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White Wings Vol I. Fifty Years Of Sail In The New Zealand Trade, 1850 TO 1900

The Matoaka

The Matoaka.

Lost with all Hands.

Considering the number of voyages that were made round the stormy Horn in the old sailing ship days the New Zealand trade was singularly free from disasters. Saddest of all epitaphs for a gallant ship is that of "missing." There is something so ominous and mysterious about it, and one's natural grief at the loss of relation or friend seems trebled when a disaster of that kind occurs. One of the few ships from New Zealand that have been posted "missing" was the Matoaka, which was a well-known Willis, Gann and Co. trader of the very early days. She was later purchased by the Shaw, Savill Co. She and her skipper (Captain Stevens) were very well known in the colony, and particularly in Canterbury, five out of the eight voyages the ship made to New Zealand being to Lyttelton. Captain Stevens was a very popular man in Christchurch and Auckland. the Matoaka, a ship of 1092 tons, was trading to New Zealand from 1859 to 1869. On May 13 of the latter year she left Lyttelton for London, Captain Stevens being in command, but she was never heard of again. It was conjectured that the ship struck an iceberg during the night, and foundered with all hands.

As an instance of the trying time ships sometimes had among the ice, an experience of the Matoaka's may be cited. On the run out from London to Lyttelton in 1867 she fell in with a great number of bergs when away down in the South Indian Ocean in about the same latitude as Kerguelen Island, and not quite half-way between that spot and the bottom end of New Zealand. It was Christmas Day. As far as the eye could reach from the masthead there were bergs extending north and south. As night came on sail was shortened, and the ship passed several bergs from 300ft to 400ft in height. The following day and night the ship was still among bergs, and the last one passed was 320 miles from the large group. In waters like that it meant the most vigilant navigation, and the officers and crew had a very anxious time until they got free of the ice.

Captain Stevens was in the Matoaka for seven years, and during that timepage 190 he made fairly fast runs out and home, never exceeding 95 days port to port. In '62 the ship did the run from Bristol to Lyttelton in 82 days, that being her best passage in the trade.

the Matoaka on her first voyage to Auckland came up from Wellington, leaving that port on September 17, 1859. She was flying light, and when off Castle Point encountered a heavy northerly gale, during which several sails were split, and the vessel hove-to for twelve hours. The same night she shipped a sea which stove in the main hatch and her bulwarks. This gale was the cause of the long voyage of eleven days from Wellington.

Captain Stevens was specially interested in bringing out song birds for the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society. Owing to the unremitting care bestowed on them, with the assistance of the carpenter, he landed in a healthy condition a large number of starlings, larks, blackbirds, thrushes, and other songsters in 1867. He also was successful in landing a healthy lot of pheasants and partridges. The following year Captain Stevens was even more successful. On this occasion he landed twelve pairs of thrushes, 77 pairs blackbirds, 22 house sparrows, 7 redpoles, 1 yellow-hammer, 1 pair bramble finches, and 1 robin. On the previous voyage several robins were placed on board, but they all died.

Following are the particulars of the eight voyages made to New Zealand by the ship:—

To Auckland.
Sailed. Arrived. Captain. Days.
*June 15 Sep. 26, '59 Stevens 103
Sep. 23, '64 Jan. 3, '65 Barnett 99
To Wellington.
June 13 Sep. 13, '59 Stevens 92
To Lyttelton.
Sep. 4 Dec. 1, '60 Stevens 88
Nov. 20, '61 Feb. 10, '62 Stevens 82
Oct. 7, '66 Jan. 10, '67 Stevens 94
Land to land 85
Nov. 16, '67 Feb. 11, '68 Stevens 86
Land to land 80
Nov. 12, '68 Feb. 8, '69 Stevens 89
To Port Chalmers.
July 3, '65 Stevens 84

* Via Wellington, 92 days.