Foreword by M. A Nicolson
223 Windermere Road
The following is a copy of a diary written on board the sailing ship, “Lord Clarendon”, in 1862 by Mr William Nicolson; many years resident in Pietermaritzburg. He died at Exmouth, England, in 1910, aged 88 years.
M. A. Nicolson
27th June 1862 Left Wolsingham on 26 June, en route for Natal, South Africa, at 7:10 a.m.
28 June In London, arranging for leaving by the ship “Lord Clarendon” Chasemoore Howard, Commander.
29th June In London.
30th June Left London for Gravesend where the vessel is lying waiting for passengers.
1st July At Gravesend arranging for our trip.
2nd July Sailed at 3 a.m. with fine breeze.
3rd July Left the Deal but made little way. Fine views of Dover Castle and the Roads.
4th July Wind fair down the channel. Whether fine, and all well on board. Beautiful distant view of English and French coasts.
5th July Little progress.
6th and 7th July Contrary winds, and all sick.
8th July Fine weather, but no wind. All pretty well again, and on deck.
9, 10, 11, 12 July Contrary winds. No progress.
13 Sunday. Service on board read by one of the passengers. Sung Psalm 139
14, 15 July Oh, this weary channel, knocking and kicking about all the last week to no purpose.
16, 17 July Winds a little better and we enter the Bay of Biscay. Contrary to expectations quite calm, sunny and warm. Ship life getting rather monotonous, little to do but eat, drink, read and sleep, and last but not least, looking after the bairns. We have about 37 souls on board; of these nine children, 15 adult passengers and the remainder are the ship’s crew. Besides we have a bull, (emigrating to Natal), several sheep, pigs, lots of ducks, hens and a nanny goat and two dogs, one cat and a blackbird. The day’s work is something like what follows: rise about 7 a.m. dressed children, who breakfast at 8 a.m.. Breakfast at 9 a.m.. Lunch at 1 p.m.. Children’s dinner 1:30 p.m.. Dinner at 4 p.m.. (I think he meant afternoon tea) Children’s tea at 6 p.m.. Tea at 8 p.m. and dead from 10 to 12 p.m. plenty of good victuals -say- Pickled salmon, cod or herrings with cold meat, fresh baked bread with tea and coffee for breakfast. Duck, fouls, or beef or preserved meat or fresh cold mutton or pork for dinner. Desert two times a week of raisins, almonds, nuts, etc. Wines and spirits (for which we can pay) Port and sherry 3/-per bottle. Brandy 4/-. Gin 2/-. Rum 2/-. We also have a plentiful supply of Ale and Port for the thirsty souls on board. (Oh, dear, I forgot to mention gooseberry, current berry, black berry, damson and jam tarts and jam for the children.)
18 July Calm. Heigho! What are they doing at home? No doubt anxiously counting the days and weeks, when any intelligence will be obtained of the wanderers on the mighty waste of waters. How anxiously newspapers will be consulted and questioned as to the whereabouts of the “Lord Clarendon “. One thing we have to be very thankful for, the good health we all enjoy, for with the exception of dear Mama and Aunt Annie, who still suffer from sickness, we all keep very well. It is amazing to see the little ones walk as the ship pitches and rolls. No sailor who circumnavigated the globe can keep his perpendicular better than they do, or adapt their gates better to the varying slope of the deck. Evening very calm and bright. Polestar little lower than at Wolsingham. Constellations all bright and the Milky Way very beautiful. Played several old native and Scottish airs on deck. Reminds me of old times, old faces and dear friends left at home, sweet home.
19 July Saw the first strange fish, an Albacor, a pretty fish shaped something like a salmon. Too knowing a cove of for the anglers on board, i.e., everybody. Bright, unclouded sky and yet not too hot. Wind contrary and no progress.
20th July Sunday. Nearly calm. The sails flap idlely against the mast. Very mild and warm. Sailors and passengers making a little attempt at holiday clothing, limited in most cases to a clean shirt, a little rubbing up of the boots or other small attentions, and additions. Service on board. Sang “Awake My Soul”. Afternoon, Hurrah, a nice breeze in the right “airt”. Now we move at 4, 5, six, 7, nay 8 knots an hour. Stayed on deck until 10 p.m. watching the seas sparkling and flashing, talking of home, of friends, of Natal and prospect.
21 July Fine stiff breeze, and we have run 150 miles in the last 24 hours. Something very exhilarating as the vessel Russians through the water, rising triumphantly over the waves and still holding on regardless of their foaming and roaring. I think we have all got to be sailors, and enjoy the sea.
22 July Began to gamble in a small way, i.e. the six pennies sweepstake on the number of miles the vessel will make in the 24 hours. Saw several stormy petrels, or, as the sailors termed them, “Mother Carey’s Chickens ,” which are very like swallows, but a little larger in body and shorter in wing.
23 July Run in the last 24 hours; 192 miles. Passed a small fruitier, a schooner from Spain, carrying the luxuries of that sunny land, to please the omnivorous appetites of John Bull. Sun begins to get hot, but we have an awning spread on deck, which makes it very pleasant. Run 180 miles. This distance is found by observation of the Sun, one taken about nine o’clock for longitude, and one about a 12 midday for latitude: this is laid down on the chart and also computed by figures. All well and hearty on board.
24 July Fair wind, but too little of it. Saw early “school” of porpoises, were not able to take any. Latitude 35 1/2° North longitude 14 3/4° West run 120 miles.
25 July 10 Warm day, when the light but fair. Expected to visit or at least sight Madeira, but find we will pass a long way to the east of it, and now will see no land until we see the peak of Tenerife, which being nearly 2 1/2 miles high is said to be visible in clear weather 90 miles, it took usually above the clouds. All well and spending all day on deck. Children very healthy and extra mischievous. Run 83 miles.
26 July Began to grumble at the vessel and winds. Ship sometimes run as far in a week as we have done it in three. Only house rent, coals, cesses, etc, are “nil”, and we do as well as can be expected at sea, and pretty comfortable.
27 July Sunday: Had services on board. Sang Psalm 100. Fine weather with light winds. Run 129 miles.
28 July Sighted Tenerife. Came within 2 miles and lay for two or three hours, but were not able to land. Extremely rocky and barren, with peak cone shaped; evidently an extinct volcano. Nothing could be had owing to some absurd quarantine regulations, so we about ship and soon lost sight of its inhospitable shores. Run 90 miles.
