Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kaipara Ship Wrecks - 1839 Tory Grounding Update

I previously wrote of the grounding of Tory in an earlier post. Having learned a very good habit from my very very dear and very close friend Lisa aka Timespanner the information I did have somehow just didn't seem to be quite enough. So I went digging even further looking for Colonel Wakefield's own personal account of the incident. Searching the Australian National Library site (thank you Lisa for putting me onto it) I found a letter Wakefield had sent to the Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser published in the 15th December 1840 edition: -

After remaining in great peril during twenty four hours on the bank, the Tory rolled out of the bed she had formed in the sand, and forged into deep water.

I am happy to state, that although in seeking assistance from the Navarino, a large vessel lying up the Kaipara harbour, and in place my deeds in safety, a boat in which the cabin passengers were rowing me, was nearly swamped in the breakers, and was swept by the ebb tide out to sea - no life has been lost, and only a small portion of the cargo,such as bricks and pavement flags, was sacrificed. Five of the guns, a quantity of spars, three anchors, and a cable chain were also thrown overboard to lighten the vessel.

A copy of the ship's log will be sent to you by the first opportunity, in order that the necessary protest be made, in order to recover a part of the loss from the underwriters.

Finding that the Tory had received some serious injury, and was making water so fast as to keep all Hands employed in pumping, and that she must wait until the next spring tide to get high and dry, to be looked at and partially repaired, I walked over to this place and have chartered a small brig, to go to Kaipara, to take the cargo and passengers, and to proceed to the Sugar Loaf Islands, under the charge of Mr Dorset, to complete the purchase, and bring off the party I left in Taranaki, whilst I am to go to Port Hardy in a schooner of 40 tons to meet the emigrants.

The time of rendezvous being so near, has obliged me to take these decisive steps, after the best deliberation for the interests of the Company and of the settlers. My knowledge by means of the Sydney public papers of the fact of a large territory having being sold to the public by the company, has rendered it , in my opinion, imperative on me, as its representative, to incur the increased temporary expense of these small vessels to Insure the location of the first colony without delay, and to secure the agricultural districts of Taranaki. I have however, kept the additional expense as much under as possible, consistently with the vigorous execution of my views.

I shall by these means be at Port Hardy by the 10th instant, and shall proceed to plant the first settlement at Port Nicholson.

I have been confirmed in my intention in placing the first colony at Port Nicholson, and confining my operation as to the land I have acquired for the company in the neighbourhood of the Cook's Straits.

All further communications, therefore, and drafts of emigrants, should be directed to Port Nicholson.

I will forward a more detailed account of the late transactions, and of the accident to the Tory by the first opportunity.

I am. Sir, your most obedient servant
Bay of Islands 1st of January 1840

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poutu Ki Rongomaraeroa - Carved figure Dargaville Museum

Over a thousand years ago my ancester Kupe voyaged from Hawaiki to Aotearoa in his waka to settle. Other waka came too which laid the foundations for the Maori Tribes European settlers would much later encounter. My Iwi is Ngaitahu (from the South Island or Pounamu) through Tei Tei who was a daughter of Paahi a brother to the sacred chief(Ariki) Te Maiharanui. Tei Tei married William Issac Haberfield in 1837 at Moeraki and my family through my mother's father descend from their eldest daughter Mere P. I am proud of my heritage. This carving on display at the Dargaville Museum is called Poutu Ki Rongomaraeroa. It was found at Poutu in 1991 and attributed to the Waitaha People. On a previous visit with Lisa aka Timespanner we had both viewed this carving and had asked the Curator questions about it. This carving hasn't been carbon dated to verify its age. Whatever story lies behind it this is a beautiful piece of art from the past. The image is a stiched together one the file size doesn't do the carving true justice. Last time it disturbed me greatly now I see it in a different light.

