“Letter From New Zealand” …or Provincial Propoganda?

Dear Father and Mother,

l arrived here all safe on the 23rd of September, after a splendid voyage of 94 days without a single storm. I enjoyed the voyage very much and was kindly treated by everybody, plenty to do and plenty of friends. I have nothing to say against the Government, for they looked well after the single girls, and we have had the £5 given to us for industry and good conduct on board the ship, so that I am quite free, which is a great thing. I was able to earn by my needle on the voyage, which was also a great help to me.

There is no bitter oppression here – all are equal and free

The Emigration Barracks is a splendid place, so comfortable, and everyone so kind to us. I stayed there a week and washed and mended all my clothes, and then took my place as machinist in the largest house business in the town, the salary being £1 per week with board and lodging. I must tell you that the country is something beyond description; all I can say is that one-half was not told me, and as to work, it is to be had for the asking. The provisions are very cheap, and clothing no dearer than at home. A poor person is not to be found here; everybody has a pretty little wooden house of their own with a large garden, and live and dress well. Anybody who will not seek to better themselves by coming out here deserves to starve. There is no bitter oppression here – all are equal and free. Everyone either making a fortune, or has already made one. It would the making of Walter if he would come, for they want policemen out here very bad – he would get 7s 6d a day. I shall never want to come to England again; Oh no ! This is land of freedom and plenty, and I am not puffing it up, but telling you the exact truth.

…and cabbages actually grow on large trees

I should have written before, but I thought I would get settled first, and look about me a bit. I got your letter as soon as I arrived here, and was glad to hear you were all quite well. I am happy to say I am much stronger than I was; the air seems to agree with me, and the mornings and nights are like Spring in England, and the afternoon boiling hot and this is only the beginning of our Summer. The hedges are not green here, but of all colours with different flowers; even wall flowers grow wild, and cabbages actually grow on large trees. I could not help laughing at that.

Lyttelton in the 1870s had come a long way from the frontier port that greeted the pioneers from the first four ships in the 1850s. Lyttelton. Ref: 1/2-070307-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23038612
Lyttelton in the 1870s had come a long way from the frontier port that greeted the pioneers from the first four ships in the 1850s. Lyttelton. [1]
Dear father, only fancy the price of meat in England, when you can get whole sheep here for 2s 6d, and prime fresh beef 5d pound; pork and bacon the same, and eggs 6d the dozen. The only thing that seems to me to dear is coals, and therefore nearly all burn wood.

I never saw a more beautiful sight in my life

Landing Immigrants at Lyttelton
A busy dock scene at Lyttelton, with steam and sailing ships, wharf buildings, and families awaiting their luggage, collecting their luggage and greeting friends and relations. Some are still being helped off the ship onto the wharf. [2]
Dear friends, I must tell you that the mountains here are something grand – burning volcanoes – you can see the ashes that were all alight on them some years ago. I went up to the top of one last Sunday morning, and saw the sun rise, and I never saw a more beautiful sight in my life. They were visible from the ship fourteen days before we landed, and when we ran into harbour there was chain after chain of green high-peaked mountains all round us for miles and miles; it was a grand sight, and should so much like for you all to have seen it.The town I am living in lies at the foot of some of them, so if another earthquake occurs I daresay we shall all be swallowed up. There has not been one for two years; that is the reason all the houses are built of wood, because earthquakes shake all brick buildings down, I wish I could describe everything, but that would be impossible.

a young man… made love to me all through the voyage

Tell Eliza I made friends with Mr. and Mrs. G–, and they are doing well; he got engaged as a carpenter before he left the ship and now I must tell you that a young man, by the name of Alexander B–, a carpenter and cabinet maker from Brighton, made love to me all through the voyage, and we are going to be married on Christmas-day. He is very respectable and steady, and brought out a few pounds with him, and he has bought a couple of acres of land, and began to build our own cottage of four rooms, and, he can make nearly all our furniture, it will be ready by Christmas, and I shall stay here until I am married, when I shall have £10 take – some difference in the wages here and England. I like him very much, and I am sure you would. He is tall and stout, 22 years of age, and an excellent tradesman, and is getting his 12s a day – his trade is the best one going out here, as everything is built wood. Mr. Gardener, 66, Queen’s-road, Brighton, can tell you a little about him, for first saw him in his office.

No dirty streets, no smoke, no rag and bone shops,

Married men do better out here than single men, because they charge so much for lodgings, although they can soon run up a wooden house of their own. We can live here on 10s a week, and have no rent to pay, and can pick all the wood for firing, so that anyone can be very comfortable. There are no workhouses here – nobody needs one – all are living comfortably; a beggar has never been seen. No dirty streets, no smoke, no rag and bone shops, everything green and bright, with lovely little houses few and far between.

The town I am living in is considered very large and grand; it is four miles square, and boasts of four public-houses, three wooden hotels, and about fifty large shops. All the houses are on one floor – no stairs; they would just suit mother I know. Dear father, I was very glad to hear that Horace had gone America, but he would have done much better out here if he could have come. Our family has begun to scatter all about at last, but I feel sure it is all for the best. Please to give my duty to Dr. C– and family, and all inquiring friends. I hope you are all well, and wish you had some of the comforts I enjoy.

I don’t suppose I shall ever care to live in the old country again

I hope Walter or some one will come out next Spring, as it would be much better for me if I had some relations out here ; they need not be afraid of the voyage, that is safe enough, and you are treated as well as those who pay full passage money. It is £16 to come back again, but I don’t suppose I shall ever care to live in the old country again after this. I hope Richard and Eliza and all friends are well, and if they never come out here I feel sure I shall never see them again. If you should be writing to Horace you can send my letter to him. I shall not write very often as it is too expensive.

With love to all, and hoping to hear from you by next mail, I remain, your affectionate daughter, H. H.

Colombo-street, Christchurch, New Zealand, October 9th, 1872. [3]

At the time of writing this letter, H. H. was 21 year old general servant, Harriet Herbert. She had left her home in Brighton, Sussex to sail on board the clipper St Leonards, travelling with over 100 immigrants, on 19th June 1872. The 94 day journey brought them in to Lyttelton on 23 September.

During the voyage Harriet had made friends with a young married couple of similar age, Caleb and Sarah Goodsall, who were also from Sussex. Like her intended, Alexander Brown – the young man who had made love to her all through the voyage – Caleb was also a carpenter. He and Sarah had married on 20 May 1872, just one month before they set sail for New Zealand.

Whilst the Goodsall’s marriage endured the birth and tragic loss of their daughter, Edith Annie, who was born the year after they arrived in Lyttelton, the marriage of Harriet and Alexander doesn’t seem to have taken place as intended.  Christmas Day did not see them joined in holy matrimony. However a little over six months later, on 30 July 1873, 23 year old carpenter, Alexander Malcolm Brown and Miriam Blackmoor, a 24 year old dressmaker, were married at St Andrew’s Manse in Christchurch by the Rev. Charles Fraser.

After such a promising start, Harriet Herbert disappears into obscurity.

  1. Ref: 1/2-070307-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  2. Illustrated Australian news :Landing immigrants at Lyttelton, N. Z. Image: Alexander Turnball Library ID: PUBL-0119-1878-13
  3. Source: Western Times, Exeter – Tuesday 08 April 1873.
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