The Comber Index - New Zealand Shipping

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The Comber Index

Rev. Comber was interested in shipping.  His passing means that others will benefit for years to come from his methodical records.  Passenger names do not appear.  

New Zealand Bound

From the Comber Index -
1882 March
        Wild Deer

The Comber Index to Ships Arriving in New Zealand 1839-1889 in chronological order of sailing date (departure date) can be a useful tool if you don't know which vessel an assisted emigrant ancestor arrived on but have pinned down the arrival date within a few months and entry port. The index goes to 29 December 1889. Many immigrants settled near their disembarkation portBy the process of elimination you may discover which vessel your predecessor came over on.  Allow approximately three months from departure date to arrival in New Zealand. Remember some of us will never be able to identify which vessel an immigrant ancestor was aboard.  For the most part records of government-assisted rather than paying passengers survived.  The dates between the Comber Index and the card index of immigration arrivals at Archives NZ varies between a day to a month or so which is correct could be ascertained by referencing newspapers of the day on the  'Papers Past' - a NZ National Library website. site. The number of days port to port also vary slightly.

The Comber Index comes in handy when trying to pin down a possible vessel an ancestor arrived on.

The Comber Index gives voyage dates, ship names, captains of ships from the UK and Europe (brief details, from newspaper shipping pages, of ship arrivals) (no passengers). It was the work of Reverend William Charles Comber M.A., a long time member of the New Zealand Ship & Marine Society, and served as the president for many years, along with a stint as editor of their journal New Zealand Marine News. He wrote regular articles on shipping for the Taranaki Herald for over twenty years. He was a Presbyterian minister and in an interview theorised that his maritime interests came from seeing a striking model of the Aroha in the Canterbury Museum as a boy.  His interest developed in childhood as he cut out shipping reports from the newspapers.  In his retirement years he resided at Eastbourne.  He had great interest in and knowledge of shipping, and followed movements of ships in retirement on ship frequency radio.  We believe the Bill Comber was still working on the Index at his death on 4 October 1972 in Wellington, aged 67. The funeral service was in St. David's Church, Petone, on 6th October. 

Useful information as to which ports individual immigrant ships unloaded passengers. 

Where to find the Comber Index:

Explanation of the most common types of entry:-
Year Shipping Line NAME OF VESSEL  Rigging [bark of ship] tonnage  Captain
                   Voyage  Number
Month Sailed: Port of Departure

Date      Equator CMM comments
Moth Arrived:Arrival port underlined  d [days port to port]
                                  number cabin & steerage passengers
Dec 30      Ready for sea but short handed (over)[check back of card]

Month Cleared: Departure port
       Sailed: Departure port for arrival port
                              Newspaper reference
Date  Arrived: Port Gsend [Gravesend]  

Example from a page of fiche. Eight cards listed per page. 

1869 Sh S HALCIONE  Sh 843      Bishop
          Maiden voy.           Ex Wild Duck
May 28 Sld: London
Jun  1 Dis: pilot Start Pt. 3 final dept.
Jul  3      Equator- tedious to CMM head winds Calms
           Easting 43-46
Sep  3 Arr: Wellington 96 d 23 cabin & 52 steerage
Dec 30      Ready for sea but short handed
1870                          �60,000
Jan  6 Cld: Wellington for London 1st wool ship 
     9 Sld: Wellington for London
                              B&H, Pearce,
                              Levin Adv.
Apr 12 Arr: Gravesend

1869    Sh Sav ADVANCE Sh 522 Taylor
        Merchante Line
May 29 Sld: Gsnd
Jun  2      Lands End
Jul  3      Equator 25.26W
Aug  2 Mer. CMM 388 Easting 40/485
   Off Amsterdam Is. gales and high seas
 cd. away portion of bulwarks & stove boat
Sep 10 Psd: Snares
    12 Arr: Pt. Chalmers   3 named & 13 steerage
                       Cargille & McLean
Nov  4 Sld: Pt. Chalmers for Newcastle
           To load coal for Frisco ODT: 10 69


1869 Sh S   ASTEROPE Sh 601     Inglis (over)
           Voy 9   Aberdeen ship
May 29 Sld: London 
Jun  1 Scilly Is     14 Psd Maderia
Jul  6 Equator 26W 
    15 Sighted Trinidad Is 25 Tristan d'A 8 miles north
Aug  4 Mer. CMM 425 Easting 445 
    25 Mer. Leuwen 
Sep  4 Psd Snares
     8 Arr: Pt. Chalmers 16 pass named.
                       Bright Bros.
Mar  1 Sld: Pt Chalmers for London (over)
Jun  9 Arr: Gsnd.               100 d

1869 PH WILLIAM DAVIE Sh 841 Ross
        Voy. 4               Ex Viola
Jun  2 Sld: Tail of the Bank Greenock
           Heavy weather in North Channel
Jul  8      Equator 35.143
    16 Sighted G. St. Roque. 3 weeks in sight of Brazil
Aug. 5 Mer. Greenwich 9 Mar. CMM Easting 453 over
Sep  7 Psd. Snares, saw full rigged ship standing north.
     8 Off Ocean Beach, Dunedin
     9 Arr: Pt. Chalmers 99 d 145 pass +133
                          4 + 141
Jan 14 Sld: Pt. Chalmers for London
Apr 26 Arr: Gsnd

Example of the Comber Index on microfiche.  Not the clearest, but the microfiche copies are well used.

