JOSEPH LIGGINS’ FIRST LETTER

 

The voyage out and arrival at Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand.

Wellington, New Zealand May 20, 1884

Dear Mother and All of you,

We had a pleasant voyage from Teneriffe to Cape Town but only saw two or three ships all the way. We arrived in Cape Town on the 7th of April and stopped to coal the entire day. We all had strict orders not to go on shore as the Captain said they would not be responsible for us and the ship would start as soon as the last bag of coal was taken on board. Notwithstanding this, as soon as the ship got to the side of the dock for coals, first one dropped off then another till at dinnertime no one was left on board but women and children. I went up amongst the first, Jonathan espied me from afar and came rushing after me. I had several hours in Cape Town and in the afternoon Sarah and the older children took a walk in the town. No doubt at one time the town did a fine stroke of business but it is quiet enough now.

I was struck with the very fine houses which were mostly brick and plaster and with the very wide streets, as wide as Ashby main street or wider. A tram runs from the docks to the town through it. I saw drays loaded with casks and drawn by strings of bullocks. The Cape Town people never seem to walk if they can ride, so that horses being cheap, a good one for 6, everybody seemed to be riding in light carriages or carts. The horses are light boned like good big ponies but are sleek, well cared for and swift, the climate seeming to suit them well. They were mostly driven by natives, a dusky, brown race or races from Kaffir to Hottentot. The men look well enough but the women in some cases are repulsive in feature but all appeared clean and swelled about the streets in gaily coloured prints and head dresses with naked legs and feet. They walk along on wooden soles which have a peg with a round knob fastened at the front, this peg is thrust between the large toe and second toe and the people go along slip slop just like as if they were all shod in the potteries. Even the tip top swells wear these battens and there are some swells here among the natives. The women display their colours and the very loud swells amongst the males wear a conical grass hat such as we see in pictures of Chinaman. This hat is stuck on the handkerchief which is worn as a headress. Then with a pipe and a stroll in the sun they are happy. I enquired the price of one of these hats. I was asked 1 for it.

Everything is exceedingly dear at the Cape except fish which is ridiculously cheap. You can buy four big ones, like large salmon, for 6d. We bought a few luxuries such as jam, sugar etc. and they are in some cases double the price that we can get them for at home. Bacon and cheese 1/6 per lb. and jam 1/-. Some of the people , being led astray by the steward who told them no one would go on shore, gave him orders for groceries which he handed to tradesmen. The poor people gave orders for what they expected would come to eight or nine shillings and they had to pay as much as 1 and 1 4s for them. I bought my own and those few came to about 11/-.

The Cape is a bad place now. I would rather stay at home on 2/6 per day than cast my lot at the Cape.

We sailed at night after we had coaled and in the morning found three stowaways who had been lucky enough to get on board during the scramble and hide themselves till far enough from land. They were set to work scrubbing the decks and carrying food for the sailors.

We now had a long voyage before us as you will see if you look at the map and no land till we got to New Zealand and what was worse we saw no ship at all after leaving the Cape till near the coast of Australia. The reason is that no ships come back this way but take advantage of the winds and currents of the Cape Horn route. We enjoyed ourselves very well however. We had a gale lasting four days once and what rocking and pitching we had. We were battened down to keep out the heavy seas so that we had not the comfort of light except that of lanterns. When we went for our dinner it was no unusual thing for a lurch to upset us and the dinner altogether. If we were on the windy side we used to slide until brought up with a bump by the bulwarks on the lee side. People got badly hurt in this way and to make matters worse they always got laughed at. I have seen women and men rolled over and over in the heavy seas we have shipped but it was no joke to be wet. If you got wet you had no accommodation for drying except by going to bed and getting someone to dry your clothes in the stoke hole.

Worst of all we could not eat the food and what we were allowed we were robbed of. We were only allowed a small loaf like a penny roll for each adult. Many people, myself amongst the number, agreed with the baker to find them an extra roll or two each day which he did at the rate of 2d for each small roll. Well! The consequence of that was that he, having only so much flour allowance, made extra rolls to meet the demand and of course the loaves kept getting smaller each day. We at last went in a body to the purser and doctor complaining of the scarcity of bread. They would not believe us until we pointed out to them that each adult according to the New Zealand Shipping Company’s scale was allowed 8 oz of flour made into bread and our loaves were only about 6 oz instead of 10 oz or more as they should be when made into bread. Also our scale on our contract ticket allowed 14 1/2 ozs of flour more per week than the Shipping Company’s scale. They at once saw their error and promised an alteration. We always after that had bread and to spare but unfortunately our voyage was drawing to a close before we had the sense to look at our contract tickets. The last week we had the luxury of fish meal so that all grumbling ceased.