July 30. Fine weather and fair breeze. On deck and all well. Clear at night and beautifully starlight, especially the Milky Way, which in many places resembles luminous clouds. Great Bear and Polar Star gradually sinking into the sea. Run 100 miles. Latitude 27, longritude 10 1/4 West.
July 31. Fine weather. Saw for the first time a number of flying fish, little small silvery looking creatures, skimming the waters and tipping the crests of the waves. Run 153 miles.
August 1. It begins to be hot and no rain has fallen for the last month. One day is very like another. On deck at night I heard sailors singing as they haul on the ropes. The effect is wild and startling in the quiet night. They commenced with the sort of recitive, and then all joined in the chorus and repeat this over and over as they pull and till stopped by the gruff, ” belay” of the captain or his mate. The airs are wild and musical and have a strange and rather melancholy effect as you sat on deck at night, all is still, except sea and wind, and the stars and planets brightly shining millions of miles away in their appointed courses. The pole star is often gazed at as it is gradually disappearing and we’ve feel like losing another old friend as we picture him shining so high, silent and clear above the old church and old homes of Wolsingham. Heigho! Run 130 miles. latitude 21°, longritude 16 3/4 degrees West.
August 2. Still progressing and now we are a little to the south of the sun, but still he is as near vertical as possible, and let us know by his heat that we are entering on his particular domain. We slept on deck. Run 150 miles.
August 3. Sunday: expect to see Cape Verde Islands. But our inhospitable treatment at Teneriffe leads us to expect little in the way of refreshments. Children all well and romping on deck. Run 150 miles. Latitude 17°. We saw numbers of the bird ” booby ” (not an uncommon animal in most places), shoals of porpoises, jellyfish, and hundreds of the delicate, fairylike flying fish. It put us in mind of the brave old Columbus, when he was anxiously expecting to see land, and steered his disparing round with these signs of its approaching shores. Service on board, sang Psalm 93.
“The floods or Lord lift up their voice
And toss their troubled waves on high.”
August 4. Came in sight of “Fogo” (an island off the Cape Verde group) consisting of two immense peaks or cones of volcanic appearance. Past a steamer, supposed to be a slaver which ran to the north in order to dodge the cruisers. Run 88 miles. Latitude 15° longritude 24°.
August 5. Made San Iago, another island in the group. Barren, rugged shore with peaks of fantastic shape. Sail along the shore within a mile or so, a treat after the weeks of water, although barren and little verdure. In the afternoon made the port. Rather a pretty town (Porta Praya by name) situated on a high basal like plateau overlooking the bay. We landed after the health board had been on board. The islands are Portuguese possessions. Bought fruits, oranges, coconuts, pineapples, and bananas. Clumps of cocoa palms and some beautiful flowering trees grown in the streets and square. Good substantial buildings, and several of the houses have fronts covered with figured en-caustic tiles. The place is fortified and there are barracks, a jail, and other public buildings. The inhabitants consist of pure Portuguese, and from these of all shades to the pure negro. On the whole, the island is barren and unproductive.
August 6. Busy taking in water etc.
August 7. Left San Iago, with a headwind which made us all sick.
August 8. Still headwind and sick a little.
August 9. Fine weather. All well, but little way. Contrary winds. No progress. Very hot, about 86° in the shade. Begin to talk of crossing the line and wonder if Neptune will come on board with his attendants. Children very curious to know and see him and what he is like. Weary of light and variable winds, but to keep up our hearts. Latitude 10° longritude 21° West. This is Saturday night and of all nights in the week it is the most suggestive of old home feelings. And here we are thousands of miles away from dear old Wolsingham, and it’s bonny hills and valleys. What are all the “old folks at home” doing. Perhaps father is smoking his pipe and picturing in the smoke of a ship, in full sail, careering over the waves conveying its living freight of Wanderers to other climes. But not to forget of home, and the dear ones there. God grant we may live to meet again those kind familiar faces which now appear to be a such an immense distance. Goodnight! Goodnight!
August 10. Sunday. Had service on board. Sang Psalm 108. Fine bright day. Shoals of porpoises and a prampus or two playing about. Run 103 miles.
August 11. Fine day. Children enjoy a bath on deck. Run 83 miles.
August 12. Nearly calm, but fine. Numbers of “Portuguese man of war” sailing about, it is a small shellfish which hoists a bright pink sail (something in the style of a Nautilus.) Run 45 miles.
August 13. Wet day, a regular tropical rain, soaking all and producing some discomfort. Everybody trying to catch as much rain as possible, being quite a luxury for washing purposes.
August 14. Latitude 6° north longritude 18° West. Run 75 miles.
August 15. Contrary winds and losing ground in consequence. Busy airing bedding etc. multitudes of “Bonito” fish pursuing and leaping up out of the water in pursuit of the flying fish. Saw three large fellows rolling about, called “Blackfish”. Indeed the waters and these latitudes seem to team with life. Several birds flying about which, as we must be nearly 100 miles from land, seems curious. Latitude 6°.
August 16. We have now made up our minds to a long voyage and endeavour to make the best of it, on the principle that “what cannot be cured, must be in endured.” I forgot to mention that we frequently have glees, rounds, etc, at intervals “mind, only second rate “.
August 17. Sunday. Beautiful day. sea deep clear blue, and refreshing breeze blowing. Waiting on deck for the church bell to ring. This is the bell used in the ship for striking the watches and we use it on Sundays to ring to prayers. The priest stands at the cabin hatch with the Union Jack spread as a desk cushion and the congregation consisting of the passengers with a few of the tars in their clean (?) White trousers and a blue jacket, group themselves about the deck. I think the service under the circumstances is very impressive , as
“Surrounded by thy power I stand,
on every side I find thy hand.”
August 18. Contrary winds. The line as far off as it was 4 or 5 days ago. But it is not what, say in the saloon and 84° with cool air blowing on deck.
August 19. Saw thousands and ten thousands of young “Portuguese men of war”, (the shellfish noticed before as spreading a sail). Looking anxiously for the South East trade winds.
