Voyage of the Crusader
September 1874 to December 1874
The following story, recorded in the "Lyttelton Times" of February 3rd 1925, is the recollection of John Henry Timms who, in 1874 at the age of 8, sailed to New Zealand on board Crusader with his parents John and Caroline and two sisters Ann and Mary.
" The good ship left the Thames, London, near the end of September 1874, calling at Plymouth to pick up her complement of passengers. It is only those who have come through the bustle, hustle and excitement, who can imagine the feeling of those who have never seen a ship before. But, sad to relate, they were soon to know that travelling on board ship was not always smooth sailing, for we had hardly got clear of the channel, when we encountered, what the sailors call a strong breeze, but which we thought was an absolute gale. The rain fell in torrents, and we were informed that it would probably be worse before it changed for the better, which was not very consoling.
Unfortunately, those prophetic words only too true, as by the time we got well into the bay of Biscay, the gale was something terrific. What with all the wails of the women, the cries of the children, and the noise and confusion which appeared to be on deck, words of mine would fail adequately to convey the utter confusion that was obvious on all sides. Everybody appeared to be more or less sea sick, and the stalls provided for sleeping accommodation were now filled with human beings huddled up in all shapes and forms. It is only those who have had a severe seasickness, who have any idea of the feelings of those people. Not a few wished the ship at the bottom of the sea, to end their misery. It may give you some idea of the gale, when I say that all the hatches were battened down, and not a soul, apart from those working on the ship, was allowed on deck.
After the gale had abated somewhat, it was found that the ship had sprung a leak, and all available labour was commandeered to work the pumps, until the extent of the damage was ascertained. These were worked by hand, with ropes attached to long levers, and so it was found that the water could be kept in check by the constant use of the pumps. There were ready and willing hands to work them and it was not deemed advisable to put in anywhere for repairs.
The storm in the Bay of Biscay found us much further west than it was intended to run, so the vessel was headed south, which in due course brought us in the vicinity of the Brazilian coast, and as the ship was making about two and a half inches of water an hour, the Captain thought it would be advisable to run into the nearest port for repairs, but the late Dr Guthrie, of Christchurch, who was the Medical Superintendent on board, pointed out the danger of contracting yellow fever in Brazil, with so many souls on board, and consequently, the Captain was persuaded to make for Cape Town, and , after picking up the S. E. trade winds, good headway was made until nearing the Cape, when contrary winds and gales were encountered, and the Crusader was driven into southern latitudes, and lost all hope of making the Cape.Up to this time, what,, with the steam and hand pumps, and the single men's bucket brigade, the water, which had been making freely, was kept in check, and a strange thing happened. The leak partly ceased to flow, but owing to the quantity of water the ship was still making, it was impossible to find out the cause, and the respite did not last for long, the leak gradually breaking out for long.
At this juncture things were beginning to look serious, as the continual working of the pump had about used up all the available leather, but our spirits rose as we sighted a vessel in the distance.. She was signalled but took no notice, for she kept on her course, as though she had never sighted us. A very few on board were acquainted with the fact that shortage of leather made matters very serious, and the Captain, and those in the know, had a very anxious time, ever hoping that some other vessel would be sighted, and come within hailing distance. This actually did happen, and we were able to procure all the leather that was required. After the bad spell, things settled down to normal, and we became more accustomed to sea life.
As we made our way down the coast of Africa, the weather changed altogether, as also did our spirits. We got our sea legs, and we were able to take part in the different functions which go to make up a seafaring life. All sorts of games were indulged in, and, as may be expected, where there were about 400 people confined in a small space, many suggestions were made for recreation and amusement. There appeared to be no lack of talent in that direction, and so the time was whiled away. Like those who make a voyage to the Southern Hemisphere, we had to cross the Tropics, and the Equator, with accompanying changes in weather, the heat being sometimes almost unbearable.
