The Adamant sailed from England to the South Island of New Zealand in 1875, arriving at Bluff on December 4th after a voyage of 144 days. It was one of the more unusual voyages for an emigrant ship, as you’ll see from this diary recorded by one of the passengers. Among the passengers were the family of James and Maria Spratt, my ancestors. My thanks to Elaine Mullins for passing this account on to me.
The Voyage of the Adamant
as recorded by Ben Ward, September 1875
A short sketch of the voyage, with an account of the ship running aground.
July 10th We left Blackwall at about 2pm, and arrived off Gravesend about 4pm.
July 11th More Emigrants arrive on board.
July 12th The Government Inspector arrives on board and passed all correct. We had a splendid view of the Gravesend Regatta.
July 14th At 1pm the Tugboat came alongside and we were tugged as far as Peachey Head.
July 16th The Pilot leaves the ship. We had a splendid run down the Channel.
July 23rd A child died belonging to Mr Hill, was buried with usual shipboard ceremony.
July 28th A Mrs Phelps was confined of a son.
August 15th One of the crew caught a shark which was cooked and some of us had the pleasure of tasting it.
August 21st Crossed the line, seven of the crew undergo the curious old custom of being shaved.
August 28th Concerts have been going on greatly to the amusement of the passengers for sometime past and they were enjoying themselves in this way this evening. Singing had not long commenced when the look-out on the forecastle shouted “Light ahead“. Some of us went forward to look at it. The Captain, First Mate, Boatswain, with others of the crew soon joined us, and using their glasses, came to the conclusion that it was a ship’s light. However, it did not appear to make way for us, for we were making right on it. After a short time, the Captain gave orders to bear off to the right. We were not sailing for more than fifteen minutes, if as long, when suddenly a light much larger than the first burst upon us. “Why” said some, “That’s another ship just put out her lights.” To the experienced, it was only too evident that a lighthouse which had hitherto had the dark part of the lantern towards us now glared in all its brightness towards us. Then came the scene.
“Clear the deck, all married women below. All hands about ship,” were the orders given from the Captain in rapid succession. That, with the knowledge that the lights were land lights and not ship’s, caused some to think we were running aground. Indeed, one woman ran below wringing her hands, called for her children, shouting “What shall we do, we are on the rocks?” The ship was soon about and all was quiet, except among the women below, where there was some excitement and one or two fainted. The lights were watched for more than half an hour after the ship went about. The Captain certainly did not know where we were for he said the name of the place was Pernanbuco. Next day we learned that we were between 3 & 4 South Latitude. Pernanbuco is about 9º South, so much for the Captain’s care. This was the last concert held on board.
September 1st Sighted an island named Fernando Noronha after tacking about. In fact it has been all tacking about on the coast, for we have had the south-east trades against us. We sight land again on the 4th, 5th, and 8th September. Still in sight of land, and we passed two black men in a boat, fishing.
September 9th Saw lights from shore at 8pm.
September 10th At 8pm, the Captain ordered married women below. They refused to obey as it was too soon and a beautiful night; at 8.15 he again ordered them below and again he was disobeyed. At 8.40 the Boatswain was ordered by him to play the hose upon them. The Boatswain acted as though he did not hear. At 9 o’clock he ordered them below again. At 9.15 they went below. As they were descending the hatchway, the captain threatened them in the following language, viz ; “The first time it blows half a gale of wind I will pay you for your trouble.” He made use of words to the same effect when going his rounds with the Doctor at 10pm.
September 11th The following notice was affixed to the door of the stores, viz, “All married females are expected to go to their beds not later than 9.30pm, if ordered below earlier it will be for the working of the ship, or on account of bad weather.” by order Thomas Burch, Master. 11th Sept. ’75 G J Stewart, Surgeon.
September 13th Once or twice it seemed as if we were trying how near we could get to land without meeting danger; more than once the rumour went around that we were very near running aground.
September 16th The novelty of seeing land was now worn off. It was in sight all that day and we were slowly making on it; about 4pm, as the ship was put about, there was so little water that she actually stirred mud from the bottom. In spite of this, the Captain again ordered her about at 7pm. At 8pm rockets were fired from shore. One of the women on seeing them, said to the Captain, “Look at the lights“, on which he ordered the married women below, and the mainsail up ready to go about, and there, unfortunately, he stopped. At 8.30pm I was speaking to the Engineer. He told me he had stopped the engine, for we should not require any more water, and that he had packed up his box of tools in readiness to go ashore, as he said we should soon go aground if the Captain continued on the same tack as we were then going, and that he should not go to bed before he had seen the ship put about.