An update since this post was done. Maps from Reading the Maps raised the issue of the pseudo history behind this carving and the manner in which it was displayed. The carving was displayed lying down which caused me concern at the time. No carving should ever be displayed in such a manner. Thanks to Maps the Dargaville Museum have withdrawn the "history" and are making steps to ascertain the carvings true provenance. Well done Dargaville Museum for at last taking heed of well informed and very valid opinions.

Little Johnny's Composition about the American O'Possum from 1879

Searching in Papers Past on the National Library site comes up at times with amusing diversions such as this one from the Otago Witness 1 February 1879. The view of a young 'Johnny' about the O'Possum was just too amusing not to post up...

Little Johnny's Piece about the O'Possum

If there is anything names, this animil comes from Ireland, but them thats here calls theirselves jess Possums like they were natif born. Possums has a sharp nose and a long bald heded, wich is always cold, never mind the wether. Its jess like there tales was ded and no money for the funeral performance. The ole she ones has got a tobacco pouch on the outsides of their stomuckses, an wen the little ones is a fraid they smuggles in and don't care a copper wot be comes of their ole mother wich is outside.

When a dog finds a possum and it cant git to a tre it lies down and pretends lik it was ded.

One time there was a dog wich dident kno possums found one lying like ded, and after rolling it over a wile an smellin it, the dog twinkled his ear as much to say: "Mitty good job for you old fellow, that you was ded fore I came along." An then the dog he lay and went a sleep.

Wen the possum see the dog a sleep it stood up on its feet to go a way, but jest then the dog woke up. Sech a friten possum you never see, and such a friten dog you never see too, but the dog most. It got up, the dog did and made for home, yellin like its heart was brok, and fore it got home it changed with scare from a black Nufoundling pup to a ole bull dog, like Gaffer Peterses head!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Kaipara Ship Wrecks - 1840 - Aurora

I am still writing this post having found further information which I still need to follow up

The 500 ton Barque Aurora was one of the emigrant ships owned by the New Zealand Company.She came to grief on April 27 1840 while (possibly leaving from the Northern Wairoa River) with a load of Kauri spars and mail from Port Nicholson for England. The Aurora is noted in the New Zealand Gazette & Wellington Spectator as arriving in port on 24 January 1840.

She was noted again as leaving on 5th March 1840 for Java. (I note this isn't mentioned in the text by Sir Henry Brett however eventually she would headed for England)

Below is a full account from Sir Henry Brett's Book White Wings Volume 2. Founding of the Provinces and Old Time Shipping. Passenger Ships from 1840 - 1885 (NZETC) of the Aurora and her voyage from England to Port Nicholson then to her final fate at the Kaipara Heads when leaving with her cargo.

Taking the emigrant vessels, not in the order of sailing from England, but in the order of their arrival at Port Nicholson, we have first the Aurora, 550 tons, Captain Theophilus Heale, which brought out 148 souls, 58 being males and 90 females. Among the cabin passengers were Major Richard Baker (the magistrate appointed by the New Zealand Company) and Mr. Edward Stafford, afterwards Sir Edward Stafford. Of the voyage out there is nothing of exceptional interest to record. It was very much like hundreds of other passages made in subsequent years by other emigrant ships, but there is always attaching to the well-named Aurora the special interest that she was actually the first of a long train of vessels to arrive in New Zealand with people who had come over 12,000 miles of ocean to found the Britain of the South.

Wellington people have had the good taste to give the names of their first fleet ships to various streets, and the result is that wherever one goes in the town there is a name that recalls the stirring days when the city was born. Aurora, Oriental, Tory, Cuba, Adelaide, Bolton, and so on—you will find them all figuring on the street name-plates, and you cannot help thinking it is fitting and proper that the "old barkies" should have their memories perpetuated in this way. One could only wish that the younger generations knew a little more about the real meaning of these names.

Like all the ships of the New Zealand Company, the Aurora was well victualled, including supplies of "wine, spirits, and porter," which were described as ample.

