Pioneer Arrivals
Ship, Model

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Record 29/62
Copyright Marlborough Museum - Marlborough Historical Society Inc
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Collection Stace
Date 1847
Description Sailing ship model of Ralph Bernal.

On 23 February 1959, MHS Minute Book 2, page 87, has the following: "Sailing ship in a glass case. Mention was made of this model given by Mowat Family (Miss Stace) to Blenheim Borough Council". Norm Brayshaw has written, "Library" beside this entry in the minutes, indicating that the model was on display in the Blenheim Public Library in Alfred Street in 1960 when he made his list of donated goods and their whereabouts. It appears that it arrived earlier than this first mention in 1959, but there is nothing about it in the previous minutes, therefore, 1959 is used as its accession number.

Because it was donated by the Mowat family via Miss Stace, the ship mentioned in the minutes in 1959 is most likely to be the model of the 'Ralph Bernal' begun to be made for Alexander Mowat in 1847.

The donor, Miss Bertha Stace (1881-1981), is a daughter of Henry Joseph Stace (the elder) and Helen McRae nee Mowat and a grand-daughter of Alexander Mowat for whom the model was made.

Some of the unsourced information on display boards with the model has been corrected by Jenny Pierson [see notes] and all the information from those boards is typed below:

The original immigrant and supply ship the barque 'Ralph Bernal', A.I. 500 tons burthen [the newspapers give the weight variously from 314 to 450 tons, however, the manifesto gives 500].
The ship was built in Sunderland, England in 1835 for the McKarnes Company with its first Captain being Commander Bridges. In 1845 it was sold to MacLaren and Company with Mr. George MacLaren as its Commander. She was described as a remarkably fast sailing ship with fine lines and first rate accommodation for its fare paying immigrants. On all its immigrant and supply trips to the new colony of New Zealand it always carried an experienced surgeon.

The barque 'Ralph Bernal' made its first trip to New Zealand under charter or engagement to the New Zealand Company in 1846. On this first trip it left the port of Deal in England on December 6, 1845 and arrived at the port of Nelson on June 10, 1846, having taken six months to complete the voyage via Plymouth, the Cape of Good Hope and Australia.

On this first voyage to New Zealand she carried 14 immigrants as well as general cargo which included military hardware, alcohol and articles of clothing which were sold at the ports of Nelson, Wellington, New Plymouth and Auckland. The ship sailed from Nelson for Wellington on 26th June 1846 where the 14 immigrants disembarked.

On her second voyage to New Zealand she departed the Downs, England on 23 July 1847 with about 17 immigrants onboard and arrived at the Port of Nelson on 3 December 1847. All the immigrants disembarked at various ports around New Zealand. On this voyage to New Zealand, she made two trips to Australia, the first time leaving Auckland on 10 April, 1848 and arriving at Sydney on 16 May, 1848, taking 36 days to cross the Tasman Sea.

On the return trip she left Sydney on 30 May, 1848 and arrived at Nelson on 26 June 1848, taking just 27 days to complete the crossing with her cargo of sheep and cattle.

She then sailed from Nelson on 11 July 1848 for the second trip to Sydney. After leaving Sydney for her return trip to England she ran into a violent storm in the Tasman Sea, sustaining substantial damage which required her to put in to Nelson for repairs, where, leaking badly, she arrived on 20 October 1848. She was immediately put on the makeshift slip and just six days later was ready to sail to England.

The 'Ralph Bernal' subsequently visited New Zealand under new ownership in March 1850, and again in February 1851 on her voyages between Sydney and San Francisco.

On the second voyage from England in July 1847 the first officer on the 'Ralph Bernal' was Alexander Mowat who, along with his wife, later became the owner of Altimarloch Station in the Awatere Valley.

The Model of the 'Ralph Bernal'.
The intricate craftsmanship put into the construction of this historical model of the immigrant and supply ship 'Ralph Bernal' was first started in 1847 by the bosun and the ship's carpenter [whose names are unknown in 2009] while on the second voyage from England to New Zealand on board the original named ship.

The model was originally made from general surplus, bits and pieces of teak, oak and any other timber that could be scrounged or found around the original ship. The bosun made the model of the 'Ralph Bernal' for the first officer, Alexander Mowat, with whom he had become good friends.

