Written aboard the SS Florida in 1884


These extracts have been edited for easier reading. Phrases in {brackets} and (brackets) are in Herbert’s handwriting. In the transcription below, phrases in [brackets] have been added for clarification.


January 15th Tuesday  Started from Plymouth Sound at 3 pm {delay of 3 hours}, had fine weather all day, going 10 knots an hour, remained on deck till 10 pm. Mr Paterson {Norwood} in the same berth.

January 16th Rose at 7 am, had fine weather all day, got to know who was who. Sited [sic] Eddystone Lighthouse at 6 pm and the Lizard Point at 10 pm, beginning to feel rather queer.

January 17th Awoke at 7.45 feeling very ill and weak, tried to dress myself but was sea-sick at once. Had to keep in my berth nearly all day, only going out for 10 minutes about every 4 hours, by 10 pm was so weak that I was unable to stand, but managed to eat under difficulties {lying down} half a sea-biscuit, and drank a cup of cocoa, which the Steward said was the best thing to take. Dare not move for fear of being ill again after it. {In the B. of Biscay.}

January 18th Did not awake till the Steward came to tell us the time, 8 o'clock, felt very much better, after having had a good night rest; nearly all on board were ill, but most of them looked a little better. {In the centre of the Bay of Biscay, it was as calm and as smooth as a lake almost.} The Capt[ain] said he had never seen it so before. Stopt [sic] on deck all day till 10 pm.

January 19th Rose at 7.30 am feeling nearly well again, was able to take breakfast with the rest. Spent the morning in walking about and talking. I had got to know most of them by sight. 11.45 am we sighted a ship in the distance, and passed her at 12.30. She was some sailing ship, where bound the Capt[ain] could not tell.

January 20th Sunday Still fine, inspection of Emigrants by the Doctor at 9.30 am, and the life boat practice: i.e. there are so many sailors to each boat and they all have to lower them over the side at the same time. So that should the boat be in danger at any time, they would all understand how to set to work.  {They ring the fire bell to call them.} 11 am Prayers, singing from M & Sankeys hymns, lessons and reading by the first Mate, Mr Bevon. Dinner at 1 o’clock. After dinner read on deck and had an hour’s sleep, tea at 5 o’clock, the rest of the day I spent walking about till 11.30 pm.

January 21st Rose at 7 am to see the Island of Madeira. It was very pretty as the haze was just ascending, which is supposed to be the prettiest time [to] see it {Could not see much of Madeira, but it looked very fertile almost down to the edge of the water.} The ship signalled, and the castle watch signalled back, the same night a telegram was received at London to say she had passed it and was in the following morning papers. Sited [sic] two ships.

January 22nd         A beautiful spring morning, but was much rougher, passed a schooner in the morning and a barquentine in the afternoon. The children on board had to begin schooling again, Xmas holidays being over.

January 23rd Had a very sleepless night, as it was rather rough, felt ill all day, most of the people were ill again. Wind with the ship, went faster than we had been yesterday.

January 24th Another fine morning, going first class, expect to be at the Island of St Vincent by midnight, all day you could feel the heat getting greater, as we were getting into warmer climate . . . passed one sailing ship going very slowly, wind dead against her, appeared as if she was hardly moving. Nearly everyone busy at letter writing as it [will be] the only chance they have of sending one till we reach New Zealand.

[Note in Margin] Wrote letter home up to this date.

January 25th . . . arrived at St Vincent [San Vicente, Cape Verde Islands] at 4 am. Rose at 6 am, unable to put close to land, people [were] disappointed. Customs House Officer came in a small boat, and the British Consul, to see the Capt[ain]. Breakfast at 8.30 am {niggers diving for money, 15 boats}, went ashore directly after, dreadfully hot place, sand 4 in deep but rather clean and pretty, walked about with Mr Peters for some time till {shooting commenced} saw soldiers quarters, police station, market and several other places, got some good fruit and tobacco there, back to the vessel at 1.30, {got a few seeds there, yellow tree in flower}. Passed the afternoon in fishing {several fair sized fishes caught} and the evening in games, etc. {niggers worked till 8 pm}. During the afternoon several boats came round to us to sell lemons, etc. and cigars from an Island 6 miles off St [Vincent], and also boats with boys in them who dive for money.

