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The Voyage Out


Timing for the future missionary families was important: not only were evangelical organisations becoming more influential and active, but the means of transporting missionaries and their families to remote corners of the world – by ocean-going ships – were becoming well established. Missionaries, merchants, migrants and scientists, were increasingly frequenting routes once plied by slaves and convicts. Fifty years earlier both the mission to New Zealand and the journey itself would have been unthinkable.


For Henry, Marianne and the children it was to be an uncomfortable voyage. Driven by a desire to take the first opportunity to sail to New Zealand, they were passengers on a convict ship, the Lord Sidmouth (Captain James Ferrier)[1] carrying 116 women, 97 of whom were convicts with 22 children, the remainder free women with 44 children.


They left England on the evening of 11 September, 1822, arriving at Port Jackson on February 27, the following year. They were unable to call into Madeira, but spent nine days recuperating in Rio de Janeiro before heading south towards Tristan da Cunha, bypassing the Cape, pausing briefly at the uninhabited Ile St. Paul, where a party went ashore to fish.[2] They continued to Hobart, and then Port Jackson (Sydney) where they disembarked. Their household goods were carried on another convict ship, the Morley, which arrived about the same time.


It was not a quick trip- more than 150 days at sea, three weeks of which were spent becalmed just north of the equator. They suffered the inevitable rough weather heading south from England, with widespread seasickness, before the almost insufferable heat of the tropics, and then increasing cold as they headed to higher latitudes.


The quarters for the convicts and free women were wretched, and the sea-sickness and cockroaches that affected everybody accentuated their discomfort. Dysentery and other complaints were common among the convicts. For Henry and Marianne, occasional passing ships, and the hospitality of expatriates at the few ports they visited, were a relief from the tedium of the voyage, and reminders of the civilized comforts of home.


Food, when they managed to keep it down, was basic, but for many of the convicts it was better than they were used to: rations of bread, butter, pork, beef, flour, peas. rice, suet, raisins, sugar, and oatmeal were issued weekly in various forms. Lime-juice and port wine were provided regularly, and tea, chocolate, tapioca, and barley less frequently. Goat’s milk was available for the children. For the cabin passengers there were also hams and cheeses. Infrequent stops for provisioning, the length of the journey, and depredations of plagues of cockroaches, took their toll on the quantity and palatability of what was offered. Towards the end of their journey they ran out of potatoes, and milk was scarce.[3]


At first sight the presence of the convict women might seem to have been a problem – it wasn’t. In spite of their having sentences from seven years to life, there was no mass rebellion or riot. Their bawdy and irreverent lapses, while noted and regretted, were not a preoccupation of the missionary family- the Captain and Surgeon Superintendent (Robert Espie) ran a tight ship.[4] The injustice of some of the women being there at all– seven years was the tariff for stealing clothes – was something the elder Williams’ may have pondered. Instead they regretted the reluctance of the convicts to see the error of their ways. The women attended services conducted by Henry, and listened to readings from Marianne, although Henry’s attempts at starting a school were unsuccessful. The outcome of their ministry, Henry thought, was “… not attended with much benefit”, although it assisted in maintaining order.[5]


Seasickness, a twisted knee, and a feverish illness took its toll on Marianne, who nonetheless showed astonishing forbearance, perhaps because she saw her family in relative – it was only relative- comfort when compared with the conditions of the convict women. Two of them - Frances Potts and Kitty Jones - assisted Marianne with the three children. Anyone travelling with small children on an extended journey must look with amazement at the fortitude of the parents on this one, also the degree of tolerance exhibited by the children themselves. The children were very attached to their cousins in England, and Marianne’s journal refers to their sense of loss.


