On-line databases

Once it was possible to do research and format then display material on a web page, but as the available sources of information grew and morphed it became much more practical to use spreadsheets which could then be indexed and presented as lists.

That was fine until it became necessary to define relationships and adjust indices (order of listing) and things became more complicated. With the development of PHP it became possible to maintain everything on line which is what has been done in Myrasplace. This becomes very convenient because the actual data files can stay on the server and it is only the manipulation of them that changes.

This brings a new set of challenges because care is then necessary to present all information according to a common style and rationale. This is particularly true of ships and passengers where actual names may be duplicated. Ship owners had a nasty habit of replacing their vessels with another ship of the same name and soon we all have problems.Parents do the very same thing and carry a common name down the generations.

Oh waily waily waily! How to get around that!

Fortunately PHP coding provides a number of options to overcome this and this diatribe is intended to provide a way to optimise the use of the data, with common subjects listed to the left in the style of a FAQ file. The links take the reader directly to headings below...


Everywhere on this site there are links to the MOP portal where the data is kept. When a user clicks on a link he or she is taken to this screen...

The default user name is GUEST and the password for that is also guest.

It is possible to apply for a higher user level (follow the REGISTER button) and thus be able to add to or edit certain records in the system, depending on the level given.  


This is the User screen everyone arrives at, depending on their access level.

Note that there are additional menu items relating to features in beta format (still under development) as well as utility screens for the system overall.

The menu choices are for the most self-explanatory but it may be useful to know that the General Search option is a Meta search that looks at the entire table structure for nominated terms and reports which sections they mat be found in. Other menu options generally pertain to the chosen subject,

It should be noted that with any ship related search (vessel, voyage, passenger) where there is a possibility of having more than one vessel sharing a name, then it is wise to look under vessels first and determine which variant is most likely.

MOP4 (above) also shows pictures from the historical images records, displaying any recently provided pictures from users. That feature is in Beta and will be refined over coming weeks.


Searching for Bombay alone will in this case give a single result and miss the other two vessels on the register...

Entering the same vessel name ('Bombay') with the LIKE option will bring up all three vessels.


This is what comes up with a click on Voyages. The right side of the entry screen is where the target name is typed in while the centre part (shown expanded) is where various more complex iterations may be applied. Normally the target ship name is entered. If however there may be variants of the ship name, as described earlier for Bombay, it becomes possible to add the choice on the left box to show LIKEwhich means the results will include the variants. Thus entering Bombay with a LIKE option will cause ALL the variations to show.


As described for vessel searches, Searching for Bombay alone will in this case give a single result and miss the other two vessels on the register and their multiple voyages...

Entering the same vessel name ('Bombay') with the Non-exact option will bring up all three vessels as shown above.


Exactly the same principal applies to searching passenger records. It is possible to select to search against VESSEL or against PASSENGER NAME, and in each case the Non-exact option is available. Be aware that a passenger search either way will bring up ALL the instances with the index set to name not voyage. That is where the tiny little black triangles in the top bar of the results screen become useful for they allow re-indexing of that result page. Thus an initial listing showing jumbled voyages can be corrected by re-indexing the dates of departure or arrival. Instantly a newly arranged screen will keep (in alphabetical order) the names associated with a given voyage. If there be SMITHs in two voyages, they will then seperate into a more logical arrangement.


Much of the material in the databases comes from newspaper reports of the day for which the printed detail may be (to say the least) inaccurate, especially in regard to names and to navigation details printed as 'Captain's report'. Similarly passenger lists on line tend to incorporate that first error. This is one of the reasons the MOP database includes references to genealogy files where a lot of data can be recorded beyond the simple passenger name.

By working backwards from NZBDM files and Obituary records it is possible to determine the age of a passenger at arrival. This in turn allows identifying the relative members of a given family, expanding from 'Mr & Mrs Smith plus 4 children' to a defined list of names and ages.

Those genealogy files are NOT intended as final family histories but are used as collections of threads. They are made available on request and a version of each (in GEDcom form) is in the dowloads section.


Anybody researching voyages and passengers thereon soon realises there can be a problem with a multi-leg voyage. MOP records each known leg in the VOYAGES part, but it then becomes a problem to determine where people got on and where they got off. This is true for voyages that came from England that went to a number of ports (e.g. Gravesend-Sydney-Auckland-Napier) as well as the steamer-sailers that ran from Melbourne to (say) Bluff-Dunedin-Lyttelton-Wellington and return In this latter case passengers are picked up and dropped off with a minimum of formal recording which gives problems.