 January 26th After tea we watched them finish coaling, most of them after 8 pm went round the ship to see what they could lay hold of, several of them were met with loaves, others with biscuits, meat and anything they could get, several socks were missed, but they were so sharp that [the crew] could not catch them . . .  At 9.30 the sailors were sent round the vessel to turn them off, several were found in corners watching for their chance to bolt in[to] some mess room or sleeping apartments. When they saw the sailors coming they would run for their lives and climb down the rope into the coal barge. Sailors generally gave them a tap over the head if they did get a chance to catch hold of them. The night before, two or three were found hidden about the ship, and they frightened some old woman so she was afraid to say anything about it until next day when they were gone.

January 27th Sunday Had quite a rough night . . . The Capt[ain] could not hold any Service that day as he had to be on the look out, and he knew there would not be more than 20 people to read to . . . at 11 am we passed the Island of Jago [probably San Tiago, the southernmost of the Cape Verde Islands] {about 300 yards West of it} on the mountain tops we could see ‘apes’ jumping about, and also men picking oranges, cocoa-nuts and lemons, they were only distinguishable by their white jackets and baskets. Some parts of the Island are very barren, but as we got near the end of it we could see a number of small white houses [probably Praia], and all kinds of fruit trees on a kind of hill, there was also one small Church and a little signalling station, to which the ship signalled her ‘flag Union Jack’. The coast is high rocks, which are formed of beautiful shades: light brown, black, green, blue, dark brown, and various ‘fountains and cascades’ flowing out of them. Some little yacht was cruising round the Island, which is no doubt used for running out to the ships for provisions. At 12.30 it [the Island] was out of sight. . . After dinner I rested till 4 o’clock. During this time the sea had been coming over the aft or fore part of the ship and drenched about 30 or 40 people: my friend, Mr Paterson (Norwood) came in looking like a drowned rat, but he soon put himself square again, as sea-water soon dries – none of them caught cold after it.

January 28th Much calmer and better weather, the heat this morning was unbearable so the ship [deck] was entirely covered, which made it much cooler . . . In the afternoon a concert was held among the ‘Single Girls’ and also one among the other passengers in the evening.

January 29th Very hot morning, the heat [was] even greater than yesterday. In the evening violins, concertinas and piccolos were brought out and they had dancing and music till 10 o’clock.

January 30th Beautifully smooth, but hot. During the morning we played quoits made beautifully by the Sailors of tar'd [sic] rope. The Single Women gave another concert in the afternoon, which went off first class. After tea the Sailors played ‘our Boys’ and acted it. After that we had numerous ‘Jack Tars’ songs and so passed a very pleasant evening.

January 31st Still hot and calm, as ever passed the day in reading and talking, being too sultry for anything else. Retired to bed [at] 4 am.

February 1st . . . preparing for shaving, i.e. we had passed the Equator during the night, and to keep up the old custom certain persons who had not crossed [before] had to be shaved. There was a kind of hammock made, i.e. a sheet of canvas tied up at four corners and filled with water. In front of this was placed two tubs with a board across the top on which a person was placed and rubbed with lather and then shaved with a wooden razor, then something was said to King Neptune, that is one of the old sailors dressed up, and the person was turned over backwards into this sheet of water and ducked by two sailors who were in the water. He then had to shake hands with old Neptune and he was declared free. This was only done to the Ships Company, i.e. the Apprentices, Boys and the Cooks and Bakers. King Neptune was supported by his wife, another sailor dressed up in women’s clothes, and a number of Policemen, who were also sailors dressed up. After it was all over they were given rum all round. There were about 15 or 18 shaved, others had to show a pass. At 4 o’clock, two greasy poles were set up: one for climbing was quite upright, and the other for walking, which was on the slant. There were only four sailors who tried as it was too much greased. A little short fellow won by tying a rope round for his foot to go in and then he pulled himself up and untied it by reaching down, and so reached the top, for which he was well praised. In the evening a company was formed for getting up some Christie Minstrels, which was managed very favourably as there were more instruments on board than was expected.

February 2nd A concert among the Single Women took place in the afternoon in which several fellows joined as well, and dancing in the evening. Also shown all the ship's machinery by the second Engineer, Mr Watson, heat in engine fire [boiler] room 105 deg.