Henry, not surprisingly, coped much better. He and the ship’s carpenter found the time to draw up plans and specifications for a 100 ton schooner, which later found application in New Zealand as a missionary ship, the Herald. [6]


The Captain and the Surgeon (who was immediately responsible for the convicts) both appeared competent in their respective roles. More on the subject would have been heard from Henry if they were not, given his naval experience. Any differences that arose – there were a few - were consistent with a long period at sea, at close quarters, and under trying conditions. None of them shared the same personality or philosophy, and Henry was later required to intervene in a dispute between the Captain and the Surgeon. But all things considered they rubbed along well enough. There were deaths on board, almost inevitable under the circumstances, but in significantly fewer numbers than might be expected.[7]


Their arrival in Tasmania drew inevitable comparisons with England with the sight of farms, hedgerows and crops. Samuel Marsden came on board, bringing news of the mission in New Zealand. Some of the free women were reunited with their convict husbands ashore. They set sail for Port Jackson, arriving on February 27, 1823.


Despite their impatience to get to New Zealand and settle down, they were to stay at Parramatta, in simple accommodation near to Marsden’s house. Marsden had reasons for delay, partly due to problems at the New Zealand end, but also the need for Marianne to nurse the wife of the CMS catechist George Clarke, who was unwell and in the final stages of pregnancy. Marianne, herself now pregnant, was mostly in good health and recovered from her sea voyage.


If nothing else, they were able to leave behind a good impression with Marsden and the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane who, with the Reverend Thomas Hassall, were parties to a favourable letter to the Secretary of the CMS in England.


They spent two months at Parramatta- where they had their first encounter with Maori, two engaging men with whom they exchanged basic elements of their respective languages. This positive experience, and Marianne’s advancing pregnancy, reminded them of their unwanted delay and impatience to be heading for New Zealand. This was about to change as Marsden, anxious to sort out problems with the mission in New Zealand, chartered the Brampton, and with the Williams family aboard, set sail for New Zealand on the 22 July, 1823.

Apart from themselves and Marsden, were the Fairburn family, two Wesleyan missionaries, and a young Englishwoman from Port Jackson who was to look after the Williams children. The boisterous Tasman Sea gave them an uncomfortable passage of a little under a fortnight, and they finally anchored between Rangihoua and Kerikeri on the evening of Sunday, 3 August, narrowly escaping shipwreck in the process.  It had, with stops along the way, taken them the best part of 11 months to reach New Zealand.


The voyage of William and Jane Williams on the Sir George Osborne (Captain Thompson) was a more placid affair, free of the responsibilities of children, although Jane was pregnant for the duration of the voyage. Instead of convicts there were sheep – 200 Saxon merinos. The voyage was a commercial expedition that incorporated the transport of sheep as well as objectives related to pearl fishing – hence the presence on board of the naturalist Samuel Stutchbury.[8] The sheep were a venture of Alexander Riley, a merchant and pastoralist, who was also on board. It was said that the sheep enjoyed a standard of accommodation not far short of that of the passengers – scarcely an exaggeration since only three died.[9] James Hamlin and his wife Elizabeth, destined for the mission at Kerikeri, were among the others on board.[10]


William and Jane began their journey by coach from Hampstead to London. A steamboat took them from the city to Gravesend, and eventually they boarded at the Lower Hope near the mouth of the Thames on August 12, 1825. The ship set sail on August 16. Apart from the usual sea sickness the voyage, down the Atlantic, and round the Cape of Good Hope, was relatively uneventful. They were becalmed off the Cape Verde Islands, and nearly ran aground, but disaster was averted.


William spent some of his time on board studying the Maori language.[11] Books by Savage and Nicholas, giving an account of New Zealand from the visitor’s viewpoint, were most likely being read by William and Jane, and their fellow passengers.[12] The presence of other passengers would have provided more entertainment than the constrained circumstances of Henry and Marianne’s voyage. There appeared to be no resistance to William conducting religious services or evening prayers in the large cabin – the Surgeon thought the presence of missionaries might constrain his swearing, but he went along with the arrangements.[13] 


They sighted Australia on December 10 and landed at Sydney Cove on December 17, 1825. Then followed a sojourn with Samuel Marsden for three months - something of a pattern it seems, perhaps amalgamating much needed recovery from a long voyage with an opportunity for Marsden to look over his missionaries before putting them into the field. The fortuitous arrival in Sydney of Henry Williams on the mission ship the Herald [14] allowed Henry to transfer to the Sir George Osborne [15] to accompany William and Jane to New Zealand.


