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

Ill-Fated Piako

page 270

Ill-Fated Piako.

Well-known New Zealand Company's Ship—Twice Caught Fire at Sea—Captain Boyd's Gallantry.

A handsome little iron ship that was a frequent visitor to the Waitemata was the New Zealand Shipping Company's Piako, 1075 tons. She was built by A. Stephens, of Glasgow, in 1877, and when taken out of the New Zealand trade was sold to the Germans. She served the company well for many years, and eventually her fate was the saddest of all ends to a brave ship—she was posted "missing" at Lloyd's in 1900 after sailing from Melbourne for the Cape, a destination she was fated never to reach. In addition to being well known in Auckland the Piako was also a frequent visitor to Port Chalmers, Wellington and Lyttelton, and to those ports she brought out many thousands of English, Scotch, and Irish immigrants.

In her New Zealand record there are two very quick runs, and most of her other passages were under the average. Her record passage was made in 1877-78. Leaving Plymouth on November 20, 1877, she anchored at Port Chalmers on February 5, 1878, a splendid passage of 76 days 12 hours, port to port, or 74 days land to land. Captain W. B. Boyd, who was in command, said the ship did some remarkably good sailing while scudding before a very heavy westerly gale encountered in latitude 43 degrees, south.

Man Overboard.

the Piako's next best run was made when she left London on October 23, 1879, and arrived at Lyttelton on January 16, 1888—85 days port to port, or 73 days to the Snares. Next year she had a very bad run to Port Chalmers. Leaving London on September 25, 1880, she was delayed several days in the Channel by head winds, and then met with a terrific gale accompanied by high seas in the Bay of Biscay. So bad was the weather that the second-class passengers had to be battened down, and during the height of it an A.B. named John Heywood, fell overboard, the ship then logging eleven knots, but in spite of the heavy sea that was running, a boat was lowered and in less than an hour the man was safe on board again. On this trip the Piako did not cross the equator until the 40th day out from port, and the Cape was passed on December 4. Running down her easting the ship got a nice slant of favourable weather, logging 319, 304, 301, and 296 on four days; but after passing Tasmania she ran into a succession of easterly gales and heavy seas, and did not make Port Chalmers until January 14, 1881—101 days out.

Very tempestuous weather was experienced by the Piako on her next voyage out, but still she reached Port Chalmers in 85 days, or 79 days from land to land.

In the year 1878 the Piako made a good run from Port Chalmers to London in 71 days. She carried a westerly wind right to the Horn, and covered the distance in the good time of eighteen days, during which not a sail was taken in.

Ship On Fire.

During the Piako's voyage from Plymouth to Lyttelton in 1878, the ship narrowly escaped being burned at sea. In addition to a valuable cargo of 1,050 tons she was bringing out 288 immigrants. At 10.45 a.m. on November 11th—exactly a month after leaving port—the ship having made a good run, and then being in lat. 7 deg south, long. 32 west (about 180 miles from Pernambuco) the chief officer, Mr. Holbeeke, rushed into the skipper's cabin, where Captain Boyd was entering up his log book, and reported that smoke was issuing from the lower fore-hatch. Within six minutes of the alarm flames were seen about 20 feet abaft the foremost tier of cargo, and Mr. Hazelwood, the second mate quickly had a hose playing on the spot.

Within two minutes, however, the dense smoke drove the men on deck, and the captain immediately had the hatches clapped on, and wet blankets were spread over everything. Captain Boyd and a party of volunteers then tried to get below by way of the married people's quarters, but they were driven back almost stifled by the acrid fumes.

Seeing the peril of the ship, Captain Boyd headed for Pernambuco, and ordered all the boats out. Some storespage 271 were put in, but the men were soon driven from the after storeroom, so rapidly had the fire spread, and in a very short while the coamings of the hatches were so hot that they could not be touched.

A Welcome Sight.

About 2 p.m. much to the relief of the passengers, a barque was sighted on the weather bow, and Captain Boyd ran up signals of distress. The stranger, which proved to be the Loch Doon, San Francisco to Cork, bore up, and in three hours all the passengers were transferred from the burning ship.

Having seen his passengers safe, Captain Boyd called for volunteers to take the ship into Pernambuco, and to a man the crew responded. For two days they toiled at the pumps, and at 4 p.m.
The Favourite Ship Piako.

The Favourite Ship Piako.

on the 13th, their strenuous efforts and Captain Boyd's pluck was rewarded, the ship dropping anchor in Pernambuco Roads. A few hours later the Loch Doon also came in and anchored.

Sailing from Pernambuco on December 28, 1878, the Piako reached Lyttelton on March 5, 1879, 65 days out, or 145 days from Plymouth. The cargo, of course, was very much damaged.

An inquiry was held at Pernambuco, and another examination was ordered by the New Zealand Government when the ship reached Lyttelton. It was conducted by Superintendent Broham, and Mr. George Harper, of Christchurch, solicitor, appeared for the New Zealand Shipping Co. Rumours had been spread about that some of the passengers could throw light on the cause of the outbreak of fire. Only one passenger could be induced to give evidence, and he knew practically nothing. This voyage was a most expensive one for the New Zealand Government, which had to compensate the passengers for the loss of most of their belongings.

Gallant Captain Boyd.

