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The Last Port.
Peter Tavy
II - The Emigrant Ship

From ‘The Western Daily Mercury’- 17th December 1875

The emigrant ship, ‘Rangatiki’, Captain Scotland, the property of the New Zealand Shipping Company, is now (at time of writing) lying in the Sound, and the passengers, to the number of about 260 adults, and a ton or two of children (old measurement), have been on board about 24 hours. E.V., the ‘Rangatiki’ will sail to-morrow morning for Port Lyttleton, so it is time for the Emigration Officer, Captain Stoll, R.N., and the Medical Inspector, Dr. Eccles, to go on board and see that everything is ship-shape and Bristol fashion, as the law directs. I go in the same boat with them, and after a short, cold run, under foresail and mizzen, we fetch the ‘Rangatiki’ and board her.

All is confusion on deck: men, women, and children, bundles, bales, and boxes, are mixed together in a wild state of disorder. Trunks are being stowed into the hold by some of the crew, whilst others are aloft repairing and preparing ship’s gear; the captain is busy examining his papers in the saloon, whilst the mates run hither and thither carrying and giving orders. It is decided that, in the first place, the crew shall be mustered for the inspection of Dr. Eccles. Accordingly, the captain gives the order, and the boatswain gives the call for the crew to muster. There they stand, from the fresh apprentice to the chief mate, a group of men of various nations. As Captain Scotland calls out each man’s name the owner thereof cries, “Here, sir,” and walks over to the port side of the ship. Dr. Eccles and the ship’s surgeon examine the man carefully as he passes. Captain Scotland seems to be well acquainted with the Norwegian and Dutch languages, for he never hesitates in pronouncing the names of his foreign sailors. The crew of the ‘Rangatiki’ are a very uneven lot of men; the professional men, such as the cooks, butcher, baker, etc., are clean, respectable fellows, but a few of the able-bodies are roughish chaps, whose hearts, I hope, are not so black as their faces. One of the apprentices, who has evidently been a few voyages, looks, dresses, and rolls over from starboard to port like a true, typical sailor. His face, frank and open, has a very self-satisfied air, which seems to say, “Yes see, I am the only man on board who can do the genuine roll!” I will undertake to say that the young apprentice will soon lose a little of this excusable vanity, and condescend to walk about like his captain and the rest of the crew. But if this lad is a little vain, he is not idle, for he soon sets to work with rag and dust to polish the ventilator which carries fresh air below. The crew pass the doctor with only one incident to enliven the proceedings. The captain calls from his list, Hendrick von Someoneorother, and a tall, grissly-looking foreigner steps out from the rack and says “Here, sur,” from the bottom of his boots.
“Are you ill?” asks Dr. Eccles, stopping him.
“No sur; von little cold, no matter,” replies the man, tapping his chest.
“Let me look at your tongue,” says the doctor.
The sailor hesitates for a moment, not having quite made up his mind what to do with his “quid.” Shall he swallow it, or what? At length, he opens his jaws very cautiously about the eighth of an inch, and the doctor takes a glance. The latter is evidently satisfied with the healthy appearance of the tobacco, for he passes the medicine chest is properly supplied for the number of passengers, and that the instrument case is well-stocked with knives, probes, and saws.