After a rapid voyage, they arrived, appropriately enough, on Easter Sunday, 26 March, 1826, at Paihia, much to the delight and relief of Marianne Williams, waiting for them on shore.


[1] Named after a recent, although undistinguished, Prime Minister, Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth. The numbers carried were small by comparison with later, faster and larger vessels.

[2] The island is a volcanic caldera. Henry was a member of the fishing party.

[3] Davies, G. 1998. The Shield of Faith. Privately published, p.30

[4] There were by now stricter controls over contact between crew and women convicts, following the failings of earlier voyages.

[5] Davies, G. 1998. Loc. cit. p. 43. Fitzgerald, C. 2004. Letters From the Bay of Islands. Penguin, Auckland, p.35, 45.

[6] Williams, W.T. (Ed.), 1929, Pioneering in New Zealand, Life of the Venerable Archdeacon Samuel Williams. Privately published, p.8.

[7] There were four deaths, three of them children. It was a rare voyage where the entire complement of passengers and crew arrived intact. Leaving aside the dangers of shipwreck or fire (the migrant ship Cospatrick was lost in a fire in 1874,with only 3 survivors) infections of some sort were inevitable, and crowded accommodation and unhygienic conditions, encouraged their spread. Children were particularly vulnerable.

[8] Stutchbury was noted as becoming friendly with CMS missionaries, particularly the Williams brothers. Macleod, RM, and Rehbok, PF, 1994. Darwin’s Laboratory: Evolutionary Theory and Natural History in the Pacific. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu. Pp 288, 289. The New Zealand cockle, Austrovenus stutchburyi was named after him. He was briefed in England by the naturalist Sir Everard Home, whose son was later to encounter Henry Williams in New Zealand.

[9] Conway, J. 1967. Riley, Alexander. Australian Dictionary of Biography:; Parsonson, I. 2000. The Australian Ark. A history of domesticated animals in Australia., 1788 – 1998. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood VIC, p.41. At around £10 per head they were a valuable cargo.

[10] The Captain, Joseph Thompson, was a colourful figure who had been a sealer and trader, as well as supplying the mission in New Zealand (he had also captained the Active and had connections with the CMS), before engaging in pearl fishery about the time he was transporting the Williams family in the Sir George Osborne. Branagan, D.F. Thomson, Joseph (1784-1839), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,

[11] Thomas Kendall published A korao no New Zealand in 1815, and with Professor Samuel Lee, Hongi Hika and Waikato, compiled A grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand, published by the Church Missionary Society in 1820. It is likely that these works were part of Williams family luggage.

[12] Savage, J. 1807. Some account of New Zealand; particularly the Bay of Islands etc….J Murray and A Constable and Co, London and Edinburgh. Nicholas, J L.1817. Narratives of a Voyage to New Zealand, Performed in the years 1814 and 1815, in Company with the Rev. Samuel Marsden, etc. 2v. James Black and Son, London. They might also have had accounts of earlier expeditions by Cook and Vancouver.

[13] Porter, F. 1974. The Turanga Journals, 1840-1850. Price Milburn and the Victoria University Press, Wellington, p. 41.

[14] A schooner built and crewed largely by Maori under Henry’s supervision, it was to help alleviate the uncertain shipment of supplies from New South Wales.

[15] The vessel was on its way to Tahiti. Richards, R. 2004. The Earliest Foreign Visitors and their Massive Depopulation of Rapa-iti in 1824-1830. Le Journal de la Societé des Océanistes, 118, p. 5.

Research and writing: John R H Andrews

Île Saint Paul, Southern Indian Ocean.

South West view of Hobart Town,

Van Dieman’s Land, 1820,

by George William Evans.

The Rev. Samuel Marsden.

Sydney Cove, Port Jackson,1788

by William Bradley.


Church Missionary quarterly papers : Church Missionary settlement at Rangihoua, N. Z. 1832. Ref: PUBL-0031-1832-66. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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