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No Simple Passage        

No Simple Passage

No Simple Passage

'Rich with historical detail, but reads like a novel'




It is January 2nd, 1842

It is January 2nd, 1842, less than two years after the historic treaty was signed that agreed the conditions on which British subjects could live in peace with Maori tangata whenua.

The ship London is about to leave Gravesend, London, with 258 working class souls hoping to find a better life in the empire's newest colony, New Zealand.

To be honest, some of them are too young to hope, but their parents are doing it for them. They have heard it is a land of milk and honey and the New Zealand Company which is paying their fares has promised to provide work for every working man who cannot find his own employment. This is a far stretch from England where the alternative to destitution is the workhouse.

Who were these people and what happened on the voyage? Did they have friends or family on board, what did they eat, who got sick, who died, who got punished by the ship's doctor? Who helped who and who refused to?

The London

The four month voyage is only the beginning. What happens to the 243 who make it to Wellington? What kind of lives do they make for themselves? What difficulties do they encounter and how do they cope? Which of them falls foul of the law? Who dies young and who survives to a grand old age? How does this band of Victorians from Merrie England help transform Wellington from a frontier town to a city with a future? Who seeks their fortune on the goldfields and who abandons the town to seek a life elsewhere?

No Simple Passage records their hopes and fears, persistence, ingenuity, courage and adaptability using extracts from newspapers of the time and family stories preserved by descendants.
Although the work is strictly non fiction, the structure of the work is shaped by one important fictional device. Imagining herself on board with the emigrants, the author keeps company with her great great grandmother, Rebecca Remington, who is 19 at embarkation and pregnant. For the four months at sea, Jones supplements the journals kept by the ship's doctor and one of the cabin passengers with her own daily entries, regaling Rebecca with details of what is going on in other parts of the ship, the state of Wellington right then and the nature of the history that she will be part of. Through this account we get to know and care about many of her fellow emigrants and find out what they get up to in their new country. Though the new emigrants don't exactly enjoy lives of laugh-a-minute cheer, No Simple Passage is designed to give the reader a rollicking good time.



Readers say:

"This book had me beguiled from start to finish. It's non-fiction but written in a narrative style that makes it as fascinating as any historical fiction...Fascinating to experience major historical events and natural disasters like floods and earthquakes through the eyes of ordinary people rather than detached accounts in a history book... A lovely book which was a pleasure to read and high on my list of favourites for 2011."

Blogsite: Tell Me a Story.


"I just finished No Simple Passage and have to tell you, it is outstandingly good. I am so impressed, best picture of early Wellington days I’ve ever come across, and I’ve read up quite a bit. Thanks for doing such a great job, it is superb!"

Kate Fortune

GOODREADS reviews and ratings click here

Reviewers say:

Far from just a documentary account of a single voyage, No Simple Passage is an engrossing read that can give a general audience a real sense of why people went to New Zealand in the nineteenth century and what life was like there. It is, though, even more compellingly, a venturesome exercise in a new genre of animated history. Jones provides a heartening reminder that, away from the extremes of the impersonality of the archive and the gamesmanship of the novel, the past can be experienced with both imagination and responsibility."

Nicholas Birns, Antipodes June 2012

"This book is very different from historical 'faction' ..., let alone orthodox history books. The novelty is appealing because it provides a fresh approach on the early settlement of Wellington... Jones's thorough research... catches much of the texture of life in early Wellington... For her imagination, bravery and hard work she deserves plaudits..."

Ancestral Vessel by Tom Brooking, The Landfall Review Online, October 2011



RADIO interview with Jim Sullivan on RNZ, Sounds Historical, a 10 minute conversation about the writing and subject matter of No Simple Passage. Broadcast on 10 April 2011.

Play the recording now (MP3)
Second Radio interview with Jim Sullivan, a 12 minute conversation about the website, aids for budding and ongoing historians, and the author's development as a writer. Broadcast on 4 September 2011.

Play the recording now (MP3)


How to buy

Through the website No Simple Passage is now out of print but copies are available from the author. To order click here and send us a message.

