On tour with the “Originals”.

Billy Stead, vice captain of the 1905/6 “Original” All Blacks, had been asked to write a diary of the tour for the Southland Times. He did so, recording the observations of a New Zealander visiting Britain for the first time, when the British Empire was at its peak and New Zealand was an obedient and grateful colony. This excerpt is Stead’s record of the first day of the trip “Home”.

Billy Stead, vice captain of the 1905 All Blacks kept a diary of the tour for the Southland Times.

Monday, July 31

Seeing that the Rimutaka was to be our home for the next 45 days, I got early on the scene, and, through the kindness of the chief engineer, was shown all round our home. She is steel built, by Denny Bros, 460 feet long, and averages 12.2 knots per hour. The engine-room is lofty and specially built for ventilation and floor space. Everything is in duplicate. Two pumps, one for filling the boilers and one for pumping water forrard to the refrigerator, are marvels of ingenuity and either of them could be put in an ordinary travelling trunk. Another small indicator, which was pointed out, was for the purpose of preventing the engines from racing when the propeller is out of the water.

The shafts which drive the twin screws are 220 feet long, the entire weight of each of which rests on seven compact springs. My visit through the shaft tunnel along to the propellor was made the more interesting from the fact that the chief, my escort, was the man on whom all the burden fell when the ill-fated Waikato broke her tail-shaft two days out from Capetown.* His explanation of all that he had to do during the 20 days and nights to ship the new tail-shaft and propellor was intensely interesting, told, as it was, with the modesty and courtesy, which I have since found characteristic of all the officers of this fine boat.

The visit to the refrigerator was what one would expect, a cold one. Our boat holds an immense cargo of frozen mutton and beef. The stoke hole on which, as the chief very aptly remarked, the whole “coffee-mill” absolutely depends, did not strike me as representing all that is bright and happy in this life. The four stokers, who are backed up by seven trimmers, have the care of 16 furnaces, heating four boilers, on their hands. The heat down here, with the glass on the bridge at zero, is at an average of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The furnaces eat up 85 tons of Westport or 60 of Welsh per day. To those who have perhaps had a doubt as to how coal companies pay a dividend, it will come as an eye-opener to learn that this steamer pays £130,000 a year in coal alone.

There are four galleys: Saloon, second saloon, steerage and ship’s galley. Stores are all served out to each galley on an average per man. In the second saloon, where we live, everybody is on the best of terms. In fact, we are like one large family, especially at meals, which no one seems to care to miss. The food is plain, but there is plenty of it and it is well cooked.

The sleeping conditions are of the best, the team occupying 4-berth cabins along the whole starboard quarter of the saloon, with three bathrooms, lavatories, etc. With this small description of our dwelling place I will pass on to how we pass time, train, etc., aboard ship.

Monday, July 31. – You will notice we have two Mondays this week. We gain from 18 minutes upwards per day as we proceed eastwards, which would eventually land us in the Old Land a day ahead, so we put in the extra day at the start. A little diversion was caused today by the appearance of three stowaways, who had stowed away in Wellington and had passed three nights and two days in the boat on the upper boat-deck exposed to hail and rain for the whole of the previous night. Despite their abject, starved appearance, one could not resist the laugh which was accorded them. They proved to be Auckland lads, who had stowed away in coasters to Wellington and, tempted by the success which attended this their first venture, boarded our ship with the intention of barracking for us in the Home Country. They were given work to do, and as Monte Video, our first port of call, refuses to take stowaways, they will have to be taken on to Plymouth.

The match committee drafted out the following regulations:- Physical drill, 7.45am; bath, 8.15am; breakfast, 8.30; running and sprints (backs), scrum formations (forwards), 10am; every alternate afternoon, 3pm, physical exercises, boxing, Sandow developers; 5pm, discussion of rules.”

* A New Zealand Shipping Company steamship on its way from London to Wellington in 1899. The Waikato’s propellor shaft snapped and the ship drifted in the Indian Ocean for 14 weeks before being found and towed to Freemantle.

From “Billy’s Trip Home” published 2005 by NZ Sports Hall of Fame p. 8-9.