The passage to New Zealand

A typical New Zealand emigrant ship - NZSC Waitara (1863-1883)
– A typical New Zealand emigrant ship –
(click on image to enlarge)

The sea voyage to New Zealand was a very long one – in fact it was the longest journey of migration in human history. Almost all of the emigrant ships travelling to New Zealand during this period did so under sail, and it wasn’t until the 1880’s before steam ships began to regularly ply the route. The 19th century voyage took approximately 75-120 days to complete, with the route taking the ships south west down the Atlantic before rounding the Cape of Good Hope and heading east across the southern Indian Ocean to Australia, and then onward to New Zealand.

The journey was perilous and long, and as a stark reminder (if one was needed) of just how hazardous the sea passage could be for these early migrants was the disaster that struck the New Zealand emigrant-ship Cospatrick, on Nov 18th 1874. En-route to Auckland with 429 emigrants onboard, the Cospatrick caught fire and sank south-west of the Cape of Good Hope, with the loss of 470 lives – only 3 souls survived.

The Cospatrick disaster (1874)
– The Cospatrick disaster (1874) –
(click on image to enlarge)

The sheer length of the passage did ensure some effective government regulation of the onboard conditions, which were enforced by a team of emigration officers stationed at key points of departure. Ship owners had to abide by a set of rules laid down on the comfort, space, hygiene and food standards emigrants would experience onboard their vessels. This relatively strict regulation did ensure that despite some horror stories, the ships bound from Britain to New Zealand typically experienced better onboard conditions than the notoriously bad emigrant vessels going to North America at this time.

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