Log on board the S.S. Somersetshire, 1869

If you enjoy local history, heritage, or generally intriguing snippets of information, make sure to  keep an eye on our digital collection.  New additions appear regularly. One of the latest is the Log on board the S.S. Somersetshire, 1869, by W. C. Walker.

Log on board the S.S. Somersetshire from Plymouth to Melbourne, 1 July-30 August 1869
Log on board the S.S. Somersetshire from Plymouth to Melbourne, 1 July-30 August 1869, CCL-Arch489-013

Mr Walker left Plymouth on 1 July and arrived in Melbourne on 30 August 1869. His diary is an amusing compendium of vignettes of daily life aboard ship. Days pass by lounging on deck under the awning, playing whist in the evenings, and attending concerts and dances. For the sport-inclined there’s the excitement of guessing how many knots the Somersetshire has done the previous day and maybe winning the sweep.

Of course there are the usual irritations of sharing facilities. As Walker notes, “nothing is sacred on board ship – all is common property” (p. 14).  In the bathroom a notice appears requesting that bathers limit themselves to 8 minutes apiece – a time limit that was apparently strictly monitored.

I particularly enjoyed Walker’s descriptions of his fellow passengers:

Miss Weston as the elder of the 2 deserves the first place & for other reasons as well. I can’t tell you her age – all I know is that she is young enough to think her youth requires her to dye her hair. (p. 27)

And with apologies to all readers lucky enough to have Irish ancestry or red hair:

Mr Moynan… remarkable in appearance from possessing the reddest hair & whiskers I ever saw, but apparently and I think luckily wanting in the immense assurance & self-appreciation generally associated with such flaming embellishments especially when the owner is an Irishman. His eyes without speculation of a neutral fishy hue, so neutral as to be hardly called hue or colour at all; and probably to this accident this sanguine temperament generally accompanying red hair has been so subdued as to be conspicuous by its absence. (p. 6)

All in all, the trip could almost appear to be one of pleasure. As Walker himself writes in the final pages of his log:

if you don’t see that it was a jolly one, the fault lies in my way of telling the story”. (p. 164)

Yet there are clues that not everybody is as lucky as Mr Walker. In Plymouth the Somersetshire “passed close under another ship on the point of starting for Australia, the ‘Royal Dane’… crowded with emigrants & waiting for a fair wind, & less fortunate than the ‘Somersetshire’ in having only wind & sails to trust to” (p. 5). Most shocking to me was the passing remark that about a week into the voyage, 6 stowaways gave themselves up, including a boy about 11, who was given to the boatswain to “slave for him” (p. 55). I can’t help but wonder which category of traveller my Scottish ancestors who settled in Southland belonged to.

Arrivals and departures

The Universe can count itself lucky that there were no cameramen on hand to record my New Zealand arrival 15 years ago. Months of wailing, breast beating and sad partings had taken their toll. Add to that a Harare detour, a missed connecting flight and a night spent in a Perth Airport Transit Lounge, and what emerged at Christchurch Airport Arrivals Hall umpteen hours later was not a pretty sight.

However, I am looking forward to Christchurch Photo Hunt Competition, with its theme: Arrivals and Departures – the journeys that have shaped us.

Christchurch Photo HuntKiwis are great travellers, and worldwide there is a growing trend for people to live away from the countries of their birth. According to an article in the Jul/Sep 2015 Destinations magazine, approximately 3% of the world’s population live outside of the countries in which they were born. Frankly I would have put that figure higher given the teeming masses at the airports I frequent on my annual trips back home (wherever that may be). Maybe I am just seeing the same tired old passengers again and again?

If you are looking for inspiration to get your photographic juices flowing, we have masses of beautiful photography books, and I have a fair smattering of  of recent reads on the topic of coming and going – and running on the spot:

On coming home: Kiwis often travel out and wing their way back at some stage in life. Paula Morris has written an excellently researched little book on this topic: On Coming Home. It is a tiny book of only 76 pages about the author’s return to Auckland to look after her ageing mother, herself an immigrant. Arriving and departing is inextricably linked to our concept of Home, and this book comes with an outstanding bibliography. Norris’s mother sums it up like this:

My mother: I’m not a New Zealander.

Me: You’ve lived in New Zealand for forty years.

My mother: If I lived in China, would it make me Chinese?

Cover of The Other side of the WorldOn the lure of the new: The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is the book I wish I had written. In this novel Charlotte uproots from Cambridge, England, to Perth, Australia, where her husband has landed a lecturing position. It is a book about people who just do not transplant well. People whose rope of yearning is so strong it starts to pull the corners of their mouths down. I have always known that I am not really a mover. Yet here I am. This book was written for me.

On to-ing and fro-ing: Justin Cartwright grew up in South Africa, but lives in England. Several of his books are about the pull that South Africa still exerts on him. Books like White Lightning, To Heaven by Water and more recently Up Against the Night. In Afrikaans (and indeed in the book White Lightning) he is disparagingly referred to as a “soutpiel”. This is a man who has one foot in England, one foot in South Africa – and I leave you to work out which part of his anatomy is in the salty Indian Ocean.

