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The Voyage of the Duchess of Argyle

The full rigged ship Duchess of Argyle was the first ship to bring immigrants to Auckland under an organised joint Government/Presbyterian Church scheme. Scotland during the 1840’s, much like the rest of Britain and due directly to mechanisation resulting from the Industrial Revolution, was a country with very high unemployment, poor housing, low wages and high prices. Overcrowding and squalor in cities and the sheer poverty in the country caused many to have thoughts of a better life in the far off colonies. In this event the Government, supported by the Church of Scotland, was persuaded in organising the gathering of, in the main, whole families from many parts of the Scottish Lowlands.

One of the groups formed to assist these emigrant families to gain free passage was the Paisley New Zealand Emigration Society. This had originally been called the "Paisley Canadian Emigration Society" as Canada had been the preferred destination for immigration. Canada, after all, was a country of which these folk had some knowledge  but New Zealand was little known and "everybody who went there was liable to be eaten up by cannibals". It was, however, the absence of funding for travel to Canada, which brought suggestions to change the proposed destination to New Zealand. Funding to achieve this was ultimately approved in February 1842 and a dispatch from Lord Stanley Secretary of State for the Colonies dated 15th March 1842 mentions the sum of 12,000 "for the appropriation to the purposes of emigration to New Zealand". In addition an advance of 6,000 was approved from the "the Commisariat Chest. This funding was to be repaid in full from sales of land in New Zealand.

The stage for this great adventure having been set, the task of finding suitable families who met the criteria set by of the company and immigration authorities began. Advertisements were placed in the Greenock Advertiser and the Glasgow Herald seeking families whose members were skilled artisans such as stonemasons, cartwrights and sawyers as well as a goodly supply of able and willing labourers and farm servants.

A full compliment for the Duchess of Argyle achieved and, being fully ready to sail, she cast off on Friday June 10th, 1842.  The great adventure had begun and although the standard immigrant route to New Zealand had not been established by the time the Duchess of Argyle struck south into the Atlantic Ocean, the route to Australia would have been well established. New Zealand was but a few thousand miles further eastward.  The "Greenock Advertiser" describes her departure.

Not much is known of the voyage although a partial diary is believed to have existed.  We can only but imagine the trying conditions of four months at sea cramped together with 300 other souls existing on nourishing but rather boring and certainly not plentiful rations. Hot, steamy tropics and freezing, iceberg-ridden southern latitudes gave them weather conditions vastly different from those they would have experienced back home. And then, that was it............back home! What a wrench it must have been to leave the country in which you were born and in which every member of your family had been born for as far back as you could remember. Where it was a huge journey to travel to the next city of town. And here we were. Travelling 12,000 miles to a south pacific island populated by the savage Maori

Aboard the Duchess was James Armour, his wife Ellen (nee Patrick) and their daughters Margaret and Ellen. For James it would be a journey ending in tragedy, his life in his new home lasting a scant 10 years. James died of consumption in 1852. Ellen remarried, and both Margaret and Ellen jnr were happily married. The Armour name, like James, did not survive long after journeys end although it is carried by family members to this day. The Duchess of Argyle arrived in Auckland, after 16 weeks at sea, on October 8th 1842. Unfortunately on her arrival she stuck fast on a sandbank and was forced to wait for the next high tide (October 9th) before she could sail free. Proud and majestic, she sailed to her anchorage at Mechanics Bay.

The new immigrants found Auckland "A wee town and worse of all their appeared to be nothing for us to do." It seemed difficult for the tiny settlement to assimilate such a sudden influx of labourers and artisans......indeed such a sudden influx of people. At the time Logan Campbell said that they did not want immigration of "similar proportions". He explains that they wanted "capitalists more than labourers." Emphatically he was asking for investment into young Auckland to aid growth. Regardless, the first of what would become a massive wave of immigrants had arrived in Auckland. Hard working and honest Scots each one, they would be the beginning of many New Zealand families which would grow and prosper in this new and promising land and whose ancestors down the years would remember with pride.

Copyright: Denise & Peter 1999