This post is for my friend Bailey Boat Cat http://baileyboatcat.com/ and his beloved Nocturne.
For the past few weeks I have been immersed in family history. Perhaps immersed is too mild a description; it’s more like drowning or struggling to keep my head above water, amidst a sea of facts and documents and wild guesses and endless possibilities…. so, that James was a cordwainer and that James was a postman and the other James was a dairy hand. Or were they? And what about that Robert; farm servant and agricultural labourer, or were they two, different Roberts? And then, there are the Marys and the Elizabeths and the Marys and the Elizabeths and the Mary Elizabeths, who are sometimes occupied with nothing and sometimes with ‘domestic duties’. Domestic duties? What is meant by domestic duties? Is that short hand for the bearing and rearing of a dozen offspring, in as many years, all confusingly named James or Elizabeth or Mary or Elizabeth Mary and James and Robert or Robert James. After a couple of hours of research, I am begging my forebears to throw me the lifeline of a Hortense or a Hermione, even a Phryne (Fisher, if possible ), but the best I get is an Isola, which isn’t a bad effort.
Isola? Isola! How did a little girl, born in New Zealand, to Scottish parents acquire the name Isola? Does it mean Island or Isle? I may find out one day but, in the meantime, my mind has sailed away to islands and how we, the families of now and before, travelled from one set of islands to another, on ships and boats with marvellous, exotic names.
In our family history, I find a list of boats, ships and sailing vessels that have held, for varying lengths of time, small portions of our life stories, as travellers and adventurers, workers and servicemen. Here is a small selection of some of the names: Bolton, Caroline Agnes, Zambesi, Zealandia, Waikato, Mokoia, Neuralia, Ulimaroa, Warrimoo, Pinkney, Adi Rewa, Matua, Tofua, Oriana, Ratu Bulumakau and Seaspray . Each of these vessels has a fascinating story and a genealogy and lineage of her own. Many of them were sent to watery graveyards or to the hell of a scrapyard. An ignoble end to the fine engineering and craftsmanship of the craft that made possible much of our family lore.
For those who are curious about maritime vessels, here are a few links.
This is a photo of myself (the little blonde curly-haired child) with my brother and mother, on board the Matua ( I think) circa 1957. Possibly en route from Fiji to Sydney or New Zealand or, maybe, both.
(note the punkah louvre forced draught ventilation on the Tofua)
This photo was taken aboard the Seaspray (still alive and well, I think) on a trip to Castaway Resort, circa 1967.
Anchor note: I didn’t know this when I started my research but I have since discovered that August is New Zealand Family History Month; happy coincidence.
From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
- Pt. III, The Theologian’s Tale: Elizabeth, sec. IV