August 20. Latitude 3° 49 minutes longritude 19° 48 minutes west. Run during the last nine days 310 miles.
August 21. Some of us on making coconut cups which we carved in a small way. Longritude 20°. Run 48 miles.
August 22. Latitude 2° 22 minutes . Run 120 miles.
August 23. A good deal of excitement on board. A sail appeared on our weather bow, bearing down on us with all sales set. Passing within hailing distance, (say 100 yards.) Proved to be the ” Bloomer”, a large vessel from East Indies to London. She promised to report us as spoken with. The first time some of us ever saw a large vessel with all sales set, and truly it is a noble sight. She was soon out of sight and we felt as if the momentary link between us and the world was again broken.
August 24. Sunday. Latitude 1° 44″ North. Longritude 25° West. Run 102 miles.
August 25. Making ourselves as comfortable as we can. Children having their lessons, indeed we have quite a school on deck, in a retired place. Run 98 miles.
August 26. At last we have caught the South East trades. Observed a comet in the western part of the heavens. It is eight weeks since we came on board and we are not halfway to Natal, and yet we have had fine weather, not one rough day, and now it is nearly as cool on deck as it was when we left England. The only time we suffer from heat is at night in the cabins. Run 153 miles.
August 27. Crossed the line about 6 a.m. but with out any of the customary ceremonies. So we had not an opportunity of seeing father Neptune and his Tritons. Latitude 1° 31 minutes south. Longritude 29° 33 minutes west. Run 98 miles. We are now running for the South American coast which we will probably see in a few days. And here it may be as well to say that after leaving England and by means of variable winds as blow in the northern latitudes, have reached the Bay of Biscay, the North East trade wind takes you down to about the parallel of the Cape Verde Islands where it ceases, and you get into the region where the sailor’s term in the “doldrums,” all region of variable light winds and calm. These continue until you reach the line or thereabouts, and then you fall in with what is called the South East trade winds which take you down to the Southern Tropic fence use sail to the east by means of westerly winds, which blow nearly all the year around in these latitudes. Thus South East trades proved in our case to be southerly or so, which as I now write are detaining us day after day on the South American coast and threaten to render our voyage very long.
August 28. Enjoyed the sight of a very beautiful sunrise, a tropical sunrise we are we scarcely have any twilight, but the sun bursts out nearly at once, the sky often tinged with all the colours of the rainbow, the clouds piled up in the most grotesque and fantastic shapes, among which the imagination may revel until it pictures old castles, cathedrals, and the ruins of the most fanciful shapes.
August 29. Fine morning. Bright and cool air blowing. Busy giving children their lessons, carving coconut cups, etc, anything to pass the time away. Letter to 5° longritude 33° 43 minutes. Run 120 miles.
August 30. Came in sight of the South American coast. Rather a low sandy shore, but interesting as the first site of any immense continent great part of which may be said to be terra incognito to Europeans. With its immense rivers, boundless forests, gigantic mountains and wonderful vegetable productions. It is remarkable how are the sight of land instills new life into the drooping spirits of voyagers at sea (especially if they have been contending with adverse winds) and restores all to good humour and heartiness. Kept in sight of land all day, wind obliging us to stand-off and without making any progress. Run 108 miles. Latitude 6° five minutes south and close inshore.
August 31. Sunday. Out of sight of land, having stood off during the night, and spent the day in beating back and forward, making no progress. It is the nine weeks since we left London and not half of the distance done. Friends will be anxious about us long before we reached Natal and it will be impossible for them to hear from us (except we fall in with the homeward bound ship) before New Year’s Day. If it had not been so very slow, we would have enjoyed the sea. We are all well, the children remarkably so, and have got to be pretty good sailors, and can stand a breeze if not too strong.
September 1 – 6. During all those days we have made no progress and the truth has become apparent, the “Lord Clarendon” is a bad sailor. And yet we do as well as we can. One daily we caught a booby, and another a dolphin. Bye the bye, a most beautifully coloured fish, and a very good to eat besides, and then at night what beautiful sparkling seas. One night the vessel actually seemed to be leaving a sea of flashing sparkling foam behind it, a mile or two in length. And on the clear moonlight nights it is very pleasant to sit on deck and admire the starry firmament, talk as we generally do of home and friends and think what they are doing.
September 7-13. No progress. Beating about off the American shore, and the getting weary and anxious about our prospects of advancing on our way. No use fretting, so we amuse ourselves as well as we can, and find that employment of some kind is the best preventative of seasickness (mental).
September 14. Standing out to sea in a North East course, so that when we tack we made clear the land “which” I trust we may do, for we will run out 300 miles or so. (See map).
September 15. Still standing out to sea in the direction which would take us home if followed up.
September 16-18. The same as above.
September 19. About to ship and back again, made a better course. Latitude 6° 55 minutes south longritude 32° three minutes west. Run during the last 20 days, say on an average of 80 miles = 1600 miles, and only a degree and a half to the south of where we made to the American coast. Time has hung rather heavily on our hands and worse, provisions and water are running short, although as yet we have our full allowance of each. And yet after all it is surprising how quickly time flies. We rise at 7 a.m. wash and dress the children and get them breakfast. Then on deck till our bell rings for breakfast. After this, and we get our cabin in put in order, on deck again, employing ourselves as well as we can. Lady sewing, auditing, and some of the gents making little articles, or reading etc. This goes on until lunchtime, then there is always a little bustle in the saloon, for this is the time when the captain works out his observations, and marks the place where the vessel is, on the chart, and you may be sure we are all wishful to know our whereabouts. Then on deck, until children’s dinner, and our own, then to tea and then children to bed. And then it is perhaps the pleasantest time of the day, it is cool and the nights are usually bright and star or moonlight, and we can sit and talk of home, friends, old times and fight our battles over again. It is nearly 12 weeks since we came on board and during the whole of this time the weather has been magnificent and not one day of rough, ie windy weather. This is something to be thankful for, and I trust we are so.
September 20. Spoke to a vessel from Liverpool out only 37 days (and we have been upwards of 80, oh dear, oh dear). She had no news of importance to communicate. The talking is done by means of flags of different colours and devices which are run up to the masts, and their meaning ascertained by reference to the signal books. The English code of signals (invented by the late Captain Marryat) is used by nearly all nations, so that you can talk with the vessel whether you know his language or not. In better spirits, having made a pretty good run. Latitude 9° three minutes south longritude 33° four minutes West. Run 140 miles.
