Oxford to Oxford: The emigration of Henry Smith

Another treasure of Christchurch City Libraries archives (namely Arch 1029) has been digitised and is now online for the enjoyment and edification of all.

The latest is the shipboard diary of Henry Smith, who journeyed from Plymouth to Wellington aboard the R.M.S. Rimutaka in 1885. Written in pencil, the diary documents shipboard life and includes many interesting observations about what it was like to live aboard a ship for weeks. Not the least of which was food and meals which Smith describes thusly –

Opened a tin of condensed milk today, also pickled cabbage, which was very acceptable indeed. Our meals are something like feeding wild animals. Every man helps himself, or else he falls short, that is the case at the present anyhow.

Mmm. Sounds delicious.

Henry, a blacksmith in his mid-twenties, is quite interested in music and seems often to enjoy a singalong with his fellow passengers, though others prefer to read.

H. Smith [1875]
H. Smith, H. & G. Harwood Photographers [1875] CCL-Arch1029-2-007

Borrowed a concertina from one of my mates & had a few tunes this morning. Lent Miss Morrison “The Old Curiosity Shop” this afternoon, lent another young man on Friday last “Percival Keene”.

Where travellers these days might purchase easy to read “airport fiction” along the lines of James Patterson or Lynda La Plante to occupy the time on a journey, longer sea voyages meant Dickens was probably an appropriately-sized read, though it’s interesting to see that coming-of-age adventure novels like Percival Keene obviously had their place too.

According to the letter of reference that Smith brought with him from England he had been active in his church in his home town of Oxford as part of the choir, so clearly he had a musical bent. Indeed, even his last entry in his diary is concerned with music.

Went to church in the morning, congregation scanty, singing went very well.

Henry Smith went on to settle at View Hill, just west of Oxford setting up a blacksmithing business before becoming a sheep farmer with a freehold estate of 4280 acres. In 1890 he married a local woman named Mary Mounsey and they had several children. Smith was very active in the community,  taking interest in the local library, school committee and eventually as a member of the Oxford County Council.

This digitised archive in addition to the shipboard diary includes photographs, letter of reference, and an invoice for a View Hill property in te reo Māori.

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