Being in such shallow water before on this tack, and so soon turning on it again, caused us to think we were getting in shallow water again. So they began sounding about 9.20pm. We were in nine and a half fathoms of water, at 9.50 the ship was put about.
At 10.5 the ship struck on a coral reef, but as the wind was very light, we did not go on with much force. I got up from bed and dressed myself, and when ascending the hatchway, I saw the Doctor, and he asked me what I wanted. Before I could reply to him, he told me to go below and pacify the women. I went below to please him.
There was some little excitement among them. It was no easy matter to pacify them. I then went on deck again, looked over the side, and found, as I had anticipated, that we were stuck fast. We must be thankful that it was a beautiful moonlight night and very little wind.
All the sails we set, including the Royals. Orders were given to square the yards to back her off. This was done several times, but finding they could not back her off in this way, word was given for all men to muster on the poop. They were desired to run from side to side. This had the effect of lifting the forepart of the keel, where she was caught, and the wind filling the sails from forward, they being square, drove her back, and we so got free, but only to get aground once more. The same means were again applied, and she was got off the second time. So we sailed away quite safe about 12pm. The whole time, the Doctor, 1st Mate, and 3rd mate acted manfully, the former in pacifying the women, the two latter in doing their utmost in getting the ship off.
The Captain, through whose intemperate habits we got aground, was holding himself on to the rails insensible through drink. The passengers did not care to go to their beds again, but gathered in groups expressing their indignation at the Captain’s conduct, and they determined to send in a requisition for the Captain to resign his post to the 1st Mate, owing to the former’s intemperate habits, also to put into the nearest port to have the ship examined. The passengers accordingly went on the poop to the 1st Mate and asked him if they were to send in a paper requesting the Captain to resign his post, would he take charge of the ship in his own hands. He gave them no definite answer, but requested them to go below, and assured them that he would answer for the safety of the ship for the future.
Going aground by no means came to us by surprise, for every thoughtful mind could see, by the way in which we were hugging so dangerous a coast, that it was next to impossible to escape some danger, more particularly when we consider that it was rumoured on good authority that the chart for the West Coast of South America was lost, and they were obliged to work on one that had become obsolete, and it was not for some time after we left the coast that the right chart was found.
September 17th A requisition, signed by 106 male passengers as per copy was sent in to the Doctor. There was only a few who did not sign the requisition, most of them were employed on the ship, and so more or less, under a compliment to the Captain. The requisition was given to the Doctor who was somewhat against it. But seeing the passengers were firm, he handed it to the Captain, who threatened to log him for enticing the passengers to mutiny, which the Doctor rightly and stoutly denied. The Captain tore the paper up. This happened between 5 & 6 pm. The deputation waited for a reply to the requisition. The Captain replied he would send them an answer. After waiting some time, the following notice was affixed near the cabin door:
To Passengers in General
Please to mind your own business and leave navigation to myself.
Signed. Thomas Burch, Master
Charles Tupman ,1st Mate
O’Neill, 3rd Mate
We very much felt the need of some provisions in the law. Here was the Captain in command of a ship with about 250 souls on board. His intemperance unfitted him for his post.. He would not allow the 1st Mate to exercise his judgement, but insisted on commanding himself. We saw our danger, but to act determinedly would be mutiny. We ask him to put in at the nearest port, he coolly refuses. Would it be any use suggesting to the authorities that there be no strong drink except that used for medical comforts on board an Emigrant ship?
September 18th We get a breeze from land which takes us out to sea.
September 21st Sight land at daylight.
September 26th The wheel was lashed.
September 28th A Mrs Hart was confined of twins.
October 10th Very rough, ship a heavy sea, which came between decks.
October 12th A Mrs Phillips confined of a son.
October 13th Passed the Cape of Good Hope.
October 17th A Mrs Ayling confined of a daughter.
October 21st Sight Prince Edwards Island, the top of which is covered with snow.
October 24th At 4am, Mrs Ayling died, was buried at 1pm. Saw an iceberg.
October 27th Saw two more icebergs.