The passengers, being all picked settlers, had no difficulty in amusing themselves on the long voyage, and we read of the dancing and other forms of entertainment which are very much the sort of thing with which the immigrants of to-day amuse themselves on their brief run in steamers that keep to a time-table.

On the whole the weather was good, but off the Cape of Good Hope and in the Southern Ocean some heavy gales were encountered, and the ship lost a topmast or two, as well as a yardarm. She was a good sea boat, however, and came gallantly through it all. Christmas Day was remembered on account of an immense iceberg that was passed.

It was not until January 17th that New Zealand was sighted, and on that day the ship entered Port Hardy. There a whaler named McLaren gave Colonel Wakefield's message, which was to go on to Port Nicholson. The Aurora was off the Heads on the 20th, but a nor'-wester kept her out for a couple of days, during which time she was visited by Wakefield, who had by this time returned from his travels.

Piloted by Captain "Georgie" Young, the well-known whaler, the Aurora entered port on the 22nd of January, 1840, after a passage of 126 days. She dropped anchor about half-way between Somes Island and Petone Beach, and her welcome was a salute from the Cuba's guns.

This epoch-making voyage of the Aurora was to be her last but one. In April of the same year she left Port Nicholson for the North, and was totally wrecked on the northern head of the Kaipara Harbour when leaving the river loaded with kauri spars, and carrying Port Nicholson mails for England.

Kaipara Ship Wrecks - 1901 - Lady St Aubyn

Lady Luck it seemed for the 150 ton schooner Lady St Aubyn didn't run on her side. Another victim of the notorious Kaipara Bar she ran aground on the February 25th 1901. No lives were lost in the stranding, but for the Lady St Aubyn this was to be her last voyage.

Her figurehead is on display at the Dargaville Museum a beautiful lady that didn't bring the vessel she was meant to protect in maritime tradition mercy from the perils of the sea. According to the information on the display board Lady St Aubyn was registered in Penzance, Cornwall, England. And thanks to Timespanner who consulted her book of NZ Shipwrecks I can now verify her year of 1871"The Lady St Aubyn, No. 58,381, 150 tons register, built at Penzance, Cornwall, in 1871 by Martin Matthews. Length 101ft., beam 25.6ft., depth 11.7ft. Owned by J. Pitcaithley of Christchurch (however I have noted a purchase of the vessel by Captain Savident and as being chartered by Messrs Pitcaithley,Wallace & Co see below), and commanded by Captain Alexander McDonald."

There is some question here as to the correct ownership of the Lady St Aubyn. I have noted a purchase by Captain Savident in July 1899 and during my research I also found this article in the Evening Post dated 21st May 1900 as follows:

Yesterday the Schooner Lady St Aubyn arrived in harbour with 135,000ft of timber, half of which is for Messrs Stewart & Co and Pronse Brothers and the remainder for the Gear Company's works at Petone. Captain Saivdent reports favourable N.E winds in his 87 hours passage from Kaipara. The vessel has been chartered by Messrs Pitcaithley, Wallace & Co to proceed from this port to Mercury Bay to load timber for Dunedin, thence to Lyttleton to take a quantity of machinery for Picton, and from, the latter port to the Manukau and back to Kaipara.
My question is did Savident sell the vessel to Pitcaithley? And was Savident still on board when she wrecked?

The first mention I have of her was from the Daily Southern Cross 21 September 1871. The Lady St Aubyn arrived in the port of Adelaide from Mauritius. From there she was mentioned numerous times as crossing from New Zealand to various ports around the Australian coast. She was a trader taking different goods back and forth to New Zealand and other ports. A well seasoned voyager with a list of mishaps to her elegant name.

In a report from the Grey River Argus 14 January 1897 a telegraph message had arrived from Melbourne reporting the schooner had put in to Melbourne after spring a leak in bad weather three days out from the Kaipara to Freemantle. The only thing keeping her afloat was the cargo of timber she was carrying...The schooner Lady of St Aubyn, bound from Kaipara to Freemantle, put in here disabled. She sprung a leak when three days out. Tempestuous weather prevailed throughout, and she had a terrible time, with five feet of water in the hold, and was only kept afloat by her cargo of timber.