1869 Sh. Sav. R.T. TURNBULL Bk 367 1869
London July 2
Downs  July 3   8 D in Channel
one of most boisterous voyages in captain's exp.
   Eq   9 Aug 380

     Arr: Napier Nov. 8  128 see over
1870 Sld: Napier Feb 11 London
     Arr: London May 20

1869      VICTORIA        Norwegian Bk 372
Jul 3 Sld: Gsend  8 Scilly Is
Aug 7      Equator 18.137
Sep 2      Mer. Greenwich 7 Mer. OGH Easting 40
           Fine to 52 E
   16      Gale 19 heavy seas
Oct 9 Psd Wilsons Prom. 10 Bass Strts.
      SSE wind prevented making Foveraux Strts.
    19 Psd. Cape Farewell 20 Through Cook Strt.
    24 Off Otago Heads
    27 Arr: Pt. Chalmers Bright Bros.
Nov 27 Sld:
    28 Arr: Bluff
Mar 13 Sld: Bluff for London
Jun 22 Arr: Gsnd

Another example, page 62. January 21st - March 19th 1859 sailings for NZ
1859 Willis VICTORY 579    M. Stephens
(Jan 21 Sld: Gsnd.
                     Lost anchor and chain put back
        29 Sld: Gsnd

May 14 Arr: Lyttelton 104 days     198 pass.
Jun   17 Sld: Lyttelton for Batavia
1859 Willis   CLADUCLUS Sh 711 Cass
                        Voy 1
Feb   3 Sld: Gsnd
       13 Falmouth

May 19 Arr: Auckland      95 days  243 pass.
Jul      1 Sld: Auckland for Hong Kong

Aug  27 Arr: Hong Kong

1859 Willis MARGARETHA ROES?NER Sh 392
Chas. Eggers

Feb. 8 Sld: Gsnd
Mar  6 Downs

May 31 Mer. CMM

Jul  4 Arr: Lyttelton
    11 Sld: 
    13 Arr: Wellington

Dec  3 Sld: "    Cld. for Guam

1859 Sh. Sav. REULLURA Bk 279  M.M. Gibbs
Feb 14 Sld: Gsnd
    17      Gsnd

Jun 18 Arr: Wellington
Sep  6 Sld: " Cld. for Guam

1859 Sh. Sav. SWORDFISH 345 Cundy
Mar 2 Sld: Gsnd
    7 Off Dungeness put back
    9 Sld:    "
Mar 17-20 off Lizard

Jul 12 Arr: Auckland 132 days 18 pass
Sep 21 Sld:    "     for London
Dec 26 Reported in Downs  96 days

1859 Willis CAMEO 785 Milne
Mar 3 Sld: Gsnd
    9      Downs

Apr 22 Spk. 3N 21 W
Jun 18 Spk 45 S 88 E

Jul 11 Arr: Lyttelton 303 pass.
Sep  6 Sld:   "      for Callao in ballast

1859 Young MINERVA Bk 574 -.T. Merryman
Mar 6 Sld: Gsnd
    9 "    Downs

Jul 11 Off Wellington 112 days
    13 Arr: "
Aug 14 Sld: "
    16 Arr: Lyttelton
       Sld: Lyttelton (Sep 5 adv. for Singapore

1859 Sh. Sav. TRAVELLER Bk 462  Ellis
(Feb 2 Sld: London & Gsnd.)
    20 Put back after collision
Mar 19 Sld: C___
Apr 20 Spk. On Equator

Jul 24 Arr: Auckland
Aug 27 Cld: "  for New Plymouth
       Sld: "
Sep 10 Arr: New Plymouth
    13 Sld: "    for Auckland
Oct  7 Arr: Melbourne

The information would be of interest to people interested in NewDevana, S.S.Bruce, Sussex, Cartisburn  page 227 Zealand ship arrivals.

page 227
1874 Shaw Savill CARRICK CASTLE Ship 879 tons
Master: Thyne

April 19	 Sailed from Liverpool
April 23	 At Queenstown, Ireland, to embark emigHereford, Carrick Castle, Euterpe, Adamant   page 227rants
April 27	 Sailed from Queenstown
May   19	 Spoke [to another ship] on Line 27 West
May   21	 Spoke [to another ship] 5 South 30 West
July  13	 Arrived at Bluff, 77 days, 220 immigrants
September 1	 Sailed from Bluff for Newcastle
September 15	 Arrived at Newcastle

Reverse side of card
879 tons, 197,5 length x 34.0 width x 19.6 depth in feet, Skinner & Co [owner]. Randolf [builder], Glasgow, October 1868.
Composite. Bottom wood and coppered. Frames and topsides iron. Owner Thomas Skinner, Glasgow.