September 21. Sunday. Service on board. Sang “Awake My Soul”, and Psalm 105. Latitude 11° south longritude 34° West. Run 130 miles.
September 22. Fine bright morning, and perfectly calm, the sea like a millpond, a not very satisfactory state of things, seeing that we are stationary in the middle of the said pond. Tried to catch a shark but were unsuccessful. Witnessed a most beautiful sunset. Latitude 11° 30 minutes south longritude 34° 40 minutes west. Run 50 miles.
September 23. Fine morning and fair, but light winds, running with square yards and studding sails, which we have not done for two months. Begin to run short of water and some other luxuries, but water, is the chief and only thing we all truly anxious about. We are now on an allowance, first-class passengers have one quart each adult to drink and wash, in the 24 hours, others receive less. Latitude 13° six minutes south. Run 120 miles.
September 24. Still fair, light winds, and now we expect to go into some Brazilian port. We have presented a petition to the captain, (signed by all the passengers) asking him to do so, and not to attempt to cross the South Atlantic, a run of nearly 4000 miles, without an adequate supply of this precious commodity. This will lengthen the voyage but the necessity of the case is imperative, and we had much better be a week or two longer in the sighting the wished for land, than to run the risk of the suffering caused by want of water, especially, (and in our case even the remote possibility is painful) where there is a number of children. Latitude 14° 30 minutes. Run 90 miles.
September 25-27. Running to the south along the coast, at a distance of varying from 100 to 150 miles, steering as we think for Rio de Janeiro, to obtain a supply of water etc, which has become indispensable, although the captain says it will lengthen the voyage several weeks. Run in three days 270 miles. In the evenings distant thunder storms, the lightning flashing on the horizon for hours without intermission and of the most vivid and fantastic description. Caught 2 butterflies and a kind of dragonfly, blown off the land, no doubt. Past two fishing boats, but did not get any fish which would have been an acceptable addition to our table..
September 28. Sunday. Fine weather. All well and on deck. Service as usual, sang the Psalm 111. One or two sail in sight. Wind light and variable.
September 29. “St Michael and all Angel’s day”. Thought of Houghton le Spring and friends there and a celebration of the day as we used to do. Well, well, patience, and we will perhaps celebrate it again of old.
September 30. Very wet for a time, confining us below and making all sloppy and uncomfortable. Cleared up in the afternoon. Caught a “Cape pigeon ” so-called from the number of birds found off the Cape of Good Hope. A very pretty bird just the size of the common pigeon, but beautifully marked with brown pencillings on a white background. Numbers of butterflies about the ship.
October 1. It is now known that we will go into Rio de Janeiro for supplies. We will be glad to see Río, the capital of the Brazilsl, and is said to be the finest harbour in the world. This, as I have said before, will lengthen out a voyage which which threatens to be the longest on record (to Natal), but we must for we dare not venture across the immense South Atlantic without adequate supplies. 4000 miles of water with out a speck of land except Tristan da Cuna, the residents of “Governor Glass”. In the evening, which was a bright and moonlight, a vessel with which we had signalled in the afternoon, came close to us, about 100 yards, and we had a talk with them. He was “Capricorn” from Swansea, about 45 days, which contrasts the with our passage of 92 days, caused us all to grumble and abuse “Lord Clarendon” and all belonging to him. It was a pretty sight as he came forging his way up to us with all sails set, coming so close as to make us (at least the timid) shrink and imagine he would run us down or we into him. And then the two vessels as they rushed along side-by-side, throwing the foam in showers,, sparkling, from their bowels, seemed two like to Noble steeds in racing career. After giving and receiving information required we parted, with three cheers on each side, the vessels gradually eating away from each other and we are a again left alone in the great world of water. Latitude 23° 30 South longritude 39 degrees 23 West. Run in the last four days 309 miles.
October 2-3. Running for shore. Sighted Cape Rio, and bold rugged head land. Not making much way, winds contrary. Run 80 miles.
October 4. Calm, quite calm, tantalising calm. A large steamer, the English mail, leaving on the ninth of September. So we expect, at Río to get newspapers, telling us how the world has been wagging since we left the shores of old England. Run 93 miles, a good breeze having sprung up.
October 5. Entered Rio de Janeiro by moonlight at about 1 a.m.. This is said to be one of the finest harbours in the world, and certainly it seems large enough to hold all the vessels that are afloat. Our entry was like entering into another world, so beautiful and calm it appeared to our weary eyes, weary of water, calms and a contrary winds, and the sea generally. The shores are remarkably bold and rugged, but beautifully green and well covered with the luxurious vegetation of the tropics to the waters edge. Indeed Río may well time to be ranked with the most beautiful spots on the globe. One of our fellow voyagers who has visited some of the most celebrated scenery of Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean, gives the preference to Río. It is the capital of Brazil and contains 300,000 inhabitants. Men-of-war of all nations lay there. One of ours sent a boat off to learn if he could assist us, which is to say the least, was kind and I think the sight of their jolly English faces did us good. Nearly all went on shore in the morning and were very much pleased with the town and scenery. I scarcely can give you an idea of the city except to say it is built on the most uneven and rugged site, with the most beautiful and fairylike houses perched on the quaintest places, all nestling beneath the towering rocks, peeping out of rich and varied foliage, of Palm, palmette, orange, banana and other trees and flowering shrubs. Paid a visit to the botanical Gardens which contain a great many specimens of native plants, among which we recognise several of our English greenhouse favourites, an avenue of palmette palms about 500 yards long, each tree rising as straight as an arrow, 60 or 70 feet high, with out branch, and terminating with the head or tuft of broad green leaves, giving the Avenue the appearance of an immense colonnade vaulted with verdant greenery. Returned to the hotel and had a good dinner, to which our sea experiences enabled us to do every justice, and finally returned on board, pretty well tired, but very much pleased with life.
