1864 letter from Schoolmaster on "Mermaid" sailing to New Zealand.

This a typed copy of a handwritten, 149 year old family letter dated 16 February 1864.  

I've highlighted words for those you just want to get to the dramatic bits...


"To 51 George Street
 Hampstead Road
 London.



Dear Mother and Friends,


I know you will all be most anxious to hear from us, at the time I indite these lines we are about 70 days sail from New Zealand should we meet the Mail before our arrival in Port our letters will be sent on board, so that by having them in readiness you will hear from us nearly 2 months sooner than you otherwise would in case we missed this Mail, I will not attempt in this letter to give you any account of the Voyage. 

I leave that for another time. 

We left Gravesend on Saturday 14th Nov with over 400 souls on board all told - Mary did not ail much for the first few days but when we got well into heavy water out at sea, she was very ill and continued so for neally a fortnight since that time has had very fair health. 

For the first week everything was very uncomfortable fancy scores of men, women and children all sea sick at once. It takes some time for so many people to settle down and get comfortable together, after a time it is all right, before we left the docks I was chosen by Mr Ottyell, that is Mr Marshmans head clerk for the Provincial Government of Canterbury, as sworn Witness, to Witness the Signatures of all the Emigrants owing money to the Provincial Government for which he paid me 1 guinea and through that I had the appointment of Ships Schoolmaster offered me, which I accepted as the Schoolmaster who had been appointed previously failed them in the last moment by not making his appearance and they are bound by the Government to carry one. I am to receive 10 pounds for my services which are not by any means heavy and have been exempt from all the duties of cleaners, mess men Constables, which both married and single men have to take according to their turns. 

 I have to attend the burials and devine service on Sundays so that should the Captain be indisposed I should have to officiate for him. I muster all the children between 5 and 14 years of age of whom there are 60 every morning at 10 on the quarter deck and inspect them, if not clean etc etc I have to report them to the Captain or Doctor, after which we have 2 hours school, weather permitting, and 2 hours in the afternoon. It was all a spree the first time the ship begain to roll heavilly. To see the boxes, tins, pots grub etc flying about after a time the people got more wide awake and made things secure but many were the sore shins and heads before they got experience, up to this time we have only had 5 deaths, 2 men 1 women and 2 children. The heavy plunge of the dead body over the side into the deap sea impressed me with more solemn feelings than ever a funeral did on shore. The most serious accident we have had was in the second week of leaving England. I was sat in the Carpenters house on deck having a pipe with him, when the Pursers Mate came by just as the ship gave an extra lurch to windward the deck was slippery his feet flew from under him and he came down heavilly catching his knee on a heavy spar. We rushed out and got him into the Carpenters place. I supported his body during the opperation the knee cap was smashed clean in halves, his rips hurt and head cut. The doctor told me it was a much worse case than a broken leg as he will have a stiff leg for life poor fellow he is still in the hospital. 

 It was very cold the first 3 weeks but not near so cold as I had expected as we drew nearer to the equator it became warmer till at last we had it hot and no mistake and we were glad to lay about at nights on the tops of boxes or on deck we had the usual performance of shaving on crossing the Line, the ships crew and every one had the days holiday the sailors get up the drapes and the whole affair first rate as they prepare some time before hand for it. I will assure you it is much better fun to witness it than to be opperated upon, fortunately I was not on the ships books although considered to belong to the ship. The Captain gave strict orders beforehand that none was to be interfered with but those that had signed articles and he gave them the names of their victims these were the Cabin Cook, Cooks Mate, the Butcher and his Mate and two of the Chief Cabin stewards 1 sailor and one cabin boy these the sailors proved had never before crossed the line, but they all came up well to the scratch and then there was no help for it they gave their own shipmate to the worst of any his face being covered with scratches from the razor (a piece of rusty hooping iron full of notches ) both you can read in various sea tales better discriptions than I have space to give it ------------

The ship has been rolling so heavilly the whole time I have been writing that it is difficult to write at all, so you must excuse this scrall, all hands have just been called to shorten sail as a heavy squall is coming on so I will turn and finish this another time!

Since writing the above we have had almost a mutiny amoung the sailors some of the crew got drunk one of them would not obey orders and was insolent to the Second Mate upon which the Second Mate struck him knocking him down. He was then got away by his ship mates, about 2 hours after he came again on deck swearing he would have revenge and coming upon the Second Mate unawares he gave him a dreadful smash in the face knocking him senseless upon which after a determined resistance he was put in IRONS and put in close confinement where he will remain till the ship arrives in port when he will get 6 months imprisonment.

Next morning the whole of the crew upwards of 30 able seamen came aft in a body to the Captain demanding the release of their comrade swearing they would not work the ship till he was given up but the captain and officers were firm, he told them if they did not return to their duty he would have them all put in IRONS as he could by the assistance of the passengers some of whome are sailors and his officers carry the ship into port without them. The passengers were all with the Captain so they gave it up for a bad job our crew is composed of English, Italian, Spanish, Portugese, French, Germans, Americans, Dutch and 1 Negro, but of corse they all understand English.

The food is of all good quality excepting the beef some of it is so hard and salt we cannot eat it so that on beef days which are twice a week we have to go without, the pork is better, that we have twice a week the other 3 days we have preserved meat made into soup and it is very good we have very few biscuits to eat as we get almost sufficient flour to make us bread all the week round and our supply of water is sufficient if used with economy we have now been 90 days at sea, every body seems to be getting sick of it, and tired of each other every now and then there is a good fight among the single men which helps the time on a little. It is just 40 days since we have seen a ship of any kind whatever. Sky and water! Sky and water! till the eye sickens of them, I have just left the Captain who says about 6 more days he thinks will put us out of out misery which I am not sorry for as I dream every night of beef steaks, mashed potatoes and Cooper -- Ale and Porter 1 1/2 pint bottles 1 shilling, Brandy 4 shillings, Rum 3 shillings, Old Tom 3 shillings, tobacco 3 shilings a pound, in fact you can get anything whatever on board but of course much dearer than on shore!

I was much disappointed at not seeing Baldwin or Farral as we laid in the basin several hours after leaving the dock and we did not leave Gravesend till Saturday morning. I hope these lines will find all my friends and shopmates well, Farral, Baldwin, Banister, George Abbot, Rundle, Old Frank, Overall and of course every body else I shall be very glad to hear from any of them or be glad to send any information in my power. Any letter or news paper will find me, to be left till called for, at the Post Office, Christ Church, Canterbury, New Zealand ----- I trust this will find you all well as it leaves me I have reason to be thankfull as I have not had an hours sea sickness since I left the docks but I am not so strong owing to having no vegatables or fresh meat and but little exercise ------------

We have just got in Tuesday night Feb 16/64. Am sorry to say the mail steamer left for England on the Sunday before, so it will be a long time before you get this letter.
All well and a good passage so for the present I will bid you all good bye"

Mr William E Hay

(transcripted from family documents-verified via http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Digitised/Emigration/EmbarkationLists/Mermaid-1863/Mermaid-1863.pdf)
It appears the boat was shipwrecked 8 months later off the Queensland source: Coast:http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?55537

The imaged used is a photo I took of another settler boat "The Dunedin" which active also at this time.



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