Little snippets, like these gems of information, are what keep me engrossed in a story.
In 1863, when Daniel, the main character in ‘The Disenchanted Soldier’ came to New Zealand to fight in the land wars, he came by ship – a sailing ship. The ‘Helvellyn’ was a two-masted barque that took over one hundred and twenty days after leaving Gravesend in London, around the Cape of Good Hope, until it arrived in Auckland.
Much is written about shipping in those days and the PapersPast website through the National Library Archives is a fountain of knowledge. I can spend hours on that site searching for details.
Life on the ocean in those days was hard going. In the story, there is a chapter dedicated to the journey based on this newspaper article. I needed to do more research about the weather, imagine conversations and picture incidents to give them life, but the essence came to me through those few sentences.
I found a different story when I started writing about Brigid, ‘The Girl from County Clare’ who first travelled to Australia in 1886 – only twenty-three years later – before arriving in New Zealand in 1902. The ‘Dorunda’ was a steamship with auxiliary sails. It too left from Gravesend, but the journey took fifty-five days and travelled through the Suez Canal.
While I can’t say this second journey was easy, it was faster and in much better conditions than those Daniel and his fellow passengers endured.
I’m always impressed and moved by the stamina and bravery of people who undertook such journeys, but for me, it was leaving family behind that would have been the hardest part of their decision to emigrate.
Do you have a story of immigration? A ship your ancestors arrived on? Even your own? I do – I came to New Zealand as a pre-teen on board the ‘Canberra’ in 1962. The journey took six weeks and in comparison to the Daniel’s journey a century prior was completed in total luxury.
By Vicky Adin,