No Simple Passage:
the journey of the London to New Zealand, 1842 - a ship of hope,
by Jenny Robin Jones
published by Random House NZ Ltd, Auckland, 2011
Quotes from Reviews
"I am most likely the only person in New York City so far to have read this book. I certainly hope I will not retain this status for long. Far from just a documentary account of a single voyage, No Simple Passage is an engrossing read that can give a general audience a real sense of why people went to New Zealand in the nineteenth century and what life was like there. It is, though, even more compellingly, a venturesome exercise in a new genre of animated history. Jones provides a heartening reminder that, away from the extremes of the impersonality of the archive and the gamesmanship of the novel, the past can be experienced with both imagination and responsibility." Nicholas Birns, Antipodes June 2012
"This book is very different from historical 'faction' such as Ray Grover's excellent Cork of War..., let alone orthodox history books. The novelty is appealing because it provides a fresh approach on the early settlement of Wellington... Jones's thorough research... catches much of the texture of life in early Wellington... For her imagination, bravery and hard work she deserves plaudits, but like most experiments her approach needs fine-tuning and modification, just as Wakefield's ideas had to be significantly adjusted in practice to match the difficult realities of a new and very different land." Ancestral Vessel by Tom Brooking, The Landfall Review Online, October 2011
"This non-fiction account by 'feral historian' Jenny Robin Jones offers the reader the best of both worlds; it's rich with historical detail, but reads like a novel." Waiheke Weekender, 9 June 2011
About the book
It is January 2nd, 1842, less than two years after the historic treaty was signed that agreed the conditions on which British subjects could live in peace with Maori tangata whenua.
To be honest, some of them are too young to hope, but their parents are doing it for them. They have heard it is a land of milk and honey and the New Zealand Company which is paying their fares has promised to provide work for every working man who cannot find his own employment. This is a far stretch from England where the alternative to destitution is the workhouse.
Who were these people and what happened on the voyage? Did they have friends or family on board, what did they eat, who got sick, who died, who got punished by the ship's doctor? Who helped who and who refused to?
But the four month voyage is only the beginning. What happens to the 243 who make it to Wellington? What kind of lives do they make for themselves? What difficulties do they encounter and how do they cope? Which of them falls foul of the law? Who dies young and who survives to a grand old age? How does this band of Victorians from Merrie England help transform Wellington from a frontier town to a city with a future? Who seeks their fortune on the goldfields and who abandons the town to seek a life elsewhere?
These are questions Jenny Robin Jones sets out to answer in an entertaining and rather different new work of non fiction. A great deal of research has been devoted to recovering the lives of these particular individuals and the picture that emerges of their hopes and fears, persistence, ingenuity, courage and adaptability is fresh and illuminating. Extracts from newspapers of the time and family stories preserved by descendants bring the story to life with authentic immediacy.
Although the work is strictly non fiction and Jones has included a minimum of speculation, the structure of the work is shaped by one important fictional device. Imagining herself on board with the emigrants, she keeps company with her great great grandmother, Rebecca Remington, who is 19 at embarkation and pregnant. For the four months at sea, Jones supplements the journals kept by the ship's doctor and one of the cabin passengers with her own daily entries, regaling Rebecca with details of what is going on in other parts of the ship, the state of Wellington right then and the nature of the history that she will be part of. Through this account we get to know and care about many of her fellow emigrants and find out what they get up to in their new country. Though the new emigrants don't exactly enjoy lives of laugh-a-minute cheer, 'No Simple Passage' is designed to give the reader a rollicking good time.
For more information about the book click Random House
Reviews and Interviews
'Voyage of the Imagination', review by Julia Millen, NZ Listener, 25 June - 1st July, 2011 click here
I just finished No Simple Passage and have to tell you, it is outstandingly good. I am so impressed, best picture of early Wellington days I’ve ever come across, and I’ve read up quite a bit. Thanks for doing such a great job, it is superb!
"This book had me beguiled from start to finish. It's non-fiction but written in a narrative style that makes it as fascinating as any historical fiction...Fascinating to experience major historical events and natural disasters like floods and earthquakes through the eyes of ordinary people rather than detached aacounts in a history book... A lovely book which was a pleasure to read and high on my list of favourites for 2011." Blogsite: Tell Me a Story, posted 22 June 2011.
I love the way you’ve written – setting the scene for what really happened to our pioneering grandmothers, by imagining you were a stowaway on the vessel! It is a story which needs to be told to New Zealanders. We have a rich heritage of many such pioneers. Thank you for writing and filling us in on all those small details of life on a sailing ship in the 1840’s.
Just finished reading 'the' book and thought you'd like to hear exactly what I thought! I have in my time waded through any number of incredibly hopeless books for my sins - badly written, ill thought out, unimaginative, you name it. My considered opinion is that Jenny's opus is splendid! Absolutely right up my street, ticks all the boxes, and a jolly good read. Perhaps if I'd been a bit more careful I might not have wondered if a little glossary of Maori terms would help things along, but that's a very petty niggle. All in all very creditable. Let's have some more!
