Clipper Robert Henderson

The Journey of an immigrant in 1862.

Source: Wallace Early Settlers Museum, Riverton

Thomas Reid began the account of his journey as an immigrant from the dockside in Glascow, Scotland, when he boarded the 586 ton Aberdeen sailing clipper Robert Henderson, under Captain Logan, bound for Bluff, New Zealand.
The vessel, with its 219 passengers, set sail on the 10th of June and arrived in Bluff Harbour some 80 days later, on the 4th September,1862, where 130 passengers disembarked. Sailing several days later, the remaining 89 passengers landed at Port Chalmers on the 18th. Thomas and his friend walked the last 9 miles to the Dunedin township on foot, having missed the last local steamer sailing for the day.

Writing in pencil in his small notebook, his story covered the entire voyage. This is an edited and condensed version. His first entry began: 

"Having decided to go to Otago, New Zealand, I took passage on board the ship Robert Henderson of Glasgow. To wile away the listless, monstrous life on board, I conceived the idea of keeping a short account of what passed on board, our daily progress if possible, and anything worth narrating.

We left on the10th June from the quayside at Glasgow at a few minutes past 
9am, punctual to time. Was accompanied to the ship's side by my uncle 
and other friends. Dropped down the river in tow of steamer, many of 
our fellow passengers being left behind. The excitement of the scene 
kept me from thinking much of those I had left behind, and I had 
scarcely recovered from the bewilderment the bustle has caused me 
when we came to an anchor off Greenock about 12 noon.
Shortly afterwards had our dinner served out to us, and such a crush for a meal I never saw; it reminded one of a theatre door on a Saturday night, everyone striving to be first served. It consisted of preserved soup and was passable good. Those left behind found their way down during the day, and we were expecting the visit of the Government Inspector, whose duty it is to inspect everything and everybody on board.

Busy preparing for our nights rest. Our beds will be very awkward; 
they are placed thwart ships - that is we lie with our head or feet 
to the ships side. There are two ranges on each side, one above the 
other. My bunk is on the lower range and between it and the one above 
me I cannot sit up so that it requires a kind of sidling motion to 
get in. Between each bed is one thin board only, so that when all are 
in bed the berths look like one enormous bed stretching the whole 
length of the ship, excepting where the divisions between the married 
and single are.
12th June - Anchor was hove short this morning and about midday the Inspector came; his work was a mere form - he never looked at any of us. After he left us we got the anchor up and were towed out to sea. When passing Millport Lighthouse a bag was hung up under the poop for letters and with the words closed this evening at 11 o'clock. I gladly availed myself of the last opportunity to write to my friends for three very weary months. Was aroused this morning 13th June, with the news that the ROBERT HENDERSON was alone, the pilot and tug had left us, taking away our letters with them.
When I came on deck we were going under easy sail down the North Channel with very little wind. During the day we were off the Isle of Man, with the coast of Ireland also in sight on our starboard side. Today a great assortment of musicians made their first appearance - namely 5 concertinas, 5 fiddles, 1 flute and bagpipes the owner of which exquisite instrument posted himself on the top of the deck-house, and played anything but sweet music.
14th June - Awoke this morning about one o'clock and found that the ship was pitching heavily; several of my neighbours sick determined to lie still and fell asleep. I woke again before daylight in a wretched state, but lay quiet as I found I was best that way. We begin to know what it means to be in a wet ship. Today we went a long way but made little progress....

15th June - Very poorly today, I never would have thought that a few 
hours sea-sickness would have weakened me so much. However I am glad 
it is over. This is the first Sabbath at sea, and in the afternoon we had a 
service, or rather a prayer meeting conducted by one of the married 

Today, 26th June, we are in Lat.26'N, Long.21'W with the sun almost above 
our heads and fearfully hot, which makes us glad to stay below. After the sun is down we swarm the deck and have pleasant singing parties to pass the evening.This hot weather has completely knocked me up, I am not ill, but I am not well, I can eat very little.
28th June - Another melting day. In the afternoon we held our concert for which we had sketched some bills in ink. It passed off well, the rigging was crowded with the crew and passengers. 29th June - Being Sabbath the usual service was held on the poop at 10 o'clock.
For the last two days we have seen some solitary flying fish. They rush out from the ship as she advances, whitening the water as they fly. Darkness falls directly the sun goes down, and that it does very quickly. We have now arrived in the latitude of the trade winds which blow from the north-east all the year round; it generally blows hardest during the night, we have never had a dead calm yet.