Since MOP records each known sector (and sometimes adds more later as they become known) a researcher must be very careful with the passenger names. Usually a name will be showing an embarkation date and port, plus an arrivals date and port. This may bridge several intermediate sectors. Thus a passenger getting on at Gravesend and travelling to Nelson in New Zealand, then to Wellington, then Dunedin where he/she is recorded as arriving, will assume that they have been on that same ship on all the included sectors.


It is worth considering the step-by-step events in a voyage, with all the ports and places identified. Sending immigrants away was big business underwritten by several governments and interested commercial entities, the latter wanting to sell land in the new world.

So let us identify the various places;

East India Docks

This was the actual dock in London where ships were loaded in preparation for the voyage. The vessel was tied up at a wharf and food, water, immigrant possessions and the people themselves allowed on board according to a prepared list. Assuming there were no changes that list was then sent in the final despatches of some other ship and published in the arrivals country as the 'as sent' list. In fact there were often variations, either because someone did not arrive in time, or perhaps there was sickness visible in a person. No sane captain would accept sick people at the port of embarkation and often matters were rearranged for certain passengers to take other, later voyages on some other ship.

At the point where the ship was loaded it had to be removed from the dock to make space for other ships, and since no clipper could hope to push off and sail away it was necessary to tow the vessel out (and in, for that matter)..


This was the bay or stretch of water close by the docks and where the ship was moved to and anchored particularly if the captain was awaiting clearances. He could not afford to stay there for any length of time because the passengers (and crew) were already beginning to eat their way through the stores. In addition, that same captain needed a pilot to take the ship through the channel. If that had not been arranged with best timing, the ship would be towed out to 'The Downs', an anchorage some distance from shore where there was space enough for a sailing clipper to get away on her own, a somewhat tricky procedure when the ship is anchored with no engine.

The Downs

The ship was not allowed to proceed without a pilot because the English Channel was even then full of competing vessels from different countries. There were rules, and the captain would lose his certification very quickly if he failed to comply with those rules.

So as he sits, anchored at The Downs, he is fretting to get his pilot and be on his way. The pilot is brought out in a smaller vessel and once aboard his authority exceeds that of the captain in matters of navigation and operation of the ship. In practice he simply requests a certain action.

The first need is to get under way, or 'under weigh' as it was originally. The ship is sitting there, anchored, with no sails in use, her head facing INTO the wind. She needs to convert that situation into steady forward movement but she has a minimum of the triangular sails because she had square shaped sails designed to 'catch' the wind.

To get away she angles the forward upper topsails to be at an angle to the wind (unexpectedly to non-nautical persons, the sails are not used to 'catch' the wind but are angled to make the wind flow over the curved shape and suck the vessel forward) using ropes that run up to the tips of the crosstrees (horizontal arms) of the mast and down through ties at deck level; lines of men then hauled on the appropriate rope to achieve the offset action.

The ship immediately tended to swing at an angle against her anchor which allowed the crew to adjust the lower (course) sails at a different angle, at which time the anchor was raised (more manpower!) and the ship began to slide sternwards, only her lower sails were now at the required angle to the wind and developed forward motion, the success shown by tracer threads on the bulge of the sail proving the air was moving in the best way.

Immediately the ship was moving forward the upper sails were 'trimmed' to match the lower ('course') sails and from then on the ship was under controlled power with fine adjustments to the course sails ('adjusting the course') and setting ('trimming')the upper sails to match. The ship was then sailing.

Dropping the pilot

This might be done at a number of places, but most commonly south of Plymouth. Usually the ship did not stop but reduced sail to slow enough to allow a smaller pilot vessel to come alongside. Once the pilot formally passed control to the captain, ocean rules applied.

Occasionally shipping companies used Plymouth as a loading point for their cabin passengers. In such a situation the ship would anchor in the roads (in an equivalent position to The Downs) and the new passengers and their luggage, if not already on board, would be taken out on lighters and taken aboard. Cabin passengers had paid good money and often had servants and better food for themselves plus they were housed in deck-top structures.

Less well-off passengers, however, were in 'steerage' which meant they lived in specially constructed cubicles in what was essentially the hold. It was crowded and often very uncomfortable, possibly wet and tending to have rats sharing the spaces. Rats are a normal feature of all sailing vessels...

The ship would usually also have cargo in the hold because cargo paid better that government immigrants plus it was needed to provide a substantial mass in the lower part of the vessel. Stowing cargo was (and still is) an art form because the ship must be neutrally bouyant; that is to say, she should respond evenly as if she were empty. In fact being empty was not an option and ships without a cargo usually had to place something in the holds to act as a stabilising weight. She would be said to be 'In ballast' because to not have that mass meant the ship could be blown onto her side and swamped in bad weather.

