The First Four Ships
The First Four Ships carried the Canterbury Association’s first settlers. The Association, founded in 1848 and guided by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and John Robert Godley, imagined the founding of an Anglican Church settlement in New Zealand comprising a cross-section of English society. In late 1848, the Association’s land surveyors found what they considered the ideal site for the proposed settlement of Canterbury and its chief town, Christchurch (originally, the Wairarapa was to be the site). In May 1849, official sanction was gained and the Association in London was notified. By July 1849, the setting out of the port town and surveying of the Bridle Path and Port Hills were under way. On January 3, 1850, the Association’s purchase terms were approved for a reservation of 2½ million acres in the Canterbury region. With that, the Association began recruiting emigrants, and by July 1850, preparations were well under way for the voyage to New Zealand.
Those who came to Canterbury on the First Four Ships were divided into two main groups: “colonists” and “emigrants”. Colonists travelled as cabin passengers and had the money to buy land in the new settlement. The Canterbury Association required that a rural allotment of at least 50 acres be bought at £3 an acre, as well as a town section in either Lyttelton or Christchurch. These high prices were aimed at preventing labourers and the like from buying land. The Association intended that the colonists be the leaders in Canterbury in its formative years.
The “emigrants” were mainly agricultural labourers, tradesmen, domestic servants and young married couples. Emigrants travelled in steerage and paid what they could afford for their fare. The shortfall was made up either by the Canterbury Association or by their future employers travelling on the same ship. Emigrants were required to be under 40 years old, to provide their own tools, and to supply testimonials as to their qualifications, medical certificates and certificates from the minister of their parish, countersigned by a Justice of the Peace.
Cabin passengers paid £42 a berth, intermediate passengers £25 a berth, and steerage passengers £15. Each ship carried a chaplain, a surgeon and a schoolmaster, all paid for by the Canterbury Association. The doctor received 10 shillings for every passenger safely delivered to Lyttelton, but had to pay back 20 shillings for every passenger who died.
The Voyage to NZ
Early on Saturday, September 7, 1850, the first ship, the Charlotte Jane, departed Plymouth Sound, England. The Randolph followed a few hours later, and late on Saturday night the Cressy left. The Sir George Seymour departed the following day about 11am. The exact number of passengers on board the ships is not known; surgeons’ lists and shipping lists do not match, and some young children were not counted. About 154 passengers were on the Charlotte Jane, 217 on the Randolph, 155 on the Cressy, and 227 on the Sir George Seymour.
Life on board was cramped. Steerage passengers were confined to a small space below the main deck. Single men slept in bunks 6½ feet long by 2 feet wide. Married couples shared a slightly wider bunk (3½ feet) and had a curtain for privacy. This space was used not only for sleeping, but also for storing everything needed for the voyage. There was a lack of fresh air, and dampness was a constant concern.
Basic food was provided, such as salted meat, flour, rice, biscuits and potatoes, but steerage passengers had to cook it themselves. A large table was fixed to the floor down the middle of the steerage area for this. A bucket was supplied for washing and laundry.
Cabin passengers had slightly better conditions. Living quarters had more space and privacy, and meals were cooked and served by stewards.
Many suffered from seasickness. The worst of this was during the first two weeks, but for some it continued for the whole voyage. Passengers passed the time at sea plotting the ship’s course, writing letters and diaries, sewing, playing cards and games, and dancing. Prayer meetings were held every morning and afternoon, and there was a full church service on Sundays. There were also school lessons for the children.
The Journeys End
The Charlotte Jane anchored at Lyttelton at 10am on Monday, December 16, 1850. The Randolph arrived at 3.30pm. The Sir George Seymour anchored at 10am the following day, and the Cressy arrived on December 27. The ships brought about 800 people to Lyttelton. Initially, many were housed in immigration barracks, while others set up V-huts and tents. As soon as possible, many of the settlers made the arduous journey up the steep Bridle Path to the summit of the Port Hills and then down into a swampy Christchurch.