Stories from the community
Then there was pitching and tossing, metal pipes and tin cans going topsy turvey, till one might have thought that some monstrous whale was crushing the ribs of the iron ship between its jaws. – Diary of immigrant William McCaw, 1880
In the 19th century, migrants to New Zealand endured dreadful conditions for several months on sailing ships, daily facing the possibility of death by malnutrition and disease, fire, storm, shipwreck and even mutiny.
We asked people around the country to send us stories in their own words of the journey their ancestors made, to begin a new life in New Zealand. Here is a selection.
What's your story?
Frustration with their homeland’s depression, and rebellion against an older brother’s authority prompted Samuel and Elizabeth Vanderband Joll to emigrate from Cornwall in 1841. Their voyage was fraught with tension between the ‘emigrant’ and ‘cabin’ class passengers.
Hope and sorrow
The Cooper family emigrated from England on the Travancore in December 1850. They adjusted well to seafaring life, but reached Lyttelton in sadness.
The diary of George Denton
George Denton emigrated from Yorkshire, England, in 1855. Like many of his contemporaries, he kept a journal of the voyage. His great-granddaughter has used this lively record to recreate his time on board the China.
A pioneering family
The Dellows’ story of arrival in Lyttelton in 1859 has been treasured by their descendants for many years. In 1951, with encouragement from relatives at a party, Charlotte Dellow’s daughter Gertrude Frost wrote this account of their voyage and the challenges they faced as settlers.
From Nottingham on the Flying Foam
Charles Jeffs and his children emigrated in 1864. During their voyage the crew of the sailing ship, Flying Foam, mutinied and the passengers had to help sail the vessel. Les Jeffs (pictured) tells their story.
Alison McMorran writes of the migration of her father’s family in the 1800s from Dorset in England to Newfoundland, and ultimately on to New Zealand.
Adventures on the Dauntless
Two years old and travelling under a false name, Maggie Crawford sailed from the Irish county of Ulster to New Zealand in 1865. The journey was full of dangers – from sickness, to a mutiny by the ship’s sailors, to a daring rescue from a burning ship.
A Scandinavian story
Without parents or prospects, Sven August Nilsson left Sweden for a better life in 1872. He endured great hardships on board the three ships that carried him to New Zealand. Here is the story of his survival against the odds.
The Lost Boy, and other tales
Thomas Heath (1852–1940) journeyed from London to New Zealand in 1875 with his wife Eliza and 11 children. A plasterer by trade, Heath also turned his hand to writing. Here is his account of three incidents on the emigrant ship Collingwood, on which he was a cook.
George Grant faced the stench of pigs, a collision at sea, violent storms and an outbreak of smallpox on his voyage from Scotland to Wellington on the Zealandia.
The McCaw chronicles
Read the accounts of three members of the McCaw family, who sailed to New Zealand in 1880 on the Stirlingshire.