Accounts of the maiden voyage of the Lady Egidia

A letter for home

Extracts from a letter written home by Miss Margaret King, aged 19, who travelled on the Lady Egidia in the care of the Captain. This gives the account of the voyage from the point of view of a young lady travelling in the first class cabin. Miss King was married shortly after her arrival.

First two or three days after we sailed were passed in bed as you will have supposed, a truly delightful start. I was determined to be up next day, and I think Miss McCallum and I did get up in a hurry next morning for as we were *ying ***** exploring the awfully tough************* motion, a wave dashed in our stern window and filled our room with water. Miss McCallum and I took refuge in the saloon in our nightdresses and were soon supplied with blankets and plaid by the gentlemen who all came out of their rooms to see what was to do.

Captain Curry wandered about all morning in his nightgown and kilt with his bare legs and feet. If you had seen the breakfast and dinner table! The captain took both of these meals squatted on the floor. It was the heaviest gale he had been out in for a long time.


First really warm day, quite a change in the men’s head-dress. Captain, too, has got a linen coat. Captain Curry (who by the way is not the original one to have gone with the ship, the appointed one having died) is very much pleased with the ship and tells us when a storm comes.

*************go to sleep for there is no fear of her. One of the young gentlemen is fond of fishing but is ****** and some of the others often get up a false alarm to bring him on deck with his harpoon. He is a grandson of an Admiral. He and Mr H. ************. Service yesterday at 1030 at the poop. Captain gave Miss Smith, Miss Grigor and I the sermon book, and we selected the sermon, a beautiful one by Dr. Guthrie. A young lady of the intermediate led the singing and the poop was crowded.


the Intermediate passengers had a great blow-out last night being Halloween. Three of our young gentlemen ******** to attend it.


Wet afternoon so we are all confined below which is a great hardship. Yesterday had a service in Gaelic which reminded me a good deal of German. Singing was fair though not at all like our tunes.

Some of the Gaelic women take peculiar turns of ****ness, the principal symptoms being that they won’t speak to anyone. I managed to take a preserved egg for breakfast, which is more than I generally do. The tea is horrid. I take water. I was going to say cold, but we have nothing but warm on board. The dishes at breakfast are rather extraordinary. There was the heart, etc., of a sheep done up like a steak with as much onions as would press in- fish with butter sauce- hash of meat- preserved eggs and mashed potatoes: and for bread, hot rolls, also flour loaf, oatcakes and ships biscuits. The loaf and cakes would be very good, but the steward puts them in the sideboard while they are hot and they gather the taste of it. We had preserved milk when we first came on board, horrible stuff, a cow is a great want. Our cook is a Frenchman. Miss McCallum made her first appearance at table tonight. Progress very slow. The Captain is very dour upon the subject. He doesn’t expect to make the passage in less than 110 days.

Our cabin floor is undergoing the process of lady stoning, generally called sailors develling (*?*)

The rifle corps met today to select their subaltern officers. Stoddart is Lieutenant and James Dundas is Ensign. About 50 men enrolled to drill an hour each day on the poop. Captain McCallum amuse me greatly, he is so consequential.

We have been becalmed, or next to it, for about a week, and we are heartily tired of it. We had each a plate of porridge at 7.30 this morning, not having milk, butter or treacle was substituted. Coffee has now been added for breakfast though minus milk. Several dolphins were seen yesterday, the phosphoresce in the ship’s wake was very brilliant. The “EGIDIA Journal” made it’s first appearance on Tuesday November 13th.

Just passed a homeward bound ship. We signalled her, so that I hope that in about 5 weeks you will hear that we were seen. Wind was too strong, else the Captain would have sent letters on board her. The second edition of the “Journal” should have appeared but for the slight reason that not one contribution was sent in the editor did not issue it.

About 7.30 last evening the Captain was sitting with us in the saloon when we all felt a strange tremulous motion, and he ran up on deck to see that all was well, but found nothing wrong, so he thinks it must have been an earthquake. It lasted for about 5 minutes——-he experienced one in our present position before. Yesterday morning we had fried shark for breakfast. Mr Stoddart was in raptures with it, although it was not of his own catching. He gave it up in despair, when the Doctor took the line and brought it on deck. An ugly brute it was, but a small one. There were several small fish sticking to it. Have gone 20 miles in 3 days….encouraging?

During the ceremony of Crossing the Line and after the shaving the poor victims were plunged into a sail full of water in which it was the Bears’ *** to hold them down and otherwise torment them. I was very anxious to see James, one of the filthiest men you ever saw and nicknamed “Ducks” because his office is to feed the poultry, plunged into the water, but the Bears wouldn’t allow the water to be polluted. This is a teetotal ship, but at such a time the passengers were allowed to treat them, but were restricted to 6 bottles. There are 45 sailors.

