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A century and a half ago,
The air had been light and calm. The newlyweds, both nineteen years of age, hugged each other as a fresh breeze began to blow and odd showers dotted the August afternoon. The hug was not just against the breeze, but was a hug of excitement and anticipation -- emotions shared by others in the small boat which was taking them out to sea.
The date: Monday, August 16. The year: 1852. Queen Victoria was just 15 years into her long reign as Queen of England, and the British Empire was heading towards its grandest days. The newlyweds were leaving the quayside at Gravesend, on the north coastline of the English county of Kent, where that county looks out over the estuary of London's River Thames. Their carriage: a cutter, a small boat with oarsmen and a single square sail. Their destination: the Sail Ship Norman Morison, anchored in the shelter of the harbour a few hundred yards offshore.
The previous day the couple had been to Sunday service at their village church of St. Michael and All Angels at Wilmington, a typical Kent farming community of less than 900 people only a few miles from Gravesend. It was the same church in which they were married just thirty six days earlier by the Vicar, the Reverend Frederick Heberden.
Until that August day Thomas Flewin had worked like his father and grandfather before him from his home in the nearby village of Farningham as a farm hand in the fields of Kent. But like others around him Thomas saw nothing but hardship and meagre earnings in the agricultural recession of the 1850s. He and his new wife, Jane, who had changed her name from Caselton, had an escape route. A sea voyage to the other side of the world to start a new life.
The marriage service, on July 12, had been a double wedding. The other couple were Jane's brother, Richard Caselton, aged 21, and 18-year-old Sarah Williams whose family, like the Caseltons, lived in Wilmington. Richard and Sarah had chosen to take the route to a new life with the Flewins.
They said what they knew would probably be final goodbyes -- Thomas to his parents, John and Phillis, and Jane and Richard to their widowed mother, Mary. But the four were not alone. With them were Sarah's 50-year -old father, John Williams, her mother, Maria, and her two younger brothers, Thomas, only 12 but already a farm hand, and Francis, aged nine.
As they approached the Norman Morison, a barque owed by the Hudson's Bay Company, their emotions will have been mixed. Sad at what was being left behind. Excited about what was before them on the other side of the world. Apprehensive about the long journey ahead.
Thomas had not only left behind a family whose every member was wrestling with the effects of the hard times. He may not have known that his older brother, George, was to travel in the opposite direction around the world to find a new life. Five months later he left from Gravesend bound for Australia, leaving his wife and young son behind in Wilmington. But that's another story.
WORK AND PROSPERITY
The Flewins who set out with family and friends towards the Norman Morison were bound for Vancouver Island (now part of British Columbia on the West Coast of Canada), where the Hudson's Bay Company had promised them work and what sounded to them like prosperity. Two weeks earlier, on August 1st, Thomas and Richard had been to the Company's offices in London to sign up and receive eight pounds each to purchase approriate clothing.
They knew it was to be a long journey. Without any kind of sea route through the joined continents of North and South America, their voyage was to take them south, across the equator, far south to the edge of the Circle of Antarctica, around Cape Horn, the southerly tip of South America notorious for its stormy passage, and up the Pacific's east shoreline past Chile, the Galapagos Islands and California.
Once on board the Norman Morison they were shown to their quarters for the journey -- a journey they were to share with 144 other passengers, the remainder of whom joined the ship two days later. On the Thursday, all was set, the provisions stowed and more than 28,000 gallons of what was then fresh water stored in barrels below deck. The skipper, Captain David Durham Wishart, arrived and mustered crew and passengers on deck. He introduced himself and talked about the journey which was to start the following morning.
The Norman Morison had been built six years earlier of teak for the East India Company and had been bought in 1848 by the Hudson's Bay Company for £7,750 (British pounds). In its first journey from London to Vancouver Island it had beaten the usual trip time of six months by a whole month. This was to be its second journey. The vessel was just over 119 feet long, had a draught of 18 feet and weighed 529 tons.
At 3.30am on Friday morning the ship was taken in tow by the Steamship Perseverance and guided skilfully out of Gravesend Harbour and towards the open sea. At 9am, they cast off from the steam ship, made all sail and headed south on a North North West wind. By Sunday they were passing Plymouth where they were met by the Number One Plymouth Pilot Cutter which took off the last person who wanted to stay in Britain -- the channel waters pilot who had seen them safely thus far.
Then they were really underway. The weather was kind. Entries from the log book of the Norman Morison report -- Sunday "light wind, made all sail down channel"; by Tuesday "light wind and fine clear weather"; and on Friday crew and passengers were "on deck washing clothes." The first excitement was not brought by the weather, but by the ship's steward, Benjamin Addington, who was turned out of the cabins for "repeated drunkenness and neglect of duty." The ship's log does not record what happened to him for the rest of the journey.
Nature was kind. Everyone got time to find their sea legs. Passengers helped the crew with jobs about the ship. Some crew members spent time "cleaning small arms," just in case. The carpenters fitted out an on-board hospital, just in case. The Captain conducted divine service every Sunday. Things got into a routine. It began to get warmer. Seven weeks into the journey, the ship's log recorded temperatures of 78 degrees (F).