Cover of Island HomeOn staying put: My choice here is Tim Winton‘s latest book Island Home: A Landscape Memoir. This is a beautiful song of praise for how the land that we love makes us who we are – in this case the land is Australia. You get the distinct feeling from this book that Tim Winton would wither away if he had to live away from his beloved country.

But don’t think that you have to be the world’s greatest Frequent Flyer to enter the Christchurch Photo Hunt. Maybe you just went on a picnic from Sockburn to Spencer Park and you have a great photo of it. Maybe someone took your photo as you left on the bus from Worcester Boulevard (in the good old days) to take your place at Uni down south.

Help us flesh out the full panorama of all our arrivals and departures over the years. Every Picture Tells a Story!

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.

Like mother, like daughter …

You wouldn’t want to have had a senior moment at this festival event. Two authors, both with names that begin with “M”, both “assimilated Jews”, both write books about the mother-daughter relationship, and photography plays an important part in both their lives. My brain synapses were hiring and firing like nobody’s business and to keep track of it all I devised a complex coding system that made absolutely no sense at all when I finally sat with a cappuccino and my laptop in a nearby cafe.

“Remind me never to blog for a festival” – I can hear you thinking, but you would be Oh So Wrong. I was attracted to this session with Miriam Frank and Mireille Juchau from the get go because I am one of those “piggy in the middle” women, caught between my 100 year old mother and my thirty something daughter and living far, far away from both of them.

Miriam Frank started the session with a reading from her memoir My Innocent Absence – Tales from a Nomadic Life. It was from the prologue to her book in which she sees her mother on her deathbed and thinks: “She looks so empty.” But her mother was dead whereas many people look empty long before their end has come. There is at least that comfort of a life lived to the full.

Miriam had a fraught relationship with her mother, but her death made Miriam feel “cast adrift, seeking my bearings, looking for answers.” She wrote her story as non-fiction because it was enough of a struggle to remember what really happened and she felt suspicious of tampering with the memories.

Mireille Juchau

Mireille Juchau wrote her book Burning In as a novel because “novels give you a chance to invent and exaggerate” and then, of course there is the care that a writer needs to take with regard to the potential betrayal of people because of exposure. Mireille gave a beautiful reading from her book which focused our attention on the many and varied ways in which mothers can really irritate their daughters.

There were lovely personal anecdotes as well. Miriam (who spent part of her youth in Christchurch having come here with her mother from Mexico in the 1940s) tells the story of coming down to breakfast in a red dress and being told by her aunt:

“We don’t wear red in Christchurch”

“What do you wear then?” asked Miriam and the answer came:

“We wear pastels.”

Mireille told a delightful story about a woman who was asked , before stomach surgery if she still wanted her bellybutton or could they just remove it. She replied:

Do not remove my bellybutton. It is my last remaining link to my mother.

Nothing like a good bellybutton story to focus the attention. So much so that at question time I found myself asking (and I know my network team colleagues will find this hard to believe) the only question I have ever asked at a festival:

Do you see yourselves, as mothers, repeating the same patterns with your daughters that your mothers did with you?

Miriam said that all she ever tried to do was the reverse of what her mother had done and that there was probably a whole book in that.

Mireille became very animated when she spoke of the push/pull that she was currently experiencing with her eight year old daughter. Then, she looked straight across at me, at my hopefully not empty face. She hesitated and then said (as if she knew my question came from some deep and sad place):

“You will do your best as a mother and your daughter will be who she is meant to be.”

And that is why I love to attend festivals. You never know what you are going to learn.

Culture Shock

Arriving on a cold, gloomy day, after spending four weeks at sea feeling seasick a lot of the time is probably not the best introduction to your new country!

It was the early sixties I was ten years old, and no-one had asked me if I wanted to leave my home, friends and family in Holland to live in New Zealand. One very vivid memory is watching as my cousins visited before our departure and were allowed to make their choice of my toys.

The only person in our family who spoke any English was my Father and we were totally left to our own devices. We eventually moved into rental accommodation, an old villa, huge by our standards, with a garden, something we had never had before.

The landlord, a Yugoslav, suggested I attend the local Catholic School, where he said the nuns would take good care of me. What a shock my first day at school was. Going from a very liberal school environment to one where the nuns ruled with an iron fist, was not easy. The nuns had decided to put me in the new entrants class to help me learn English. There I was, a very self-conscious 10 year old, sitting on a tiny chair, at a tiny table with 5 year olds I couldn’t understand. To make matters worse, I was dressed in my “dutch clothes”, standing out a mile from the other kids who were, of course in school uniform.

Some of my most vivid recollections? The wide, empty streets of Christchurch and the old cars. My Mum trying to communicate with the local butcher and grocer. The children at school and in the neighbourhood who befriended me. Pies in brown paper bags and fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. Our early New Zealand camping holidays. The five of us and our camping gear packed into a Ford Anglia, setting up camp in a dry river bed on the West Coast and being washed out of our tent in the middle of the night.

There’s a lot more support around for immigrants to New Zealand today

Anyone else like to comment on their experiences of Culture Shock?