February 3rd Sunday . . . fine but rough and windy as we are now getting into the Trade Winds. Service at 11 am standing under difficulties as the ship was pitching about. In the evening we had some singing from M & Sankey’s hymns and A[ncient] & Modern till 10 pm. Being a very fine night I went up on the Capt[ain’s] bridge and the Third Officer, Mr Babbott, was on duty, and he pointed me out the (Southern Cross) and the (Coal Bay) which are stars peculiar to this spot. {He is the son of Capt[ain] Babbott of the P&O, and his uncle is also Capt[ain] and has to do with ships and see they run from London to Plymouth and is called the ship’s husband.} Remained till 12.30 talking.

February 4th          Quite cold in the SE Trade Winds, rather rough and dull, began to feel rather queer again. After dinner, I began to compose my second diary as I thought you [a copy for his parents, presumably] would like to hear a little of our doings. At 4 am we passed an American steamer.

February 5th Calmer but still very windy . . .  had some athletic sports in the afternoon, such as sack racing, cock-fighting etc. Prizes such as knives, studs, links, concertinas [sic], etc, which were bought by the mates from the Emigrants and subscribed by the Saloon Passengers.

February 6th          Took to walking round the ship (getting very stiff) again. Another concert was held among the S[ingle] Women in the afternoon, in which several sang some very pretty Scotch Songs. Had [played] some cards in the evening.

February 7th Rather rough, which still seemed to keep me unwell, and a good many other people; some were seasick.

February 8th Felt better, took a little exercise in the morning although still rough . . . passed the day in talking as it was about all I could do.

February 9th          Almost well again, rough all day, preparing for the Christie Minstrels in the afternoon. Commenced at 7 pm it looked very pretty, held on the poop, which was enclosed all round with flags of all kinds, and the top was entirely covered with canvas. It was conducted by Mr Ogden, and was carried through very well.

February 10th Rather rough. Service at 11 am. Passed a s[ailing] ship at 6 am, which I was not able to see as I was not up. In the afternoon we watched the water, which was coming over very swiftly, 12 people got drenched, one being swept along the deck.

February 11th . . . in the evening they burnt the {Dead Horse} i.e. the Sailors have one month’s pay advanced to their wives, so after they have worked one month on the ship they keep up this burning the Dead Horse, as they know they are out of debt. It is a horse made of stuff, with a man inside and he rides another one on his back round the deck and then he is put up for auction and driven round several times; then the man pops out among the crowd and the horse is drawn up to the yard arm and set on fire amid the cheers of the passengers; this is called ‘The Sailors Wifes [sic] White Stocking Day’.

February 12th . . . I had a talk with Miss Perritt, a lady who had been ill up to this day, and tonight she seemed to be better than ever and was able to talk.

February 13th Very dull and cold like winter again in the early morning. Miss Perritt was able to walk today for the first time. The sun was lovely about the middle of the morning, walked about and read. Concert in the evening.

February 14th The roughest night we have had since we left Plymouth. Up at 3.30 a.m. tying the boxes and handbags to the legs of the sofa, as they were flying about in all directions, as well as hats and boots. I had a narrow shave of my large box knocking me over, but all I could do was to jump on the top of it, much to the amusement of my friend, Mr Paterson, who was shaking with laughter. Everyone was up at 5 am as there was so much noise with the boxes in the cabins, as well as the glasses, plates, knives and forks which were flying about the saloon, the Stewards after them. The first course at breakfast-time was all turned over, much to the wrath of the head Steward as it spoiled the tablecloth. After breakfast I went out on deck and had enough to do to keep on my sea-legs. I was nearly sick in my Cabin. It is a very shaky place as the propeller keeps lifting out of the water. Miss Perritt was fairly done up again, but she kept very well considering. The Capt[ain] had a lounge and he gave it up entirely for her, so she kept in this chair all day and it was tied so as not to slip. Other third class passengers were all tied round the waist so as they could not tumble about. At 12.15 we got the fair wind behind us, and got into smoother water. All the sails were now set. In this part we are subject to great changes (wind on starboard side). Saw several large birds, quite a treat to see one again. At 2 p.m. we sighted a barque, at 4 p.m. we could see her plainly, she seemed to be almost standing still . . .  the wind being against her.

February 15th . . . 9.30 [it] began to rain hard and we had to stop in the saloon, this was the first time we had any rain to prevent us from going on deck; at 12 o’clock the sun came out . . . and as well as that the sun-set [sic] (which was quite a picture to look at) in the evening. ....