Post within New Zealand - NZ$45 for a signed copy including shipping. Post overseas - NZ$40 plus the cost of shipping

Online You can also purchase paperback copies through online bookstores:

New Zealand - Fishpond NZ direct link to No Simple Passage: click here

Australia - Fishpond Australia: click here

United Kingdom/US/Canada - Fishpond NZ: click here

No Simple Passage cover

A new ebook edition is available through Amazon and other outlets. In contrast with the paperback, it contains a list of passengers - useful for descendants to check whether their ancestors were on board. It also contains Deborah Hinde's illustrations of life on board. The paperback includes many photographs, colour paintings and black and white graphics in addition to Deborah's illustrations, but no list of passengers. If you obtain a copy through Amazon or Smashwords it would be most appreciated if you would write a review.

No Simple Passage cover


Factual content

The main factual areas covered in 'No Simple Passage' are:-

Emigrants from the UK: why they came, where they came from, conditions in the UK leading up to 1842.

Voyages of emigrant ships to NZ: conditions on ships - rules and regulations, the food, the sleeping quarters, separation of male and female singles etc. Regulations and duties of the Surgeon Superintendent (ship's doctor)

Early settlers – conditions, occupations, housing, problems, drunkenness.

Early development of Wellington – the New Zealand Company aims, successes and failures, Auckland-Wellington rivalry, opening up of roads and suburbs, a volatile economy, first breweries, fledgling dairy industry, early efforts towards democracy, schools for children of emigrants, fire and earthquake, becoming the capital.



Thorndon Flat and part of the city of
Wellington including the London
by Charles Heaphy- More


Early exploration and surveying: Manawatu to Wellington via the Wairarapa; Nelson to the Wairau.

Conflict with Maori: The Wairau Affray, 1843 and its aftermath; Bay of Poverty clashes in 1868, skirmishes around Wellington with Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata. Race relations in the 1840s and 50s. Gold rushes in Victoria, Australia in 1854 and Otago, New Zealand in 1861

Spreading out from Wellington: Opening up the Wairarapa, Joseph Masters and the Small Towns Association

Social problems: lawlessness, drunkenness, vagrancy, loneliness, anomie

Brees of Barrets Hotel

Barrett's Hotel, Wellington by S C Brees More


Message for Descendants of Passengers from the London

The London lives on! Over 100 descendants of London passengers Henry and Mary Jones (no relation) gathered together in April 2017 for a reunion in Wellington.

The four month 1842 voyage took centre stage in everyone's minds for an hour as we joined together retracing that difficult journey and the challenging years in a fledgling, far-flung colony that followed. Organiser Eddie Jones posted on our Facebook Group afterwards that the talk "glued the 8 descendant lines from Henry and Mary all together".

This Facebook Group enables descendants of the passengers to get in touch with one another, including those who share genealogy. If you are a descendant and would like to join, go to click here, enter "Descendants of the ship London, 1842" in the Search box, and you will be transported to the group. Each member gives their descent line and you can communicate with anyone you wish. Anyone can participate but if you don't belong to Facebook you have to join first (if you don't like the idea of Facebook you don't have to be active on it). There are now over 140 members representing a good spread of passengers.



Reunion in Wellington

Author with Pam Hurrell gloriously dressed for the occasion and reunion organizer, Eddie Jones



Ourstuff this impressive New Zealand-based site gives many ship's passenger lists, jury lists and electoral rolls, school rolls and much more.

Papers Past is another must-use site for those interested in New Zealand history. Papers Past contains more than one million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 to 1932 and includes 52 publications from all regions of New Zealand.

See also Historian's World

List of passengers on the London

Being the voyage that left Gravesend on January 2nd and arrived at Port Nicholson on 1st May, 1842. Ship: 700 tons. Captain: Thomas Atwood. Surgeon Superintendent: William Mackie Turnbull MD

Steerage Passengers

Cabin and Intermediate Passengers

Alfred Matthews memorial window

To the memory of Alfred Matthews, son of Charles and Elizabeth Matthews, passengers on the London in 1842. Alfred's children built a church to honour their parents' memory and pioneers of the district. More