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Canterbury Colonists and Emigrants

Port Lyttelton, showing the first four ships anchored in the harbour - Charlotte Jane, Randolph, Sir George Seymour and emigrants landing from the Cressy, December 28th 1850

The fifth ship to arrive, the "Castle Eden" was built by Thomas Richardson of Castle Eden, England and John Parkin of Sunderland who established a shipyard at Old Hartlepool in 1835..

Up until the 1850s, most emigrants travelled on sailing ships, with an average voyage lasting 143 days. Steamships began replacing sailing ships as early as 1850 and shortened the voyage time. This made sailing ships obsolete by the end of the 1870s although some emigrants continued to choose sailing ships for nearly thirty years because of their cheaper fares.   Living conditions on board were often primitive and space and privacy were both hard to come by. Few looked back on the voyage with fond memories - seasickness, inadequate food, lack of privacy, cramped living quarters, and spreading illness - an experience that seemed like an eternity.

The Canterbury Association was founded in London 27 March 1848 in order to establish a Church of England settlement in New Zealand comprising a cross-section of English society.  It was guided by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and John Robert Godley. Later that year, a party led by Captain Joseph Thomas arrived at the site of Lyttelton to prepare for the arrival of settlers. In late 1848, the Association’s land surveyors found what they considered the ideal site for the proposed settlement of Canterbury and for its chief town, Christchurch. In May 1849, official sanction was gained and the Association in London was notified.

By July 1849, the setting out of the port town and surveying of the Bridle Path and Port Hills were under way. On 3 January 1850 the Canterbury Association was authorised to dispose of 2.5 million acres between the Waipara and Ashburton Rivers, and the purchase terms were approved. The Association began recruiting emigrants, and by July 1850, preparations were well under way for the voyage to New Zealand. The "London Times" described the founding of Canterbury with evident satisfaction: "A slice of England cut from top to bottom, which sailed south to a new life in a new land!"

There were two main groups of Pilgrims - "Colonists"  who were men able to afford to buy land in the new settlement - they and their families travelled "cabin class" with small rooms provided and far better accommodation. Cabin passengers paid £42 a berth, intermediate passengers £25 a berth. The Association intended that the colonists be the leaders in Canterbury in its formative years. The second-cabin people's conditions were little better then the steerage. The Canterbury Association required that a rural allotment of at least 50 acres be bought at £3 an acre, as well as a town section in either Lyttelton or Christchurch. These high prices were aimed at preventing labourers and the like from buying land. 

Class distinctions were firmly rooted in the minds of everyone in the early days of Queen Victoria's reign and repeated in the conditioned life on board - From a cabin passengers diary : "There are one or two of our fellow passengers who go among the immigrants and make themselves familiar with them. The Captain is very much annoyed as it tends to lower the dignity of the ship. One of them absented himself from our meeting last night and was found amongst them. The Captain felt himself insulted by his preferring their society to ours. I have never spoken to one of them."
This constituted a set of conditions on board that the cabin passengers were gentry and therefore had no intercourse with any other class. Second class passengers were would-be gentry and wished no communication with the steerage. One quoted - "The Captain, walked with his gloves, very haughty, and never speaks to us. The gentry aloof in their cuddy read up the few books written about New Zealand or taught each other's children dead languages."

Then there were “Emigrants” - mainly agricultural farm workers, laborers, tradesmen, domestic servants and young married couples - the majority of passengers. They travelled in "steerage quarters" squeezed between the upper decks and the bilges and slept in narrow, closely packed bunks. The area was divided into three sections - one for single women who were berthed in the aftmost section directly below the first and second class cabins under the poop deck; married couples and children occupied the mid-section and single men and boys, 12 and over, were in the forward section. There were partitions between each section and each had its own hatchway to the deck.