Being a sailor, our ship would be becalmed for a week almost at a time, and the sea would have the appearance of glass rather than water. At this time improvised shelter of all descriptions would be erected, so that we could be sheltered from the burning sun. Sometimes, when we were becalmed, a steamer, making for Home, would be sighted on the horizon, when everybody who was able would come on deck to eagerly watch its approach, only to be disappointed, as it would perhaps veer away and be lost to sight again. Then, again, one would come within speaking distance, and heave-to, so that Home mails could be sent across by boat. By this means, friends in the Old Land would be acquainted with our progress out.
In due course, the Equator was reached, and father Neptune came aboard. This old custom caused more fun and amusement than anything which happened on board. I remember an albatross was hauled on board, after being caught with a piece of red flannel on a fish hook. It was found to measure eleven feet between the tips of its wings. When it was hauled up the ship's side someone remarked: "It be like a big skaate, beain't it?". The steam pump broke down, and was out of court for a few days, and this needed fresh relays of men more often at the hand pumps, both day and night, until repairs were effected. A great number of the immigrants came out in charge of Mr G Allington, one of the executive of the National Union of Agricultural Labourers, who was also a local preacher. A Mrs Bates had charge of the single women, of whom there were thirty-six, who expressed themselves well satisfied with the treatment they had received.
A tale is told that one of the crew, being enamoured of one of the girls, was caught in the act of kissing her, seemingly against her will, and had to pay the penalty, by being swung up with a rope around the waist, to a handy beam, by the vigilance committee. The pair eventually married some time after landing in New Zealand.
Bathing facilities were provided for those who wished to avail themselves of the opportunity, in a large, improvised canvas tank, stretched across the deck, which would accommodate ten or a dozen bathers .
The berthing accommodation in those days on an immigrant ship was pretty rough. The married couples with families, up to 10 years of age were in one compartment. The sleeping accommodation consisted of a series of what would appear to be horse-stalls, with a rug or some other fabric strung across the front, to make it as private as possible.
The young men were berthed in another quarter, while another portion was set aside for the single women and girls. The provender provided, was on a par with the sleeping accommodation.It was not what could be called first-class. In the main it consisted of salt junk (known at sea as salt horse), potatoes and bread, with occasional rice r sago for puddings, and an odd plum duff. This duff had to be pared for about half-an-inch before it could be eaten, owing to it's having been boiled in salt water. During the voyage there was one marriage, seven births and seven deaths, so that when we reached Lyttelton we had the same number of passengers as when we left England.
The presence of a whale was of some moment, as it broke the monotony of the voyage. When one was seen to "blow", every eye on deck was on the look-out for the first sight of the next one, and, if the weather was fine, they were fairly common. I well remember the time when a big sea came aboard, and almost ended with fatal results, as it actually carried some venturesome people right across the deck, and many had to be medically examined for minor injuries.
The late Dr John Guthrie, of Christchurch, was the Medical Superintendent on board, and he soon endeared himself to all, through his kindly disposition and sympathetic nature.
One of the sailor's favourite pastimes was single-sticks, and it was surprising the hard knock which were sometimes exchanged without any apparent loss of temper. Many a good contest of tug-of-war, between passengers and sailors, provided first class amusement. During the greater part of the voyage buckets of lime-juice were served our morning and afternoon, and was greatly relished, more especially by the young people. The distance between England and New Zealand is almost 14,000 miles, and our ship would cover a much greater distance than this during the passage, land was only sighted twice.
Since writing the above I have noticed that a correspondent refers to the voyage of the Lady Jocelyn at that time. She left a fortnight after the Crusader, and sailed into Lyttelton three weeks after, therefore, she took a week longer on the voyage than ourselves. Your correspondent seems to infer that the Crusader was burned on this voyage, but that is obviously incorrect. The Crusader made many trips after this one, so our friend would have been quite safe.
If this should meet the eye of any who came out on the Crusader at this time, I would be pleased if they would communicate with me."