October 6. An attempt has already been made to give some idea of Rio de Janeiro, and the harbour. Today we again landed for a stroll through the town itself. It contains a population of about 300, 000, consisting of native Brazilians, half castes, neat rows and foreign residents. The English are pretty well represented and I believe, although our visit was little more than what was necessary to complete our watering, etc we had not much opportunity of making acquaintances. We maintain an ambassador or Minister Plenipontiary at a salary of 4000 pounds, so I hope he looks after our interests ready well. The town contains some fine streets and a great many dirty ones, so that a nearer inspection lends one to exclaim with the poet,
“‘Tis distance lends enchantment to the view”.
However it is the finest town in South America. There are a good many shops and stores of a superior description for the sale of all kinds of goods.
A stroll through the market is very interesting and gives a good idea of the production of the country. Very few of the fruits etc of the temperate zones are to be seen here. Apples and pears we saw and for which the very moderate price of 8 pence and 10 pence each was asked. Of course we voted them sour and console ourselves with some very fine oranges, melons etc, at about a halfpenny each. Everything is very dear here (with the exception of some kinds of fruit) at least three times the English value of most articles is asked for and paid. An English company are about to commence to drain the town, which, it is to be hoped will be conducive to the healthiness of the place. At present it is dreadfully scourged with the yellow fever at times, it is well lighted with the gas (I believe by another English company). Altogether Rio de Janeiro may be described as a flourishing place, for which it is indebted to its magnificent harbour. We counted as many as 20 sail come in, on one day, of all nations. Greatest numbers of small craft are continually plying about, and two large steam ferries built like the north American river boats, are constantly running backwards and forwards across the bay.
October 7. Bessy, Mrs Middleton and some of the children had an opportunity of going on board one of the men of war, (the Satellite) and were very kindly treated. One of the officers asked the children “are you English?” And receiving an affirmative answer, they were immediately hoisted onto a sofa, and forthwith regaled with cakes and wine.. Likely some of them had children of their own at home in Merry England which they had not seen for many long months. The party were afterwards shown through the vessel and were very much pleased with the order, scrupulous cleanliness, and comfort evident in every part of the ship. I daresay we all felt proud of our country, those noble ships and gallant fellows who are sent out by England to the remotest parts of the world, to protect their children and commerce.
I believe we are not in very good favour with the Brazilians partly on account of the part we have taken in the suppression of the slave trade, and partly jealousy of a little spot of ground compared to their immense territories is a mere speck, and which yet makes itself and its influence felt all over the world.
October 8. We had the first sickness on board since leaving home. A little child belonging to one of the passengers being very ill in consequence of teething. This was soon followed by the confinement of aunt Annie, who was attended by a surgeon from the man of war.
October 9. Aunt Annie’s baby died this morning, and in the afternoon was quietly buried beneath the waters of Rio de Janeiro Harbour. We are all well, but anxious to go to sea again, for we do not feel quite so comfortable here as we do there. A quarrel took place among the sailors, two of whom had a scuffle in which (very unlike English sailors) knives were drawn and one of them severely wounded. They were taken on board a man of war, where they were recommended to go to the consuls, the captain of our vessel being very quietly told that if he got no redress there, he might bring them back, and they would give them three dozen each! However, the men managed to elude their guard, and so the matter ended, – the captain shipping other 2 men in their room.
October 10-11. Preparing to leave. Saw several vessels enter the port with shattered sails and broken yards, and we now learn that the equinoctial gales have been more violent this season than they have been for many years before. A steamer has been wrecked off the Cape of Good Hope, fortunately without loss of life. On learning of these occurrences, we feel more content with out protracted voyage and feel that it is probably for the best that we have been detained so long on our passage.
October 12. Left Río with light wind.
William Nicholson diary-continued.
October 13-14. Running with fair wind for the Cape of Good Hope. Since leaving, run 356 miles.
October 15-16. Our usual bad luck seems to be following us, the wind has died away or is light and contrary. Run in two days 94 miles. Mamma and Josh not well.
October 17. Still light winds, Mamma better. Caught an albatross with a line and hook. It is a large bird much resembling a goose in colour, but much bigger. He was caught sailing about the ship, and measured nearly 9 feet from tip to tip of his wings, but I am told they are sometimes nearly twice as much. He has a formidable bite, and is evidently a bird of prey. ” Refer to Colridge’s “Ancient Mariner”).
We have discovered a new instrument, which we will call a spirit meter, which is acted upon by the force and direction of the wind, and has been at use on board for some time. I allude to our spirits. When the wind is fair and strong our spirits go up nearly to the fever heat, when the wind is contrary, we sink to Zero; in a calm we droop and our faces growing very long; with a light favourable breeze we are comfortable, and when it blows strong and fair we are happy!!
October 18. Josh still unwell from teething, I think. Illness has nearly taken him off his feet again, and he looks thin and pale, but we hope he will soon be well again. Blessings on his Babyface, is not another link binding us to “the old folks at home”. The other children are all pretty well, though we are thinner than we were. But we have not suffered yet from short commons, except for the want of bread, of which the children have had none for the last two months.
Saturday night. As usual we indulged in a glass of grog, and drink the health of “Sweethearts, Wives, and Absent Friends”. How many old familiar, kindly faces doesn’t that toast conjure up, how in imagination we flit back to the old Highland scenes, and picture fathers, mothers, and all other dear relatives and friends as we know them in Saturday night is gone by. Au revoir! Run in three days only 120 miles.
October 19. Sunday service on board. Saying Psalm 93
October 20. Strong headwind. Run 32 miles.
October 21-22. Wet and unpleasant with contrary wind. Caught a booby, and as everyone said he could not rise from the deck he was put down, but the lurch of the ship giving him a little advantage, off he went, leaving his captors looking more like boobies than he did himself.
16 weeks since we left the Downs and nearly 4000 miles from Natal, very disheartening. All well except for Josh, but he is improving. Latitude 30° 45 South longritude 30° 23 West.
October 23. Fair and bright, but still head winds.
October 24. Sailing to the south. Great numbers of birds flying around the ship, several of which we caught.
October 25. Getting very cold on deck, and whether damp and unpleasant. This will increase rapidly as we sail southwards, into the immense ocean surrounding the pole. As we stand on deck on a dark night, and feel the cold bleak South East blast, it requires little imagination to depict those in interminable icy, lifeless ocean wastes from whence they blow, especially as we know that a fortnights good sailing would carry us into the heart of this dreary region.
