16 Mar 2018

My ancestors' life on Auckland Islands

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:16 pm on 16 March 2018

Dunedin journalist Ellen Rykers’ ancestors came from England to start a new life on a whaling station on a remote and windswept sub-Antarctic island.

Rykers recently visited the Auckland Islands to find out more about her forebears Sarah and Isaac Cripps, and the life they lived there.

“They spent six months on a boat sailing from England to the Auckland Islands. Sarah Cripps was apparently extremely seasick , so seasick that she begged the soldiers to throw her overboard,” Rykers says.

The islands once had a population of a few hundred but are now deserted. Rykers says the only evidence of human habitation is the graveyard and an old stove.   

“There was this rusting stove sitting in the middle of the rātā forest and that was the only remaining piece of farmhouse that was once on Enderby Island.

The Cripps came to the Enderby Island farmhouse in 1850 to spend a week on holiday, on what she says was known as the Riviera of the Auckland Islands

They were the first family from Hardwicke "sent for a change of air". The Hardwicke settlement at Port Ross on Auckland Island could be "quite unruly."

Sarah was the nurse and midwife while Isaac was a labourer and constable of the settlement.

“Sarah was 27 when she arrived she’d already had three children at that point and they did have another child on Auckland Island which is crazy to think about given it must have been such a hard place to live.”

The Auckland Islands are a wild place now.

“You can find the southernmost rātā forest in New Zealand, there are all these beautiful bright red flowering rata forests but they’re quite lowdown because of the wind.”

The place is also full of wildlife, she says.

“There are sea lions, northern giant petrels, skua, pipits and yellow-eyed penguins intermittently trekking from their nests in the rātā forest to the ocean to fish. Where the settlement was is now regenerated native forest.”

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