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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part I - The Journal of George Hepburn, 1850 - Chapter 1


(N0TE.—The first few pages describing the voyage from Leith to Gravesend are missing. Hence the Journal opens abruptly on 10th February, the day after the ship left Gravesend.)

The author describes his visit to the Isle of Wight—His first impressions of his fellow travellers—The daily routine on the ship— He records his fears that "our Scottish Sabbaths have passed away.

February 10th, 1850.—In the evening, after tea and our family worship which we have managed every night in our cabin since we came on board, at 8 p.m. we were in bed and slept sounder than ever we did in our own house in Kirkaldy, never hearing a single sound until six next morning. The wind still blew fresh, but not so high as the preceding evening. We all got out of bed and took a good breakfast; had worship, cleaned and dressed for the muster on deck at 10 o’clock as we expected according to the printed regulations. By that time, however, the skipper thought fit to order the anchor up, unfurl the sails, and off we set again in gallant style. This again caused such a bustle on deck, and most passengers looking on, that little else was done all forenoon, with the exception of one here and there reading their Bible in a quiet corner. By 1 o’clock we came again to anchor in the Downs, off Deal, where we now lay rocking. Deal seems a town of considerable importance, stretching along a fine beach, something like the Lang Toon, and in contrast with the bold rocky coast for many miles, perpendicular as a wall, and as pure white as if done yesterday by George Bird and his men. The Downs seem a very important roadstead. At present there are some hundreds of vessels of all sizes laying at anchor waiting a fair wind to take them through the Channel. Yesterday afternoon the wind moderated a good deal, and several boats came off from the town enquiring if any wanted ashore or anything from shore. . . . Our berths are about midship, and several around us are Scotch people and seemingly willing to engage in what is good. The others are mostly English, and perhaps care little for these things. I have been more particular with my account of the first Sabbath, as the rest may be similar.

Monday, 11th February.—The wind is increasing again, and they are putting out a second anchor in case of a storm; but all the children are playing about as happy as at home, quite insensible to any danger.

Tuesday, 12th February.—Still in the Downs, but since writing yesterday we have had a very stormy night. The wind rose last night almost to a strong gale, making our good ship heave and roll like a nutshell, so much so that it was difficult to walk between decks last night, and stopped our meeting. I remembered the words of my worthy friend, Mr. Swan, that it was no joke to ride in the Downs in a storm. However, we were all calm and undisturbed as to the storm; put the children early to bed, and they all slept soundly; but a few noisy passengers in the forecabin, separated from us only by a sparred partition, seemed to brave the storm with mirth and laughter, played the flute, and sang Irish songs at the top of their lungs. At last they said they would go on deck and see the fun, but they soon returned, saying it was too rich to enjoy it. Such revelry produced an unpleasant feeling under the circumstances. After reading the 46th Psalm, we committed ourselves to the Good Shepherd Who neither slumbers nor sleeps and Who rides upon the wind holding the waters of the sea in His fist.

February 16th.—It is an old saying and true there are many changes on a winter night. So we have experienced since writing last Wednesday, when I sent a note ashore by the pilot, who was to leave us during the night for Portsmouth (addressed to Mr. Martin) which I trust reached him as well as the former one from the Downs. Taking a smart walk on deck that evening at 8 p.m., before going to bed, it was as beautiful and starry a night as you could see, with a calm sea, and sailing so pleasant that you scarcely knew it. The mate said we might go to bed and sleep soundly to-night, which we always do as soundly as at home. I observed to the pilot, "You come a long way with us." "Yes," he said, "but large ships like ours require to be taken care of." That he knew all the coast and the headlands so well that the Company wished it. He said it was only 80 miles from Portsmouth to London by rail, which he would do in two and a half hours, but that we had now sailed 200 miles. He said another day or two would clear us of the Land’s End, and then he considered the worst of our passage over.

I then expected that we would have no further opportunity of sending notes home by the penny post, but since then I have been ashore myself on British ground for five hours and might have been now three times as long. Well, then, ere the morning of Thursday last, the wind changed again to due west, and when we looked on deck early (for we all get up at daybreak) the wind blew fresh and it rained heavily, and the ship hove in between the Isle of Wight and the mainland where we soon cast anchor, and where we are still, waiting another change of wind. But happily it is said to be one of the finest roadsteads in the world. The sailors on shore say they have seen 400 sail at anchor there waiting a fair wind and as safe as in any harbour. By looking at the map of the English Channel, you will see the spot between Portsmouth on the one side and the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight. To the latter we are very near, so that the town boats are constantly visiting us. The first day (Thursday) several young gents went ashore, although it was very wet and stormy, at 1s each, each way. But yesterday (Friday) being a much better day, though thick and hazy, I also went ashore, there being two boats waiting, the one at 6d. each, each way.