In 1884 the Ruapehu made two voyages to New Zealand:
27 July1884 	Arrived Auckland
8 March 1884 	Arrived Wellington
13 March 1884 	Arrived Port Charmers
25 March 1884 	Arrived Lyttelton
Departed from Plymouth 31.05.1884
14 July 1884 	Arrived Wellington
21 July 1884 	Arrived Lyttelton 
Departed from London 25 September 1884 - arrived when?

... the back of the cards certainly seem to give a bit more of the colour to the voyages that are recorded.

Some examples, all 1859:

Willis: Clontarf, Captain Barclay...
`...rough in Bay of Bisscay long passage bad weather throughout and incessant rain, 5 adults died, 28 children almost all from measles and hooping cough...'

Shaw Savill: Jura, Captain Chalmers/Chambers...
`...Jura a fine roomy vessel credibly clean...
...of larks, blackbirds, linnets and other birds shipped by Mr. Stafford, one cock partridge is sole survivor, hand raised birds. - N Zer 18 1 60'

Willis: Roman Emperor, Captain Dewar...
`...Samuel Butler a passenger...Good account of voyage in Butler's `First Days' year in Canty. settlement. Started Oct 1 1859 anchored off Ramsgate and again of Deal...We have a good ship, a good captain and victuals sufficient in quantity. Everyone but myself abuses the owners like pickpockets...'

White Star, Shooting Star. Captain E. J. Allen...
`Mainmast sprung on passage out, repairs at Auckland see N Zer 11 4 60'

J. Lidgett & Son, Snaresbrook, Captain John Straker...
Arr: Wgtn* Sep 8
Sld: Wgtn Oct 15 Capt Geo. Mundle.
Arr: Napier Oct 19
Arr: Auck Nov 1
*Master and mate arrested see NZ Adv. Dec. 7
brothers on trial for murder...


A full obituary and comprehensive tribute to the Rev. W. C. Comber, a long-time and highly respected member of the Society, was published in the New Zealand Marine News: Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring 1972. Pages 34-36. Editorial. (Journal of the New Zealand Ship & Marine Society).  First Church of Otago Genealogy Database 

Served as Dominion President from 1958 to 1965, since when he has been a Dominion Vice-President, and for some years was the Honorary Editor of `New Zealand. Marine News.'  In early 1971 he as appointed as the Society's first Research Officer, a task he pursued with characteristic thoroughness until his recent illness. ...Long remembered, must be added some appreciation of his scholarly contribution and skill as a historian. This was in part due to his training and natural aptitude, but just as much to the discipline of accurate recording and methodical filing. The weekly articles to the `Taranaki Herald' over twenty years were not pieces of slick journalism, but significant and well-rounded essays on the subjects selected. His interest in shipping led him to undertake an incredible amount of research and the results are impressive in their scope and accuracy. Any enthusiast in need of research help was always given it generously, and if such service meant a sacrifice of time that could have been used for his own urgent work, he never appeared grudging or impatient. 

Rev. Comber b. 29 January 1905; w. Annie White (Nancy) b. 7.9.1902 m. 3.11.1931 d. 28.5.1976. He was educated at Christchurch BHS. Worked in a bank during his studies of Arts at the Canterbury University Bank; obtained a MA at Otago University. Ordained at Lumsden, his first parish, 1931.  His pastorates: Stirling 1936,  Island Bay, Wellington 1943, Stratford 1948, Petone 1956, and while at Petone, a Turnbull Trust preacher at Scots Church, Melbourne for six months, and retired 28 February 1970.  Beyond his own discipline of theology he was keenly interested in history, particularly New Zealand history. He had an orderly, well-stored mind, from which information and wisdom flowed almost without effort.

The tributes paid by his colleagues in the work of the Church he served so well made clear that through all the discipline of scholarship and the responsibilities of a pastor and preacher, he never lost the human touch. To many of us who knew him well it seemed that through all the stages of his development he had firmly retained and nourished a youthful enthusiasm. Bill Comber loved ships. He derived real pleasure from looking at them, or from talking to people who worked with them. He even found it relaxing at night, when there were none to be seen and no-one to talk to, to listen on the appropriate frequencies to the radio exchanges from ship to ship, and ship to shore.

When he had to expound the revelation that in eternity there would be no more sea he must have cherished the hope that somewhere, somehow, there must be a haven where its mystical essence continues.

The index can be helpful to date ship photographs.

Sample of Comber Card Index
Carisbrooke Castle
Hermione 1883