It is now Captain Stoll’s turn to do his duty; so he orders the lifeboats hanging from the davits, to be manned. There are seven men belonging to each boat, and each one has his appointed place, from the coxswain to the bow oar. The names of each boat’s crew are called over, and answered to; then Captain Stoll gives the word to lower, and the crews at once let themselves down into the water by means of the patent apparatus. Captain Stoll, being thus satisfied that all the tackle is in good working order, goes for’ard to see that the other boat’s hoisted over the main deck, have their proper complement of hands. Each of these four boats is provided with a keg of water and a tin of preserved meat. This is one of the little make-beliefs which the Board of Trade insists upon. All above deck being in order, Captain Stoll and Captain Scotland proceed to make a tour of the ship. The hospital is the first place visited. It consists of two cabins, one for men, and the other for women; each cabin will accommodate about eight or ten patients, and the place can be warmed if necessary. The women’s hospital contains a berth for births, for sometimes, however much you may want the little strangers to be born when the voyage is over, they will not always wait. The next place visited is the single women’s quarters on the lower deck – aft. The ‘tween decks of the ‘Rangatiki’ are a good height, which is a great point in securing ventilation for so many people. The single woman’s quarters, which I may call the Nunnery, are jealously guarded against male comers during the voyage. I believe the only men permitted to enter the Nunnery are the captain and the doctor, and these gentlemen are carefully watched by a matron – a woman of tried respectability, who won’t look another way for a shilling. The young women on board the ‘Rangatiki’ seemed a highly-respectable lot, and the natural gloom of ‘tween decks was lightened by a many a pair of bright eyes. One young lady had evidently grown considerably taller than she ever intended: they said she was about six-feet-four high. She had already threatened to carry away the poop with her head when coming down the gangway. We did not see this young lady: she was probably in some quiet spot, meditating what she should do with her legs at night, for when the official scale to be observed in constructing emigrant’s berths was drawn up, this young lady and the Claimant were not thought of; at any rate, not by the authorities. The Claimant may be able to emigrate when he comes out of Dartmoor, but he never could have done so when he was Tichborne; because, on going to bed; he would not only have absorbed his own portion, but he would have been lying on the top of three or four of his neighbours on either side of him. The married people’s quarters are amidship, and those for the single men forward. There is a separate entrance for each from the main deck, and the exercise ground is carefully portioned off. The married people and the single women have access to the poop and portion of the main deck, but the single men are not allowed abaft the galley. In case this should fall into the hands of anyone “up along.” I had better state that the galley is the kitchen where the victuals are cooked and the bread baked. During the voyage it must be nice to stand by the galley and smell the dinner cooking, and gaze at the girls walking on the poop! The scene between decks is very much the same in each portion of the ship. Of course, there was a difference. For instance, the single girls were not lounging about with their hands in their trouser’s pockets; and the single men were not busy pulling-down and putting-up their back hair; but with a few such exceptions, all the passengers were engaged in getting out and putting things away; in talking, in humming tunes, and, above all, wondering how ill they would be. One girl had just written the following letter (or something like it):

“Ship, ‘Rankyteakettle’, Fryday, 1875.
My deer parients,
Heer I am on bord you see. It is a nice ship and so is the captin. The deckter is a very nice lookin’ young man, which his name it is Ross, and they say he is not maryed. They say the captin, which comes from Skotland, nose all about ships, so don’t fret about me deer mother and farther. I like Susan Brown very much. But you don’t know who is Susan Brown. Wel, Susan Brown and me has both got into the same mess. I don’t meen that me and Susan Brown has got into trubble deer mother. But that is what they call it on bord ship. I have a narsty feeling anout the hart, which is not seasickness, but its landsicness, I think. For as Kowper’s poetry says at Sunday school – England, with all your fogs I love you stil. I don’t harf like leeving the deer old country, but you no deer mother and farther, I tolled Jack I wood go out to him.
Xcuse teers and bad spelling, but it is so dark down heer, I can hardly sea.
From your dewtifull dorter,
Annie Maria Jones.
Susan Brown says she thinks Mister Ross is very hansum.

Poor Annie Maria gives her letter to the owner’s representative, as do many others, and when that gentleman goes on shore, he will post the lot.

Everything that experience can suggest has been done to ensure the health and comfort of the emigrants. The sea-water is condensed for drinking purposes, and tastes fresher and more agreeable than any supplied in this neighbourhood; the victualling is on a liberal scale, and includes pickles, condiments, and, that greatest of luxuries at sea, a daily supply of fresh-baked bread of first-rate quality. In this last matter, the Government emigrants are much better off than ordinary second-class passengers, who get nothing but dry biscuits. Indeed, the only necessaries which are not supplied to the emigrants are bootjacks and scented soup.