In July 1899 Lady St Aubyn was purchased by Captain Savident for the Kaipara-Wellington-Lyttleton trade (Evening Post 29 July 1899).

1900 it seemed was a bad year for the schooner. June 1st 1900 the Lady St Aubyn dragged her anchor in a southerly gale while unloading timber at Petone Wellington, ending up beached.

"During a southerly gale yesterday the schooner Lady St Aubuyn, which was discharging timber at Petone wharf, dragged her anchor and drifted onto the beach. She lies on an upright keel, and is making a little water." Poverty Bay Herald 2 June 1900

Then in late October/Early November 1900 the vessel almost came to grief in the dangerous Cook Strait...

The Brigantine Lady St Aubyn had a very narrow escape of being wrecked in the Cook Straits on the passage from Wellington to Kaipara during the heavy gales a fortnight back. The vessel was caught in a heavy gale and driven to Long Island, getting close to the high cliffs of the island. Being in danger of being driven ashore, the anchors were let go, but before they brought the vessel up she was within fifty yards of the cliffs.. The boats were got in readiness, and as the vessel began to drag still further in-shore, Captain Savident, and the crew left the vessel to her fate, and taking to the boats, made for the island. After a most trying experience they landed in an exhausted state. Some time later the wind suddenly changed, blowing off the land, and the deserted vessel commenced to drift away from her perilous position. Seeing a chance of saving her, the captain and crew put off from the shore again and boarded the vessel. The schooner was got well off the land, and the weather moderating, she continued her course for Kaipara, where she arrived safely.
- Poverty Bay Herald 13 November 1900

On the 25th of February 1901 the sea had the final say on the fate of the Lady of St Aubyn. Entering the Kaipara Heads the schooner was becalmed...

The crew of the Lady St Aubyn, which was wrecked at Kaipara have arrived in Auckland. The captain states that the brigantine was beating over the bar, and had got between the Tory Shoal and the North Spit when the wind suddenly dropped to a flat calm. The tide and swell swept the vessel towards the North Spit, and on this she struck about twenty minutes after the wind had dropped. The heavy swell tide carried the vessel further and further up the beach, bumping all the time. The crew walked ashore when the tide fell. The vessel bumped a great deal at the next tide, and the iron fastenings and seams started, water coming in between the planks. A nautical enquiry will be held tomorrow.
-Evening Post 14 March 1901

The day after the crew's arrival in Auckland on March 14th the nautical inquiry was held on March 15:

A Magisterial inquiry was held at the Magistrate's Court before H. W. Brabant S.M, into the circumstances surrounding the wreck of the schooner Lady St Aubyn on the North Spit Entrance to Kaipara Harbour on the 25 ult. the enquiry was held on the application of the Collector of Customs, who conducted the examination of witnesses. The finding of the Court was that the master had committed a grave error of judgment in not letting go his anchor when his vessel was drifting towards the North Spit, but the error in judgment was not considered grave enough to necessitate interference with the master's certificate. The master was ordered to pay half the costs of the enquiry, the proportion to be paid by him not to exceed L5.
- Grey River Argus 18 March 1901

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Kaipara Ship Wrecks - 1867 Mosquito possibly Whakapirau

The Replica of the Bounty anchored in Whangarei 1980

The Kaipara Harbour with its many changing moods can be very unpredictable. While the infamous heads have their treacherous reputation, the inner reaches of the Kaipara could be just as perilous. More than one ship and small boat had met an end in the one of the many inlets and rivers. A brief mention in a faded newspaper before as the decades passed all but forgotten and unrecorded then lost to memory.

