The sailing ship Avalanche is remembered in Whanganui as the ill-fated vessel that sank in 1877 with Margaret Watt and 20 other Whanganui residents on board.
Prior to that, the 1161-ton vessel, built in Aberdeen in 1874, had made three successful round-trips between England and Aotearoa, bringing many colonists to the other side of the world.
William Deacon Squire, with his wife Elizabeth Mary, was aboard the first journey in 1874.
He kept a diary as they made their way to their new home, recording illnesses, weather, the food and accommodation, activities aboard the ship, and at one point describes Neptune and his spouse coming aboard to judge the crew.
He had witnessed the "Order of Neptune" ceremony, thought to have been practised by Western sailors for about 400 years.
This ceremony occurs when the ship crosses the equator and marks a sailor's transition from a pollywog, or landlubber, to a shellback, or experienced seaman.
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The role of Neptune and his court would be played by the experienced shellbacks in appropriate costumes, often with the ship's captain playing Neptune.
The ceremony varied from ship to ship but usually began with the Aquatic Court appearing the night before crossing the equator.
The next day the pollywogs were made to entertain them with songs, dance, and skits, eat inedible food and complete a series of challenges, before bathing in sea water and being declared shellbacks.
Squire recorded the ceremony on board the Avalanche beginning with the arrival of King Neptune and his spouse on Sunday, October 10.
They stayed only a short while and reappeared the next day with their full court including a doctor, barber, clerk and constables.
The crew had used a large piece of sailcloth to build a substantial tub which was filled with seawater, and had built a platform at the end for the royal court to watch proceedings.
He described the tools of the ceremony: "A … tin razor about 18in long, pills fresh from the fold (we had sheep on board), a mixture of flour and some liquid which to judge by their grimaces must have been intolerably nasty, and a smelling bottle."
The pollywog was seated before the court and inspected by the doctor who prescribed one or two "pills" (sheep droppings) and a dose of the flour medicine, the former to be swallowed and the latter to be spat out. The smelling bottle was then "applied by bringing it into violent contact with the nasal organ".
The pollywog was questioned and every time he opened his mouth to answer it was filled with soap suds.
He then had his face, neck and head covered with suds and was forcibly shaved with the tin razor, often resulting in cuts or gouges in the skin.
After the scraping he was then "flung and dragged backward head over heels into the bath where he is thrown about violently until the breath is about knocked out of him and the blood & soap washed away".
When all pollywogs had gone through the ceremony the entire crew plunged into the bath, and the night went on into celebration with singing, dancing, and recitations before Neptune left the ship in a flaming tar barrel.
It must have been quite a sight for a landlubber!
• Sandi Black is the archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.