They were required to restrict their movements to certain parts of the ship and paid what they could afford for their £15 fare. The shortfall was made up either by the Canterbury Association or by their future employers travelling on the same ship. Emigrants were required to be under 40 years old, to provide their own tools, and to supply testimonials as to their qualifications, medical certificates and certificates from the minister of their parish, countersigned by a Justice of the Peace  - their passage was either paid for by the Canterbury Association, or by their future employers, travelling in the same ship. Single men slept in bunks 6½ feet long by 2 feet wide. Married couples shared a slightly wider bunk (3½ feet) and had a curtain for privacy. This space was used not only for sleeping, but also for storing everything needed for the voyage. There was a lack of fresh air, and dampness was a constant concern. The boards of the berths were taken out once a week and scrubbed and the floors under the berths and the whole deck area was religiously scraped and holystoned at regular intervals and chloride of lime sprinkled.

The women were expected to take a minimum stock of clothing - 6 shifts, two flannel petticoats, six pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes and two strong gowns and the English Women's Journal advised working women not to leave without night-caps, aprons, bonnets, pocket hankerchiefs and a shawl. The larger the stock of clothing, the more comfortable the voyage with its  extremes of heat and cold and limited opportunities for washing and drying.

There was also intense educational activity between the decks. The Association shipped a qualified schoolmistress on board the Castle Eden. School hours were from 11 to 12 o'clock in the morning and 4 to 5 in the afternoon. Labourers who could read, gave lessons in reading and writing to those  eg men who needed them and each ship carried a chaplain, a surgeon and a schoolmaster, all paid for by the Canterbury Association. The doctor received 10 shillings for every passenger safely delivered to Lyttelton, but had to pay back 20 shillings for every passenger who died.

Passengers were required to restrict their movements to certain parts of the ship depending on their class, however seasickness and storms affected cabin and steerage passengers alike. One emigrant recorded, “A good many are sick and vomiting.” Another recorded that most people threw up after eating their very first meal on the ship.  Although some people adjusted to the constant rocking and bouncing of the ship, others spent the entire trip nearly bedridden with nausea. Days passed slowly for those afflicted as they struggled to keep any food down.

Many suffered from seasickness - the worst during the first two weeks, but for some it continued for the whole voyage. During storms, the door to the deck was latched closed, leaving passengers with little light or fresh air. The stench of vomit and unemptied chamber pots could be overwhelming. Constant jousting about from weather and waves made even standing difficult on many days - passengers could not even stay in their narrow, closely packed bunks to sleep, but went sliding about the cabin. The stench of vomit and unemptied chamber pots could be overwhelming. Constant jousting about from weather and waves made even standing difficult on many days. On the worst days, passengers could not even stay in their beds to sleep, but went sliding about the cabin.

Food on board did not contain a great deal of variety. Minimum food requirements set by the British Passenger Act saw basic food  provided such as salted meat, flour, rice, biscuits and potatoes, but steerage passengers had to cook it themselves. A large table was fixed to the floor down the middle of the steerage area for this. A bucket was supplied for washing and laundry.

The immigrants divided themselves up into messes of about 6 people - the average size of the family travelling, and each mess took it in turn to collect the issues of food from the purser and take them at stated times to the galley for cooking. It was a long and weary pilgrimage between the storeroom to the meal laid out on the long table between the decks. Flour, currants, oatmeal and other dry goods were carefully weighed and doled to each mess once a week ( usually Monday) and a small barrel of water. Before the others were up, the breakfast mess cook had to take his pot of porridge along to a galley that accommodated only three of four people and the ship's cook, and as there might be more than a dozen messes of porridge to cook in a great chaldron, it would be quite possible to spend more than an hour waiting in turn at the galley stove. Food might suffer from under or over cooking and in rough weather a wave might swamp the galley and put out the fire.
Baking took up considerable time and part of the flour ration was often used for cakes and scones and bread instead of the pudding it was originally intended which in spite of the likelihood of their not rising properly, all disappeared rapidly. 

The rough seas had everything on the table sliding and caused unexpected variations to the menu when the weekly provisions would get all mixed together, such as salt, tea, coffee and treacle!

Two days the single men baked, afterwards the married people and the young  women had two days each, taking their efforts to the galley to be cooked. Hot water was issued to each mess before making coffee. Delay with the item did not matter as it had only to be taken in tin mugs that could be put to the lips when cold, accompanied by ship's biscuits, the hard tack, that often figured in wry jokes.