This perhaps is the case with a boat named the Mosquito. She was built by Thomas Condon for Albertland Settler Lionel de Labrosse. Labrosse had taken land up at Pahi with his wife and family in the early years of 1863/64. He was a French Count according to Dick Scott from his book Seven Lives on Salt River. Scott covers the life of Lionel de Labrosse describing him as 'the Count who ate with the crew'. I will be researching this interesting man later on. Thanks to a very close friend of mine Lisa aka Timespanner my mind enquired beyond the written chapter and I began to look further into the account of the sinking of de Labrosse's vessel. Below is a letter from Lionel de Labrosse to Captain James then pilot of the Kaipara Harbour as it appeared in the Daily Southern Cross 25th September 1867.

Loss of Life at Kaipara

We have been furnished with the following letter by Captain James, pilot at the Kaipara, detailing a boat accident, and loss of life at Kaipara.

To Captain James

Dear Sir,

I am sorry to have to relate to you a sad event which occurred on Monday last.

I left Helensville on Friday night, the 11th instant, on board my boat the ' Mosquito' having with me Thomas Condon, the builder.

We came that night as far as Shelly Beach, and anchored there for the night. On Saturday morning we left before high water for the Heads, but when as far as the buoy, finding the sea rather heavy, and having our after hatch not closed, which caused us to ship some water, we ran back to Shelly Beach, being all the time under double-reef mainsail and staysail, and jib, wind blowing about W.S.W all the time.

On Sunday, the 13th we left before high water, with a light breeze, carrying whole mainsail and staysail, and jib. We reached your place about 10.30, and came to anchor to wait for the tide to cross the Heads and get up the Otamatea.

We left your place about 3 o'clock, with your directions to cross the bank, which we accomplished satisfactorily . The breeze being light, we sent up the gaff top-sail, and reached Masefield's between 6 and 7 o'clock, and stopped there for the night.

On Monday, the 14th, about 5 o'clock a.m., got under-way for Pahi, with double-reefed mainsail and staysail, it blowing rather fresh from the eastward. We beat against the tide, and got clear of Masefield's Bluff in three tacks, when we noticed some very dirty weather to the windward of us. We brought up and anchored, took in the third reef, and waited until the squall was over. It blew fearfully, and rained the whole time. When the squall was over we got under-way on the starboard tack, so as not to get ourselves to windward, being able to run bar-free up the Arapaua. We experienced some very heavy squalls, which caused us to douse the peak several times. The sea was pretty heavy, but the boat was riding over it like a bird, not shipping a drop of water. We go on very well, and were as far as Whakapirau; the wind having moderated and heading us a little, we let go one reef, so as to get around the large bluff, which is just opposite Manukau's Point, without putting her round.

When getting near the township, Condon suggested to me that we ought to put the jib on her, the weather being clear and fine. I said I thought she had enough, but if he thought she might carry it, he might please himself; so he went and put it on. She was at the time running free. We passed the township, and, when about half a quarter mile from it, a sudden squall struck us, coming right over the bluff. I gave her all the helm I could, telling Condon at the same time to let fly the jib sheet. She lay down considerably, and would not luff anymore, having too much headsail; and Condon not letting go the jib sheet, a second squall struck her as she was lying over, and she began to fill in the after hatch. I told him to cut away the jib-halliards, but I believe the poor fellow had lost his presence of mind, for he stood motionless by the rigging. When half full she began to right herself and go down stern first. I then shouted to Condon to look our for his life, when all the answer he gave me was "I cannot swim." I told him then to catch hold of the oar that was on deck. I jumped off to windward, and having my oilskins on, did not expect to be saved; but with aid of my knife, I soon stripped some of my clothes off, and, turning round, saw Condon struggling with a box about ten yards from me; but I saw no more of him after that moment.

I saw one of the hatches which came up, and made for it, thinking I could get to him, but my oilskins became entangled about my legs, I was unable to reach the poor fellow before he sank to rise no more. Seeing no more of him, I thought I must now look out for my life, and catching hold of another hatch, I let the tide drift me up until I was picked up by Mt Herbert Metcalfe and Mr Coates, who were down at Mr Symonds's, and saw us go down.

