Ship Immersive Environment in Passports 

Inside Passports Exhibit

Curriculum links

Learning area

Social Studies

Which strands will it fit with?

  • Place and Environment; Continuity and Change; Identity, Culture and Organisation 

Key Competencies

Thinking, Relating to others.

Levels of achievement

Levels 1–6

Year group

Years 1–11

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Which topics of study can it support?

  • New Zealand society - past and present
  • Pūrākau (storytelling)
  • New Zealand environment

How long might this take?

Allow 10 minutes.

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Where do I find it?

Level 4, Passports exhibition. If you get lost, just ask a Te Papa Host.

Why should I take my class to visit this?

Experience first-hand what it was like to be a migrant travelling to New Zealand in the nineteenth century –the days below deck, the disease, the hunger, the boredom, and a very, very long journey.

Transport your class back in time with this recreation of the cramped conditions experienced by early migrants on board a ship to New Zealand.

What is there to do there?

  • Imagine sharing your bedroom with six brothers or sisters. Unimaginable? Children aboard the immigrant ships had to share a bunk space with all their siblings and their parents throughout their voyage from England to New Zealand.
  • Open the shutter doors and discover more about medicine, games, and food on a typical sea voyage.
  • Read about the conman who charged passengers to see the equator through his telescope (this information is found just outside, opposite the computer interactives).
  • Re-enact an equator-crossing party.
  • Use the computer interactives to test your luck and skill as a ship captain sailing to New Zealand.

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What should I know about this?

  • Most migrants on ships to New Zealand received a subsidised or free passage from an emigration company or the New Zealand government. They didn’t have cabins, but lived in bunkrooms below deck. They did all their own cleaning and washing, and were allocated ship chores.
  • Ill health was a big problem below deck in steerage class, where it was often dark, damp and crawling with ticks, cockroaches, and rats. There were outbreaks of serious diseases, such as measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhoid, small pox, and tuberculosis
  • The youngest passengers were often the hardest hit. Wrote Elizabeth Yeoman, Passenger on the John Duncan, in 1863: ‘Another beautiful boy died at 4 this morning…God grant that it will be the last…the Dr. ordered everyone down stairs to go on deck while the place was fumigated with hot vinegar and cayenne pepper’.
  • However, not all migrant ships were disease-ridden. If they struck good weather, the passengers might not fare too badly. In fact, there was even organised leisure time, such as dancing on deck. ‘Everyone are on deck wither playing at Cards Dominoes or Draughts which seems to put a lot of them into ecstacys as they are in a Roaring mood’ wrote William Smith, passenger on the Nelson, 1862. However, the various social classes usually spent their leisure time apart, and did different activities. 

Possible topics for discussion

  • Why did people want to come to New Zealand in the nineteenth century?

There are many reasons people wanted to emigrate to New Zealand, despite the difficult voyage.  Some longed to escape the poverty and desperation of their homelands  or the law. Some emigrants were attracted by the propaganda put out by the New Zealand Company about a clean, green prosperous new country, where people could start all over again. Others who came were whalers, sealers, missionaries, or gold diggers.

  • Do you think immigrants in the nineteenth century would have liked it here? Why/why not?

Encourage students to look at both the positives and negatives associated with such a big move.

  • What would happen if someone got an illness like measles on the voyage?

 The ship’s surgeon would dispense ‘medical comforts’ such as stout, sherry, sago, port, milk, and preserved potato. Often, diseased passengers would be quarantined to another part of the ship. ‘Almost all seasick again…ordered some bucketfuls of gruel and brandy for the females, some having taken nothing since our departure’ wrote Henry Weekes, surgeon on the William Bryan, 1840.

  • How long would the journey have taken?

About sixth months. Have students come up with examples of other things that take six months for perspectiv. Suggestions may be 2 terms at school, or rugby or soccer season,

  • Would the voyage have been better if you were rich?

Discuss such things as cabin space, quality of food, amount of luggage and privacy.

  • What has changed about crossing the world in the last hundred years?

Examples may inculde speed, comfort, medical care, and cost.

  • If you were to leave your home behind and could take only one suitcase, what would you pack?
  • How many students can you fit on the bunk?

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Further information

Related Material

Explore the rest of the Passports exhibition, Level 4  it tells the stories of immigrants who have come to New Zealand from countries ariund the world over the last two hundred years. Don't miss the ship's medicine chest. 

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