Midday, the main, was cooked in a common pot. Each mess had a numbered wooden or metal token attached for identification to its particular lump of meat and also to its net of preserved potatoes and plum duff and boiled rice which was pudding. The evening meal
consisted of biscuit and butter with tea to drink and since there was seldom any shortage at the midday, there were cold leftover meats for tea. The meals were monotonous - porridge every morning, 2 days they had salt beef and boiled rice and 3 days pork and pea soup, and 2 days of preserved meat and preserved potatoes The most common complaint concerned bread - it was either stale or when freshly baked on board, sour and of poor quality.

The second cabin was treated in the same way as the steerage but the fortunate inhabitants of the first class cabin with more space and privacy in their living quarters and had the luxury of their meals cooked and served by a steward. They had a good deal of fresh food shipped to them at the beginning of the voyage and had often a milch cow. The narrow decks were cumbered with a pen of squealing pigs and sheep and an array of poultry hutches. Occasionally this livestock was killed and consumed on board and was supplemented by a pedigree lamb or bull or one or two valuable dogs which passengers were bringing out for use on their farms.

Seasickness was worst during the first two weeks, but for some it continued for the whole voyage.The captain had to ensure that each passenger received three quarts of water daily however its quality was questionable. Passengers could bring additional provisions, and many did. One passenger advised others on what to bring, remarking that, “Coffee is much preferable to tea, the water being so bad, as to render the tea rather insipid and tasteless.” To eat was difficult - many used their trunks as tables. In rough waters, they struggled to prevent these makeshift tables from sliding back and forth across the deck.

Passengers passed the time at sea plotting the ship’s course, writing letters and diaries, sewing, playing cards and games, and dancing. Prayer meetings were held every morning and afternoon, and there was a full church service on Sundays. There were also school lessons for the children.

Charlotte Jane left first - departed Plymouth Sound, England early morning on 7th Sep 1850 (abt. 154 passengers), followed a few hours later by the Randolph (abt 217 - Diary). The Cressy left at midnight (abt 155) and the next day, the 8th  about 11am, the Sir George Seymour weighed anchor with abt 227 on board. (These numbers are not accurate because the surgeons, shipping and emigration lists do not tally and also young children or those born aboard were not given rations or counted as ticketed passengers

The Castle Eden was the fifth Canterbury Association ship to depart Gravesend with settlers. It set sail under Captain Thornhill 28 September 1850 with around 200 aboard. Illness became prevalent on board with diarrhoea, typhus fever and whooping cough among the ailments.

Arrival: On the 16th of Dec. the first 3 ships moved up the Lyttelton harbour. it was a summer's day and one of the passenger's wrote "When we entered and sailed as it were, into the bosom of the encircling hills who was there that did not feel at the time that he could have gone through the fatigues of the whole voyage, if it were only to enjoy the keen and pure gratification of the last few days". As they neared the shore, they could see a line of road sloping upwards across one of the hills, with specks dotted along it, which they recognised as labourers at work. The place to some, appeared desolate - no shops and only the barracks to go to.

The Charlotte Jane anchored at Lyttelton at 10am on Monday, Dec 16, 1850 and the Randolph arrived at 3.30pm. The Sir George Seymour anchored at 10am the following day but the Cressy did not arrive until the 27th of Dec. having been delayed by bad weather, but these colonists too, saw the harbour 'in a very favourable light". One passenger, from it's deck, counted 15 whares which he, in his simplicity, at first took for dog kennels! The ships brought about 800 people to Lyttelton.  Most of the passengers went straight to the immigration  barracks that had been erected to accommodate them, others camped for the first few weeks in tents or built V huts of raupo and flax in the beautiful summer weather, and as soon as possible, many of the settlers made the arduous journey up the steep Bridle Path to the summit of the Port Hills and then down into a swampy Christchurch to settle on the plains beyond.

