There was great excitement in early 1867 in Hawke's Bay when it was announced "that emigration on a somewhat large scale was about to take place to this province".
Transporting these immigrants from London to Napier was the Montmorency.
The immigrants were selected by London-based, Miss Maria Rye (1829-1903), a highly capable and determined English woman, who took an interest in underemployment of women.
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In London in 1859, she had opened a law engrossing office to train women in drafting and copying legal and other documents. Deciding that this small-scale approach would not adequately solve the problem of women's underemployment, she began to advocate emigration, particularly for working class women.
Miss Rye brought to Otago in March 1863 her first immigration assisted group of over 100 females to find work in New Zealand. They attracted a great deal of attention as they disembarked "and appeared to be of a superior class, and they all looked healthy and in good spirits".
Upon inspecting the accommodation barracks for the women in Dunedin, Miss Rye confronted the authorities over the unclean conditions. She was not afraid during her time in New Zealand to tell men what she thought, which made her unpopular with some.
Miss Rye was criticised that all she had managed to do in Otago was to solve the marriage problem, not a domestic servant one: "These emigrants had gone out with a main view to balance the disproportion of the sexes in Otago, which did not help the case."
In other words, in England there was a shortage of men, and in New Zealand, a shortage of women.
Some believed that Miss Rye "… exports wives to the ends of the earth, and there are visible to the eye countless shoals of young women, with pork pie hats and short petticoats ‒ all the recognised symbols of a vacant heart".
Miss Rye would spend 18 months in New Zealand, including visiting Hawke's Bay where she urged the settlers to establish a school here, including a girls' boarding school, for which she undertook to find teachers for.
Her visit was welcomed to "secure for this province the benefit of her indefatigable and latterly appreciated, exertions in the cause of female immigration".
Upon arriving back in England in 1866, she organised under an arrangement with the Hawke's Bay Provincial Government for assisted immigration (and others in New Zealand), she selected single women who would make suitable domestic servants, in addition to recruiting single men and families.
The Montmorency would arrive in March 1867, with 46 single women, 22 single men and 30 families "all selected with great care" by Miss Rye. This would be the last contact she had with New Zealand immigration, as she would then promote Canada as an immigrant destination.
A report from London when the Montmorency sailed, said "All of the female passengers, we are assured, have been virtuous and industrious; for the most part they are respectable girls, reduced to distress by the death of one parent or both. The promoters of the emigration rightly think that such valuable opportunities ought to be offered".
G T Fannin, Government Immigration Clerk, Napier, advertised on their arrival that he would be "glad to receive orders for servants, male or female" from the Montmorency.
One of the single women immigrants on the Montmorency wrote to the Hawke's Bay Herald in November 1867 saying that she had been misled by Miss Rye as to the amount of wages paid here and "it is a well-known fact that clothing is much dearer in this province than in any other, and wages lower … I am determined to leave Napier for some other province, for eight shillings per week is not sufficient".
This got a reply from another one of the single women, who said that upon arriving "the majority of the single girls were engaged, and none above the age of 14 had less than 10 shillings a week".
She continued, to say, amongst other things, "Now I do find clothes are dear here and perhaps I do not find everything equal to my idea of what it would be; still, I can manage to pay my passage, keep myself in tidy clothes, and hope soon to send money to my friends at home, though I am only (signed) ANOTHER HOUSEMAID".
The Montmorency had arrived in the Ahuriri roadstead on March 25 from the 104-day voyage, where it put down its anchor to unload the passengers and its cargo.
At around 1am on the 28th, a sentry at the barracks on Scinde Island noted the ship was on fire and gave the alarm.
The harbour authorities had no firefighting gear, so the flames took hold of the boat – and being a still night, went straight up from the forward hatchway – where the fire started.
At midnight the night watch on board the ship had discovered smoke coming from the hatch, and alerted the first officer and crew, and "Every practical measure was taken to extinguish, or stay the progress of the fire, but in vain."
The crew abandoned ship at 1.30am but stayed close by to watch the Montmorency become an entire wreck, being burned to the waterline.
In addition to the cargo being lost, a large amount of valuable property was lost by the passengers, including title deeds and heirlooms. The captain lost all of "his earthly goods" which were uninsured.
The Star of the South towed what was left of the Montmorency to the beach.
John Stuart auctioned off what remained of her salvage which was listed as her hull and materials, anchors, chains, ship's boats, cargo on the vessel and "A lot of iron tanks" (which had floated from the ship).
All items sold for a total of £350 (2019: $39,000). More recovered cargo was sold in May.
An inquiry could not find a cause for the fire.
In 1967, a ship's anchor from the Montmorency was recovered by divers and is placed at the entrance to Spriggs Park, Ahuriri.
Signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are available at $65 from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell Street South, Hastings and Wardini Books Havelock North and Napier.
Michael Fowler (email@example.com) is contract history researcher and writer.