‘IT WAS HARD TO
DIE FRAE HAME’:
DEATH, GRIEF AND MOURNING AMONG SCOTTISH MIGRANTS TO NEW ZEALAND,
Submitted to the University of Waikato
in fulfilment of the
requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Infectious diseases, chronic illness, accidents at sea, dysentery and diarrhoea, and the debilitating effects of constant seasickness on pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers, all took a toll on passenger numbers. Migrants were not unaware of the risks involved. The loss of babies and infants was considered an inevitable consequence of long seaboard journeys. William Usherwood on board the Beejapore to Sydney in 1853 expressed a common sentiment when he wrote: ‘The … adults are all in good health, we have lost several children but this was quite expected, being always the case’.
Outbreaks of typhoid and scarlet fever occurred aboard the clipper ship Collingwood on its journey to New Zealand in 1875. Passenger Thomas Heath wrote about the experience in verse, describing just such a situation which took place after the death of a child travelling in the cabin class:
Again death has been here today about noon,
And took the one child from out the saloon.
Amongst the passengers there he was a great pet,
And those passengers have not got over it yet.
His mother had horror of canvas for a shroud
And wanted her boy to be sent away proud
In a coffin that the carpenter would be asked now to make
So a watery grave would not be his lot, for her own sake.
It would be watertight so the coffin would float.
“Yes,” said she, ‘and then it could be picked up by a boat,
Who would take him to land and bury him there.”
And so put an end to her terrible scare.
So the Captain gave orders to the carpenter brave
To make up a coffin and these were the orders he carefully gave,
The coffin to be made and with sailcloth be covered,
The bottom as well as the rest, lest it be discovered
That holes had been bored in the bottom therein
To let in the water, and that was no sin.
At sunset it was launched well on the wave,
And it floated and comfort to the mother it gave,
When the water got in sometime in the night,
It sank to the bottom and was soon lost to sight.