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The CORBETT Family

Voyage of the Dilharree

An account of the voyage of my
to New Zealand


Written by W. J. HENRY 24/8/1935
To the Editor, The Gippsland Independent and Express

My father, mother, and six children arrived in London in September, 1874, from Londonderry, I being No.3 and eight years old. My father had sold his farm to my uncle, and had decided to settle in New Zealand. We left Belfast at dusk, and arrived at Fleetwood in Lancashire, at daylight.
It was a very rough trip, as the boat was pitching and rolling, and everyone was sick, I suppose they do it now in half the time.
We were to sail in a fullrigged ship, the Cospatrick by name, but when we arrived she had sailed a full ship, so we had to wait a week or more. The "Cospatrick" caught fire on its voyage with great loss of life.

The barque, Dilharrie was anchored off Gravesend when we went on board. She had been an old Indian troopship, and was a fairly fast sailer. I remember one night hearing the sailors say that she was making 14 Knots and heeling over enough to frighten any landsman. She had a couple of Carronades amidships, but they only used them when they wanted a tug. We were a long time getting out of the channel as we were becalmed off Plymouth. At last the captain ordered a gun to be fired, and a tug came out, but as the owner wanted 90 to give us a start, our captain objected and we had to wait for a breeze. At last we got a start into the Bay of Biscay and then most of the passengers got sick. We had about 250 passengers and a crew of 30, including three apprentices, and they kept things lively. I remember seeing the three latter sitting on the caps of the masts.
Two of them went by the name of "Coffee" and "Cocoa", I forget the name of the other. Between them and the boys the mates had to keep their eyes open. Some of the boys let one of the sails go, but they soon found out that it did not pay to touch the ropes, as the first mate used the ropes end pretty freely.

We passed close by Cape Verde Islands, and got into the "Doldrums". The sea was like glass, and the tar was melting on deck. Although we had a doctor on board, nine of the young children on board died. [One child was Kate Corbett's son James Dowling] my sister among them, also a passenger named "Corbett". [This is actually Martin DOWLING, husband of Kate CORBETT] We did not sight any land after leaving the Cape Verde Islands until reaching New Zealand, as we did not call at the Cape. We did not meet with any extra. bad weather on the voyage, although on one occasion we shipped a heavy sea, which did a lot of damage and my brother Bob was nearly overboard when a sailor grabbed him just in time. Everyone on deck was hanging on to ropes etc. I was astride one of the guns when it happened and someone helped me to hang on.
The second mate got the sack when we reached Auckland, as he had charge of the wheel at the time.

We used to watch the albatrosses soaring around the ship. The sailors caught one with a hook and landed it on board. It was a very large one, but they let it go again, as they could not make use of it. Schools of porpoises kept us company. I remember one of the sailors trying to harpoon one from the bowsprit, but he did not succeed. We saw whales spouting several times, and one big one came to the surface alongside the ship one day.
A fire broke out in the young women's quarters, but it was put out before it got much of a hold. There was great excitement till the scare was over. When we got near our destination, we met a ship homeward bound. The Captain was informed that the "Cospatrick" was burned at sea and all hands were lost excepting five, who were picked up in a boat. They had been 8 days without food, and were in a dreadful state, two of them dying afterwards. Only three were saved out of 500 aboard. A number of our passengers were to have sailed in the "Cospatrick", and had their boxes labelled for her.
When we got down South it was very cold in the roaring forties. There was snow and ice in the rigging. We had warm clothing as I remember father had a tailor in before we left home, and had a couple of suits made for each of us, and we had need of them right enough. The cook's galley was a favourite place for us boys.

One of the passengers, George Church, a Londoner, started a school on board. He was not exactly a favourite with us. He used to walk around on deck and gather up the boys, but the sailors delighted to hide some of us and of course we did not object.
I remember one of the passengers thought he would like to have a look at a passing ship from the crosstrees, so he took his telescope and went up, but a couple of sailors went up after him, and tied him there, and he had to shout a bottle of whiskey before he could come down. Another day a one of the passengers went up, and led the sailors a dance all around the ship. All hands cheered him when he slid down a rope, and left the sailors aloft to be laughed at.
One or two of the sailors made several models of ships, in their spare time, and raffled them before we landed. Some of the passengers made all sorts of toys out of bits of softwood and of course we boys tried our hands at it to. Until we saw the mate with a piece of rope in his hands, as we generally made a little disorder on the clean deck.