I was desirous of seeing the beautiful Isle and town, as also to get my watch set agoing, which had stood by the way, and which a tradesman took 2s. for looking at—nothing for nothing in England—but I did not grudge my visit, besides the pleasure of getting our legs stretched a few miles round the town, I saw the beautiful parks and scenery around which exceeds any spot I ever saw. It is called The Garden of England. The town and shops in Ryde are very beautiful and gay, and remarkable for cleanness. The whole island is the resort of the English all seasons, and the Queen among the rest at Osborne House, which we have not yet seen. It is at Cowes, a few miles further on. Going a little way out of the town, we found the climate so very mild that the milk cows and young cattle were grazing in fields and the grass as green and rich looking as in autumn at home; and there is little if any of snow ever lying. We fancied our new home in New Zealand would be something similar, but it would be a few years ere we could see such fine crops of rich pasture and fine villas to live in, but we hope the best if we could get away from these shores. To-day is Saturday again, 4 p.m., eight days past since we left Gravesend; and still fast at anchor, but the wind is again veering round to the north, and we may be off to-night yet, but we are in no hurry so long as we are so snug and plenty to eat.

Having now nothing else of importance to say, and in order to fill up, I shall give you some account of the passengers; First, the captain seems quite a gentleman, walks with his gloves, very haughty, and never speaks to us. The other officers seem very agreeable, but distant. The cabin or poop passengers are gentry, and have no intercourse with any other. The second cabin passengers are also would-be gentlemen, and wish no communication with us steerage passengers, though only separated by a sparred partition. We see all they do and hear what they say, much to our annoyance, for there are a few young scamps among them who act tomfoolery every night, playing on a clarionet and singing so loud that we have little peace or comfort either to read or talk. They laugh our meetings to scorn, so have held it twice. Amongst them are the two Messrs. Wallace, our chief companions. They say that we are well off being out of such company; indeed we would not change berths for any second class.

Our next-door neighbours are very agreeable. There are also two sons of Mr. Archibald’s, late merchant of Burnt Island, but whom we have not met yet. Also a Mr. Bowler, his wife and two children, and their old father, about 60, going to Nelson. They have land there already, and also at Wellington occupied by another son who is doing well, and sent for them. They have on the deck a fine young bull, scarce one year old yet but very large; he stands in a box or crib, and well attended to. Mr. B. said if he goes well to New Zealand he would not take £150 for him. They also have three young pigs and a fine dog.

In the far end of the steerage are some young men who play the villain every night and dance so loud that we are as it were really in the midst of Vanity Fair, but we hope the fine weather will soon take the most of them on deck, and so give us a little more quietness. There is a man amongst them who has been already seven years in New Zealand, but who came home to settle some family matters and who let 100 acres of his land for £70 per annum in his absence, and he says he has twelve acres all planted as an orchard with apple trees which thrive uncommonly well there. He says we’ll do well there if we submit to the first roughness. He says the young Messrs. Wallace will be independent in ten years. They seem very careful. Amongst them also there are two very fine young labourers from near Banff— our Free-church lads. One offered to take a part in our meetings. One of them has a brother in Otago who sent for him. He got 24s. a week at landing, but is now engaged to a gentleman for £50 per annum and his keep with pasturage for two cattle free. There has been a school commenced only two days ago of about 20 boys and girls, all steerage, taught by the Assistant Surgeon and an elderly lady—our next neighbour.— but I doubt of much good. I offered my assistance if necessary, but the English seem to wish no dealings with the Scotch, and really there is no love lost. Their belly and the world seem their God, but I trust I have only seen the residuary part of them. [In Rob Roy, Chap. IV, Sir Walter Scott describes the English prejudice against the Scotch, but adds—" the Scotch of the period were guilty of similar injustice to the English, whom they branded universally as a race of purse proud arrogant epicures," which idea my grandfather repeats in the phase "their belly and the world seem their God."]