Great praise is due to them, and to Mr Symonds also, for the exertions they made on our behalf, and for the promptitude with which they acted against wind and tide. We have been searching for the body ever since, and dragged the river, but without success.

I remain, dear sir, most truly yours

Lionel de Labrosse

Daily Southern Cross 25th October 1867

Further notes. From the description of the vessels' location and the assistance of J. Symonds (who had a timber mill at Whakapirau) I am taking an educated guess that the Mosquito sank just near Whakapirau Beach. Per haps she still lies beneath the harbour sands waiting to be rediscovered.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Kaipara Ship Wrecks - 1839 Tory - Grounding on the Kaipara Bar

Ship: Tory 3 masted Barque built 1834 by Frederick Preston, Southdown Suffolk for Joseph Soames. Registered 8th May 1834. Purchased by the New Zealand Company November 1834. Sailed from London in May 1839 under the command of Captain Edward Mein Chaffers with 35 passengers on board. She arrived in Queen Charlotte Sound on the 17th September 1839 and entered Port Nicholson (Wellington) 20th September 1839. Wrecked in the Palawan Passage 23rd January 1841.

The Tory was the earliest of the recorded vessels to come to grief at the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour. (She was not the first European vessel to enter the the Kaipara Harbour). She ran aground on the morning 19th of after setting anchor in 10 fathoms of water the night before in the Harbour entrance. It was fortunate Captain Chaffers had chosen to sail in summer. Winter time on the Kaipara Harbour was a dangerous time for sailing vessels. Storms from the Tasman would blow up without warning the fierce westerly gales dashing many an unfortunate ship upon the western shores. Her reasons though for entering the Kaipara were in themselves fascinating.

Colonel Wakefield had received instructions from the New Zealand Company to proceed to the Kaipara as follows (NZ Spectator 6th September 1839)

Extract from the Instructions given to Colonel Wakefield, the Company's Principal Agent in command of the Preliminary Expedition: -

Considering the excellent sailing qualities of the Tory, and that you are amply supplied with provisions and water, we trust that you may reach Cook's Strait, without touching anywhere, by the end of August. As soon as you have completed your business there, which we are in hopes may not occupy you more than two months, you will proceed to Kaipara, and thoroughly inspect that harbour and district. You will also take the best means in your power of ascertaining whether there is; to the southward of Kaipara a spot more suitable than that port to become the seat of the commercial capital of the North Island; and if you should discover such a spot, you will endeavour to make an extensive purchase there.

At Kaipara you will exhibit to the natives the original contracts of Lieutenant McDonnell, and will claim, on behalf of the Company, the lands therein named. You will also inform the natives, that Lieutenant McDonnell intends to proceed to New Zealand ere long; you will deliver to the chiefs the letter, whereby he informs them of his having transferred his lands there to the Company; and you will take whatever steps you may think most expedient, to obtain possession of this tract in the name of the Company.

Supposing you to have selected from any purchases that you may make in Cook's Strait, or in the neighbourhood of Kaipara, or in the district of the Company's lands at Kaipara that spot which you shall deem the fittest for a first settlement, - that spot which shall present the most satisfactory combination of facility of access, security for shipping, fertile soil, water-communisation with districts abounding in flax and timber, and falls of water for the purposes of mills, - and where the native inhabitants shall evince the greatest desire to receive English settlers, and appear most anxious to obtain employment for wages; there you will make all such preparations for the arrival of a body of settlers, as the means at your disposal will allow. Amongst these it occurs to us that the natives should be employed at liberal wages, in felling the best kinds of timber, taking the logs to the place which you may have marked out for the site of a town, and so in collecting and preparing flax and spars as a return freight for vessels which may convey settlers to the place. You should also make the native thoroughly aware of the nature and extend of the intended settlement, so that they may not be surprised at the subsequent arrival of a number of large ships. At this spot, when you quit it, you will of course, leave such persons as you may be able to spare, and shall be willing to remain, for the purpose of assuring the natives of your return, and of pursuing the labours of preparation.