30th June - All very quiet today, and seeking shady places under the 
sails; multitudes of flying fish about. The thermometer stood at 80F.
in our black hole today. A very heavy dew falls here at night, wetting 
the deck like rain. A strong breeze sprung up in the afternoon, taking us along at 11 knots.
3rd July - Today we saw no less than six vessels. One we passed in the morning and signaled in the usual way, she was from Liverpool bound for Melbourne and 43 days at sea, we have been only 21 days today. In the evening the second cabin passengers entertained us with a concert on the poop. 5th July - At 9 o'clock a barque passed close by called the HOMEWARD BOUND, from Callao to Hamburg with guano. Sea very rough, and a good many sick; we were to have had a concert today but it was postponed on that account.
8th July - Caught a shark this afternoon with a large hook baited with salt pork.The shark was about 9 feet long. Ship rolling about helplessly, not exactly becalmed but next door to it; the heat is intense without wind. We are now close to 'the line'. 9th July - Saw a vessel ahead. Proved to be the ship HANOVER bound from London to Auckland N.Z. 34 days out. She has a large number of passengers, part of 1000 who are going out to found a new colony in New Zealand, called "Albertland". They are nonconformists.

 Crossed the line about mid-day and so nice was the calculation that 
we found we were two miles south and the HANOVER two miles north of it 
at twelve noon.After dark the seamen performed a ceremony called throwing the "dead horse" overboard. Another performance commenced after, namely, shaving those who had 
never crossed the line before. This the sailors did among themselves 
at first, but running out of customers, they seized some of the 
passengers, more especially those with big beards. Their lather was 
tar and the razor a broken blade of an oar about 4 feet long.
18th July - Very rough and some sea-sick; I am glad to say I have got 
over it. Lat 27'S. 19th July - Today we saw the first of the Cape Pigeons; a bird not 
unlike a pigeon but larger and with webbed feet. The head is black, 
black and white piebald wings with white breast and black legs and 
beak. The cold morning and night is getting disagreeable, especially as it 
is not a fortnight since I have cross the line. Lat 30'S, Long 25'W.

20th July - This is the most disagreeable day we have had yet; a cold 
drizzling rain fell all day, with squalls which give the sailors 
plenty of work. The sea-birds are thickening round us now; there now three kinds, 
Cape Pigeon, Cape Hen, and another large one not unlike a Crow. Sharp frost in the morning but it is pleasanter that rain. I can eat like a horse now.
22nd July - Yesterday and today the wind has been dead south and we are tacking from east to west to make the most of it. Some more pigeons caught today. Saw the same ship on our portbow; she turned out to be the RESULT, from London to Melbourne, 37 days from Plymouth. Turned in expecting to see the RESULT ahead tomorrow.

24th July - At daybreak this morning we made out the RESULT about 3 
miles ahead; we have little chance to beat her now unless the breeze 
falls a bit. There is a heavy sea running today.  Wind 
north and right astern; going 11  knots all day, and 9  at night.
25th July - Roused about 12 last night, and found the ship flying from side to side with a fearful swing, which was like to shy us out of our bunks. To sleep was impossible and I lay rocking head up heels up till morning, thinking it was a rough opening to my twenty-first birthday. 26th July - Weather very cold, and to add to our discomfort the deck is always in a swim with water, so that it is impossible to keep our feet dry; if we wish to walk for exercise she rolls so much that we are thrown across the deck or against the bulwark every minute or two. 27th July - Another wild night and miserable day; rain and wind with an occasional wave to wet us thoroughly.

About 4pm they began to shorten sail, and before dark were hugging a 
wild Cape gale with close-reefed topsails, fore staysail and main 
spanker, the great waves rising on each side. I thought bed would be 
the best place but shortly after, the deck began 
to leak above me, and the beds which are very slumly put up, began to 
creak and groan as she rolled.
28th July - Little better weather today but we scarcely shipped so much water. Our position today is Lat 39'S, Long 1'E.