Our joy at the approach of land was very much marred by the death of a little child who was committed to the waves, according to the rites of the Church of England, the day before we saw New Zealand. The sight was one to be always remembered. A thrill of horror ran through all like an electric shock as the body slid off the board and sank like a stone being speedily left behind by us as the ship sped on its way. The women gave a cry of horror and a salt tear flowed down the cheek of the man who had for years never known what it was to shed a tear. The father stood by the side of the rail and watched the body as it sank, his head on his hand and with the appearance of a man who is just waking up from a horrible dream. His vacant look and grief stricken features I shall never forget. The mother was not there but the next day she came by the place and gave a cry of anguish as she looked on the place where her baby was thrown over.

We sailed into Auckland at 11 at night, May 2nd and the gun gave the signal to the townspeople, awakening the echoes of the high hills and making a dog on shore bark furiously. We were glad to hear even the dog’s rough welcome as we had been so long without seeing the sight of land.

Next morning we saw the city of Auckland and it looked grand from the harbour. The neat wooden houses, mostly painted stone colour, were not close together as in England except on the principle streets, but were a good distance apart with evergreens, large native grasses and queer looking trees. They made such a picture as I had never seen or dreamt of. Large trees were all around it covered with a small amount of herbage, dotted here and there with trees. The cultivated land lies over the hills.

We did not get to land till Monday as the "Zealandia Mail" from Frisco was expected and had to go where we were we should unload. The "Zealandia" came in on Sunday night and we sailed in after she went out so that we were enabled to get off the ship the next day and walk up the town. Auckland is a very nice town. The shops are better even than home, they are large and display a great variety of goods in the windows. The Telegraph and Post Office is a very large one, as large as Nottingham Post Office and the business done in it is surprising.

Work does not seem over plentiful except for pick and shovel men and bricklayers. Pick and shovel men get 8/- and 9/- and bricklayers 12/- and 14/- and carpenters 12/- but, you see, here they do not keep a staff of men as in England but as a man takes a job he advertises for men, gets the job done, and discharges them when the work is finished. The consequence is men here are always on the move from one job to another. No man seems to stick to his trade; all take what offers. The carpenters work is done by most anybody, the stuff being sawn out and planed at the mills, it only wants knocking together. Consequently many labouring men have to put up there own houses in their spare time and very wise to as a four roomed house here, all on the ground floor, is rented at from 10/- to 15/- a week all clear

It is difficult at first for a man to get into work but when he has once started and is known, he gets along right enough, better I think than at home. The employers seem to have a dislike for "new chums".

Things in general are cheaper than I expected. Boots are about the same as in England; you may buy a suit of good clothes at from 2-10-0 to 4-00-0. Calicoes and woollen goods are about the same. Furniture is cheaper. It is made of native woods which take a beautiful polish and turns beautifully. The bedsteads, etc. are of turned wood and look beautiful. Sarah asked the price of a beautiful, full sized, turned and polished bedstead and it was only 25/-. Flour is a trifle dearer than at home but very little. Apples and other fruit are dearer although they say fruit is plentiful. I suppose it is so high because of the price of getting it. Apples are from 3 to 4d and pears from 4 to 6d per lb. Onions 1d. Meat is the cheapest article here. The butcher’s shops are indeed a grand sight. There are no small butchers here, all large and on a grand scale, owned principally by a company such as the "Gear Refrigerating Company" who export thousands of sheep. The shops are as high as a small house and the sheep are suspended in rows, as plentiful as rabbits in a poulterers shop at home, high above the heads of the shop people and are lifted down and up by long sticks with hooked ends. We saw mutton, fine shoulder and saddle, well fed, at 2d and half legs can be bought at 4d. Beef is 3d for rough pieces and 4d prime pieces and bumping weight, no such thing as ounces here. We saw people come to the butchers shop for their weeks meat and take away a quarter of sheep at a time.

I was struck, in traversing the street, with the generally respectable appearance of the people. All were well dressed, clean and orderly. I have not seen one ill dressed person since I landed. Poverty is here unknown. The wages are good and living cheap so that there is no excuse for an untidy person. But the people say that they are not doing well and the country is experiencing a depression somewhat the same as in England but the cheap living and the high wages consequent on the scarcity of labour make it so that it is not felt so bad as at home. But certainly the Colony is now in such a depressed state as has never been known. But new avenues of industry are opening up such as the frozen mutton trade, cheese making, etc. that will speedily bring to the country renewed prosperity.