In addition these ships were relatively round-bilged. That is to say, they had relatively little keel and relied on the immersion of the hull to resist any sideways movement. With no load in her a ship would be much less controllable.

So at Plymouth the clipper began her real voyage often defining the start as being the day they saw the last bit of land.

The voyage

That voyage took many weeks depending on where the ship was going. In the case of vessels bound for New Zealand it commonly took about 90 days (3 months) and assuming there were no disasters she appeared at the heads of a harbour in the the new country. At that point a pilot was again required and in most cases a steam vessel to tow the ship into port for unless the ship had significant sails other than squaresails she was very unmanoeverable in confined waters. It would not do to sail 3 months and pile up at the destination...


On arrival all the passenger and cargo related matters had to be gone through in the reverse of the London pattern; the passengers were inspected in case there was disease, and if there was the entire ship might well be anchored in a safe place and the passengers required to stay aboard until the local medical officer gave clearance.

Since the cargo could not be accessed unless the passengers were gone at which time the temporary 'steerage' structures were dismantled and stowed to be ready for the next voyage. The cargo could then be removed.

Vessels returning to England

For the shipping lines this was a business not a lot different to today's airline operations. Their business model worked on voyages and while taking passengers and cargo to the colonies was good business, they needed to get each vessel back to England and loaded with the next lot.

Making that return voyage give a profit was also a consideration, especially given that they were paying a substantial crew.

The first requirement was to get a cargo, and the second was which way home to go. In simplistic terms, the winds blow from west to east and so in principle the best option is for a returning ship to go east from New Zealand and around Cape Horn, then up the Argentinian and Brazilian coasts.

This was not always the best choice for in winter the Cape Horn route could be complicated by ice and initially at least these vessels were all wooden and particularly vulnerable.

Another consideration was whether the ship was licenced for what was called the China trade. If so if became feasible to sail north to Singapore or Guam and find a cargo they could then cary west through the maze of islands and channels and eventually west to India, then south to Capetown. By then they were in northern hemisphere waters and more easily able to find a monsoon system to swiftly carry them west.

What to carry was the next question. As the colonies developed wool became a worthwhile cargo, and as gold mining began, the transport of the actual gold was an easy deal. Also, many of the richer (previously first class cabin passengers) had enough money to buy a trip 'home'. Remember, on such a trip few people would be in steerage...

Once the ship arrived in England there would be an immediate scramble to get a loading berth in London (or Glasgow, or Liverpool) and start the whole process all over again.


Once the ship was in dock at the colonial port the captain made available his corrected list of passengers and very often the local newspaper would print this along with details of the just completed voyage, plus very often a thank-you letter to the captain and/or medical doctor ('surgeon') who had come on the voyage. Since there were potentially a great number of changes to both lists, plus the original lists tended to be written phonetically rather than exactly, many published lists are distorted.

This is the reason why in MOP the records first go on a spreadsheet (for a given vessel/voyage) and then to a genealogy file and so to eventually arrive on the PASSENGER listing.

This all takes a lot of time...

There are a great number of diligent people out there constructing lists from hard-to-read handwritten and subsequently scanned records, and they all have the same problem as you and I; they can never be sure a name as presented is actually correct and without validation from other sources they have to make a call, deciding as best they can what the entry means. That is why they welcome input from people in the wider world who may well have evidence from their own family histories that shine a light on some particular name.

This is especially helpful when entire families migrate because if there are combined families (a bit like today's 'yours and mine and ours') it becomes possible to discover why there are three 'Maryannes's on the list for a particular family, where the husband/father is on his second wife with a new buch of kids as well as her own kids from a previous marriage...

So be very glad these people do what they do and help them achieve a result.


When we make lists of ships we need to define a ship type as well as a name. Sometimes the type is critical in defining a particular vessel. Here are a few of these, with notations. I am acutely aware that my natical expertise is limited so please, if there are people out there who smile at my terms and explanations, please feel free to email Alan or Myra.


This refers to a 'Fully Rigged Ship' and is what is meant when a newspaper record says 'Ship', as in 'Mandarin; Ship, 600t', with the 600t referring to tonnage (pre-metric, so 'tons' not 'tonnes').

A ship like this will usually have 3 masts and all three will have square sails as well as a few narrow triangular sails. Each mast is actually in two main parts; the lower section is firmly attached to the keel structure of the ship while the upper part is joined at the point called (illogically) the 'Top'. The various vertical ropes tie both back to the bulwarks - the hard rail running down both sides of the ship.
While not stated it is an obvious function of the upper section to be able to fail, to be destroyed in some cataclysmic event yet still leave the ship afloat.


