Free passage to New Zealand, 1875

In 1873, the year in which the New Zealand Shipping Company was founded, the mean population of New Zealand was reckoned to be 287,750, so there was plenty of space if you wanted to make a new start away from the comparatively crowded United Kingdom (c31 million in 1871).

ClipperShipToMotorLinerIt was possible to obtain a free passage, paid for by the Government. So what was the food like on the long journey? The following piece is taken from “Clipper Ship to Motor Liner, the story of the New Zealand Shipping Company 1873-1939” by Sydney D. Waters, published by the New Zealand Shipping Company in 1939:

In 1875 an improved dietary scale for immigrants was adopted and in a new contract entered into with the shipping companies the Government agreed to pay £16 passage money for each adult immigrant and £9 for each child. The number of immigrants carried in the sailing ships ranged from about two hundred to as high as five hundred odd, so that it can readily be believed that conditions were somewhat crowded for a passage of from eighty to one hundred days or more. Compared with the generous bill of fare provided in the New Zealand Shipping Company’s present-day liners, the food supplied in the immigrant ships of the seventies and eighties of last century was of Spartan simplicity.

The weekly scale of provisions for adults was as follows: Beef, eight ounces on Monday and Thursday; pork, eight ounces on Tuesday and Saturday; preserved meat, eight ounces on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday; suet, two ounces on Sunday and Saturday; butter, three ounces on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday; biscuit, four ounces every day; flour, twenty ounces on Sunday and twelve ounces all other days; rice or oatmeal, four ounces every day; peas, one quarter pint on Tuesday and Friday, fresh potatoes, one pound on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday; preserved potatoes, one quarter pound on the same days; carrots, four ounces on Monday and Thursday; onions, four ounces on Sunday and Wednesday; raisins, four ounces on Sunday; tea, one half-ounce on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday; coffee, one half-ounce on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; sugar, four ounces on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; molasses, four ounces on Monday and Friday; water, three quarts every day.


Montage of sketches depicting life on board an emigrant ship (1875). Click on image for a larger version. Making New Zealand: Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-0661-1/4-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

With respect to the issue of flour, it was the rule that eight ounces were given to the immigrants on Sundays for the purpose of making puddings. The remaining twelve ounces on Sundays and the whole of the allowance on other days were issued to the ship’s baker and made by him into bread.

Children up to twelve years of age received preserved meat instead of salt meat every day: and in addition to the provisions they were entitled to under the above scale, they were allowed one pint of preserved milk and three pints of water daily and, every alternate day, eight ounces of oatmeal and four ounces of preserved soup; and eight ounces of flour, four ounces of rice and ten ounces of sugar weekly. An additional quart of water was issued daily for the use of each person sick in the hospital, if the surgeon saw fit to order it.

From June 1, 1874, to May 31, 1875, a total of 31,785 immigrants arrived in New Zealand, of whom 11,450 were carried in thirty-three ships under the flag of the New Zealand Shipping Company.

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