October 26. Sunday latitude 40° 20 South, longritude 31° 21 West. This is the fatherest South we have been (yet) and today a shift in the wind enables us to steer due East, or direct for the Cape. Run in the last three days 255 miles.
October 27. Running east, with the wind at South South East. Run in two days 158 miles.
October 28-29-30. Still steering for the Cape, or rather a point 300 miles south of it, this is necessary in order to avoid the strong currents which set in near the shore. Run in three days 292 miles.
November 1. Entered on another month. I think I said before how fast time flies with us, and indeed we now take the flight of days, weeks, and even months as a matter of course; the end of our voyage seeming as distant as ever. And today it is quite calm, a very unusual occurrence in these latitudes. Vessels run up to about 40° south latitude to get a westerly winds which nearly always blow in here. We have not been so fortunate as to fall in with them. Great numbers of birds from the large albatross to the small swallow like petrels, flying and swimming about the ship, and not only close to us, but as far as we can see in all directions.
November 2. Sunday. Service on board. Sang Psalm 106. Nearly calm. I forgot to mention that last Sunday we had an addition to our passengers in the shape of a fine little boy a Mrs G. being cconfined on board. All well. Longritude 15° 11 West.
November 3-4. A strong north-east wind which veered round to the west being a fair wind. Run in three days about 300 miles. Latitude 41° south, longritude 9° 28 West.
November 5. Rather a heavy sea running, which is a little troublesome, especially at mealtimes, when we experience some difficulty with things on the table. But we make the best of it and get as much fun as possible out of the slender means at our disposal. At dinner perhaps the ship takes a heavy lurch or two, causing the dishes to vibrate first to one side and then to the other, in a very alarming manner. Here a gentleman, in addition to the management of his own plate, has his eye on a dish of pork which at every moment threatens to bear down upon him. Now it comes! Oh, he has caught it in both hands! Never mind the Grease! Here a soup terene is performing some erratic movements which end in a quart or so being emptied into a ladies lap. Oh! Oh! Mind that wine! A glass of wine is pleasant enough in a the proper way, but not when applied in the form of a lotion to one’s best “O-no-we-never-mention-thems”. Knives, forks and spoons are rolling, tumbling, rattling and jingling in all directions, while our steward,(a Frenchman) stands with his shoulders shrugged up to his ears.and his hands spread, a picture of dispair!! Bye the bye, this said steward is rather original in his way.”My spoons”, he calls them, “My Tumblers, my mugs and my cups”,seem to run between him and his wits. And indeed it is curious to note their gradual withdrawal from circulation, in consequence of wounds and fractures. The first to go were the tumblers, (well named for they were always performing somersaults, and other similar feats). Of these we now boast 1 1/2. Next to go were the mugs, and they are still “going, going” and will soon be “gone”, and then we will have to fall back on cups. Sic transit gloria mundi. Latitude 40° 44 South longritude 50° 4 East. Run 170 miles.
November 6. Rather a heavy sea. Run 143 miles.
November 7. Run 175 miles. And now we begin to think that we will get to the end of our long weary of voyage. We do not fret so much for ourselves, but we very much fear that those we have left behind will conjure up all sorts of dangers, and the casualties, possible and impossible, and now that the dark, dreary, wintery nights have commenced at home, that every blast that blows will suggest thoughts of wreck and disaster. Up to this time we have not suffered in the least from bad weather, the (1846) privations and inconvenience we had to meet are such as are, I suppose, inseparable from the sea voyage, especially when the vayage is prolonged to twice the length of time originally anticipated.
November 8. Winds light but fair, with fine cool weather on deck. All quite well, run 101 miles longritude 3° 19 East.
November 9 Sunday. Fine breeze blowing us along merrily toward the Cape of Good Hope, and to us the name is not without meaning, for we imagine (whether correctly or not remains to be seen) that after all we round this long wished for Promontory, our way will be short and easy. Run 102 miles.
November 10. Fine strong breeze. Run 198 miles.
November 11. Fine strong breeze. Run 200 miles.
November 12. Fine strong breeze. Latitude 40° longritude 8°. Run 204 miles. We have now passed the longritude of the much wished for Cape and have altered our course so as to run parallel to the land, yet at a distance of about 300 miles, in order to escape the currents which run along the coast at a great rate. We are still 1000 miles or thereabouts from Natal, but already we have formed sweepstakes on the chance of arriving on a particular day. Thus we each pay down half a crown and got a ticket with that particular day written on it: if the ship arrives on that day the holder gets all the half a crown’s or 30 shillings in our case. I think that some of us at least will feel a little sorry when we had to break up the companionship which has lasted for so many weeks, and which, considering that sea life is not always the most harmonious, has, with trifling exceptions, marked by courtesy and good feeling. Today it has been very fine, with bright sparkling sun and a sparkling breeze from the West, which drives us merrily along. Accordingly the spirit metre (alluded to before) has gone up pretty high, especially with those passengers (and we have some) whose families in Natal must have got very unhappy at the non-arrival for so long a time of their friends.
November 13. Still fine breeze, with the heaving sea, from the West. I suppose we have now entered the Indian Ocean, as the Cape has been rounded. We are running before the wind with all sales set for Natal, and if the breeze holds we will be there with than a week. I spoke before of the singing of the sailors when hauling on the ropes. I have often lain on fine nights and heard their rough music, yet softened, as all music is when heard at such times, it was by no means with out to its charms, and many times it has blended itself with dreams which carried us back to home, friends, and a faraway land of our earlier days. Here is a specimen of these chants.
Another of these years resembles some of the Scotch minors, and probably has a northern origin.
“Rosy was a pretty girl and she loved a sailor”.
” Haul, haul away, Haul away boys,haul”.
Then another line of the song and chorus over again, ending with the strong jerk at the closing Hoh! The words to those ears or are usually of a foolish or unmeaning description, and generally improvised at the time, but with the chorus always the same. The following air has some words relating to Bonaparte, his capture and banishment to St Helena, the only mistake being the body is made out to be a gallant admiral and is taken in a tremendous sea fight. Strong breeze. Run 203 miles.