In October1848, while the original ship was undergoing repairs in Nelson, Alexander Mowat met many Nelson settlers and his courtship with Marjory McRae began. To complete his contract with the ship owners Alexander Mowat had to return to England in the 'Ralph Bernal' where he received his discharge. He was back in Nelson in 1849 and on 22 January 1850 at Pitfure (now Wakefield) he married Marjory (May) McRae, the fourth daughter of George and Helen McRae.

In 1850 members of the McRae family were already living in the Awatere Valley, Wairau and shortly after their marriage Alexander and Marjory Mowat, along with the partially completed model of the 'Ralph Bernal', joined them. Here they farmed an 80 acre block, the beginnings of Altimarloch Station, awarded to Marjory McRae while she was living in Nelson.

The model of the 'Ralph Bernal' was completed at Altimarloch Station by the bosun and the ship's carpenter, both of whom had accompanied Mowat and his wife from Nelson to the Awatere to help with building a house for the Mowats to live in. Until the early 1900s the 1.8 metre model of the first officer's ship stood proud in the entrance hall at Altimarloch homestead.

At some stage the Mowat family gave the model to the Library museum situated in the old Blenheim Borough Council Chambers in Alfred Street, Blenheim. It remained on display there for many years. Once the new library was built on the corner of Alfred and Seymour Streets and opened in 1958 the model ship was transferred there, where it remained on display until sometime in the 1960s.

From the public library it found its way to Brayshaw Park where it was stored and displayed in Parker's Music Shop in the Beavertown complex until 1989.

Somewhere along the line somebody made a rough attempt to restore the model by covering it with layers of thick black shellac type lacquer and they changed its name to 'Highland Mary'. [A google search in March 2009 finds two ships of this name, one plying between Ireland and the United States in 1801 and another between England and the United States in 1848, 1850 and 1852]. Today it remains a complete mystery as to who did this restoration work, when it was done and why it was done. Nor is it known what the significance of the name change is.

When the late Peter Mowat came looking for the model's whereabouts at Brayshaw Park, he was able to confirm that the ship named the 'Highland Mary', on display in Parker's Music Shop, was in fact the original model of the 'Ralph Bernal'.

And sure enough, when model boat builder and restorer, Bob Ranger, began the mammoth task of restoration, he found beneath the thick layers of black lacquer the remnants of the name, 'Ralph Bernal'.

Just over three years and six months and some 3700 hours have gone into the restoration and refurbishing of this model. Throughout the restoration project the model still had to look its age of 140 plus years. Likewise, Bob had to avoid the use of modern materials and he had to use those materials which matched the original construction. As part of the restoration process, Bob chose to set shortened sails as though the great ship was running with a big sea around Cape Horn. Bob Ranger finished the restoration work in January 1993 after first starting in June 1989.

The style in vogue at the time the model ship was built was the Victorian era and Mr Leo Gilchrist has crafted the wooden display case accordingly. The rimu timber for the case came from the old Orange Hall (Children's theatre) which once stood in Main Street next door to the present [2009] Blenheim Police Station. What became of the original glass case that it was donated with and displayed in prior to its arrival at Brayshaw Park is unknown. In 2009 Mr. Gilchrist's case is being used for another display and a new case is to be made for the 'Ralph Bernal'. In the meantime it is housed in a make-do case and displayed in the Marlborough Museum Theatre.

As far as can be ascertained through research and confirmed by leading model boat builders throughout New Zealand, this model is possibly the oldest model ship in New Zealand, which certainly puts the historical significance of this display in an extremely high category.

An undated article in NZ Legacy, Volume 18, Number 1, page 15, adds:
"More on the 'Ralph Bernal'.
"Sandra Clarke, a former Federation Executive member, follows up on the history of the "Ralph Bernal".

"As a descendant of Alexander Mowat I have been brought up with the stories of the Ralph Bernal model and the Mowat property called Altimarloch. In the last few years I have made an effort to try to document the history of the family, so can add a few pieces of information to Nancy Farnell's story [vol.17 no.1].

"In fact, the Altimarloch homestead block was awarded to Marjory Mowat in her own right as a New Zealand Company settler. She was one of five women in the Nelson province to exercise the right.