The next I shall mention is our provisions. The whole passengers between decks are divided into messes of six adults. Our family makes one mess of six and five-eighths, so all we get served out is our own, and we do with it as we like. Each mess is furnished with a printed card stating the kinds and quantity for each, which card we produce on being served from the storeroom by our steward. We also get two tin tickets with our number, which we tie around our own piece of beef and to our own allowance of potatoes, which are put into a small net holding about a lippie, [Lippy, or lippie, a quarter of a peck, or 1 3/4 lbs. by weight.] and then they are taken to the passengers’ cook who puts the whole into one common boiler for beef, and one for potatoes. Then, when ready, each gets out his own number. These with the biscuits are served out every morning, and the tea, coffee, sugar, butter, etc., are served out weekly. Of each we have more than a sufficiency, and never want cold beef either to breakfast or supper if we choose. The second cabin folks differ a little from us in getting a larger quantity served out, but when dinner is over it is all lifted off and they have nothing after but hard biscuits and tea. Each meal time is like a great public feast, only everyone serving themselves; and so there is not much spare time as you would suppose, having to lend a hand to all work. There is a table running the whole length of between decks, with a form on each side, and each mess sits opposite their own berths.

There has been a shine with the surgeon and steerage passengers, including ourselves. He, demands the men by turns, two and two, to clean the whole length of the steerage— that is scrub the floor with sand and holy stone—which we and our neighbours who have paid full price have refused positively to do; said we would do our own cabin and opposite it, but no more. He said he would stop half of our or their rations who refused, and even threatened confinement. We told him plainly that if either he or the captain were gentlemen they would never have asked respectable people to do it, and we told him it would be published and here it rests in the meantime. If any more of it after out at sea will write afterwards. The deck is occupied with live stock, the bull and cow stand on separate sides in a large box, also several dogs in several couches. The pigs are about 20, underneath a large boat sparred in on the centre of the deck, and make a sad squealing at meal times. The sheep are in the boat above them, but are as quiet as lambs. There is a butcher on board who attends to all these animals. The fowls and "puggy " [Monkey.] are not worth noticing, only the latter plays tricks with the captain at times.

February 17th, Sabbath.—The first news was that a child died during the night. The same man lost one fourteen days ago—just before coming on board—and this one looked ill and cried much when he came on. He has another ill and it is expected to go also. They had all been ill before. Don’t know what the complaint, but hope the disease will spread no further. The carpenter made a coffin and it was sent ashore in the afternoon and buried in Ryde. There was no service of any kind all day, but the surgeon passed through our berths about 12 o’clock and asked us if we had any Bibles or Prayer Books (we happened all to be sitting round reading a Bible lesson). I said we had plenty of Bibles but that we never used Prayer Books. He said we would require them for the service, and so gave us two new copies to ourselves. I asked if there was to be any to-day, but he said no. He said that the Captain did not like to read the service while in sight of land (another evidence of his dislike to such service at any time). I doubt we will be poorly off during the voyage. There seems no priest on board; neither any Sabbath school, but what we give our own. But again in the evening we read two discourses and two chapters in John aloud to all who were willing to hear, and the labouring man from near Banff prayed and sang sixteen lines of the 40th Psalm. Thus two Sabbaths have passed away without much outward appearance of its being such a day, with the exception of the sailors all being better dressed. I fear much that our Scottish Sabbaths have passed away, but rejoice that our God is still and ever near at hand.

Monday, 18th February.—Still at anchor and no appearance of a change. I again went ashore to purchase some small necessaries, when we learned from the boatman we were well off coming into this place, that several ships which left the Downs along with us had put back here after beating about all this time in the Channel ; that the weather outside had been very thick and stormy; one had run foul of another and several men were lost; that an East Indiaman had been driven from her moorings on the Downs and was totally lost and all hands about the Goodwin Sands.

They said that we might be detained here another week or even two, so if the wind does not change with you to the north or north-east you may write us addressed passengers aboard the Poictiers lying at Ryde, Isle of Wight. If we are off it will come back to you. Try it; also a newspaper. We should all view this as a singular providence; had we not left the Downs that morning, or even run in here, we might have been, as many others, tossed about on the waters, or tossed ashore; but in this we have already experienced the goodness of the Lord in His adorable providence, holding us and our company as it were in the hollow of His hand, knowing no more of the storm or even feeling the ship moving any more than if in London docks. In case you should have seen account of any of these losses, be so good as inform all friends speedily of our perfect safety and welfare. Hoping that this will also find all friends at home the same.

Tuesday, 19th February.—Still at anchor, and no appearance of change. I send this ashore to-night, which I hope will reach home safely, only I have no Queen’s heads. No more at present.


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