Robert Chisholm, a businessman and former mayor of Dunedin, produced one of the few identified descriptions of voyaging on the Wimmera, and which first appeared in serialised form in a New Zealand newspaper and later in book form as ‘A holiday canter round the globe’.

A Holiday Canter Round the Globe - front cover of Robert Chisholm book of his travels

In March 1905 Chisholm, his wife, and daughter, embarked the Wimmera at the beginning of a world tour. Chisholm, who was a native of Kinross shire, Scotland, was a prominent citizen of Dunedin, not only for his term in public office but also for his involvement and office-holding in a number of local fora, including member and former chairman of the Otago Benevolent Institution, chairman of the United Districts Charitable Aid Board and the Otago District Hospital Board, member and former resident of the Otago Rugby Union, visiting Justice of the Dunedin Gaol, and Chairman of the Retailers’ Association. He had been appointed one of the three Royal Commissioners in connection with the visit to Dunedin in June 1901 of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. In connection with the former, the citizenry of Dunedin commissioned a full life-size portrait of Richard Chisholm, to be hung in the Town Hall. In his own business, he was managing-director of the firm of Scoullar and Chisholm Limited.

R. Chisholm, esquire. Portrait of Robert Chisholm
“R. CHISHOLM ESQre”

Portrait of Robert Chisholm by George E. Butler, hung in the Council Chambers, Dunedin Municipal Chambers
Photo courtesy of Prue Milbank, Archivist, Dunedin City Council

Robert Chisholm was the 25th mayor of Dunedin and served in this role between 1899 and 1901.

Well-versed in public communication, Chisholm later provided his friends and the citizens of Dunedin with a narrative of his travels and experiences through a column in the local Otago Witness. Under the heading ‘Around the World’, the first column appeared on the 8th of November 1905. Among other things, it provides us with an account of the initial leg of his tour, from his departure from New Zealand aboard the S.S. Wimmera until his arrival in Melbourne.

All good-byes and farewells over, on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon the s.s. Wimmera loosed her moorings at the tongue wharf, Dunedin, and in water placid as a pond glided down the picturesque harbour, amid the shouts of God-speed and waving of handkerchiefs by those whom years of friendship had drawn from their comfortable homes to wish the travellers a pleasant and prosperous voyage and safe return. Bounding Cape Saunders, all Nature seemed to bear the impress of that “day of rest.” The sea was calm, and the little wind gently wafted over the Peninsula rippled the surface, and gave it the appearance of a magnificent sheet of perfectly ruled glass. The sun was setting behind Flagstaff and Mount Cargill when we passed the Ocean Beach, these hills throwing their long shadows like a huge dark curtain over Dunedin and suburbs, obscuring the view of these places of interest we hoped to see for the last time prior to our return. The Bluff was reached early in the morning, when we found ourselves fast to the wharf, with a stiff “south-wester” blowing, and thick, drizzling rain. A few passengers who had come by express train from Dunedin joined us here, and after discharging and taking in cargo we left for Milford Sound in the evening [Monday 20 March 1905]. The morning broke with a comparatively calm sea and but little wind, the Wimmera steaming up the West Coast with the prominent headlands and sounds full in view, the majestic mountain tops penetrating the dark clouds that hung like a pall from the sky above; while here and there, in graceful form, the white fleecy clouds were seen rising and creeping athwart their sombre sides.

Rounding the point and steaming for the entrance to Milford Sound, the sight that presented itself was one of unparalleled splendour, equalled only by the magnificence of the scene that bursts upon the view as one proceeds to the head of the sound. On both sides the irregular precipitous mountains, rising out of the deep, dark, blue ocean, towered up to a height of 6000ft to 7000 ft and reflected their giant forms in the mirrored waters. The feeling of admiration, awe, and wonder that creeps across one’s soul as he gazes on such a scene is intensified when the echo from the cannon fired on board the steamer, like distant thunder or roar of artillery, rolls along “the mountain defiles from side to side, until in the distance it dies away like the gentle sighing of the summer breeze. Here the camera was called into requisition, and a number of snapshots taken to remind us of a pleasant visit under exceptionally favourable circumstances to one of the grandest sounds for which the West Coast of New Zealand is famed. Emerging from the Sound the scene changed. A south-west wind commenced to blow, and the ocean, which before was placid as a mill pond, rose and danced like myriad nymphs dressed in blue, with long, fleecy, white tresses floating in the breeze. The gradual disappearance from the deck of many of those who a short time before had been drinking in the marvellous sights of Milford, Sound, and the pitching and tossing of our good steamer evidenced that we were running into stormy weather; and as morning broke, and the lively air of the cornet sounded the invitation to the first meal, the few occupied seats at the table proved conclusively that the ears of most of those on board were deaf, their appetites dead, to the usual charm of the cornet-steward’s musical appeal. That dreaded enemy to comfortable travelling by sea was busy, and only the berths and cabins of the s.s Wimmera can truly tell how utterly incapable our animal organism is under such conditions of retaining all that by perfectly legitimate means it has acquired, and how useless to control its complicated mechanism as you would fain wish. The person whose inventive faculty can suggest a certain cure for sea-sickness will, in addition to amassing a fortune in an incredibly short space of time, be regarded as the voyager’s benefactor, and will earn the lasting gratitude of all who have occasion to travel by sea. The condition of things did not improve for the better until we got under the lee of the Tasmanian headlands.

Sailing up the harbour to Hobart in the early morning was a pleasant relief to the rough experience of the few previous days, and most of the passengers prepared for going ashore in a good spirit to various places of interest in the pretty little town of Hobart, which in many respects resembles our own City of Dunedin, although behind it in many things, notably its electric tram system. The guage is narrow and the line rough, while the cars (in many cases double-deckers) are neither so handsome nor so comfortable. Boarding one of these we ran out as far as Sandy Bay, and had a good view of the town and suburbs. The number of buildings and dwellings in course of erection and recently finished gave evidence of prosperity, and the blaze of colour in the gardens in front of the pretty, quaint residences with their tile and shingle roofs, gives an air of attraction and lends a beauty to the whole town. Here, lying in the harbour, for the first time we saw the stately s.s. Orontes, which we are to join in Melbourne, and which is to convey us to our destination. Leaving Hobart at noon, and proceeding down the Derwent River and harbour, the most striking feature of the landscape is the numerous peculiarly-shaped rocks which like mighty cathedral organ pipes tower majestically upwards to various heights. From here to Melbourne the run was accomplished under most favourable circumstances, the weather being everything that could be desired, affording a fine opportunity of seeing the rip at Port Phillip Heads, where the ill-fated s.s. Australia went ashore and now lies a hopeless wreck, with a strong list to starboard. In stormy weather this is a difficult point to navigate owing to the strong cross currents that raise and toss the waters into a seething, boiling mass, from which it receives its appropriate name. Night fell as we entered the Yarra, and nothing could be seen from the deck but the bright lights from the distant city, which we reached about 9 o’clock.

"where the ill-fated s.s. Australia went ashore"
Detail from postcard. Author's Collection.
“where the ill-fated s.s. Australia went ashore”
Detail from postcard. Author’s Collection.

Reference:

Chisholm, R. A Holiday Canter Round the Globe: A Series of Mental Snapshots, Together with a Few Photographic Snapshots. Dunedin, N.Z.: The Evening Star, 1906.


© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021