Posted by: preshist | November 13, 2010

CHAPLAINS ON ASSISTED IMMIGRANT VOYAGES TO NEW ZEALAND

Along with most Archives we have that thing called ‘back log’. It comes in many forms and the one I am working on at present is inputting those collections not yet in the electronic catalogue we call “ARK”. Temptation is always present when I undertake this task – should I enter what information is on these very early and poorly described lists as is, which of course would take far less time, or should I give a fuller description. Well I can’t help but take the second choice and naturally it takes far longer, ultimately however, I discover material I was unaware of.

Having just completed the Chaplains’ Committee I have to talk about it! The Committee was formed in 1912 to oversee the function of Chaplain to the armed forces within New Zealand and Overseas and to liaise with Government where necessary. Sadly, the World War 1 material other then the Minute Books has been destroyed. Minute Books to the early church administrators were the ‘be all and end all’ of an historical collection. Oh, if they only knew how we so want to read that early ‘stuff’ today! Never mind, the World War 2 material exists including letters from Chaplains serving overseas and in New Zealand. It is well worth spending some time researching.

Immigrant ship arriving at Wellington

The material relating to Chaplaincy on the Immigrant ships between Britain and New Zealand was new to me. The NZ Government’s Labour Department request to provide Chaplains on the numerous trips during the 1950s and 1960s was keenly sought after no doubt because a free passage in exchange for their services suited many.

The first Presbyterian chaplain appointed was the Rev. J.C.  McCaw on the ‘Atlantis’ in mid-1948 and the Rev. Keith Cree in 1949.  There was a lull until the TSS Captain Cook and Captain Hudson came into service in 1952. As is often the case no research appears to mention the church’s contribution to the sea voyages. Of course that can mean several things – but we leave that judgement for the Chaplain who sailed on the 21st voyage of the ‘TSS Captain Cook’, the V. Rev. Dr. Ian Fraser.

The Rev. Dr. Ian Fraser

A report from Ian Fraser among Committee papers gives us a little insight into the role the Chaplains played. Ian sailed on the return trip of  TSS Captain Cook to  Glasgow via Djakarta, Indonesia in early 1958 where 1080 Indonesians boarded and sailed forAmsterdam.    As the ship was to have a refit Ian had a four month wait for the return trip to New Zealand.   He took the opportunity to attend the General Assemblies of England and Scotland and the World Council of Churches Conference on Refugees.  The two month tour around Europe assessing the Refugee situation left a deep impression which he wrote about in a small book Journey into the Shadows. 

 The return sailing from Glasgow left 17 June being joined by two other chaplains, an Anglican and Roman Catholic whom he knew. The total passenger number is not noted but he makes mention of 286 children under the age of 12 years and 169 school age children 5-15 years.

Sunday worship took place morning and evening each week and was shared among the three chaplains. Whether it is an indication of overuse or the fact that the hymn books were initially second hand, they were falling apart with no complete copy causing some frustration among the congregation. The ‘Padres’ Hour’ which was an established part of the programme proved unsuccessful from Ian’s perspective but by mingling among the passengers he found a more genuine means of approach and response.

Refugees at Friedland Transit Camp, near Göttingen in West Germany. The maximum number of refugees resident at any one time was as many as 10,000 but arrangements were generally made to send them onto other camps within 48 hours.

Besides the typical Chaplain duties of crisis counselling, worship and assisting the Government Escort Office they shared in Shipboard life by acting as judges for debates and competitions, participated in concerts and gave lectures. Ian’s lecture on ‘The Iron Curtain and Refugees’ accompanied with photographs received a great reception. Once back in New Zealand Ian Fraser was instrumental in bringing out a group of elderly ‘white Russians’ and assisted them into Nansen Home in Lower Hutt.

Just how successful was the work of an Immigrant Ship chaplain? From a survey taken at the outset of the voyage, only 20% of passengers appeared to have any real religious interest and they gave the chaplains their full support. The bulk of the papssengers had little interest in theings religious.  Nevertheless, Ian notes, ”I feel that in an invisible way the presence of the padres has made a very valuable contribution to these new settlers.”

by Yvonne

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