Dr Kater’s Voyage

The following extracts are from a journal kept by Dr William Henry Kater during his voyage to New Zealand aboard the ship Sir Charles Forbes, which departed London in May 1842. He was engaged as Surgeon Superintendent on board what was the first ship to sail from London to Nelson direct. His original spelling and punctuation have been kept intact.

2. Accommodation on board

 Plan of the accommodation aboard the Sir Charles Forbes on a previous voyage in 1839

1 May. Set off from London at 8a.m. to Gravesend by Steam boat where the Ship was lying. Having had but three days notice I had very little time to prepare.  Before going on board I met on the Pier at Gravesend Mr. Somes the Governer of the Company to whom I am indebted for my appointment. He was very kind in his advice and wishes.

17 May. At sunset this evening the funeral of the child that died yesterday took place.  I have often witnessed a funeral on shore but unless a soldier’s I never saw one equalled in sadness and impressiveness to one at sea … the pure feeling of the hearts break out when the souls prison is launched into the unfathomable ocean, fit emblem of eternity.

27 May. Saw the first flying fish today thought it a gull at first.

1 June. Surrounded by an immense shoal of porpoises, tried to shoot some but did not succeed.

8 June. Hurrah!  At four this morning we crossed the Equinoctial line and find ourselves in the Southern Hemisphere in the Ethiopia Ocean.

22 June. We had an addition this morning to our Mess on board. Mrs. Chamberlain having been confined and given birth to a daughter.

25 June. One cannot sleep in peace for the rascally outfitter did not send the hammock I purchased and I was obliged to use the wooden ledge called “a bunk” from which an occasional heavy lurch will transfer me to the floor where I must industriously pick myself up again.

20 July. Standing this day upon the poop musing upon the mutability of mortal affairs and gazing upon the deep a huge black mass met my view and before I could call to ask anyone what it could be I perceived the unwieldy bulk of a large whale apparently about 50 feet long and about as many feet from the ship, whilst with others looking on and wondering, the creature I suppose saw the ship for it suddenly spouted high in the air and turning up his fluke disappeared. The water he spouted was brought by the wind upon the quarter deck and covered us all with a cloud of spray, wetting us through.

30 July. Myself rather tired and sleepy having been up these two nights in attendance upon the most impatient patient that I ever had.

11 August. An overheard conversation between a husband and wife from Somerset:-

Wife. “Job dost thee love I?”

Husband. “What dost think?”

Wife.    “Noa but dost thee?”

Husband. “Love thee I could gnaw thee like mutton”

20 August. Before daybreak this morning word was passed to the Captain’s cabin “Land right ahead”, few but those who have been at sea know the thrilling interest that such a sound awakes after four months confinement in about 30 yards by eight.  As soon as the sound reached below the clarinet player seized his instrument threw his legs out of the bunk and struck up “Happy Land”. It remains yet to be proved whether he is a false prophet.

1. Nelson Examiner 27 August 1842

 Immigration Office Report on the passengers aboard the Sir Charles Forbes, taken from the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 27 August 1842

Dr Kater did not have long to live. He was drowned in Nelson Harbour in September 1843 when the flat bottom punt he was in capsized. Two boys who were with him at the time were saved, one by swimming ashore and the other by clinging to the punt.

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