After calling at several places the “Tory” set sail for Kaipara on the 16th December, 1839, and anchored in ten fathoms outside the entrance of that harbour on the 18th. The following morning Dr. Dorset, who was left in charge of affairs during the Colonel's absence up north, announced that the ship was aground, so the usual methods to get her off were taken, but in vain. Captain Chaffers and his crew exerted themselves unceasingly; five guns, three or four anchors and cables, a deck load of spare spars and several other heavy articles were cast over; some heavy mill stones and paving flags were hoisted from the hold and rolled overboard. One of them was carelessly sent through the best whale-boat, which lay at the gangway.

She was hove down on a sandbank at the first spring tide, and the necessary repairs proceeded with. Colonel Wakefield then proceeded overland to the Bay of Islands in order to charter a small vessel to take him to Port Hardy, to meet the first fleets of Emigrant ships.

- from Early Wellington P22 Author Louis E. Ward

Further Notes:
  • Post update 18th March 09 The personal account as written by Colonel Wakefield to a Sydney Newspaper

  • Lt Thomas James McDonnell had sailed into the Kaipara Harbour in 1835/36 in the schooner Tui and, announcing that he acted by authority, declared the harbour tapu and claimed extensive timber rights. In fact McDonnell only had a claim to his land at Horeke and nothing else. The New Zealand Company would later find out their so-called land purchases were in fact completely invalid. The Company in their journal from 1842 would later declare McDonnell as being a 'crimper' a comparison to the press gangers of the early sailing days. McDonnell was also known by many of the early settlers who had had dealings with this colourful Irishman as "McDiddle" a story I'll be doing a little later on once my research has been completed.

Read a full account of the Tory's voyage to New Zealand here
More on the Tory here

Kaipara Ship Wrecks - 1846 Mary Catherine

The Mary Catherine was a barque of some 400 tons commanded by Captain Howlett. She stranded on one of the many sand bars that criss crossed the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour. Declared a total loss the Mary Catherine was put up for auction in Auckland. She was refloated then returned to Auckland where she was rebuilt then renamed the Charles (Article Nelson Examiner & NZ Chronicle 23rd October 1847) . The Charles sailed for London from the Port of Auckland on 16th September 1847.

An account from The New Zealander 23rd May 1846 gave an account of the Mary Catherine's ordeal


New Zealander 23rd May 1846

On the 25th April, the fine barque Mary Catherine, Capt. Howlett, 400 tons, left Auckland for the Port of Kaipara on the western coast, to take in a valuable cargo of spars for England. It is with regret, we have to announce that advices were received last Sunday, overland, with account of the Mary Catherine having being driven on a sand-bank in the harbour of the Kaipara, after parting from the chain and warps, in that most tremendous gale which occurred during the night of Saturday, the 9th May. It is most satisfactory to state, that no lives were lost, and that what cargo there was on board of copper, oil, flax, and kauri gum, will be saved.

The Mary Catherine arrived off the harbour of Kaipara, on the afternoon of the 5th May, when she lay to until the following morning, Wednesday, the 6th; - when she entered the heads, with a north-east breeze, and work in, beautifully, between the shoals.

The Tory shoal was weathered at 5 p.m., and she anchored at 7 p.m., in nine fathoms water, off Point Dawson; she remained at this anchorage until Saturday, the 9th, when, at 3 p.m., as the barometer was rapidly falling and the weather bore a very threatening aspect, the barque got underweigh, blowing hard at south-west, under double reefed topsails; but at the first cast of the lead the water shoaled from six to two fathoms, and she immediately struck.

However, the stream anchor was immediately got out ahead, with 140 fathoms of good warps, and she was hove off to six fathoms water; but the breeze increasing to a perfect gale, it was found impossible to get her into deep water, and the larboard chain veered out, until her heel was in three fathoms water, and still holding onto the warps.