I have very little to say, as every day is passed very like another, but on the whole I enjoy myself.

Mr Stoddart sat the whole day at the stern trying to catch an albatross. No sooner than he had come down to tea than a large gull was caught with his line. Then in the evening he was at it again when a shark took hold of his bait, only as soon as he began to pull it, it was off. A child of 2 years died yesterday of measles, 70 or 80 altogether have had it, grown up people and all. Whooping cough is also raging.

Had another bath on Sunday morning before I got out of bed. My port window was shut but not screwed, and a sea opened it and washed all over me—— I was dripping and so was my bed and, the day being wet, it couldn’t be on deck to dry, but the steward made me a bed before night. I believe he took some of the Captain’s for the purpose.

On December 13th we saw a whale ship quite close to us—she had several boats lowered. Captain is so disgusted at our progress that he did not calculate our position today. I began to relish the food better now—for about a month in the tropics we had fowls everyday at the Captain’s end of the table—all the rest were salt or preserved, and we got so tired of them we were afraid for the covers being lifted: but since the cold weather, a pig and a sheep have been killed. I heard though that the pig was rather poorly before it was killed, which does not heighten my relish for it.

We are going about 4 or 5 knots only, we are thankful for even that. It is 70 days since I came on board—where is the fine quick passage we were to make, I wonder?


I wish you both a Merry Xmas and Many More Returns. We had two fine rich plum-duffs today for dinner. Fruit for dessert and wine. It has been a happy Xmas Day, and cold enough for a home one. Expect to get to the end of our voyage in 4 or 5 weeks now. Some are wearying very much for it . It won’t be the Captain’s fault at any rate that we have been so long, as he is well up in his profession and a very nice person too, and so anxious to make us comfortable as possible. He is especially attentive to his lady passengers. One steward is an Englishman, a regular sharp fellow, and thinks he knows everything better than every other person. He had one of the apprentice boys as cabin boy, but he growled so fearfully at the little fellow that he petitioned to get away and work with the sailors.

Since yesterday we have had a regular gale as high as the one in the Channel, but the sea is with us. Between Saturday and Sunday we went about 280 miles, and have done well today, if not better. All this is very nice, but then we have to pay for it——-the water comes washing into my port window and down into my bed. On Saturday night Miss McCallum was catching it in her basin as it rushed from my bed into hers. I comes in our stern window, although the dead light is down.

The steward announced that our new sail boom that was put up yesterday has just gone. He is in a state of high delight, as he is an Englishman and has a profound contempt for everything Scotch. It is such fun hearing him growling at Potter Wilson and Co. Between Friday 27th December and today Friday January 4th we made 1,980 miles.

One child buried today, it was the third the parents lost since the beginning of the week.

We are calculating that 16 more days will bring us to Port Chalmers, and much need too, for the stove for cooking the steerage passengers’ food has broken down, and how to get it remedied is a question.

Saw the eclipse of the sun today—-Lat 50oS.,Long. 123oE. There is great speculation on what day we land. Seven of the young gentlemen have each put 2/6 into a lottery with tickets bearing the name of the chosen day—7 in all, and whoever wins is expected to treat the rest with the 17/6 won. I have quite made up my mind to drink tea on shore Wednesday week. We could be there in a week but I am allowing 3 days for a head wind.

The volunteers had a great meeting the other day at which they elected N.C.O’s. It is rumoured they are to march up to Dunedin in a body.


Here we are within two or three days of Otago. We are beginning to think of preparing for landing. Indeed the ship is undergoing a great preparatory cleaning process. I am rather afraid of a row when we land between the steerage passengers and the Doctor and the Captain. there may be faults on both sides, but I decidedly think the people are very unreasonable.


All up before daybreak, between 3 and 4 a.m., to get the first look at the land, and sure enough we saw it—the southern point of Stewart Island — rugged and picturesque. There is a great state of excitement. We thought we should have been able to land tomorrow, but about 12 o’clock it fell calm. Just now we see Stewart Island, also part of Middle Island. It is a beautiful covering, and we can see clearly smoke rising from the land . passed a small sloop of war today, but did not signal her. Two more children dead. They are both one family—isn’t it sad, and we are so near land.

I am impatient to get ashore to get letters, for I expect there will be some awaiting me, but November mail will not be due yet. Some say the mail leaves New Zealand for Australia on the 20th: if so this letter will have to lie a month.

The calm lasted until 12 noon yesterday when a N.E. wind sprang up, and we have nothing for it but to tack back and fore, in which delightful occupation we are still engaged. A dead sheep floated past us this afternoon. This was the day I had fixed for drinking tea onshore.