29th July - By our longitude yesterday it will be seen that we have 
now crossed the meridian of Greenwich; by 
the time we get to N.Z. there will be 11  hrs of difference.
When I woke I found the morning clear and frosty with the breeze more favourable. It takes a good deal of clothes to keep one warm here. The sea continues to run high. Lat 38'S, Long 7'E. 30th July - Today we are running before the wind at a rate. The sea rising again and it is a grand sight to stand on the fore-castle.We are turning the last corner and are now sailing direct for the land we are going to. Lat 39'S, Long 11'E.
31st July - We were awakened last night by a tremendous shock which made the ship tremble like a leaf; we soon found out the cause; a sea had struck her sending water pouring down the hatchway in a solid body, and seemingly without end. Our first impression was that she was sinking, but the sailors sung out down the hatchway 'its all right'. It may have been so on deck, but it was not down with us, for there is no place for the water to run, and it runs backward and forward across the deck lashing up against our chests.We passed a very miserable night, some had got all their clothes wet, tins were flying about, some with water in them, afraid to go on deck as the seas were coming rolling on board wetting all on deck, the ship flying from side to side at a fearful rate with only fore-sail and fore and main top-sails set, running before the wind. We are very uncomfortable, cooped up like sheep, wet on deck and wet below, the water dropping from the roof above on our heads and into our plates as we sit at dinner, and also into our beds, our feet always wet and the weather very cold, continually at the risk of broken limbs from the chests coming over the cleats placed before them, and also from the rolling of the ship. Lat 37'S, Long 16'E..

1st August - Today I have to note the mutiny of our ships crew. This was an affair unexpected by any of us. This morning the ship took on board two heavy seas which appeared to be the fault of the man at the wheel.The man, a  discontented fellow named Robertson, argued with the Captain, who put him in irons. When the crew heard this they refused to work, and remained in the fore-castle all day playing cards. The Captain sent for them and asked them if they intended to return to work, they refused and so they too were quietly put in irons in the deck-house. We are now without a crew; all the able-bodied seamen (10) having stopped. There are now left to take charge of the ship; 1 ordinary seaman, 2 apprentices, carpenter, sailmaker, 2 mates and Captain, the boatswain having revolted with the crew.

We sighted a vessel ahead in the morning. She proved to be the GLEN 
MONARCH from Liverpool to Bombay 75 days out, we being only 50 to the 
same distance, and yet she is a fine American clipper. Lat 38'S, Long 
21'E.  2nd August - Rose after an anxious night to many of us, knowing how 
unfit our slender crew are to manage the ship in the event of a squall 
which are common here. The sailmaker who has been often 
this way before, told me that he never saw a heavier sea than there 
was yesterday. The Captain got over the difficulty with the crew today and they all returned to work. The ship rolls so much that I do not intend to go to bed tonight as it only makes me unwell. Lat 38'S, Long 28'E..

3rd August - Passed a very pleasant night in taking occasional naps on 
the chests lying the long way of the ship, so I rolled sideways. This has 
been a fine day and we slipped along very quietly, going 8 knots.Great flocks of birds flying about; we had the usual prayers today.
4th August - Last night passed very quietly and we enjoyed a good sleep as the ship is making little motion. We have steered southeast all day under a cloud of canvas, speed 10-12 knots all day. The day clear and bracing Lat 37'S, Long 33'E.
5th August - This is what we call "starvation day" for we never have any soft bread on Tuesdays. This is the Captain's birthday and there was a blowout in the cabin. 7th August - Nothing particular going on, but plenty of snow, for we have no shelter except below in the darkness and vile smell. I have bought a stone of flour from the ship stores, being fairly starved out. They have just commenced selling it at 2/6 a stone so we can make some scones. All day it snowed hailed and rained, making us miserable. Lat 43'S, Long 48'E..
8th August - After a wild night we are ushered into a wild and more miserable day, decks in a slush of water, wind right ahead. Miserably cold today. 9th August - This morning was a splendid one compared with the last few days, and I enjoyed a sharp walk on deck which was frozen and dry for once. At night I went up on the fore-castle, rolled my plaid around me and sitting on a pile of sails, I watched the moon rise right ahead. 10th August - A fine morning broke on us and we anticipated a better day than our Sabbaths have been lately. As the day advanced the wind became squally and by two o'clock sail was being taken in, this continued one by one till it was dark. Towards midnight the gale increased to a hurricane. The confusion and noise were fearful, the hoarse cries of the sailors, the sudden shock and trembling of our gallant little tub as the thundering seas struck her or dashed over the bows on deck, chests flying about between the beds and table, water pouring through leaks and hatches in the deck above us, casks of water in the hold below crashing and booming from one side to the other as she rolled on the wild seas. The rolling increased towards morning and I was sometimes actually standing upright in bed as she rolled over to the opposite side. Towards morning the wind moderated.

