2: Across the Tasman
In November of 1862 The Shalimar, a 196 foot clipper, docked in Port Philip with passengers from England, Scotland and Ireland. Many were to disembark in Melbourne, other passengers were continuing on to Auckland in New Zealand. Jack and Ah Foo could not afford the cost of passage, even in steerage class aboard such a fine vessel . However Jack managed to make a small payment to the captain to allow them aboard – sharing a crew cabin but unlisted on the ship’s register. The ideal passage would have been to have sailed around the south of New Zealand then up the East Coast to Port Chalmers in Dunedin – a very Scottish town in the south of New Zealand. However taking opportunity as it presented itself, they decided on the trip aboard The Shalimar landing in Auckland then to find a coastal passage down the East Coast to reach either Lyttleton near Christchurch, or Port Chalmers near Dunedin in Otago.
The voyage across the Tasman Sea was generally uneventful. Jack and Ah Foo kept to themselves as was the agreement with the Captain. Food aboard was prepared for passengers in one kitchen and for crew in another. Ah Foo and Jack ate crew meals in the cabin, enjoying some of the better food he had been able to eat since leaving Canton. Nice as this was however, he missed the flavours and smells of good Cantonese cooking. Jack wrote notes in a leather covered book that he kept with him. His notes were well worded but a little unstructured as the stories from Ah Foo were told in a random order – often switching from experiences in the gold fields of Australia to his childhood in Canton City.
On docking in Auckland Ah Foo had to avoid the immigration officers that were checking passenger credentials. Without a permit to work in New Zealand, Ah Foo had a risk of being refused entry so he hid in a forward bulkhead for several hours before making his way ashore and joining Jack in the docklands of Auckland. The Auckland docks were a rough and unruly place. Many of the dock workers were English and day labour workers. They had no tolerance for Chinese who were known to work much harder and were more willing to take on extra hours. Jack found a small boarding house to stay in while they sought day work on the docks and made enquiries with the various coastal ships that worked the coast of New Zealand. Ah Foo managed to earn a few pounds from 6 days of laboring work loading cargo nets and keeping tally of the goods being unloaded, all the time enduring the verbal abuse of the English waterside workers.
On the first of December, just 10 days after arriving in Auckland, Ah Foo and Jack secured deck hand work aboard a coastal steamer that carried bales of wool and was about to track down the west coast of the North Island then pass across in Cooks Strait to the east coast of the South Island. The ship was to stop in Wellington for a day then sail on to Port Chalmers to load wool from the spring clip of the sheep stations that Scottish settlers were starting to develop in New Zealand’s south. Glad to leave Auckland they steamed out of the Hauraki Gulf, around Great Barrier Island and south down the coast. Jack’s notes mention the great sight of Mt Egmont standing in the distance like a perfect cone in the setting sun. As they neared the south of New Zealand’s North Island the smooth sailing turned into a cascade of pounding waves and howling winds. The section of water between the two main Islands of New Zealand is prone to big storms as the warmer waters of the Pacific meet the cooler waters of the Tasman Sea flowing up from the Southern Ocean. Entering Cook Strait was quite a nightmare and while Wellington was visible in the distance the huge seas made the small coastal ship heave and rock throwing Ah Foo from side to side in the small cabin he shared with two others. Just prior to rounding the last point into the shelter of Wellington Harbour, a particularly large swell sent Ah Foo crashing into the corner of the bunk, breaking his arm and knocking him out. When Ah Foo woke up, he was on his bunk with his arm strapped to his side and a large bruise on his forehead. His first thought was that he was now unable to work and would be put ashore in Wellington. The Captain however, a Scottish migrant who had been working the New Zealand coast for three years left Ah Foo in the cabin throughout the day and evening, then set sail back into the stormy strait on the first sign of morning light.
Two days later the steamer docked at Port Chalmers and Ah Foo painfully went ashore, aided by Jack who carried Ah Foo’s trunk along with his own baggage.
Arriving in Port Chalmers was quite different to his arrival into Auckland. The dock was small and the workers predominantly Scottish. While very tough and hard-working migrants, they were fair and less prone to be abusive to the Chinese arrivals. Jack decided it would be better to remain in Dunedin for a few weeks while Ah Foo’s arm healed as there were doctors and some medical services there – which would not be the case once they headed inland towards Central Otago where the gold fields were. Jack secured work on the port and shared a boarding house room with Ah Foo who was being well cared for by the owner, a rather large Scottish woman, Mrs Stewart. She allowed Ah Foo to work, as best he could one-handed, helping in the kitchen in exchange for meals for Jack and himself. Ah Foo missed his Cantonese food but learned how to prepare meals from the local produce of wild hare, lamb and garden vegetables. While not his choice, the knowledge of how to cook European food was to come in useful in the years ahead. Porridge with salt for breakfast however, was never something he could understand.
Christmas of 1862 was spent in the dining room of the boarding house. Ah Foo helped Mrs Stewart prepare the lunch spread then joined the table to celebrate Christmas although he had never really been exposed to Christianity. Talk was of the American Civil War and the Irish being drawn into the battles. News had reached New Zealand that some migrants from the Irish settlement in New South Wales in Australia had left to join the Michael Corcoran’s “Irish Legion,” a group formally known as the 155th New York Volunteer Infantry. The two Irishmen at the table could not really understand why. Ah Foo had never heard talk of war and certainly had little interest in events so far away. However he felt for the Irish immigrants who feared many of their friends would never return.