The Isabella de Fraine

On the 14 July 1928 the schooner (ketch) Isabella de Fraine was sunk while crossing the bar at Hokianga with the loss of 8 lives. She had been well known to the Auckland shipping scene, plying her way along the Northern New Zealand coastline carrying goods from one port to the other. Sadly on that afternoon the weather was not kind to her nor her crew. Waves rolled the ketch over and all 8 hands on board were lost to the sea.

The Isabella de Fraine was built at Camden Haven (Balmain) in New South Wales, Australia by J.W. Davies, and registered in Sydney in 1902. She had a weight of 110 tons (gross) and was reported as being owned by A.J. Frankham Ltd. She was fitted with an auxiliary oil engine of 60 hp. For some years the Isabella de Fraine had run on the Auckland-Gisborne trade before being transferred over to the Auckland-Hokianga service.

At the end of May 1927, a year prior to her sinking the vessel had almost met the same fate.



(By Telegraph.) (Special to "The Evening Post.")

AUCKLAND, 30th May.

The auxiliary schooner Isabella de Frame, in charge-of Captain Kennedy, whilst coming up the Hokianga Harbour, struck a submerged log off Karaka Point, which knocked a hole in the forward part .of the hull. The pumps were manned, and finding the vessel making water, the captain beached the vessel and plugged the hole up with a sack of flour.

The cargo is considerably damaged and is now being unloaded at Rawene Wharf, after which the vessel will be beached at Kohukohu for repairs.

It is fortunate the accident happened where it did, as if the schooner had struck outside the bar there would have been a. great risk of total loss.

- Evening Post 21 May 1927

For a further year the vessel continued on with her trade runs until the fateful day of 14 July 1928 came. The Evening Post were the ones to report the regretful news...



Two men —the harbour master at Hokianga and his assistant — were horrified witnesses of the loss of the well-known schooner Isabella de Frame on Saturday afternoon. Struck by a heavy sea while apparently out of control on the Hokianga Bar, she capsized and sank, and search parties have failed so far to find any trace of her crew of eight.

Eight lives were lost when the auxiliary schooner Isabella do Frame capsized at the entrance to Hokianga Harbour at 4 o'clock on Saturday afternoon. The victims formed the entire crew of the vessel.

It is the gravest maritime disaster in the history of New Zealand coastal shipping since the steamer Ripple foundered with the loss of 17 lives off Cape Palliser on 7th August, 1924

. The vessel was approaching the entrance to the harbour when she was suddenly caught by the wind and a heavy swell, and turned completely over.

The captain was thrown from the rigging, and with the other members of the crew, was carried under water as the vessel turned over. The witnesses of the foundering saw no sign of the crew after the schooner capsized. For twenty minutes she drifted upside down, and then turned slowly over and sank. The tide was running almost full when the schooner attempted to take the bar, and why she did not go straight through is baffling to seamen who have learned the story of the wreck from the eye-witnesses.

It is suggested that perhaps the rudder became loose, and it is stated, that when the vessel turned over the rudder was not seen: This swift drama of the sea was witnessed by Captain Mitchell, harbour master, assistant, Mr. Bryers but they were powerless to do anything, and they were alone on an isolated part of the coast.

They at once reported the wreck to nearby townships, and by nightfall many search parties had been organised. Throughout the night and again yesterday the rugged coastline was combed by searchers in the faint hope that some of the crew might have reached the shore; but their efforts; were in vain, the only evidence of disaster being pieces of wreckage and cargo washed ashore.


The names of the crew are: — Captain A. Berridge, aged 47, married. D. Teixeira, mate, aged 53, married. A. Kendrick, engineer, aged 32; married. H. Trevarthen, assistant engineer, aged 22, single. E. Merritt, cook, single. F. Liewendahl, able seaman, single. A Suvanto, able seaman, single. M. Kennedy, ordinary seaman, single.