11th August - A pleasant warm morning; but for the broken casks, tubs, 
and the fore-castle strewed on deck no one would think we had had 
such a night. The day was good and we had only one squall accompanied 
with rain; after it passed the sea fell, the rain having laid it. Lat 
43'S, Long 63'E..
12th August - Last night passed quietly and we had a fine day with 
pleasant light winds today. Our time is already 4 hours different from English, or 4 minutes for 
every degree east. Lat 44'S, Long 68'E. 13th August - Broke pleasantly, but during the day we had heavy blasts of hail; we have one comfort, a rattling breeze. Towards night the wind freshened and to all appearances it would be advisable to take in canvas but we carry on, though every mast and yard is groaning. Saw a school of whales at a distance blowing the water up like a fountain, from their nostrils. About nine o'clock went on deck and during the 65 days we have been on board I never saw 'Robby' going so fast. Lat 45'S, Long 73'E..
14th August - A cold biting wind blew all day, with occasional blast of hail as large as peas. A squall overtook us in the afternoon as we were flying along with everything set, going about 12 knots. Everything had to be let fly to save the masts. Everybody hauling and tugging like mad to get the sails clewed up; the masts and ship trembling all over as if it had a fit of the nerves. The hail just pelted down. We lost our first spar today, a studding sail boom. Lat 45'S, Long 80'E..

15th August - This was a pleasant day, the wind having shifted from 
S.W. to N.W.; the south winds are very cold here as they blow from the 
lands of perpetual snow and ice, round the south pole. The breeze was 
fresh and we went splendidly, on an average 12 knots. Today our Lat is 
45'S, Long 85'E. The pigeons are still following us as well as the other birds; we have some sport every day at the fights they make for the refuse 
thrown overboard. 16th August - The wind from the nor-west still continues.
Nothing is spoken of but when we will reach the land.
17th August - Today the wind shifted to the west, and as we are running east our good ship laboured from side to side in her usual pleasant style. The day was dull and showery, with hail when the wind went to the S.W.. The usual services were held but few go to them as we run the risk of spoiling our clothes going aft to the cabin if a sea comes over. 18th August - We are now as far south as N.Z. and 100'East Long.

19th August - We sailed pretty well today, having a stiff breeze, 
going 11  knots. We have now been two months or eight weeks out of sight of land.  20th August - This morning the wind shifted and 
drove us off our course; in the afternoon we went off at a spanking rate to our 
right course. It has been a dull wet day; some calculate that we will reach N.Z. by next Thursday, but I doubt they are a little under the right time.

During last night we went 11 knots, which speed we have continued 
all day with a freshening breeze. Sail was taken in to the three top-sails reefed and fore-sail. Long 115'E..   22nd August - As I anticipated, we had a disagreeable night and most of us rose early, as it is better to be moving about than lying head and heels up turn about in bed. The morning was dry and frosty, and the sailors were busy setting more sail. The wind shifted to the south and then to the nor-west, after which it was warmer. We are now 
getting the warm wind from Australia which lies to the north of us.
We are now in Long 122'E, or only 1800 miles from N.Z. We were going 10 knots all last night and 9 knots today. This is my night on watch and I am sitting writing this among my sleeping shipmates. I hope we will either be in Bluff Harbour or Otago Bay by this day week, if only to let us see hills and land once more. 23rd August - At 4 o'clock this morning the wind died away to a mere puff and continued so all day.

 Having been up most of the previous night, I went early to bed; when 
I turned in we were jogging slowly along.  24th August -Today was fine and I went to the cabin to hear the service.  25th August - Passed as the previous two did, without wind. This is very disheartening as we expected to see the land about the end of the week, and it now seems impossible.
26th August - During last night a breeze sprung up and before morning it increased to a gale, and shifted to the eastward and right in our teeth. The ship was stripped and lay to with only the fore topmast stay-sail, main top-sail close reefed and main try-sail. As night closed round with its gloom and darkness, the sea grew fearful to look at, the great waves raising above us, rolling broadside on to us in quick succession, the tremendous swing of the ship, and the howling wind, shrieking and groaning past the strained masts like some mad being. Before turning in I went on deck to see what was going on, though the night was so dark it was almost impossible to see anything.

Today we have been 11 weeks of 77 days on board, and wearily as the 
days have passed, amid hunger, thirst, vermin big and small, and dirt 
and discomfort of every description, the time does not look so long to 
look back to. The day being stormy there were no observations.  27th August - Before daylight this morning the wind changed, but owing  to the heavy sea and continued high wind we kept under easy sail till afternoon when the for-sail was loosed and sheeted home along with the main top-mast stay-sail reefed and then we went scudding along, going 
12 knots.Longitude 137'E.
28th August - Today the seas were not so heavy, but the breeze being strong we set no sail till afternoon when the top-gallant sails were set. Going 12 knots with the wind right astern and the ship rolling a good deal. This was my mess day of pumping fresh water. Today the names of the passengers who are to leave the ship at Southland were taken down. Long 144'E.
I had almost forgot to record a most important event which took place this morning, namely, the discovery of a young stowaway, who has been under hatches all the voyage, though pretty generally known to be on board. I saw his papa busy on deck after dark, washing those mysterious things that babies wear. He is a Glasgow carter called Kidd.
29th August - Still bowling along; we have not gone so far or so fast on one wind since sailing, and if anything our speed is increasing. The fore-topmast studding sail yard broke today and brought down some of our running rigging, but a mere trifle. Long 150'E, leaving 16' to run. If the wind holds we expect to see the land we have looked for so long on Monday morning.