I remember I gave my parents a fright one night. I had fallen asleep in some corner, and father had all hands looking for me with lanterns. I am sure I got a good shaking when found. We had Christmas on board ship. I remember watching the sailors stoning raisins for the pudding. I am sure they enjoyed the change after being so long on a salt pork and hard biscuits diet.
We were 90 days on the voyage. At last we rounded the North Cape, and passed the Three Kings Islands. When we got within a few miles of Auckland, instead of employing a tug, our captain tacked backwards and forwards up the narrow harbour.
One of the sailors named "Scotty" was good at singing shanties, and when we got within a few chains of the shore, all hands passengers as well, hauled on the ropes, and around came the yards, and we off on another tack. We boys were of course on the end of the ropes, and when the signal came to pull we went head over heels. I'll never forget it.

" The Waitemata harbour, where we landed, is one of the most beautiful in the world".

Kate Dowling [nee CORBETT] gave birth to a daughter Sarah Ellen Dowling on the 16th December 1874 on board Diharrie at sea. She also lost her husband Martin DOWLING and son James DOWLING buried at sea in mid Atlantic on the voyage. Sarah Ellen died 30th April 1875. Kate married Robert Campbell four months later. There was a Robert Campbell of the correct age also a passenger on the voyage of the Dilharree.

After 3 months living in Auckland the Henry family moved on to Australia and settled in Gippsland Victoria.


Originally a full-rigged ship built for trooping to India, the DILHAREE, a composite-built vessel of 1293 tons, was rigged as a barque, when it came to New Zealand in 1874 and 1875 under Captain R. McNeilly. She was a well-found craft, and was pronounced admirably suited for carrying immigrants, as she had very roomy accommodation, having been built for a troopship. She belonged to Messrs. J. Lidgett and Sons, London. The first port she visited in New Zealand was Lyttleton. Leaving Plymouth on December 12, 1873, with 300 immigrants and 15 cabin passengers, she made Lyttleton on March 11, 1874, a passage of 89 days.

On January 16, 1875, she arrived at Auckland from London, the passage having taken 105 days from the docks, or 93 from the Lizard. On this occasion she brought out 375 Government immigrants. While becalmed for several days early in November off the Cape Verde Islands the ship had plenty of company, there being no less than sixteen other sailing vessels within sight.

The fleet of John Lidgett of London was very well known in the Colonies during the late seventies. Most of his early ships were composite built, to the highest class, by Thames-side firms whose very names are now forgotten.

They were intended for trooping to India and five of them had Hindustani names beginning with DIL, the word for "heart" - the DILHAREE, for instance, meaning "Heart's Delight". John Lidgett was a very strict Methodist and he acted up to his religion. His ships were well found, his men were well treated and his officers were paid the highest rate of wages and a bit over. When the trooping to India was taken from sailing ships, John Lidgett put his ships into the booming emigrant trade to Australia and New Zealand.

The smallest ship in the fleet was the DILPUSSUND 625 tons, built in 1864 by Lungley of London; then came the DILKHOOSH, 816 tons, built in the same year and the COLUMBUS of 744 tons built in 1865. The rest of the ships built in 1865 were 1200 tons and over; these were DILAWUR, DILBITUR, DILHAREE and MICHAEL ANGELO. The little COLUMBUS made a very fast voyage to Dunedin in 1874, but the MICHAEL ANGELO, built by Connell, was probably the clipper of the fleet.

In 1873 she went out to Port Chalmers in 88 days and in 1875 to Nelson from London Docks in 81 days. John Lidgett began selling his smaller ships in the early eighties and the first to go was the DILHAREE which was lost about 1879-80.


The Dilharree a British bark, 1,293 tons, met disaster while outbound from the Columbia bar in tow of two bar tugs. She carried a full grain cargo from Portland destined for Queenstown, N.S.W. In transit, the bark veered toward the shore and ran aground on the tip of Peacock Spit, March 10, 1880.

The two tugs and a revenue cutter tried in vain to pull her to safety, but under her heavy load the vessel refused to oblige. The crew abandoned, and after a narrow escape in the boats was rescued. The composite vessel was valued at $65,000 and the cargo at $78,00O. The respective skippers of the tugs were exonerated of blame when it was learned that the bark had failed to answer to her helm after the steering mechanism became jammed.
The vessel was owned by John Lidgett, of London, and all the ships of his fleet had name prefixes beginning with Dil, a hindustania word meaning heart. The name Dilharree, for instance, meant Heart's Delight. James Gibbs, Pacific Graveyard. Portland: Binfords and Mort, 1950, p. 153-190.

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