The Isabella de Frame was carrying between 40 and 50 tons of cargo, including a small quantity of fruit and some case-oil. She was insured with the Hartford. Insurance Co., but the amount is not available. The Isabella de Frame was well known in Auckland shipping circles, and has been engaged in tho New Zealand coastal trade for over ten years. She was a wooden schooner of 110 tons gross, owned by A. G. Frankham, Ltd., and built at Camden Haven:, in the north of New South Wales, in 1902, She had an auxiliary oil engine of 60 h.p. After running for a considerable time in tho Gisborne-Auckland trade, she was transferred to the Hokianga service, trading first from Auckland, and, in more recent months, from Onehunga to Hokianga.


Graphic details of tho scene were given by Captain Mitchell, who said: "I sighted the schooner at 10.45 a.m. She was coming from tho north under sail, and by Semaphore signals I notified her at 1.30 p.m. to keep to the south. About ten minutes later I observed the vessel starting up her engines, and then I hoisted the signal, "Wait for the tide at 1.50."

"I wanted the vessel to bo in a good position, but then I saw something which seemed odd. She was under power of her sails again, but presently the engines were started for the second time, and she went on the port tack. At 3:40 p.m. the crew took in the mainsail and the vessel made toward the south channel about a quarter of an hour later."

"At this moment I put up the signal; "Take the bar" I hoisted the Semaphore to show that the schooner was to turn inward, and come over the bar, but she did not take notice of my signal, and stood off to the northward just outside the bar."

"Then I dropped the Semaphore and watched the captain carry on past the bar and go south to the edge of the main, channel. Again I put up the Semaphore to come into the harbour. This she did not do. She turned out and then suddenly made for the bar. She jibed when almost on the bar and taking a run on a sea, it appeared as if she would never; stop."

" Then she went broadside on, and did not seem under control. The booms swung across the decks, and the craft listed and was hit by a swell. Then she turned over."

Captain Mitchell at once ran to his home, and telephoning to the police, he gave the alarm which spread swiftly to tho townships in tho district. — Mr.. Bryers, who remained on watch with his telescope trained on the floating hull, saw tho Isabella de Fraine spring up from the sea and then go down finally.


The Harbourmaster's station is isolated, and accessible only by motor launch, aud leaving their station, which is on the,south side of the harbour, both men boarded the Harbourmaster 's launch and sped for the north side. They ran along tho waters edge vainly searching for men. Two other men came running along the beach, and the four continued the search, but nothing but flotsam was sighted. Helpful Maoris galloped up on horses, but nearly three hours elapsed before other volunteers arrived.

About 8.o'clock search parties organised in small towns along the harbour began to arrive. By noon 400 people from all, parts of the neighbouring; districts were, scouring the shore, and so the search continued throughout the day, but at midnight no trace was found of the crew.

Having travelled post haste from Auckland to Hokianga, the owners of the ship, Messrs, Frankham and Lowe, arrived shortly after midday.

Until a year ago Captain Kennedy, agent for Frankham and Company, was master of the Isabella de Frame, which was under his command for four years.

"She was the finest little craft any man could wish to put his foot aboard," he said. "She was as seaworthy as the next ship, and fast. It is a mystery to me how the disaster occurred. She would take this bar with ease. She was particularly good in bar work, but this bar is generally known by men of the sea to be the worst in the Dominion. Captain Berridge was a sure and careful master."

- Evening Post 16 July 1928


(By Telegraph.) (Special to "The Evening Post") ( AUCKLAND, This Day. The "Herald's" special reporter telegraphed last night from Kohukohu:

There is no sign to-day of the hull of the Isabella de Frame, which was wrecked on the Hokianga Bar late on Saturday afternoon. Parties of searchers patrolled twenty miles of wild, rugged coast to-day from the north head of the harbour to Whangape, vainly looking for the bodies of the eight men who perished.

A little more cargo has been washed , ashore since yesterday, and oil mixed with petrol forms patches on the beach. Iron tanks aboard the schooner held about 6000 gallons of oil. No launches have yet left Hokianga to search off the coast, as conditions are not favourable. Four miles north of the entrance to Whangape Harbour, which is about twenty miles from the scene of the wreck, more wreckage has been found.

In a rowboat, Mr. Carrol, Officer-in-charge of the Customs Department at Whangape, went along the coast this afternoon, and a variety of cargo from the schooner was found. The sea was less than yesterday, but breakers rolled on the bar.

