The Voyage of the Ship Conflict
London to Wellington 1874
We are indebted to Rachel Searle for writing this account of the voyage.
are two documents held at the Alexander Turnball library which describe the voyage, one
Franklin, W: journal kept on board Conflict 1874", and the other "Winter
John: The Voyage of the Conflict 1874", a poem of some 60 stanzas. The following
description represents a summary from these two sources. In addition, there are believed
to be articles in the "The New Zealand Times" dated 4 and 5 August 1874 which
tell of the Storm experienced by Wellington at the time of the ships arrival. These
have yet to be researched.
The ship "Conflict" left the West India dock on the night of 7th May 1874 under good weather, and was towed by steam tug out into the basin and from there down to Greenhithe. Once the tide had turned they were able to continue on down to Gravesend. Here they moored off the town opposite the pier where sadly "they could see the Falcon public house but could not get the beer." In fact no intoxicating liquor was made available throughout the whole of the Conflicts voyage, an almost unique situation for emigrant ships of the time, but one which resulted in "no misconduct or crime" being reported in the captains voyage summary. Emigration officers came aboard at this stage and dispensed "suspense moneys" to all passengers our author received the princely sum of three guineas.
Bedding arrangements had been worked out in advance by the shipping company, which quite frequently didnt match the individual desires of particular emigrants. Passengers were given no flexibility in this area however. Then from each grouping a member was chosen, by consensus, to carry out the onerous task of collecting and assuming responsibility for the weekly allocation of the groups food. This included arguing with the authorities where it was felt that the food was not in fit condition for human consumption. Also from each general area an emigrant was selected and designated as "constable" to handle all grievances and disciplinary matters.
The Conflict was towed out from Gravesend at 2:30pm on 9 May guided by the pilot, with "some passengers showing sad faces and some gay." The tug left that night, off Portland Bill, with the pilot who took with him their last letters to families and friends. After the tug had cast off and before they had time to put on sail the ship commenced rolling very badly and those on board suffered an early and most uncomfortable bout of seasickness. Fortunately things steadied down somewhat when the sails were up and the ship started to make headway.
Over the next few days they sailed on through the Channel, passing The Lizard on the 17th of May and then progressing through the Bay of Biscay on smooth seas. The 17th was also notable for the occurrence of the first birth on board, a girl. At 9pm on the 18th the passengers for some unknown reason took to singing, most loudly, on the deck such that the doctor felt obliged to break up the late night revelries. He ordering the single men back to their place in the forward part of the before anything more unruly ensued, and the group slowly and reluctantly dispersed. Apart from the captain, the doctor played the most important part in maintaining passenger discipline and emigrants were required to formally sign their agreement to his authority prior to boarding ship.
The Conflict was a fast ship, leaving all in its wake during the whole duration of the voyage. All were clearly very proud of its prowess in the water since this fact was mentioned several times in both documents.
On the 19th of May they struck their first taste of really rough and wet weather, and to make matters worse two children were hospitalised on that day with measles, a disease that was to strike several others including adults over the next few weeks.
They sailed passed Vincents Cape and crossed the Tropic of Cancer on the 29th May. Lime juice was now available on a regular basis to all passengers to help soothe their hot, dry throats. A lime juice quota for the tropic was normal on ships of this time, but rated a special mention by our two scribes. It was obviously much appreciated by all.
On the 3rd 4th of June there took place a most interesting entertainment; possibly it was traditional at such times. Over a period of several days the seaman constructed what was called a "Dead Horse", and it was duly hung from the yard-arm and ceremoniously dropped into the sea, much to the amusement of the emigrants.
The equator was crossed at the unearthly of 3am on the 7th June and as a result no King Neptune ceremony was held. Another result of the midnight crossing was, the crew said, that the emigrants had all sadly missed out on seeing the "Line of the Equator" a line clearly visible on the surface of the sea. I wonder how many emigrants. Were taken in and saddened by missing this phenomena. Porpoises and whales were now to be seen.
On the night of the 9th of June the wind rose up taking away the jib boom and this required several days of work to repair. It was now hot, but not unbearably so, since they had frequent cloudy spells and a fairly constant cooling breeze. A homeward bound mail ship passed on the other direction, assuring them that authorities would be duly advised of the Conflicts progress and that all aboard were well.
The Conflict travelled south past Brazil and then turned eastwards towards Africa. Sea birds were visible as they rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and soon after passing the cape the ship commenced to roll violently from side to side, spilling plates of soup onto the floor and forcing people to hang on dear life. Over the next few days the weather turned cold and damp, bad, it was said, for rheumatism. It was then that the first deaths occurred, and initially theses were children.
The 15th at the 5:15pm saw the first death, a small boy, it was said from bronchitis and consumption, followed just under a week later by another. However on the plus side three babies were born over the period 26th June to 7th July, the first boy being given the name Conflict as was the custom, presumably for just one of his first name.
At 12pm on 10th July under stormy conditions their cook, a coloured man named Joe, died from congestion of the lungs. He was committed to a watery grave the following day, wrapped together with a small girl who had died on that day. On night of the 14th July sailor named George Wilson fell from the mizzen top-sail yard-arm and was never seen again and then on the 17th of July one of the mothers died, leaving behind a small daughter and a 2 week old baby. A single man called Mullins from Surrey died a few days later on the 24th. It was a bad time made worse, for it was now a full three weeks since another ship had been sighted. The 24th July saw them passing by the southwest tip of Australia, although the coast was to far off to be seen.
The night of the 25th was very stormy indeed, probably the worst weather yet, and the captains bellowing voice could be heard throughout the night. Many women were sobbing. One sail, the mizzen top-sail, was carried away and another ripped to shreds. Such were the vagaries of the weather that by 29th July they were becalmed. There was a further birth, the fifth, on the 27th but this baby died after but a few days of life.
On the day of the 30th of July they were told that they were now near land, New Zealand, and all crowded on deck to see. Eventually land said to be Mt. Egmont was visible and on 1st of August at Latitude 40.5 and longitude 174 east they were but a few miles from the coast of the south island. Head winds now came up and together with strong currents made progress up and into Cook Strait unbelievably slow, several days with little or nothing to show, and the passengers becoming more and more dispirited. In fact at one time the ship had to turn about and head out again until the winds were more favourable.
As they entered the strait another baby died, the 8th death but not the last, the sister of the baby succumbing shortly afterwards. Finally on the evening of Sunday 2nd of August at 7pm they arrived outside the harbour and called for the Pilot while lying about a mile off the (Cape Palliser?) lighthouse. Spirits rose once more. With the Pilots arrival they ran into Wellington harbour the following day and anchored 6 miles off the town of Wellington. A small boat came out with fresh food, but, because of the rough, wet weather could not get alongside. Nor could it get safely back again to shore, the boat eventually sinking in shallow water.
On the 14th all but 24 of the families went ashore on a steamer and finally, on the 6th, the ship got alongside the wharf and the remainder went ashore
SUMMARISING: One report that 10 people perished during the voyage, 3 adults and 7 children, while the other 11 people, 3 adults and 8 children. There were 5 births. The land to land passage duration was 80 days, with no other ship being seen over a continuous period of 37 days. The last land actually seen before reaching New Zealand was the Canary Islands.
Written by: Rachel Searle