We set sail from Auckland on Wednesday night after disgorging an amount of cargo that you would fancy would sink any ship. I had a visitor while there, Tom Carr had been written to by Mr. Harrison. He is resident in Auckland. He is aged very much indeed and looks as old and as grey as Joseph Latham does. He never invited me up to have a bit of dinner or tea with him and confined his remarks to the most common place, told me it was a long way to his house, etc. He might better have stayed at home, but what the devil can you expect from a parson and a Wesleyan at that. He would have been different to the rest of his brethren if he had stayed to pour oil and wine onto the wounds of the weary traveller.

We ought to have got to Wellington in 36 hours but instead of that we did not get there till Saturday. The wind was so very rough, all straight in our teeth, blowing through the rigging like a ship’s horn, at times we could hardly hold our own. We experienced rougher weather than we had had all the way from England.

On arriving here we made our way to the depot. We found Mr. Harrison had inserted an advertisement for one (me) in several papers and there was one application from a company in this district so that I am staying on here till the result of my application is known. I have written them my qualifications etc., to which they have answered that everything is satisfactory and that there will be a meeting on Thursday when I expect to be appointed. I shall at the earliest opportunity then write you again.

The depot here is a different place to the one at Plymouth. The people on landing here are kept on the Government expense till suitable work is found or till such work is offered as they consider good enough. After such work has been offered you must accept it or find another shop.

We have a room or rather two little (very little) rooms to ourselves, a nice fire - gas, and for food nice fresh butter - 1/2lb for 4 meals, 3 loaves a day and 6lbs of meat a day, the best that can be got, tea and coffee very good. Such a shop I never expected to find.

We were visited last Sunday by the M. H. R. Minister for Emigration. A plain, pleasant and kind man somewhat of the appearance of a gentleman farmer. This is not a bad place to shop at till work is obtained I can tell you. The government agent will write for you or telegraph for you to employers and send you to them so that work is obtained free of expense. We have the armed Constabulary Station in front of us, at the bottom of the hill, and the convict establishment behind us. We can see the poor fellows at work every day guarded by armed warders.

The hill we are on is named after the explorer - Mount Cook and is a hill entirely composed of clay. Fancy, the city is built of wood while clay is near them in profusion. But coal is dear here, it has to be brought from Westland or Australia. The bricks here (the convicts make them) are burnt with wood and are used to make a convict establishment here, the largest in the colony.

Talking of wooden buildings, the government building is built of wood; the largest wooden building in the colony. I counted 54 windows at one end only as I passed it. There are very many more at the front and back. The great drawback to the wooden houses is the danger from fire. It is not an infrequent thing to be awakened by the clang of the fire bells. The night before we came here the Scottish Church, one of the most beautiful wooden churches ever built and the finest in Wellington, was reduced to a heap of charred wood ashes and the fire brigade had a hard job to prevent the fire spreading. If it had caught the adjacent property, Wellington would now have been a mass of cinder as the wind was blowing right for the town and the supply of water was short as they are doing some engineering work on the hills to bring a greater supply. We have the water now but then there was none.

When you write let me know how you all are - Luke, John and Katie and the others. Tell one allthe news. I shall not write again till we are settled which I hope will be next week. Jonathan has got work in a stables at 1-2-6 and all found. Sarah says she will write you all a long letter when we get settled.

She is well and so are the children, my only regret with them is having them so long away from school but we shall soon make them all right. We have the best of schools here free.

I have never felt better in my life. I believe the sea voyage has done us good. We can eat now I can tell you. I don’t know how often Jonathan and I longed for the flesh pots of Egypt. I mean Mother’s pork pie and coffee but now we have manna in the wilderness. I never ate so much meat in my life. We really cannot eat what we are allowed and we don’t like to say anything so as to make it worse for the others. The waste of meat in this country is simply scandalous. Enough to feed the poor of England if only they could get at it.

Of course you must one and all accept our best love and we hope you are all well. Tell Katie I will write to her individually and lengthily. Address at present to Harrison Wallsend Greymouth who will know of our whereabouts.

Read this to Uncle Ben and Aunt and remember us to All and Everybody. Tell John I will tell him about the country when I have fully examined it’s people, etc.

I am yours affectionately,

Joe Liggins

 

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