Tuesday 27 August 2013

Worst.Holiday.Ever. (New Zealand, 1896)



SIR, - During the just-closed Antipodean summer many tourists, mostly Australian, have paid a holiday visit to New Zealand, and it is probable that increasing efforts will be made to bring the undoubted attractions of the Colony prominently before the travelling public generally.

In these circumstances, perhaps you will allow one fresh from the scene to offer a word of caution to English travellers, for if the charms of New Zealand are real, the miseries incidental to viewing them are certainly not less so.

To begin with, there is in practice only one limit to the number of passengers carried by any steamer on the coast, and that is the number of passengers who wish to travel by her. Such trifles as berth accommodation or passenger licence are - or at any rate during last summer have been - entirely outside the consideration. Passengers are shipping and shipped till at night they lie sometimes by the score on the saloon tables, under them, in the alley ways, in the so-called "social hall," everywhere.

For example, on one steamer by which I travelled five mattresses were laid along one of the narrow cabin passages, and upon these slept, or at any rate lay, five lady passengers the night through. This astonishing process was entirely exposed to the general view, and any male passenger or steward who required to pass along the alley had to step upon the mattresses and over and amongst their unhappy occupants. This I witnesses myself, and I have since been assure by other travellers that they have had similar experiences.

On this same vessel, the insect which walketh in darkness, together with the staggering heat, drove me from my cabin, and I spent the night lying with others on the saloon floor at the foot of the companion-way. Whilst there I heard a violent altercation between the chief steward and some furious passengers, who insisted on exchanging into the second class.

There were 27 - some said 30 - lady passengers on board and only one stewardess. The ladies lavatory accommodation was such that, on the admission of the stewardess, very few paid it a second visit, and that on a five days' run.

Before the end of the voyage, I may observe, the fresh meat had mellowed in the heat, and the awful smell which arose when the meat hatch was opened makes one shudder to remember.

Nearly every person to whom I have spoken who this year made the New Zealand summer trip has more or less similar experiences to relate - horses stalled on deck immediately outside the companion, bath-room filled up with bunches of bananas, stewards waiting at dinner in their shirt sleeves, a second dinner announced, and the discovery that nothing remained from the first to place upon the table, tables, floors, and bath-rooms filled with sleeping passengers, and tent accommodation erected for the remainder on deck, and so on, and so on.

A friend told me that not long ago he travelled with his daughter from Auckland to Sydney (five days) and that during the voyage none of the ladies could have a bath, as one lady was sleeping in the bath itself, whilst other two occupied the bath-room floor.

I am aware that such stories must seem incredible to any one who has not travelled about New Zealand within the last year or two, but to the New Zealander himself, such experiences excite little more attention than does a murder in Ireland. Indignant letters have appeared in the Colonial Press, sometimes supported by indignant editorial comments, and in the course of time, the Steamship Companies may awake to the discovery, or have it expensively brought home to them, that their present policy is a mistaken one, so far as any rate as tourist traffic is concerned.

Meantime, the traveller who has any regard for comfort, cleanlinses, and decency on shipboard will do well to profit by the experiences of his English friends who have made the trip, including -

Yours truly, &c.

[editor's note - the 'insect that walketh in darkness' = cockroach]

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