November 14. Favourable breeze. Run 199 miles.
November 15. At 12 noon today we are only about 350 miles from Port Natal, but the wind having gone about, we all obliged to do the same, and are now going a South South West course, taking us directly away from our port. We are obliged to do this although 150 miles from land, so that we may avoid the current which runs strongly towards the West, 100 miles or so from the shore. We all feel disappointed but we cannot help but and must therefore submit to the force of circumstances (or of wind) as best we can. Beautiful day and all well. Children very much improved. This we attribute to a nice white loaf which they have every morning and an extra supply of pudding, or as we call it, “Dough”, Saturday Night …
November 16. Sunday. Wind fair again. Latitude 25° longritude 29° 18 East. Run for three days 307 miles. (15/16/17).
November 17. Wind fair.
November 18. Wind contrary. Run 120 miles.
November 19. Fair breeze sprung up. Latitude 33° 28 longritude 31° 10 East. Run 114 miles.
November 20. Still running with a fair breeze ford Natal, from which at 12 noon today we were only 100 miles distant. All in high spirits, and we hope the sight the long wished-for Bluff of Natal. A most beautiful day,, sunny sparkling, bright and cool. Run 127 miles.
November 21. Sighted land this morning about 50 miles south of Natal. A head wind blowing. After coming within 2 miles or so of the shore, we are obliged to tack and bear away to seaward. Again we approached the shore, and again we are about and stand off, losing ground each time, owing to a strong current setting to the South West. Very much pleased with the appearance of the country, which slopes gently to the sea, yet with here and there are bold hill of the tabletop order. The surface everywhere is covered with green verdure interspersed with clumps and tracts of wood, giving it very much to the appearance of an extensive park. Those open grounds are (we are told) sprinkled with the richest coloured flowers. No human habitation is visible, but plenty of smoke here and there, probably from Kaffir kraals, for we are on the shores of Caffrariera. No wonder the sight of such a beautiful land excites the aquisitiveness of the white man, who, although he has acquired a great deal were already, sees hundreds of square miles of the richest land, lying nearly unproductive and in a state of nature, yet with the climate perhaps second to none in the world and capable of producing the finest crops of sugar, coffee, etc, etc. Breeze blowing strongly from the North, forcing us to take an easterly course. Run 120 miles.
November 22. This morning the wind freshened almost to a gale pitching us about at a pretty good rate and shipping a heavy sea or two. One of these came down the skylight, nearly drowning our French steward, poor fellow, who was on his knees pointing out the saloon, and truly his Oui! Oui! Sputterings and grunts, together with his lammentations about “hims one shirt” were something comical. Then came our turn for it rushed into the lee side berths, floating off, and under beds and into corners any loose articles it met with, where it went splashing and rushing about as the ship rolled, to the great amusement of the children, after they had recovered from their first fright. If the gale did us some harm, it did us good, verifying that old saying about an ill wind, etc. At 10 o’clock we again sight land, this time with a favourable breeze. We ran in pretty close and then sailed along its shores to the northward. It strikes the observer as a pretty land, verdure covered to the sea, bold peaks, undulating low lands and dark green bush.
At 1:00 p.m. we sighted the “Bluff”, a bold head land, forming the south east side of the entrance to the Bay. The Flagstaff and signal station is on the top of the hill, and as soon as we were near enough to read with the telescope, he signalled to know what we were. We expected to have got a pilot, and entered the inner harbour at once, but as it was still blowing pretty hard, we had to let go our anchor in the roads, the “Bluff” on one hand and the Berea Hills with their houses and gardens on the other, thus bringing to an end (if we except the entering (into) the inner bay) a very protracted voyage. And yet we have a great deal to be thankful for. We have had, I may say, no sickness on board, and that is very remarkable, and not one day of storm or even what sailors call a “Strong breeze”. This is again Saturday night, and we are again assembled in the saloon, or some are sitting talking on deck. The “Lord Clarendon” has also closed his pilgrimage, (at present). Again fill our mugs, and drink to our absent friends in the dear old country. The man at the wheel (a post occupied night and day) has deserted, the sails are furled, and the poor old vessel swings peacefully at her anchors. No one caring to ask ” how is her head?” “How many knots is she making?” or ” What course is she going?”.
So ends a voyage which I am afraid will be rather memorable as one of the longest on record, but which convinces me that a sea voyage is not, under ordinary circumstances, a thing to dread, but, on the contrary, may be turned to good account as a season for self-improvement and examination, and which, to a lover of nature, may be enjoyable by the contemplation of nature’s sublimest works, and to the thoughtful, a means of raising the contemplation “from nature to nature’s God”.
November 23. We are obliged to remain on board, not being able to land our luggage for want of lighters.
November 24. At 2 p.m. today we were signalled from the Bluff to “shorten in cable” and soon after the steam tug was observed making her way towards us, and at six o’clock we entered the inner harbour or bay, glad escape the chance of a gale, while we were in the roads,which are by no means safe in a South-easter. The inner harbour is a fine sheet of water surrounded by a well wooded shore; at one side, called the “Point”, is the Customs house, warehouses, and the railway station.
November 25. Finally left the ship with all our belongings. Landed, and after a not very vigorous custom house examination proceeded by rail to the town of Durban, about 2 1/2 miles from the Point. One thing the custom house officers are very particular about, are gunpowder, firearms, and caps. No one is allowed to land, either a gun or rifle without a certificate from a magistrate, and the payment of 10 shillings per barrel, while gunpowder and caps are confiscated at once.
Tuesday 26. Staying at “Grants Commercial Hotel”, where we have a great deal better accommodation than we had in London, at about the same cost. Durban is built on a sandy flat, so sandy that all the streets are ankle and sometimes leg deep. This makes it a very disagreeable walking. It is laid out in rectangular wide streets, running parallel and at right angles to each other. But it must be remembered that the streets are by no means completed, some only containing a few houses, while others are more built up. There are several very good stores, and some public buildings. Durban is overlooked by the Berea hills, which are pretty well covered with bush and sprinkled with villas of merchants and others having offices and places of business in the town.
