The diary of Francis Pillans


Francis Pillans, born in Fifeshire, Scotland, emigrated to New Zealand on the sailing ship Mooltan. Describing himself as a ‘gentleman settler’, he took up land at Inch Clutha in South Otago. The Mooltan left the Greenock docks on 11 September 1849, anchored overnight at the Tail of the Bank, and set sail for New Zealand on 12 September 1849. She arrived at Port Chalmers, Otago, on 26 December 1849.

Below are a few extracts which give a flavour of the diary:

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|Cholera|General activities|Storms|

Saturday, 6 October 1849
: The calm of yesterday, and the hopes we had allowed to be raised within our breasts that the dreadful [cholera] scourge that had been raging amongst us had in some degrees abated, was but an idle dream and a vain hope, for this morning Mrs Proudfoot, one of the most respectable and good looking young women on board, was suddenly attacked with vomiting and purging and in the course of two or three hours the cramps were on her. Before sundown she will in all probability be another meal to the sharks.

As soon as she was attacked, she was carried into the temporary bath house rigged out close to the cabin door and placed in a cot there. Everything was done for her that could be expected from such a doctor - her hair was cut off, hot and mustard baths tried, as well as large quantities of laudanum administered, but the case is a hopeless one.

There are some most affecting circumstances connected with the fate of this young woman. Her husband left Scotland some 6 months ago for Otago, leaving his wife to follow him as soon as she got thru the confinement of her 2nd child. It was destined however that neither she nor her children were ever to meet with him again, for both her children died shortly after her husband left and now she is about to follow them under circumstances that border on the horrible. We will arrive in New Zealand to carry out the news to the poor husband that he stands alone again in the world.

Wednesday, 10 October 1849: Up to the hour I write, all has passed off well - no new cases of cholera during the night and the poor child is supposed to be rallying a little, leaving some hopes to the father of its ultimate recovery. The consequence of all this is that you see brighter faces all around you, and the poor women are beginning to deck themselves out and put on their good looks again. When things were at their worst you saw them lying about the deck just as they got up, with their hair all undressed and otherwise looking most untidy.

Monday, 15 October: Yesterday I expressed a hope that all might now commence to go better with us as regards the cholera, but it was only a vain delusion. This morning when we came on deck, a little girl of 7 years old belonging to Mrs Peterson, now become a chief cabin inmate, was reported vomiting and purging and now altho only four hours have elapsed since she was first attacked, she is now in the throes of death.

Our doctor is going about like a madman, not knowing what to do, what to say or where to go. In short, the creature is nearly out of the little mind he ever had ... Since this fresh outbreak of cholera, we are again all in the dumps, and long faces are in abundance. In every corner you hear a sign with a "Oh, if we were only safe at Otago or at home".

Emigrants on deck
Emigrants on deck (Illustrated London News, 20 January, 1849)

General activities
Sunday, 21 October 1849: Did not get up our game at cards last night, as the fiddler was upon deck and all the sailors dancing like possessed ones. The doctor will be saying again that it is by indulging in this wickedness that the wrath of God is brought upon the ship - a piece of cant for which I would like to pitch him overboard. The dancing was kept up until the usual hour, when all hands were piped down below and Ferguson, the Capt, a Mr Clemison and myself were left alone in all our glory - then came the night.

After a pipe of baccy and half an hour of yarning, we too turned in, leaving the deck in undisputed possession of the officer for the middle watch.

Monday 22nd October: No change in the weather, the S.E. trades having rather increased if anything. Still the ship is enabled to carry all sail, and a pretty lot of it she has on her. I sometimes wonder how the masts can bear the pressure of so much canvas bearing down upon them from one side, causing the ship to keel over on her beam ends. But our Capt says we have leeway to make up, and if anything be carried away, we have more spars and sails on board with which to repair the damage.

The afternoon of yesterday spent quietly and decently in a Sabbath day way - that is, going to church in the morning and talking scandal and gossiping the remainder of it.

During the night, it having proved rather puffy, were obliged to take in royals and staysails, setting them again this morning at daylight. Killed our second pig yesterday, part of which was gobbled up at dinner - the liver portion falling to the Doctor's wife, who is a devil for pork. Two of our sheep are also in the land of their forefathers, thus leaving still for mastication 2/3rd of our livestock.

Friday, 2 November, 1849: Last night being Halloween, there were lots of capers going on. For want of apples to dive for and nuts to burn, some of the crew and passengers rigged themselves out in character and sang comical songs, while others amused themselves with dancing, crowning the nights entertainment with a lot of jovial songs.

In the morning Ferguson and I had some firing at the Cape pigeons, a very pretty bird about the size of our own pigeon and in many respects resembling it in its flight as well as in the shape. They are difficult to shoot, at least I found so, having missed the first four shots I fired at them and thereby losing as many glasses of grog in a bet with Mr Clemison. Tomorrow however, I expect to do better things, now that my hand is probably a little more in. One or two albatrosses kept following the ship but not having rigged my rifle, did not fire at them. Ferguson however blazed away at them but did nothing, at least as far as killing them. Frighten them he might have done, but that was his gun's doing, not his.

Passengers tossed about in a storm
Illustrated London News, 12 February, 1887

The Mooltan sailed through stormy seas in the southern latitudes, and her situation was made worse because of Captain Chivas's tendency to add canvas rather than subtract it, for the sake of speed. He had a brand new ship to make a name for, and indeed, apart from the John Wickliffe voyage in 1848, the Mooltan's 105 days to Otago was the fastest passage of any of the ships chartered by the New Zealand Company.

One storm description by Pillans actually included a rare good word for the men in steerage: "When the gale came on and all the sails let go, there was a dreadful panic took place amongst all the people below, as from the noise of the sails flapping and the wind and sea roaring, they at first thought it was all over with the ship. On rushing on deck however they (the men), behaved very well, having joined at once in assisting the sailors to haul upon the ropes - in this way doing right good service."

On another occasion he noted how high seas during the night were "...breaking over the ship every now and then with fearful fury, making her stagger as if she had gone bump up against a rock. At half past 11, the 2nd mate, whose watch it was, was standing on the poop. The ship giving a roll that nearly laid her on her beam ends, one of the hencoops broke loose and came rattling down to the lee side upon the mate, and nearly broke his leg."

Another entry read: "A young girl trying to cross the deck with a child in her arms was thrown down this morning, with a thundering crash which sent the child spinning to the lee side of the ship as if it had been shot out of a gun. But strange to say, it escaped with little injury, as also did the girl, barring her bones pretty well bruised. Considering how tender our ship is, causing her at times to be nearly on her beam ends, it is wonderful how we all have hitherto escaped broken bones, for verily the number that has kissed the decks since we left, has not been trifling."

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