One or two life jackets have been picked up, but no clothing or personal effects have been seen. Proof that the schooner was seaworthy and lent herself to easy management is found in the fact that recently she negotiated the bar at Manukau Heads after her rudder had been lost. Six weeks ago she crossed the bar at Hokianga en route to Manukau. While off Kaipara Heads next morning her rudder was carried away, but later, balanced by her sails, she successfully crossed the Manukau Bar and, sailing down the harbour, anchored in Cornwallis Bay. The following day she proceeded to Onehunga Wharf, where she berthed. All this was accomplished without a rudder.

- Evening Post 17 July 1928



HULL DRIFTING TO THE NORTH (By Telegraph.) (Special to "The Evening Post.") AUCKLAND, This Day. ,

The body of Amos Suvanto, an able seaman, who was drowned on Saturday afternoon in the wreck of the Isabella de Fraine, was found yesterday morning near the Golden Stairs, a steep track winding up the side of a precipitous hill on the coast, about fifteen miles from the sceno of the wreck. No sign has been seen of the other victims of the disaster.

Parties patrolling the beach from Hokianga to Whangape saw fresh wreckage washed up by the tide in the vicinity of Mitimiti. The men saw the hull of the Isabella de Fraine drifting off the same spot late on Monday night, when she seemed to be. moving further northwards and out to sea. Pieces of the vessel and scraps of cargo are being seen by the police and volunteers searching the coast from Ahipara to Herekino.

- Evening Post 18 July 1928



A nautical inquiry into the loss of the auxiliary schooner Isabella de Frame with all hands on the Hokianga Bar opened this morning, before Mr. E. C. Cutten, S.M., and Captains W. B. Watt and E. Gibson, assessors. Mr. V. E. Meredith appeared for tho Superintendent of the Mercantile Marine, Mr. Allan Moody was retained by the Merchant Service Guild on behalf of the relatives of Captain A. Berridge, master of the vessel, and Mr. D. Teixiera, mate. The owners A. G. Frankham, Ltd. were represented by Mr. K. M'Veagh.

Mr. Eldon Lansley, surveyor of ships, said he surveyed the Isabella de Fraine on 2nd February and found everything in order. John Mitchell, pilot and signalman, said he sighted the vessel at 10.45 a.m. on 14th July eight or nine miles to the northward. The wind was moderate, south-west, and the sea decreasing on the ebb tide.

The vessel arrived due west of the bar at 1.30 p.m. Witness signalled at 1.40,."Wait for the tide." The vessel kept to the southward. The engine was run for a short time. At 3.40 it was stopped, and was started again, and the vessel came round to the south channel. At 3.55 the signal was given, "Take the bar." The bar was then working; it was half-tide.

Captain Berridge had worked that channel two or three times previously. He did not take the south channel, but passed a bit northwards. When he got close to the main channel he was given a semaphore signal to cross the bar.

He ran on a very short distance, and then turned in as if answering the semaphore. The engines were still going. From the movements of the vessel witness concluded there was something wrong, as his signal was not answered immediately. The vessel was about to veer in to cross the bar when she turned northward again.

A wave slowed the ship to starboard, the boom came right over, and all control appeared to be lost. Another sea struck her broadside on, and she capsized on to her port side. Just prior to this the pilot saw a man in the rigging, though this was not unusual in crossing a bar. On every occasion the Isabella took the north channel en route from Onehunga to Hokianga. The south channel had been unworkable.

In reply to Mr. Meredith the pilot said Captain Berridge had not always displayed good seamanship. On one occasion he had taken the south channel against the signal and worked it. Captain Berridge later informed the witness that there was 17 feet of water in the south channel, but witness contended that the bar was always changing.

Early in the afternoon of the wreck Captain Berridge carried south of the heads, and first made for the south channel, but passed it and was two lengths east of the north channel when he turned to cross inwards.

- Evening Post 8 August 1928


(By Telegraph.—Press Association.) DARGAVILLE, Bth September.

The mainmast of the ill-fated schooner Isabella de Frame, wrecked on the Hokianga Bar in July, came ashore at Chase's Gorge to-day. The sails and ropes were still attached to the mast, which had drifted south nearly 70 miles, and was in a good state of preservation.

- Evening Post 10 September 1928


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