"Marjorie was only a teenager when she arrived in Nelson with her parents and family in 1842. It is possible that she had met her future husband, Alexander Mowat, in Wellington, when he visited on the ship Agnes. Marjorie was at that time living with her sister Catherine and Donald Drummond on the farm they managed in Lyall Bay. As new settlers were unable to buy land in the 1840s at Nelson, George McRae took up a lease of Lake Station, Rotoiti, in 1848 and Marjorie managed that property with the assistance of her brother William until Alexander Mowat "came ashore". After Alexander's marriage to Marjorie, he sold the stock on Lake Station before the couple shifted to the Wairau.

"In 1990(sic), when Bob Ranger commenced the restoration of the 'Ralph Bernal' model, it actually had the name 'Highland Mary' painted on it (see article in The Marlborough Express 1 February 1993). The explanation of that name could be as follows. The Altimarloch property was owned and farmed by Marjory Mowat and then by her son, K.P. Mowat, until 30 June 1906, when it was sold to A.J. Farmer. On 1 May 1907 Alick McRae bought the property, which was adjacent to his own, called Aotea, where he had been living since 1883. Alick McRae was in fact Marjory Mowat's nephew and married to Marjory's daughter Kate.

"Altimarloch was finally sold out of the Mowat family in 1935, two years after Alick McRae's death. I would like to suggest that the model of the 'Ralph Bernal' actually stayed at Altimarloch until the 1930s, when it was transferred to the Blenheim Public Library. I would also like to hazard a guess that the renaming of the 'Highland Mary' took place during the McRae ownership of Altimarloch for the following reason: Marjory Mowat's mother, Helen McRae (nee Sutherland), had close family connections with the Waiapu settlers from Nova Scotia who settled in North Auckland. Further research may prove that the 'Highland Mary' was one of the ships included in the migration to New Zealand.

"There are other objects relating to the ship the 'Ralph Bernal' still available in New Zealand. Mowat's sextant was given to a museum in Wellington, while his two telescopes are held in the estate of my late brother Tony Clarke. Mowat's navigational globe [see related for his celestial globe] is still retained by another descendant.

"Something also needs to be said about Captain McLaren [George MacLaren], who owned the ship. His cousin Sophia Wright was living at Croiselles Harbour in 1850 and had a parcel consigned to her via Mowat at the Beaver. The Beaver at that time referred to the river mouth port which served Marlborough until the 1855 earthquake allowed navigation right up to the present site of Blenheim.

"I am sure a lot more could be said about passengers brought out by the 'Ralph Bernal'. For example, John D. Ormond (1832-1917) came out to New Zealand on the ship as a 16-year-old to take up the role of assistant to Governor E.J. Eyre. In later life he was a very well-known settler and politician in Hawkes Bay.

"[Much of the above information comes from privately-held papers. However, the title of the property in the name of Marjory Mowat can be checked in LINZ records.]"

"Copy of the Manifesto to Emigrants Travelling to New Zealand.
"Line of Packets to New Zealand or Wellingotn, Nelson, Auckland and New Plymouth, under engagement to the New Zealand company to sail punctually on the 10th July 1847, the fine and remarkably fast sailing ship, Ralph Bernal, A.1. 500(sic) Tons Burthen, George MacLaren, Commander. The Ralph Bernal is under engagement to the New Zealand Company to sail punctually on the above date.

"Her accommodations are of first-rate order, and she carries an experienced surgeon. These vessels sail punctually to the day, consequently no freight will be received on board later than the morning preceding the day of sailing.

"The dietary of the Ralph Bernal is under the regulation and inspection of the Company. The utmost reliance may therefore be felt by passengers proceeding to New Zealand that their comforts in this respect will be most carefully regarded.

"The character which these Packets have acquired for superior accommodations, and as being the only ships to sail to New Zealand that have ever sailed with punctuality, will be strictly maintained, thereby preventing the great expense to passengers of delay in London, and offering to Shippers the certainty of the first market in the Colony.

"Ship's Regulations.
1. Each passenger is expected to pay one half of the passage money on securing his berth, or it cannot be reserved for him.

2. The first applicants will have the choice of cabins.

3. Each passenger will be allowed half a ton, or 20 cubic feet space in the hold, of luggage only, the remainder (if any) to be paid for at the current rate of freight.