30th August - The sailors were busy today getting up the cable chains 
from the hold, scrubbing paint and getting things made tidy for going 
into port. The breeze is very strong, too strong to approach the land . A very heavy sea running. Long 157'30" E..
31st August - A cold drizzly day; shipping water constantly. Indeed, few escape a wetting of some sort, but these 
are but trifles to people who expect to see land tomorrow. Long 162'E, 
the land lies in 166'.
1st September - We were all on the alert this morning by dawn to get the first sight of the land, all standing on the forecastle, shivering in the mist and rain. About 8 o'clock we made out a strange grey shadow which it was hard to believe was land. By 9 o'clock we were close to it when we made it out to be the Solander Islands; two barren rocks, 1200 feet high, rising above the water. They are situated at the entrance to Foveaux or Favorite Straits, which divide Stewarts Island from the mainland of N.Z.. In this strait, our first port, Bluff Harbour lies. About ten, sighted Raggedy Point, the N.W. corner of Stewarts Island, a fearfully rugged scene. Went up the strait passing islands of all sizes, till about 12 noon when we made out a high hill with low land stretching east and west from it.
This was the Bluff; on nearer approach we made out a flag-staff on the hill-top, the sides covered with scrub and brown stunted bushes, anything but inviting, no sign of inhabitants. Hoisted Union Jack at the fore for a pilot, and ran the ensign to the peak. Waited for a pilot, but none came. After dark the Captain was forced to run leeward as the rocks and islands were thick around us. After clearing them we again lay to, intending to lie till morning, but a gale came up from the westward which drifted us to the east of the port in spite of fate.
This may be said to finish our passage, and here we are off the coast of N.Z. after a first rate passage as regards time, 80 days from port to port.

2nd September - A thick day with showers of hail and rain; we had only 
an occasional glimpse of land. We are far to leeward of the Bluff, 
about 50 miles it is said; this is a long distance to beat back again 
if the wind does not shift. All much disappointed.
3rd September - The wind moderated through the night and we beat back a bit to windward today, in the afternoon it fell dead calm and we lay once more at rest in green water. In the afternoon we saw a small screw steamer coming down the straits; we hoisted signal and she came alongside, she turned out to be the GUIDING STAR, a trader between Otago and the Bluff. The Captain promised to come out in the morning, and send the pilot.
4th September - Stood in for the harbour with a fair wind this morning; got the pilot aboard and anchored in the entrance, which is narrow and the tide ebbs at a tremendous rate through it, running like a river. In the afternoon the steamer came from Invercargill, which is situated on a river about 25 miles from Bluff; she towed us into the harbour, going in we passed the ship we had seen the day we arrived off the port. She was the FLYING MIST lying sunk by the crew to get off to the gold diggings. We also passed the remains of the celebrated ship OCEAN CHIEF of Liverpool which was burnt to the water's edge in the harbour some months ago. Bluff harbour seems almost circular and about 30 or 40 miles round. We lay till the 17th of Sept. in Bluff Harbour, and during that time nothing occurred to break the dullness of lying in sight of land without being able to get to it. The passengers for Southland, 130 in number left the ship in a small steamer for Invercargill on the Sabbath morning after we anchored.
We had a great deal of bother getting out of the harbour, and were two days about it, kedging bit by bit, and in the end we left our anchor close by the stock, in Bluff Harbour; we were glad to see it behind us on the night of the 17th. On the 18th at 9pm we were off Otago Heads, and lay to till morning, when we were towed into Otago Bay and anchored at Port Chalmers.
In an hour or two all 89 passengers had left the good ship that had brought us through storm and sunshine for 14,000 miles. For myself I did not leave her till the evening when I went ashore with my friend Robert Wilson who had come down from Dunedin to meet me. My first experience of N.Z. was a 9 mile walk over, or rather through, one of its roads having had to walk from Port Chalmers to Dunedin, the last steamship being off before we got to the shore."
Thomas Reid lived for many years in George Street, Dunedin.