Lyttelton 1851
Artist - Wm Howard Holmes (Cabin Passenger "Castle Eden") 1851

Provisions were very short for some time after the settlers arrived and were exceedingly expensive. Flour sold for £5 5s per bag of 200lbs, potatoes cost 14/- a kit and oatmeal 9d per lb. One of the troubles of this time was the absence of coin: labour and produce had to be paid for by goods and barter- that is, so much flour or sugar, or an I.O.U. of the party receiving the labour or produce. The ships lay at anchor for 9 weeks during which time the passengers were able to go on board and get such things as were available to them.

Heavy goods were transported by boat down Lyttelton harbour, across the shallow bar of the Sumner Estuary and then up the Avon River. A number of families lost their possessions when boats sank crossing the bar.

The barracks had to be cleared out to accommodate the 204 passengers of the fifth ship Castle Eden under the command of Captain Timothy Thornhill, which arrived on 14th Feb 1851 at Port Cooper (later renamed Lyttelton . This meanta large proportion of people camped in the open at Lyttelton and Christchurch until more substantial dwellings could be built. (The Castle Eden had sailed from Gravesend 28th Sept. 1850, and from Plymouth on Oct 3 but heavy weather drove her back - she finally left Plymouth Sound on Oct 18)

One eye witness wrote of their first experience of a sou-wester - "The weather changed very suddenly and a boisterous wind with a deluge of rain found may very unprepared to withstand it. Tents were seen in every stage of collapse, blankets, toitoi and fern careening madly through the air, and the homeless seeking and finding shelter wherever a good Samaritan could take them in."

All persons occupying the barracks in Lyttelton had, after a brief sojourn there to give place to others, as ships arrived so quickly after each other and the hillside near the barracks became dotted over with every conceivable kind of hut, tent, and whare and sods. Many were glad to get away from the barracks with the prospect of a little more freedom - one said she "found it very trying and irksome living with her pots and kettles. She was alluding to the one room (about l0 by 12ft) which was occupied by all her family and had to do duty as bedroom, sitting-room and kitchen. 

A printing press, type, and a printing staff had arrived by one of the first ships, and by unremitting exertions on the part of all interested the public had the advantage and great gratification of very early welcoming the appearance of the first newspaper, the Lyttelton Times. Published on Saturday, January 11th, 1851 and sold for 6d., there was a list of the retail prices for food; bread was 7d. a 2 lb loaf; beef, mutton and pork 5d. a lb; ducks 4/- for a pair ( fowls were a shilling cheaper); eggs 2/- a dozen; ale 2/8d a gallon; potatoes 5 a ton; milk was 3d a quart and fresh butter was 1/6d a lb. ( Mr Ebenezer Hay, in these early days, used to carry 40 to 70 lbs of butter every week on his back, d from Pidgeon Bay to Akaroa, returning the same day over the 30 miles of mountainous bush track. William Guilford's first job was there with his nephew, John Hay.)

The appearance of Christchurch at this time was certainly not inviting. The only means of communication was over the Bridle Path, a rocky and precipitous path and then made through the swamps that fringed the Heathcote and the Avon rivers. The pioneers had to carry their household goods to the allotments they had chosen on the plains and all their heavy goods had to be transhipped by small boats up the river via the estuary whose banks were densely covered with flax, toitoi, fern and raupo and this means of transport was very expensive and slow. One of the Pilgrim Fathers used to tell with glee, the story of how he once, early in 1851, hailed by a man struggling through the high scrub in what was later Cathedral Square, and indignantly demanding to be shown the way to Christchurch!

There were two houses on the Canterbury Plains and the farm of the Deans brothers at Riccarton, with it's heavy crops and luxuriant orchard was a strong contest to the boundless tract of treeless, uncultivated land around.

Many newcomers were disheartened by the strange life and the hardships that faced them. Archdeacon Paul wrote "They landed and they found the vaunted Canterbury Plains little better than a howling wilderness. Their welcome was sung perhaps by the terrible sou-west wind with it's driving rain and sleet. The rickety sheds in which they sought shelter admitted the rain which splashed on their faces as they lay in bed, and some of those who came out with little or no capital either in the form of money or a pair of strong arms, might be ruined in a colony even more rapidly than at home".