Monday October 4th brought a death on board -- one of the two children of passengers Jonathan and Elizabeth Simpson. A funeral at sea followed within hours. Then a first taste of bad weather. Monday October 25th, ship's log: "PM. Brisk gales with heavy sea on ship's beam. Labouring heavily and shipping heavy seas all over."
Sunday October 31st: "3.30 (am) Sighted land." The log reported the Norman Morison's position as being Latitude 51 degrees 23 seconds South; Longitude 51 degrees 35 Seconds West. That map reference puts their position somewhere near the Falkland Islands. It was twenty years since the British had ousted the Spanish from the islands -- and more than a century before they became the scene of the bloody battle for the Falklands when Britain again ousted a foreign force, the modern enemy being Argentina.
The log of the Norman Morison mentioned the sighting, but nothing more. One passenger, Robert Melrose, wrote in his diary: "Went close by the Falkland Islands -- charming breeze." They had seen no land for two months and would see none for another two. Melrose also reported that they had seen a "great numbers of whales."
A week later, Sunday November 7th, they were at the edge of the circle of Antarctica. Hundreds of miles south of Cape Horn negotiating what the maps describe as Drake Passage. It may have been spring in the southern hemisphere, but the log book reported:
Another passenger, James Wilson, wrote in a poetic work about the journey that continuing westerly winds meant the ship had to travel much further south than planned. They drove the ship "almost to the frigid zone." Descriptively, he added:
Robert Melrose reported in his diary: "Scarcely dark at night. Hurricane with drift and snow -- saw an iceberg, evening." By eight o'clock the seas had moderated and the worst, for now, was over. It was calmer, but cold, over the next few days. The winds were enough to help the new northerly direction of the Norman Morison as she headed back towards warmer climates. But by the 17th, the log book again records troubled waters:
During the last days of November, the ship's crew caught a number of birds, which were presumably used as food supplies. Melrose's diary reports the catching of "one Buffoon, three Snow Pigeons" and eight Albattrosses, one of them "measured ten feet two inches from tip to tip, three and a half feet from bill to tail."
December began to bring hope of an end in sight. The log reports that on the 5th: "The infant daughter of Robert and Jessie M Anderson was christened Eliza Norman Wishart Anderson by Captain Wishart." Eliza was born the day after the Andersons boarded the Norman Morison, in Gravesend back in August. She certainly came through -- the marriage of ELIZA NORMA W. ANDERSON to one George Lyale was reported in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1881.
Five days after the christening the ship's log reported: "At 3pm Mrs Cheeseman, steerage passenger, was delivered of a female infant and is doing well." The location: a hundred miles or so West of the Galapodos Islands and a few miles short of the Equator. The temperature: 81 degrees.
DEATH AT CHRISTMAS
The Norman Morison crossed the equator, for the second time, and Christmas approached. But it brought bad news. Log, Christmas Day 1852: "Moderate breeze and fair weather. John Gaunt, landsman, very ill. Getting much weaker, dieing (sic)." Despite this, according to Robert Melrose's diary there was "grog for all hands .... riot with mate and seamen."
The following day's log, Boxing Day: "1.30 John Gaunt, landsman, departed this life. Pneumonia the cause of death aged 30 years." The log reports no burial at sea, but the following day contained another entry from the Captain: "At 5pm put up by public auction the clothes and effects of John Gaunt deceased." (Melrose's diary describes the dead crew member as John Grout, aged 35, and says the burial was at 12 noon).
The new year and a Northern hemisphere in mid winter brought new storms. Log, January 4th: "PM. Hard heavy gales with a tremendous sea. Ship labouring much and shipping heavy seas all over...battened down hatches fore and aft. Pumps carefully attended to." The sea moderated that night, but storms blew for two more days then, on the 9th the hatches were again battened as once more "heavy rain with gales" battered the Norman Morison.
Through the storms off the North American coast, headway was made and by Monday January 10th land was sighted -- Cape Classitt and Cape Flattery, a first hint of Canada. In his diary, Melrose reports: "Nearly struck against rocks, evening." The following day, despite what the log describes as "fresh gales with squalls and continual heavy rain," the log reports "Vancouver Island in sight."
Making landfall, however, was not so easy and took another five days. Storms continued to hit the vessel and at one time, so the log records, the Norman Morison was "labouring fearfully and shipping heavy seas all over ... shipped a tremendous sea ... fore and aft flooded between decks .... the watch set to bail the water up in buckets." The ship was hoved too.
For four days the storm raged and, according to James Wilson's poem, the Norman Morison three times nearly came to grief on Vancouver Island's rocky shoreline. He describes the storm-filled days:
By Sunday January 16th things had quietened down and Captain Wishart brought his charge through a channel of 12 fathoms into Esquimalt Harbour, where to announce the arrival from "our deck six guns did roar," according to Wilson's poem. Response from the shore on the Sabbath day was slow and the passengers' first sighting of life was, according to Wilson " the poor Indian and Canoe .... a sight we ne'er seen before." It had been 153 days since the steamer guided them out of Gravesend and it was another two days before Thomas and Jane with their friends and relatives could get all their belongings together and head for shore themselves, again in a small cutter.... and into their new life.
Its passengers safely delivered, the Norman Morison stayed in harbour on Vancouver Island for another two months, returning then to London to be sold. The Times newspaper reported that the vessel disappeared while at sea between Australia and India in April 1866.