Captain Stoll examines every part of the ship most carefully, and if the ‘Rangatiki’ comes to grief, which God forbid, it will not be the fault of the Emigration Officer. He takes nothing for granted: he even insists upon seeing the black-board on which the children are taught to sum during the voyage; and, I believe, he assured himself that the schoolmaster’s cane was of the proper length, circumference, and quality. The schoolmaster gets £5 for his duties during the voyage. When the ship gets into hot latitudes, the children go home for the holidays for a week or two. The heat is then so intense that the schoolmaster cannot wield his rod with sufficient energy. Some few years ago, one persevering man tried to keep on the school whilst crossing the Equator. He took coat and waistcoat off to do it, but when the captain, alarmed by the cries of the children, entered the school cabin, he could not find the dominic anywhere. Nothing was to be seen but a small pool of water on the floor, which was evaporating at the rate of a hogshead per minute. It appeared that some of the children had riled the poor man awfully, and, in the heat of the moment, he had melted away, to the great grief of his scholars. No marble sepulcher holds the ashes of that great man; no lying tombstone marks the spot where he rests from his labours, but a bald-headed mop contains all that is mortal of that persevering pedagogue. Peace be to his gravy! The records of emigration contain few incidents more distressing.

If we regard emigration from a mercantile point of view, there can be no doubt that it is a very paying game. In fact, it is the most profitable thing that a man can invest his body in. But to make it answer, you must not rest content with emigrating once or twice, or thrice, but you must keep on emigrating. If you will only devote the whole of your time to the matter, and do nothing else but emigrate you are sure, in a few years to save a handsome fortune. It requires a very small capital to start with. This is how you work the thing:- You apply to the London agent, say, of the New Zealand Government for a free passage to Port Lyttleton. The agent jumps at you. Don’t be alarmed at his jumping at you; it is only his fuss; he is glad to see you. Perhaps he gets a commission on you. Well, the agent accepts you, pays your fare to Plymouth, gives you an outfit and some bacca, and boards and lodges you free gratis, and for nothing, till he lands you in New Zealand. Now, however economical you may be, you will never live cheaper than that. Arrived in New Zealand, the Government of that colony keep you for a certain time, till you can obtain employment. Now here comes the secret. You never do find employment. You raise all kinds of objections to everything that offers: it is your intention not to work. At last the New Zealand Government begins to think you are a lazy fellow, and that you are humbugging them. Accordingly; one fine day the Prime Minister of New Zealand waits upon you. He is clad in moccasins and the skins of wild beasts, and his belt contains twenty pistols and daggers. He says, “Look ‘ere, you’re a-fooling of us ‘lads; you’re a fraud. Now, we ain’t a-going to keep you no longer; your appetite’s a-ruining of this great country. If your dinner goes on for another week, the Budget will add up on the wrong side; and your breakfast is enough to turn any Chancellor of the Exchequer out of office. Now just you clear out of these ‘ere diggings this next week. Good arternoon.”

The Prime Minister is as good as his word, and at the end of a week the New Zealand Government throw you on your own resources. You loss no time, but at once undertake to valet a gentleman who is proceeding to England, for which you receive some wages and a free passage. I would not advise you to do this, but I know that after the first three or four days the duties are purely nominal; and during the first days which constitute the painful period of the voyage, you are a great fool if you do anything. If your master is ill, lie in your berth and read novels; and when he sends for you, say you are sick yourself and can’t come.

Directly you arrive in London you go to the agent of one of the Australian colonies, and ask for a free passage to his country. This agent also jumps at you; if anything, he jumps a little higher than the New Zealand agent did. Very well. Once more you are clothed, boarded, and lodged free, gratis, and for nothing, for about five months, this time at the expense of one of the Australian colonies. When you get to Australia, and they won’t keep you any longer, you come back to London, us before, and once more emigrate to another Colony. When you have thus exhausted all the colonies you begin afresh on the New Zealand Government. There is no danger of being discovered; for if the agent is the same man, you are very much changed. The luxurious life of an emigrant has made you so fat and jolly that the agent will never recognize you as the man he jumped at some eight years before.

It therefore follows, as sure as Monday follows Sunday, that anyone who will take the trouble to devote their life to emigrating may pass an existence of complete idleness at a very small cost to themselves. They can live in comfortable style, and see the world and human nature.

I am convinced that, my system of Perpetual Emigration, as herein sketched, is one of the greatest additions to the art of Swindling that has been made for many, many years; and, as such, I humbly present it to the British public.

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