw me so uncomfortable he told me that I must go on board and stay as long as the ship was in harbour. But I did not accept his kind invitation as I could not make myself content away from the family.
I have now been nearly two months in the colony. This is Whit Sunday and it is very cold. I think of you every hour of the day, and when I think of my dear native land, in a moment I seem to be there, but ah, recollections at hand soon hurry me back. No, not to despair, but to sorrow and love.
Oh, how I picture in my mind
Julia busy with her dear little family, Mary always busy, Douglas at her domestic concerns
and poor Eliza, what of her? Then I see you get together in deep lamentation over your
poor old mother, your sister Robina and your four dear brothers. Your brothers never
regret having come out here. Frederick and Isaac are delighted, John and James seem very
happy but Robina and myself sigh after England. At least, I sigh for the loved ones I left
there. God bless you my dear ones. Pray for the exiles in New Zealand.-"
D. M. McKain