A Barque is very similar to a Ship but does not have a full complement of squaresails. Instead it has one mast dedicated to what we modern people call 'normal' sails and the purpose is to provide more manoeverability at the cost of power.

Both types of ships can be called 'clippers' which was a term derived for a dedicated style of vessel such as the East Indiamen' or 'Tea Clippers'.

Often a Ship will undergo refit and be converted to a barque as less crew are required and as usual it comes back to money...


Generally a schooner has two masts with one higher than the other, the different style being referred to as a 'ketch rig' versus a 'schooner rig', but sometimes a schooner will also carry squaresails at the very top of her mast, creating a sub-type called a 'topsail schooner'.. This gives her speed while the other sails retain her mobility. The tradeoff is manpower as topsails require more crew to manage...

In the tropics or in the Mediterranean, ships with squaresails are less popular because they sail best with a steady wind going in the one direction. As soon as it's necessary to tack, that is to sail against or at an acute angle to the wind, squaresails become much less useful. In the tropics winds can come from any direction and a vessel has to be able to respond and thread her way between reefs and islands. This is no place for a square-rigger for local currents can take her to destruction without a breath of wind.

In addition, close to the tropics is where the cyclonic storms are generated and these to are not good for ships relying on squaresails.


Here we have to speak of the differences between steam and sail in a historical context. Large sailing ships have always had a problem getting off the starting blocks; that is, getting under weigh. This is why a fleet in preparation is anchored offshore where ships have enough sea room to get clear of their anchorage. This is not always true; some harbours are ideally placed to allow vessels to get out of port, but the vast majority do not have that convenient luxury.

For this reason the development of the steam engine as related to ships was a godsend to mariners because they could at last conveniently tow their big ships out to where they could catch the wind. If you read the earlier bit about how a sailing ship got away you will realise the phrase 'catch the wind' is a simplification.

Nevertheless most cities and harbours were located on the mouths of rivers and it was a problem to get your large ship away to sea. This was true even for the first immigrant ships and in London and Glasgow and Liverpool steam tugs were very quickly developed.

At that time steam inferred a wood-fired or coal-fired boiler and someone dedicated to heaving or shovelling fuel into the fire.

For those ships going to far places with no facilities special care had to be taken to anchor their vessels in a place where wind and tide would do the job, at least until someone imported a steam vessel and started chopping the trees down.

Dunedin in New Zealand is a good example of this for the entrance to the Otago harbour is narrow and the prevailing wind tends to come straight down the harbour into the faces of the new arrivals. Getting a steam vessel in Port Chalmers was one of the highest priorities and once they had one they developed a protocol wherein the arriving ships anchored offshore or simply sailed back and forth until signalled to approach.

Of course steam was much more useful and began to be used as the primary motive power of non-sailing ships and once humans learned to build vessels of iron (later steel) the sky was the limit, that is as long as you had coal to hand.

Smart engineers soon solved the problems associated with both sailing (no wind!) and steam vessels (no coal!) by building hybrids. These consisted of one or more steam boilers in a vessel that retained its sails and which could easily get away from a wharf and then put the sails up and sail to some distant place where they could fire up the boilers once again and make landfall.


These hybrids were very popular in Australia and New zealand because they could transport a lot of material and lots of people. They made money! Both countries relied heavily on coastal transport which soon caused a great number of similar vessels to be built and put into service.

It should be noted that the MOP records define a steamer-sailer with an addition to the name. Thus Aldinga s.s.s. was a steamer sailer, while Comet p.s.s. was a steamer-sailer paddleship; it could use paddlewheels AND proceed under sail. Incredibly these types of ships sailed between Australia and New Zealand!.

As the age of sail faded and large screw steamers (as opposed to paddle steamers) could operate over longer routes, these hybrid vessels were not replaced and today we have large ships with the designation SS as oposed to s.s.s. (steamer sailer) or s.s., the harbour-bound little steamer that towed other boats everywhere...

Coal supplies

If you had any kind of steam vessel you had to boil the water with a fire. Initially this might be lengths of timber stacked alongside the boiler, but trees do not grow as quickly as boilers burn wood, so in a fairly short time you were out of wood.

It is fascinating to record the purposes of the small vessels serving Auckland for as white settlement occured there was a need to burn wood in houshold and industrial fires. Very soon there were no more trees so dedicated small ships went up the coast and out to the islands and took away the trees from there as well. This couldn't last, and once a source of coal was found those same vessels began to transport it to the city.

This did not solve the problem for the growing number of steam vessels, so a thriving business grew up in transporting coal from Newcastle in Australia's NSW province across to every substantial port in New zealand as well as up and down the coast of Australia itself.

While coal was found in many places in both countries, there was very little in the way of roads to get the stuff from mine to user. Except ships.