During 2007 I became curious as to where my family roots were. My mother had been very vague and disinterested, whereas her mother had corresponded with relatives in Brazil, for her father had been born in Recife in 1850. A couple of telephone calls and I found a cousin of my mother still alive, and invited myself for tea. Trevor rummaged in an old box and produced a very sketchy MS family tree. It was a start.
Somehow I also came upon a little blue envelope ……. inside was a creased yellowing page from The Nelson Evening Mail of Saturday 11th August 1877 ……… and I wondered why someone had kept it.
My imagination runs ….
It was the end of 1876 and in Curraghbridge House to the west of the Irish town of Adare, Eva sat with her youngest sister Emma and devoured the latest letter from sister Philippa, who had followed the eldest, Eleanor, and emigrated to New Zealand a few years previously. In March she had married a fine chap, Richard Nancarrow, in Hokitika on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The remaining seven girls were still trying to adapt to their father Francis’s marriage to Anna, their step-mother. Their own dearest Mama, Eleanor, had died exhausted a year after the arrival of her ninth daughter – she was only 39! Together Francis and Anna produced four children and their third, George, being a male, would inherit the family estates. The girls couldn’t delay their own urgent search for a husband.
Five of the Fosbery sisters in 1877. Left to right Emma (18), Florence (26), Sarah (21), Eva (19), Ethyl (12) and Mary Maunsell née Fosbery (25)
“She says it’s very peaceful now, Emma. I quote: ‘The fighting between us,” I think she means us British, “and the natives, they’re called Maori, which had blighted the islands, finished four years ago. We’re now getting on with building a real community, safe from conflict. Hokitika’s been booming as they have discovered a small quantity of gold inland and all the boarding houses are full with a wide variety of men; most are hard-working miners but there are some con-merchants waiting to take the dust off them. I get the occasional letter from sister Eleanor in Auckland; amazing to think she’s been here 10 years.
The mountains and glaciers, particularly the Franz Joseph, are something to behold. Last month we took a stagecoach north and went right up to its edge. In the distance on a clear day you can see a snow-capped peak; I think it is Mount Cook.”
“And then she asks why aren’t we coming too; going to New Zealand?”
“Oh! Emma, wouldn’t that be an adventure!” Eva shrieked. “Away from the incessant rain by the Shannon …… and Anna! Father wouldn’t miss us and there’s nothing for us here! Why aren’t we going too?”
“I spoke with Mary this afternoon. She and Henry are trying for another child and they too are thinking of emigrating. Why don’t we all go together?”
(The NZ Government ran an Assisted Immigration Scheme between 1871 and 1888 to encourage European settlers.)
And so it was that in early April 1877 they loaded their luggage onto the Dublin carriage and thence the packet boat to Liverpool. After an overnight stay in the Grand Hotel they caught the steam train to London and made their way to Tilbury Docks.
The Queen Bee.
Their passage to New Zealand had been booked on The Queen Bee, a wooden, comfortable barque of some 725 tons that had made several voyages to The Antipodes. With the hold full to the brim of cargo, 30 passengers and 24 crew embarked, Captain Davies slipped the mooring lines and may his way down the River Thames on 20th April. He cleared the Dover Straits by the 24th and set course for Cape Town.
Months later, a letter from Eva to her father Francis arrived in Curraghbridge House; it had been posted in Nelson on 18th August 1877 and enclosed a much folded front page of the Nelson Evening Times.
You will have heard by now that Mary gave birth to another girl in the last week of July; they’ve called her Eily and she is well, although the first few days of her life were extremely eventful. Let me tell you …..
I’d never been on a large sailing ship before so it really was quite an adventure. We had light winds all the way south to the Cape of Good Hope and we stopped at Cape Town. Well! What a sight! The docks; the bustle; the heat; the humidity. The Queen Bee got re-provisioned so all us passengers stayed in a hotel for two days. Our heavy clothes made it insufferable and we were glad to leave the city behind and make course for Australia and beyond to New Zealand. I know we sailed south of the continent of Australia where our English countrymen are making such a success of a tough and unforgiving land. The wind blew very strongly and everyone was seasick; the Captain told me when we reached Tasmania we met northerly winds so our progress towards New Zealand was slow but steady. Captain Davies was gracious enough to regularly show us on the chart where we were and where we were headed. Our destination was the port of Nelson tucked inside a great hooked peninsula which protected the Marlborough Sounds from the South Atlantic.
On the night of 2nd August we sighted New Zealand, being then a little to the north of Milford Sound. We sailed towards Cape Farewell all Monday afternoon but just before we sat down to dinner the ship altered course towards Nelson and, no sooner had we started thinking about getting ashore, the ship hit something and shuddered to a halt. I had noticed on the chart a long piece of land that jutted out eastwards – a split of sand that was constantly shifting and growing. We must have hit this!”
Captain Davies later told the inquiry: “We rounded Spit Light and sailed along until it bore West by South, distance about seven miles. I then shaped the course and told them to steer SSE to ½ E for a certain distance. Almost immediately afterwards, at about 11 o’clock, we struck the inside edge of the bank. The ship at once commenced to bump heavily and although I backed the yards and used every effort to get her off it was to no avail. There was not the slightest confusion on board, all behaving admirably and after firing guns and rockets and getting no answer from anywhere, I ordered all the boats to be got out.”
New Zealand’s South Island on the left, the south of its North Island on the right. Farewell Spit lies on the top left hand corner of South Island and Nelson at the bottom of the V-shaped bay (Tasman Bay)
With the hold filling with water, and the ship lying in 5 feet of water, it didn’t look good for either passengers or crew. To read what happened next, stay in touch with postcardscribbles!
Richard 24th May 2019
PS And all this because someone kept a piece of an old newspaper!
PPS Eva Fosbery became my great grandmother.