Reviews and ratings on Goodreads click here
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'Should [the new Gold Fields at Otago] turn out a permanent paying field… we fear for some time we shall feel severely the loss of large numbers of our male population, who are now leaving… On the other hand we may calculate on a demand for potatoes, butter, timber, fat cattle and other produce… '
In Dunedin the three join up with other Wellingtonians, including sons of the Bidmeads, Dixons, Herberts, Shorts and Thomases, to form a party of about 20. They club together and hire a carter to take the heaviest of their gear to Gabriel’s, including a gallon of boiled oil which Uncle Tustin, a painter by trade, insists on bringing. On the road men tell them they will be able to pick up great nuggets of gold and become millionaires in a little less than no time though a more sombre digger tells them Gabriel’s is a 'shiser' and they would do well to turn back now.
Sam’s Yorkshire uncle soon becomes uncle to all the Wellingtonians, though as a Methodist who boasted his own pew 'i’ t’ Wesleyan church in Manners Street', he is apt to put a damper on the lads’ fun. When they come to a swollen river they sling their boots around their necks, all except for Uncle who tries to sling his across the river. They land in the middle of the stream and sink, giving the cruel lads a good laugh. Sam reckons that at 27, his uncle was ‘one of the eldest of the party and should have known better’. When Uncle arrives on the other side he spikes his feet on the wild Irishman grass and has to submit to the lads bandaging his feet with handkerchiefs and mufflers.
The party is nearly out of provisions except for what’s at the bottom of the cart, so dinner that night is a ‘tarpaulin muster’ – 'there was plenty of fire, water and tea, so we did not do so badly'. After nearly seven days’ tramping, they set up their tents at Gabriels and make ready for business. There are now 2,000 diggers. Uncle oils the tent with his gallon of boiled oil and pulls rank with the lads.
“He was working boss, and his method of sinking, to say the least of it, was very tedious and undigger-like, so it took us a long time to get much washdirt out. At the end of the first month’s hard graft we had secured very nearly one ounce of gold between three of us and uncle found he had had enough of gold-digging, so he decided to clear for home and comfort…”
He will not be mourned. He is known in the gully as the man who oiled the tent and Sam is pitiless, ‘It may keep out the rain (a fly will do that), but when sun shines on it the oiled tent is unbearable, and the stench is something to be remembered’. When Uncle takes his leave, it's to the cheers and jeers of men right through the gully.
Gabriels yields about 10,000 ounces a week during August but success eludes Sam’s inexperienced party, and by the fifth Sunday they are out of food except for a few broken biscuits, a bit of tea and sugar and about a pound of flour. Sam however has a hand mirror which he bought for 2s 6d in Wellington and sells to a passer-by for 10s. Everything sells dear at the gully.
The same day another Wellington man asks if he can replace Uncle as their partner. He has two or three pounds to put in the kitty and some experience of excavating so Sam and Bill accept him gladly and from then on their fortunes improve. For two weeks after George’s arrival they take over an ounce a week from their claim and for several weeks after that they take an ounce each. Despite the high cost of food they are saving money and are able, every so often, to send a small amount of gold to the bank in Dunedin by the government escort. Their biggest day yields them just over 6 ounces.
They are joined by more Wellingtonians and the little piece of flat land is nicknamed Wellington Flat. One of the new arrivals is James Cattell whose mother died by airborne boat. Directly opposite, on the other side of the stream, is another level area, occupied by Maori and known as Maori Flat.
After nearly three months Sam becomes ill from drinking bad water and the doctor advises him to go home. His face is covered in scabs and the skippers are too scared of a death at sea to take him on board, so he stays on in Dunedin until his health improves. He takes some of his gold to a jeweller whom he commissions to make a ring for his mother. She wears it until she dies. His remaining 11 ounces of gold nets him ₤3 17s 6d, which doesn’t quite compare with the ₤1000 that John Gower’s party of three made during their nine weeks at the diggings. ‘The relics I have of my digging days are a big supply of rheumatics, a gold ring, a scar on my knee, and a few letters written on the never-to-be-forgotten Gabriel’s Gully.’
The main factual areas covered in 'No Simple Passage' are:-
Thorndon Flat and part of the city of Wellington by Charles Heaphy - Image details
Voyages of emigrant ships to NZ: conditions on ships - rules and regulations, the food, the sleeping quarters, separation of male and female singles etc. Regulations and duties of the Surgeon Superintendent (ship's doctor)
Barrett's Hotel, Wellington by S C Brees - Image details
Early exploration and surveying: Manawatu to Wellington via the Wairarapa; Nelson to the Wairau.
Conflict with Maori: The Wairau Affray, 1843 and its aftermath; Bay of Poverty clashes in 1868, skirmishes around Wellington with Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata. Race relations in the 1840s and 50s.
This is the voyage that left Gravesend on January 2nd and arrived at Port Nicholson on 1st May, 1842.
Regulations on the NZ Company's ships
- Image details