February 17th Sunday Service at 11 am, all day it was as calm as a lake. I never saw anything so pretty as in the evening when the moon shone all the waves seemed to be joined together, and yet there was a tide [?] running.

February 18th Very fine and sunny, sea as smooth as could be. Stopt [sic] at 9.15 [when] the Capt[ain] had a shot at the albatrosses [sic], but did not manage to kill any as the ship was off at 9.30. The Capt[ain] says he never knew the ship to stop less [often] to tighten up, some of the best ships want to stop once a week. In the afternoon we saw all kinds of birds flying by hundreds.

February 19th Found Miss Perritt had been walking about 1½ hour before breakfast, sat and enjoyed our last cocoa-nuts from St Vincent. In the evening, the Doctor, Miss Perritt and myself had ice [cream?] and remained talking till 10 pm.

February 20th Fishing for albatrosses [sic] baited with pork; [there were] 15 all flying round but the ship was going too fast and they could not take the bait without pitching first. As soon as they did pitch the ship had gone on at least 10 yards, so after fishing nearly all day and having all my hooks carried away by some fish, I gave up.

February 21st Completed diary up to the present day. A concert was held among the single girls in the afternoon, in which some capital songs were sung and also several recitations were given. Any amount of birds following the ship; she stopped for something and the Capt[ain] was ordering his boat to be lowered and was just getting in, when it began to move on, but he shot (4 shots and killed 3); as soon as they drop all the other birds pitch on them and begin to devour them. In the evening I saw a shark, I thought, but the sailors said it must have been some other large fish as they are never found here.

February 22nd Fine and calm. In the morning I watched Miss Perritt work [sew] the Doctor two special watch pockets. In the afternoon wrote diary and used the bath-room [sic], which is very comfortable. In the evening I talked to the Doctor, and he was chaffing [kidding] Miss Perritt about being in quarantine.

February 23rd Took exercise with Miss Perritt during the morning, as she did not feel very well . . .

February 24th Very rough and windy. Had Service [at] 11 am. Stopped at 9.30, went on at 11.15 am, tried to catch albatrosses [sic] in the interval, with others, but all of us failed. Everything upset at breakfast-time but very little broken, the greatest jerk we have had since we started.

February 25th At 2 pm we sited [sic] a ship and at 4.40 we made her out to be [the] Almich Earnock of Belfast, a sailing-ship and a very large one.

February 26th Beautiful sunny day and much warmer . . . then stopt [sic] in the Third Officer’s berth [cabin] in the morning. In the evening I played cribbage with Third Officer and round games in the saloon with the passengers.

February 28th        . . . wrote out Neptune’s Speech for Miss Perritt, . . . evening had talk with the Doctor about the City of Bath.

February 29th Very windy and rough during the night. Three of the boys were washed along the deck . . . and at night a kind of ‘Scotch mist’ set in.

February 30th 1st [March, error in dates indicates that it was a leap year] Fine sunny morning, and a very pleasant breeze blowing, which made us enjoy the sun doubly after having had it dismall [sic] for some time.

February 31st 2nd  [March] Sunday Another beautiful morning. Service at 11 am. After dinner, Mr Babot, Mr Workman and I read and talked till 5 pm. Evening on the bridge.

March 3rd Fine but rougher, read on deck and walked around with Mr. B and W (Officers). ...

March 5th Still fine, copied Neptune’s Speech in morning. Evening talked to the Capt[ain] for 2 hours, with Mr Mitchison and First Engineer.

March 6th I believe it was the coldest day of the whole voyage. Sat up all night and wrote letters. ....

March 7th Warmer, beautiful blue sky . . .  afternoon spent in Officers berth.

March 8th Very rough night, had no sleep hardly all night, morning still rough, ropes put along deck so people could catch hold of them ... this is supposed to be wind from the Coast of Tasmania.

March 9th Sunday Beautiful morning, very clear; at 15 minutes to 10 land was announced, everyone was on deck in a minute, being so delighted at the prospect of landing once more. [Saw] an island about 3 miles long, at 2 pm two other islands on the port side were distinctly visible, and at 7.45 pm the mainland, i.e. Centre Island, could be seen and the Nuggel light soon after. [It is assumed that these are islands in the Hauraki Gulf or the Barrier Islands.] Evening completed letter and diary up to present day.


          This ends the diary of the voyage.