Letter 3

Sarah Harris to father William Hill and sisters. Off the shores of Taranaki, 20 April 1841

Off the shores of Taranaki
April 20th /41

Dearest Father and Sisters,

As it is doubtful whether you received my letters sent by a ship bound for New York which passed us on the 31st Dec. I will again say something about our voyage. The weather with the exception of a few storms was as fine as it could possibly be & the Emigrants taken altogether very good sort of people, plenty of provisions and a very steady Capt. very reserved a good mate and steward kind to us & an orderly set of sailors & the surgeon read prayers on Sundays & did it very respectably. I had many fears about the latter person who I thought very indifferent and inexperienced in his profession, but I was wrong; he certainly was forgetful.

The weather was very warm before and after crossing the Line and dear Corbyn suffered much from it, he was taken ill about the 7th Dec. of a slow fever and continued very ill for more than a month. I was fearful he would be starved as he did not eat anything for 8 or 9 days, but it was favourable to the disorder; as soon as he was better, baby was so ill as to cause everyone to think she would not survive the voyage. Change of food recovered her, but she was ill to the end of the voyage & I was from my own illness obliged to give her up to the woman who attended me all the time. She proved a mother to her.

Before my confinement I felt very unwell for some weeks, I wanted the frequent doses of Castor Oil as was my custom in England, but from the scarcity of it on board I could not have it, so I was induced to take two pills Emma gave me marked strong aperient; it brought on diarrhoea from which I suffered violently for eight days; the surgeon said nothing but bringing on the labour would save my life; in less than an hour after a fine little girl was born my illness continued, the ninth day after everyone thought I was dying two women remained with me at night, and on that night Mr Weeks gave me up. About the middle of the night the nurse sent for him I felt as if I was going fast I prayed I might be restored and by the tender mercy of the Almighty I was so.

The surgeon gave me Port Wine with little water, I was very ill for a month and during the time we lay in Cloudy Bay I was too ill to get out of bed and remained on board for several days after all had landed. Edwin and the children went on shore.

We sleep in a place that many English would not put their horses in, with the rats running over our heads. I began to recover as soon as I got on shore and poor Kate also; I could not nurse the baby but a Mrs Crocker did for me, but for want of proper nourishment died five days after her birth & was buried at sea poor little thing she only wanted a mother’s care.

Edwin I believe has told how we are situated, our clothes are a fortune to us. I like the Natives, something very mild about the women. A Governess is wanted.

We had one wedding on board and another takes place in a fortnight. Mrs Chilman the Cabin Lady was confined a week after myself of a still-born boy, we were always very friendly on board, she had a very good time; ours the only births on board.

Now dearest friends I cannot think of anything more to tell but give our united love to our dear friends. Emily was in good health all the way and we are now all getting on. I think the change will be good for me, there is preaching every Sunday; the wife of the missionary and I exchanged calls she is a nice little woman.

I shall not name anyone to be remembered to and trust you will do so to all. I do not nor ever shall forget my many friends in England. God bless you my dearest Father and Sisters. Send by the first ship direct to us New Plymouth New Zealand.

I can only add I wish you were all here. Believe me your ever
Affectionate daughter
Sarah Harris.
May 1st 1841. Sent by the William Bryan.

[in overwriting]

I hope to be able to write a longer letter to all soon but the uncomfortable place we are in prevents our doing many things. Edwin sleeps at his warrie [whare] with Corbyn.  I remain in a place without a door with the Natives looking in to me in bed and talking before I am up, they are a complete set of beggars, like to have a bit of our meat and so on; we seldom take a meal without three or more about us.


MS letter to father William Hill and sisters, Plymouth, England. Written off the shores of Taranaki, NZ, 20 April 1841. Sent by the William Bryan, 1 May 1841. Puke Ariki. ARC 2002-190. Box 2, folder 4. (P)



The barque William Bryan (311 tons) was the first of six vessels chartered by the Plymouth company to take emigrants to New Zealand. She left Plymouth 19 Nov 1840 with 148 passengers. Her captain was Alexander McLean; her surgeon was Dr Henry Weekes, who kept a journal during and after the voyage. The William Bryan reached Port Underwood in the Marlborough Sounds 20 Mar 1841. She proceeded to Taranaki where surveyor Frederick Alonso Carrington and his survey party were laying out the site for a settlement on the foreshore two miles east of the whaling station at Moturoa. The Plymouth Company emigrants were disembarked 31 Mar at Moturoa. Sarah Harris’s letters indicate that she and her children stayed on board until the ship was ready to sail 6 Apr for Port Hardy, d’Urville Island, to take in ballast. The William Bryan returned to Taranaki to discharge the remainder of her cargo and left 5 May for Plymouth (Skinner 11-12).

As it is doubtful whether you received my letters sent by a ship bound for New York
Weekes records the encounter 31 Dec 1840: ‘About 5 p.m. spoke the American whaler Phoenix of New London, Captain Fitch. One of the mates came on board, by whom we sent letters to England.’ A note from the editors who published Weekes’ journal in 1940 confirms Sarah Harris’s misgivings: ‘As these letters never reached England it is very probable they were lost in the steamer President.’ (Rutherford and Skinner 24). Weekes had noted the Harrises in his journal 2 Dec: ‘Mr and Mrs Harris are musical; he plays the guitar and flute and she sings with taste.’

so I was induced to take two pills Emma gave me marked strong aperient
Weekes records the following entries concerning the birth and death of the Harris child:

Sat 6 Mar 1841: ‘Feel annoyed at Mrs Harris, who being very near her confinement, has brought on a dangerous illness by taking Morrisons Pills.’
Sun 7 Mar: ‘Mrs Harris confined with a girl and doing better than I could expect. No service this morning, the parson acting as midwife.’
Fri 12 Mar: ‘Mrs Harris’s infant which was prematurely born on Sunday died this morning – of no apparent cause.’
Sat 13 Mar: ‘The infant was dropt into the sea this morning at six, sewn up in a piece of canvas.’
James Morison (1770-1840) was a commercially successful quack physician and the vendor of Hygeian Vegetable Universal Medicine aka Morison’s Pills (DNB).

Edwin and the children went on shore
Probably in Port Underwood, since Sarah describes staying on board the William Bryan with her children after the ship reached Taranaki.

I could not nurse the baby but a Mrs Crocker did for me
John and Jane Crocker and their three daughters were steerage passengers on the William Bryan. Mrs Crocker’s youngest daughter was about 20 months and still nursing. Another passenger, Mrs John French, was nursing Katie Harris, also 20 months.

Mrs Chilman the Cabin Lady was confined a week after myself of a still-born boy
Richard and Agnes Chilman were cabin passengers on the William Bryan. Chilman (1816-1877) was clerk to George Cutfield, principal agent of the Plymouth Company and leader of the William Bryan expedition. Chilman’s journal of daily life in the settlement May-Dec 1841 is held at Puke Ariki.

Emily was in good health all the way
Sarah Harris gives more detail in another part of her family history: ‘Emily was not ill & was quite a pet on board she would make use of long words & talk a great deal to the gentlemen to their great amusement.’ (Notebook 89).

the wife of the missionary and I exchanged calls
Charles Creed and his wife Eliza brought a Wesleyan mission to Taranaki in Dec 1840. They lived at Ngāmotu, close to where the William Bryan emigrants landed three months later. Creed ministered to Māori settlements between Cook Strait and the Waikato 1840-43. The land on which the mission station stood remains the subject of disputed ownership between local iwi and the Methodist church. See A Convoluted History: The Whiteley Land.