4. Passengers will embark at Gravesend the day following the ship's leaving the docks. They can, however, embark their baggage whilst the ship is still in the docks.

5. Wines, beer, etc. of the best quality are put on board, and may be obtained of the steward, at a moderate specified tariff. But for the better preservation of order in the ship, the quantity so supplied will be under regulation of the Commander. No private supply of spirits will on any account be allowed to be taken into the cabins.

6. Any disputes that may arise to be decided by the Company's Inspecting Officer.

"For further informaiton apply to the Secretary of the New Zealand Company, or to G.B. Earp, New Zealand House, and for freight or passage to Henry H. Willis & Co., Insurance Brokers, etc., 3 Crosby Square, Bishopsgate Street."

"Cabin Dietary Scale for One Adult Per Week.
Chief Cabin Fore Cabin
Biscuit 5 lb 5 lb best 2nd bread.
Flour 2 lb 3 lb
India Beef 1 lb 1 lb
Prime Mess Pork 1 lb 1 lb
Fresh or Preserved meats 4 lb 1 lb preserved meat
Fish or Tripe 1 lb -
Rice 1 lb 1 lb
Raisins lb lb
Suet 3 oz 3 oz
Barley 1 lb 1 lb
Peas pint 1 pint
Tea 2 oz 1oz (Best Congou)
Coffee 3 oz 1 oz
Sugar 1 lb lb
Cheese 7 oz -
Butter 7 oz 7 oz
Vinegar or Pickles 1 gill pint
Mustard etc. as required pint
Water 21 quarts 21 quarts

"Potatoes (to be used daily, as long as they will keep) 3 lb - a portion of these to be Edward's Preserved Potatoes. Provisions are put on board according to the above scale for six months, averaging upwards of 20 lbs per adult per week. No trouble whatever is given to passengers on apportioning the fare, which is daily cooked for them, the regulations in this respect being the same as in the former high-priced ships.

"For children, an equivalent quantity of flour, rice, raisins, suet, and sugar, will be substituted for salt meat if required.

"Chief Cabin Fare for two persons in the same cabin is 35 quineas each. For a single person, the whole cabin is 50 guineas. Stern cabins by special agreement.

"Fore Cabin Fare for four persons in one cabin is 20 guineas each. A separate cabin allowed to each married couple, or for females.

"The advantages of this system to emigrants are as follows:

1. Conveyance to the Colony at a cost little, if any, exceeding that which would be required to convey them to the United States or Canada, with profitable occupation on arrival.

2. A dietary now finally arranged with the Company, on the most liberal scale, falling little, if any, short of that by former high-priced ships.

3. A Fore Cabin dietary far superior to the one allowed in vessels conveying Government emigrants.

4. An inspection and consequent enforcement of the quality of all provisions by the Company's Inspecting Officer; thereby preventing, even were it to be attempted, any difference being made between the provisions promised and those actually given; a proceeding but too common in Emigrant Ships, and which can only be effectually checked by the surveillance of a body like the New Zealand Company.

5. The same attention and inspection of the Passengers' berths, ensuring ample accommodation, good air, and perfect ventilation.

6. Punctuality of sailing to the day announced, thereby effectually preventing the waste of emigrant's means by delay in London.

"These ships are selected as much for their fast-sailing qualities as for the superiority of their accommodations, and none but ships of the very first character, in both respects, will continue to be dispatched."




Year Range from 1847
Object ID 1959.025.0001
Object Name Ship, Model
Other # 437
People Clarke, Sandra
Clarke, Tony
Drummond, Catherine (nee McRae)
Drummond, Donald
Earp, G.B.
Eyre, E.J.
Farmer, A.J.
Gilchrist, Leo
MacLaren, George
MacLaren, George
McRae, Alick
McRae, Catherine (later Drummond)
McRae, George
McRae, Helen (nee Sutherland)
McRae, Kate McRae (nee Mowat)
McRae, Marjory (May) (later Mowat)
Mowat, Alexander (Senior)
Mowat, Kate McRae (later McRae)
Mowat, Kenneth Phin
Mowat, Marjory (May) (nee McRae)
Nicholson, Thomas Dickson
Ormond, John D.
Ranger, Bob
Sutherland, Helen (later McRae)
Wright, Sophia
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Last modified on: April 13, 2015