November 27. Thursday. In the morning we “loaded up” for Maritzburg, started at about 11 a.m. the journey for the first mile or two being up the Berea hills . These hills command a fine view of the bay and the shipping, and are pretty well covered with bush. A few miles further on the country becomes more open, yet dotted with clumps of bush, presenting the appearance of a gentleman’s park; the road sometimes descending into little hollows and now winding, around a hill. It is a beautiful day with a cool sea-breeze blowing and as easily may be imagined, everything appears very charming to us sea pilgrims. And now we begin to see the beautiful flowers indigenous to the open country. The clumps of Bush are sometimes very pretty, mingled with flowering shrubs and interlaced with magnificent convolvuli and other creepers and climbers. That children are delighted as I walk by the waggon , many and loud are the demands for this or that pretty flower or shrub. After travelling seven or 8 miles we outspan the oxen, the kaffir lights a fire and we boil our kettle, and have our coffee etc, gypsy style. And here I must tell what our turn-out is like. First the owner and driver of the wagon and team is a Zulu kaffir, settled in Natal, who has received some education from the missionaries. Next, a boy of about 18 or 19 years of age. Then the wagon is a long-bodied vehicle about 12′ x 3.5’, with the cover all the length and made to fasten down over each end. Then 14 oxen all with tremendous horns, but very quiet and tractable withall. These are harnessed to the wagon, two and two, by means of a piece of wood across their necks (the “yoke” in fact), and leather straps to the horns and foreheads, and when so harnessed the ” boy” named above marchers in front of them, (with only a trifle more clothing than the oxen). The driver takes his seat, armed with a tremendous two-handled whip, with the shank of bamboo 12 or 14 feet long and a thong of cowhide 15 or 16 feet more. The drivers are so dexterous with this formidable weapon that I believe they could whip a fly from the ear off any particular ox in the team. Each ox has a name by which he is known and by which he is addressed. After coffee we inspan, take our seats, crack goes the whip and away we go until nearly dark, when we stop, boil our kettle, fry some meat, then spread our mattresses and blankets in the wagon and a go to sleep as best we may. This day brought us to Pinetown, about 14 miles from Durban.
November 28 started early this morning and trekked to seven or 8 miles and then outspaned for breakfast. We have a she goat with us, which we are taking to Maritzburg for a fellow passenger. The milk we find delicious with our coffee. Weather nice and cool, but threatens for rain. After leaving Pinetown the country becomes more broken, in fact it becomes what Dr Mann styled “the beautiful wilderness”. The road, in many places, being cut out of solid rock, and sometimes carried round the most precipitous hills. Here we found sheltered nooks, many beautiful flowers. One or two varieties of gladioli and a fine white lily, and several others which we recognise as inmates of greenhouses at home. Towards night it begins to rain, a dense drizzling rain, which put a stop to our botanizing, and brings our “trekking” to a rather premature close. Towards night, two other wagons come in, and outspan, cook their victuals, consisting of mealie-meal boiled to a porridge-like consistency in a large iron pan. We are halted in the wild but pretty spot, surrounded by precipitous hills. The hollows affording quantities of the richest pasture. Rather a novel situation. In the wilds of Africa, surrounded by at least a dozen half-wild kaffirs, and more than half naked. Yet we lay down to sleep with the children without the least fear, so potent is the prestige of the white man.
November 29. In the morning still wet. We are afraid our oxen will not be able to climb the hills. However, it clears up about 10 o’clock and we again resume our journey. A few miles further, and after ascending a steep, rocky hill, the road suddenly debauches on a wide, undulating pasture land. This is the commencement of the Midland district, and extends to Maritzburg, a distance of nearly 30 miles, and runs nearly the whole length of the colony. It is all, or nearly all covered with the richest green pastureage. These are thickly strewn with flowers. One, which we called the Natal Primrose is very common. It is just the colour of our Primrose, but the flower is larger, and more bell shaped, and it grows in large tufts. Lilies and amuils abound, one in particular called the “fire lily” is very striking.
Outspanned at a roadside inn called “Camperdown”, and as our kaffir does not travel on Sunday, we take up our abode until Monday morning, and of very kindly treated by our host and hostess, too canny Scots from the neighbourhood of Dumfries.
November 30. This morning I determined to walk to Maritzburg, a distance of 16 miles, in order to make arrangements for the reception of Bessy and the children. I accordingly started after breakfast, a bright sun shining, and a nice breeze blowing from the southeast. The country still the same rolling pastures, until I reach a place called ” The Thorns” where for a mile or so the road that winds through a bushy tract of low shrubs but clear of brushwood or undergrowth. Towards the North East extend a broken district set apart for the natives, many of whose kraals are visible, and now and then a party cross the road. All very civil and well-behaved. After leaving “The Thorns”, the the road winds round a steep hill. On reaching the summit and proceeding onwards, the city of Maritzburg suddenly becomes a visible, so suddenly that I had involuntarily halted and exclaimed “Maritzburg!”. It was so distinct and a well-defined, though still at a distance of about 6 miles. As you approach nearer to the place you are struck with the abundance of trees, gardens and a verdure. The road leads you over a neat iron suspension bridge, and you enter the town. This consists of five or six long streets connected at intervals by cross streets. These streets are not continuous rows of houses, but in many places of wide intervals which have yet to be filled up. Each long street up a has a sluit or channel through which flows a stream of water used for household purposes, and is excellent when passed through a filter.
There are several good buildings, such as churches, chapels and colonial offices. The houses are mostly one-storey, with the exception of some stores, banks and warehouses. Almost anything may be had at these places, including books, music, and other luxuries, though at a considerable advance on the price at home. There are a great many gardens and I noticed that verbenass grow luxuriantly along the side of the streets, quite wild, but as large and as brightly coloured as their cultivated brethern at home. The Rose, a kind of double monthly, grows in almost every hedge and flowers, I am told, all the year around altogether the “City” may be described justly as a very pretty place. There is not, certainly, the flagged footpaths, and hard carriage roads hometown, but then, “Rome was not–” etc.
In the evening went to St Paul’s Church and heard a pretty good choral service.
December 1. Househunting, and after some trouble found one. Met the wagon with my belongings, and took possession. Thus closing our journey of 20 weeks and five days, thankful I hope, to the kind of Providence that conducted us and our little ones, safely to the end of our journey
Maritzburg, December 2nd 1862.