November 3rd A cask containing some rum was thrown overboard by the Chief Officer’s direction.
November 4th Money left in the care of the Captain by passengers was returned to passengers by Chief Officer.
November 6th At 5.40pm, the Captain died.
November 7th The Captain was buried at 12 o’clock noon. The unfortunate gentleman was never seen on deck but twice since the ship ran aground.
November 17th Mrs Hill confined of a daughter which only lived a short time.
November 22nd Had cable up anchors, served out with the last of preserved meat, only had sufficient for the children.
November 23rd The last of the pork is served out.
November 24th Have porridge made for breakfast and served out with boiled rice for dinner in place of preserved meat.
November 25th Store day. Each mess are served out with about 1lb of butter, no raisins. The single men receive no butter or tea.
November 27th Pearl barley is issued in place of arrowroot or sago for children, and sugar in place of treacle.
November 28th Sight a vessel Homeward bound from Melbourne. By orders of the Chief Officer, the lifeboat on the weather side is lowered and the 2nd and 3rd mates, accompanied by four of the crew rowed across to her, and returned with a small cask of flour, which fell overboard while hauling the boat up. After a short time, the boat on the lee side is lowered, and they succeeded in getting the cask again which they managed to get on board this time.
We had a very pleasant voyage. The food was very good with the exceptions of the potatoes and bread. The potatoes at the beginning of the voyage were so bad that at the rate of only one or two issued for a mess could be eaten. The bread was very bad for nearly all the way out, owing to having such bad flour for consumption. It was so bad at times that several batches were obliged at times to be thrown overboard. The oatmeal and rice were issued in a cooked state for about a week before arrival only.
We were fifty-one days in the tropics, and saw several kinds of fishes, amongst them may be mentioned whales.
The following is a correct copy of the requisition as given to the Doctor viz:-
To: George Stewart, Surgeon Superintendent
We the undersigned emigrants on board the ship “Adamant”, do earnestly request that the Captain give up the authority he now holds on board the above mentioned ship, to the 1st Mate before proceeding any further on our journey, as we consider our lives in peril through the ship being run aground about 10 o’clock pm, September 16th 1875. And likewise through the intemperate habits of the Captain, Thomas Burch. And if the Captain refuses to act in accordance with this requisition, we desire to be put in at the nearest port.
Ship “Adamant” September 17th, 1875
Daniel Smith F Fox M Butler
C F Hill Thomas Mason Alfred Johnson
John Chittleburgh F Gavey Thomas Brown
Duncan MacDonald Thomas Lockerbie Alfred Gilbert
Benjamin Ward John Hart J Thorn
Thomas McIntosh Edward S Phillips Stephen Henry Richard
G Conland George Beaxley William Chantler
Benjamin Phelps James Spratt John Roderick
John Williams Frederick Sparke John Disney
John Lightfoot Thomas Kelly John Ford
Alfred Hart John O’Dwyer John Irwin
Samuel C Lloyd B Murphy Charles Rodan
Alfred Cowing M O’Neill Ben McGinn
Geaoge Ford William Bell M Connelly
William Hart James Stackpool Dennis Kession
Robert Robertson Henry Ker Thomas Joyce
Stephen Goldsworthy Jos Perry James Feely
John Beer J W R McCandley James Small
Hugh McShane R B Morris E Keenan
E Johnson Daniel Mc Coey P Keenan
J Moseley Hugh Walker C H Simmons
D J Service John Jackson John Logan
J Wakeling William Shand Henry Jones
G Culf P Walsh Alex McLennan
B Stackpool T Nille Alex McDonald
Dennis o’Neill Pat O’Connel Nathan Ayling
Foster Wilkinson J Gifford M Cran
Stephen Burgess Teress Fitzonan W Keenan
T O’Sullivan William Batt Alfred Cochrane
George Geoffrey Richard Plaw Robert McDougall
Dugald Livingstone James Maher Thomas McIntosh
John Bergin William Durie James Deliny
D Donovan P Stackpool Kyren Clarke
The “Adamant” arrived at Bluff on December 4th,1875, after a voyage lasting 144 days. Maria Spratt turned twelve on the voyage, thus becoming a “single woman”, and was given into the care of the matron. This cost the New Zealand Company a further six pounds. The total cost to the company for the Spratt family to emigrate was sixty-six pounds. (Source, shipping list, Auckland Museum)