The gale during the night increased to a prefect hurricane, and continued until the following Wednesday, with increasing violence. On Monday, the 11th, the ship parted from both warps and chain, and was driven height on the sand-bank. It then being the full moon, the spring tides, added to the force of the gale, forced the vessel higher on the bank.

A survey has been held on board the vessel by the captains of other ships in the harbour of the Kaipara, where there are so few facilities as well as inhabitants, will be so great, that it will be more to the interest of the underwriters and all parties concerned, that the vessel should be publicly sold as she now lies.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kaipara Ship Wrecks - 1851 L'Alcmene

Painting of the wreck of L'Alcmene in the Dargaville Musium
Artist unknown Image taken by Liz

This is the first of a series of posts I'll be doing on Northland Ship Wrecks and casualties. Now and then I may divert and cover other wrecks from around the New Zealand Coast.

The L'Alcemene perhaps is one of the best known of the ships to have wrecked on the Northland west coast. Built in 1834 L'Alcmene was a French Corvette. She was a three masted vessel carrying 36 guns on board. Her Commander was Captain le Compte d'Harcourt. According to a report in the Southern Cross dated 17th June 1851 L'Alcmene was on her passage from Hobart to Hokianga. On June 3rd 1851 the L'Alcmene became becalmed thirty miles from shore. For four days she had drifted nearer and nearer to land. On the fourth day a westerly blew up and despite all efforts, she ended up entangled in the breakers,just off Bayly's Beach south of the notorious Monganui Bluff( itself a noted graveyard for many an unfortunate ship) and north of the equally dangerous Kaipara Harbour entrance.

With no hope to break free of the pounding west coast waves the Captain made a decision to beach her as a last alternative. In the doing twelve lives were lost. This is the account from the Southern Cross 17th June 1851:

As far as we have been able to gather, the particulars of this unfortunate disaster are as follows:-

The Alcmene was on her passage from Hobart Town to Hokianga, and at the beginning of the present month, got becalmed on the West Coast. about thirty miles off shore. She continued drawing helplessly towards the land, then she encountered a heavy gale on the 4th; and as we understand our informant, found it impossible to claw off the lee shore on which she found herself so unhappily and so unexpectedly thrown.

Having become entangled among the breakers, and no hope of saving the ship presenting itself, as a last alternative she was beached. Luckily she took the ground at the top of high water, and had her crew but waited for the ebb, in all probability little or no loss of life would have ensued.

As it was, an immediate attempt to land took place, which although partially successful, still entailed a sacrifice of twelve lives, and caused the wounding of twelve others. The great majority of the crew, including a Hobart Town lady, the wife of one of the officers, walked on shore from the ship which was left embedded in the sand on the fall of the tide.

The spot where the wreck occurred was at Ripiro, near Monganui, about midway between Kaipara and Hokianga Heads. The shipwrecked mariners, having strolled along the beach, encoutered a tribe of Ngatiapa, by whom, and their chief Matin, they were conducted to the village of Okaro, where they experienced every possible kindness and hospitality; and from whence some of the officers and men have crossed to Auckland to make known their misfortunes, and to solicit and all assistance that can be rendered. Little or nothing has been saved, and the ship has become a total wreck.

The Alcmene has been for sometime these seas, and had but just undergone a thorough and expensive refit at Hobart Town, at which port she had been lying for several months.

We understand Mr. Luke Master of H.M Ship Fly, has proceeded to the scene of disaster, to assist in securing whatever materials may be washed ashore, as well as to expediate the passage of the crew of the corvette to Auckland.

Further Reading An account by the Reverend James Buller here

Relics from the L'Alcmene now on display at the Dargaville Museum

Quarter Master's keys from the wreck of L'Alcmene

Photo of a model of the vessel

One of the cannons recovered from the wreck site