Another account of arriving at Dunedin (author unknown)

Ninety seventh day, Friday, January 18th:
Fine morning—going beautifully—we have caught an Australian hot wind which is very strong. Captain thinks we will anchor about beginning of the week—all quite excited now. “CAT” says she and Maggie have been packing today on the sly. We got orders not to do so until the Pilot came on board, for if we did we are more sure of a head wind, but we risked it. “MD” says we are getting our cabin scrubbed out and the sailors are busy with the poop—confusion out and in today—they wish to make her look quite smart when we land.

Ninety-eighth day, Saturday, January 19th:
Long. 161°0’E. Beautiful day and quite a pleasure to be at sea, especially so near to landing. All in good spirits—preparations being made for landing—sighted 3 vessels this morning, one homeward and two outward bound—expect to see land in a day or two.

Ninety-ninth day, Sunday, January 20th:
Long. 165oE. Beautiful morning but progress slow. No sermon today although this is expected to be our last Sabbath aboard. A good many on look-out for land, but all disappointed.

One Hundredth Day, Monday, January 21st:
At 3 a.m. a cry of “Land Oh” “MD” says first thing we heard this morning was a knocking above our heads to get up and see land. The people were all running to and fro in an excited state. It was Stewart Island—not over 2 1/2 mile away. We came along the coast for 30 miles or so when we were in sight of our destined province Otago, and the land we were making for. “TW” says it was really very joyful and pleasing to stand and look at the beautiful but rugged land after being so long at sea. We ran round the coast of it, passing between an island called the Trap and Stewart Island. “JM” says—we have not been going more than 2 knots since noon. We are lying in the mouth of the Foxeaux Strait and can see land on both sides. Sun very hot—another birth this morning, the 7th but also 32 deaths to date. A man-o-war was seen close to Stewart Island.

One Hundred & First Day, Tuesday, January 22nd:
Beautiful morning—still becalmed— rather teasing after being so near landing. Signalled a vessel named “Armin” bound for Melbourne. A breeze sprang up about 2 p.m., but was a head wind. We had to tack out to see for 40 miles, turned and gained 17 miles by that. Tacked again at 8 p.m., intending to run for 80 miles, so we will not sight land again until tomorrow, as we will stand out at see all night. Reckoned to have made 20 miles by that tack. Had the wind been favourable we would have anchored in 9 hours.

The tug “Geelong” which towed the “Lady Egidia” into Port Chalmers Anchorage, and later took the passengers to Dunedin Jetty was a paddle steamer of 108 tons. Her skipper was the Harbour Master, Captain William Thomson.

One Hundred & Second Day, Wednesday, January 23rd:
Dull morning—cloud built up during the day. Sighted land at 10 a.m., but the wind has fallen, although contrary all day—some thought the land was Cape Saunders, but the Captain made it out as Nugget Point. Tacked again all night.

One Hundred & Third Day, Thursday, January 24th:
Sighted land about 7 a.m.. Hove the lead 3 times—first no bottom at 50 fathoms—second found it at 50 fathoms, and third at 45 fathoms. Ship put about shortly after—were too far south to gain the Heads—tacked at 10a.m. and again at 2 p.m., and kept at sea all night. A breeze off the land is the cause of it.

One Hundred & Fourth Day, Friday, January 25th:
Gained sight of land again, but not far enough North to make the Heads. Tacked twice and got within half a mile of the Heads, but too late in the evening to get the pilot. Tacked out again—saw the signal light put up two rockets and a blue light about 9 p.m. to make them aware of our arrival.

One Hundred & Fifth Day, Saturday, January 26th:
Beautiful day, but provoking to say we are almost becalmed about 16 miles off the Heads. The pilot came in search of us and came on board about 6 p.m. Shortly afterwards a slight breeze sprang up and we got to the Heads and anchored outside the bar about 8 p.m.

One Hundred & Sixth Day, Sunday, January 27th:
Still at anchor. Quite becalmed — Fine day. Tug arrived this afternoon. had a few gentlemen come on board.

One Hundred & Seventh Day, Monday, January 28th:
Weighed anchor at about 3 a.m. and were towed up to Port Chalmers, finally anchoring about 4 miles inside the Heads. A small drizzling rain came on and lasted a few hours. Inspected at 8 a.m. “MD” says – went up in a small steamer to Dunedin in the forenoon and planted foot on land once more about 1 o’clock . “CT” says -Inspected at 8 in the morning and got on shore at 12 noon, after being 104 days at sea. “MD” says- It was about 6 p.m. when we left the steamer “Geelong” and about 7 when we arrived at Dunedin Jetty.

The above three accounts of the landing at Dunedin are each a little different. perhaps the “Geelong” made more than one trip up the harbour, as 400 odd passengers and their luggage may have been more than enough for a single trip.