Only a strong confidence in the future could have upheld those men and women in the struggle they had to face. The women in particular, had many trials and difficulties. John Robert Godley wrote - " Before the arrival of the first ships two months ago, it was a grassy plain unmarked by any sign of human footprint or handiwork, and now, early in 1851, Christchurch is covered by at least 80 habitations of every variety in form and material - tents, houses of reeds, grass, sods, lath and plaster boards, mud and dry clay, besides a few that were merely pits scooped in the banks of the river and one or two consisting of sheets and blankets hung on poles."  

Jenetta Maria Cookse:  Lyttelton 1852

When Mr Warren visited the Lyttelton settlement late in 1851, and he was astonished and delighted by the appearance - " Wide streets, neat houses, shops, stores, hotels, coffee rooms, emmigration barracks, a neat sea wall and an excellent and convenient jetty with vessels  discharging  their cargoes upon it, met our view; whilst a momentary ray of sunshine lit up the shingled roofs and the green hills in the background, until the whole place seemed to break into a triumphant smile at our surprise." But his first view of Christchurch, or rather of it's site, was a very different nature - " The mountains in the distance were completely hidden by the thick rain, and the dreary, swampy plain, which formed the foreground beneath our feet, might extend, for ought we could see, over the whole island. The few, small, woe-begone houses, which met my view, increased rather than diminished the desolate appearance of the landscape."

The site, chosen for the capital, was in part, a swampy plain, with a slight fall seawards. soaked bv underground drainage from the hills and intersected in every direction by springs and streams. The coast had a strip of heavy wet land, usually some ten miles wide, and covered largely with rank swamp grasses, higher than a man. There was watercress in plenty and the luxurient growth had an abundance of pukeko and bitterns and it was common to see flocks of up to 60 Paradise ducks flying overhead. Other ducks such as teal and greys as well as spoonbills, were very common. The swampy areas gradually gave way to dry stoney plain, covered with light scrub and tussock. Wild Irishman, a very spiney plant grew as high as 3ft.6 ins with needle sharp points, and yellow flowers on a seed head that went up from its base each year.

After the steep ascent to the Summit - looking back to Lyttleton
Ahead, the drop down to the Heathcot River

Beyond this again, were the lower foothills of the great mountain chain on which tussock and scrub prevailed although the valleys were often fertile and forested. The actual site of Christchurch and of the rural allotments of the first land purchasers was what became known as "dry swamp"- moderately wet swamp with native flax, toitoi cutty grass, and sometimes heavy fern with boggy creeks running through it. Before cultivation, this vegetation had to be stripped by hand with a mattock ( a form of grubber) and when clear and burnt off, it could be ploughed either with a horse or cow yoked to the single furrow plough, harrowed with a tine harrow or sown by hand on the furrow. Often sheep were driven to and fro across the furrows after sowing the seed, to act as harrows and roller. When ready, the crops were reaped with a scythe or a sickle, stacked and then threshed with a flail.

Except for the areas chosen for the chief town and sea port, all the land in the settlement was open to purchasers. The priority was given to those who applied before the 25th of August, 1850 and was sold in order of application. These first applicants were entitled to receive for 150 Pound, 2 land orders - one for a rural area of 50 acres, the other for a half acre allotment in the capital, Lyttleton or a quarter acre in any sea port town.
The second portion was open to the first colonists who made application for land at the Land Office in the Colony, before the 12th of August, 1851, and it was on August 1st. that John Guilford bought from John Birch of Lyttleton 6 acres neaar Papanui Road for £150. Previous to this, like so many others, John and Ann Guilford had lived  in a sod hut thatched with rushes, on the side of a small creek that ran into the river Avon between the hospital and the old plough P Inn on the western side of the Hagley Park. At Papanui, John Guilford had Mr George Woodman build a four roomed wooden house out of timber cut in the Papanui Bush and they lived here for the next eight or nine years.