Generations of Genes Copyright © Phyllis Jeans 2000
All rights reserved ISBN 0 473 03868 4
PEMM Publishing Cambridge, New Zealand
[p20] [The Jeans Line]
Ellen told her daughters she had only been to school for two days. Why this should have been so is not known. Ellen was the youngest child of the family. Chores should not have been too demanding but distance between school and home may have been a problem.
By 1871 (Census returns) Ellen was working as a kitchenmaid for a farming couple in South Ferriby, north-west of Ulceby. She was nineteen years old and had probably been earning her living for a number of years. Ellen also told her daughters her first situation saw her rewarded with a wage of two- pence a week. How old she was at the time is not known but a working life began early for the children of the poor. At one time Ellen worked for a woman whose husband was a bridge-builder, and she [Ellen] travelled about with the family. The untimely death of her employer’s husband ended that situation. Once, when Ellen returned home to her family with trinkets and other oddments given to her by an employer, her parents expressed their disapproval. These gifts were considered ‘above her station’ and her parents thought she should not have them.
On 5 May 1875, Ellen Wilkinson and Charles Marris married in the Primitive Methodist church, Barrow-upon-Humber. Ellen’s brother William Wilkinson and her married sister Sarah Parker were the two witnesses. Reacting to parental disapproval of the marriage, Ellen determined ‘to go as far from home as possible’. New Zealand’s immigration policy of the time gave her the chance to do so. In Lincolnshire an active recruitment scheme had been underway for some time. Meetings held in various Lincolnshire villages, including Ulceby, found willing listeners where there was dissatisfaction regarding wages, conditions, and lack of prospects in the agricultural field.
When the Halcione sailed from London on 27 May 1875 Ellen, Charles and baby Alice were aboard, bound for distant New Zealand. Their passage cost £38-15s. Most of the migrants were English, many from Lincolnshire but there were also twenty-four Swiss migrants bound for Patea. Altogether there were two hundred and thirty-five adults, one hundred and five children, and fifteen infants. With so many passengers, and the length of the journey, vast amounts of stores were needed. Migrant ships had to comply with a recognized dietary scale, and an allowance sufficient for one hundred and fifty days was necessary for a ship sailing to New Zealand. This particular voyage took one hundred and four days. For a time before the ship sailed there would have been great activity as the barrels, casks, chests, boxes, tins and bags of a basic range of food were stowed on board. These included thousands of pounds of meat (beef, pork and mutton) and nearly three thousand pounds of butter (Irish seconds). Other supplies included flour, oatmeal and rice in large quantities, carrots and onions, potatoes (both fresh and preserved) chests of tea and coffee (roasted in the bean) raw sugar, molasses, twenty-six wickered stone jars of pickles, and a large quantity of Best Mustard. Seventy-eight gallons of lime-juice would guard against vitamin deficiency through lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. There were over two thousand eggs, buttered and packed in salt. A special listing of infants’ stores contained sago, arrowroot, and seventeen tins of white biscuits. Medical comforts ‘to be packed in separate cases, legibly marked’ included extra foods such as rice, sago, tapioca, arrowroot, beef-tea and scotch and chicken broth. There was also sherry, approved stout, gin and brandy. Eight tins of yellow soap and four air-tight casks of quicklime would help keep the quarters clean. A large quantity of candles in various sizes ‘as prepared and packed for the Emigrants Commissioner’s ships’ was also noted. As much as possible good preparations were made for the long journey. Papers detailing the above supplies are held by National Archives, Wellington.
No stories of Ellen’s experiences of the three month journey are known to this generation. But there are accounts to be read, and some experiences would have been common to all, such as sea-sickness, tedious days when the voyage seemed interminable, the monotony of a restricted diet, and the inevitable stresses of shipboard living. Few, if any, would have avoided these problems. A cabin passenger, Emily Summerhays, and Surgeon Percy Lee, have both left accounts of the voyage. Before the ship left the East India Docks, Blackwell, London, in late May, the emigrants were mustered and inspected and amid much confusion boarded the ship. Emily noted it was dark by the time all were settled in. The next day, a child showed symptoms of Rubiola (measles). The child and his family were returned to shore. However, this action was too late to prevent the disease from spreading. Over the next six weeks thirty-eight passengers, mostly children, were treated for measles. Ellen’s daughter, Alice Marris was one of those patients. After four days treatment she was discharged from the ship’s hospital. There seems little doubt she was very frail, and on 29 June she died of marasmus, a wasting disease. Alice was the first of eight children to die on the Halcione. Of this first death, Emily Summerhays wrote ‘child died in the night buried 3 pm’. Later, on July 11 after yet another death, she recalled that first sea-burial. ‘Another child died, the poor mothers are in a dreadful way, it is so hard to see them buried at sea. The first child we buried floated for a long time’. Emily noted all on board usually attended the funeral services, and ‘the ship is very quiet for awhile after’.