Captain Banks, who later commanded the ships Rakaia and Euterpe, was second officer on the Piako on this occasion, and referring to the disaster, stated that the passengers numbered 317 and a crew of forty. He said: "When the alarm of fire was given there was great commotion among the passengers, as when we raised the hatch to try and get at the fire the flames leapt out of the hold to a height of 15 to 20 feet. Water was poured down in vain, and we were compelled to batten down the hatch again. When Captain Boyd found the fire could not be subdued, he had all the boats lowered and as many of the passengers put into them as they would hold, the women and children being sent down first. It was at this point that some of the passengers behaved the worst, and it required all the captain's coolness and determination to prevent a panic. Amongst the emigrants were 160 single men, and a lot of them, when they saw the boats being lowered, tried to rush them. Things looked nasty for a few minutes, but with the assistance of the crew and of the married men and the better behaved of the unmarried, they soon put the unruly ones to the right-about. But while the rush lasted it was pitiful topage 272 see the terror of the women, especially the mothers, who would hold out their babies to the captain and the officers, imploring them to save the little ones.

When the position was very serious the barque Loch Doon hove in sight. We immediately bore up for her.

All this time the smoke and stench from the burning stores below, together with the paint and oil, were so bad that the crew had to put their heads over the ship's rails to get a breath of fresh air. At the same time the heat was so great that when the vessel made a lurch in sailing the water seethed from her side.

About three hours after the sighting of the Loch Doon she came close enough to render assistance. We got all the emigrants on board the barque, with the exception of a few single men who volunteered to stand by and help the crew. After the transfer of the passengers was finished, the Loch Doon and the burning ship both made sail for Pernambuco, where they arrived the next day, the Piako four hours before the barque. All this time we had had nothing to eat but raw salt pork and biscuits, and the water was black with smoke.

But with our arrival at Pernambuco our adventures were by no means over. Smallpox turned out to be raging so violently there that we could have no communication with the town. People were dying at the rate of 400 a day. When Captain Boyd discovered this, he hired an island about seven miles up the river, called Cocoanut Island, on account of being thickly covered in the centre with cocoanut trees. The ship's doctor and I were sent in charge of the emigrants, who were carried up to the island in barges. When we landed the thermometer was standing at 92 deg. in the shade, and there were four miles to walk over burning sand to reach the camping ground. The horror of those four miles was something indescribable. Many of the people—especially the poor women—fell down fainting upon the sand.

When we got to the camping ground we had to build huts of bamboo canes and leaves. Here we camped out for nine weeks, food being sent up to us in boats from Pernambuco; and if life was not altogether idyllic, it was pleasant enough at times.

Captain Boyd decided to scuttle the ship in order to put the fire out. She went down under water all but the poop deck, and when the fire was out she was refloated. We then got out all the burnt cargo, which was sold by auction. Nearly all the emigrants' luggage was burnt, and many of the poor people landed with scarcely anything on. There was little damage done to the Piako however, beyond the destruction of the cargo, the galley, and the donkey engine, so when we got fresh stores from England we proceeded on our voyage.

A passenger by the Piako gave the "Lyttelton Times" a graphic account of the affair. "For half an hour or so after it was known that the matter was really serious," wrote this passenger, there was a tremendous rushing about; the men excited and the women whimpering; but seeing the captain display such courage, and hearing him tell us we would be right enough, kept everybody in good spirits. He was simply grand. There he stood right on the railing of the poop, stripped to his shirt and trousers, a loaded revolver in his hand, shouting out his orders.

"It fortunately happened that we had got up a lot of beds and blankets for airing; these were wetted, and every crevice stuffed with them. When a boat was ready and the people made an attempt at a rush to the side, the captain, with revolver in hand, ordered everybody back at once. There was suddenly a cry of "Sail ahead." The captain took a good look, and sang out to the people—and I seem as if I can hear it now—"Well done! You'll all be saved. Don't get excited, don't make a noise; keep yourselves calm." We had a stiff row of about three miles, but eventually every man, woman and child was safe on her deck."

Another Fire Experience.

The ship was again on fire during the passage from London to Lyttelton, 1879-80. On this occasion the Piako left London on October 23, 1879. She encountered a cyclone in the Bay of Biscay, but no serious damage resulted, and all went well until October 25th, when fire broke out and passengers and crew had a trying experience. The "Lyttelton Times," reporting the arrival of the ship, says:—"An event that caused consternation amongst the passengers and crew occurred at 7.50 a.m. on Christmas morning, when a case of rockets in the storeroom aft, in the 'tween decks, exploded, and a large quantity of smoke issued from the after hatch. The fire hoses were at once got down the 'tween decks and the fire eventually subdued without any serious damage. As may be imagined the occurrence created considerable alarm until it was discovered all was safe."

Mr. H. Freeman, residing in Mountain Road, Auckland, was a passenger by the Piako on this occasion, and refer-page 273ring to the fire writes:—"When the alarm was given most of the passengers were still in their bunks. We were then about 1200 miles from the nearest land, St. Paul's Island, in the Indian Ocean. The fire occurred after a rough night, during which the ship had been rolling heavily. About 7.45 on Christmas morning there was an explosion below and we thought that some of the ship's rockets had been loosened and ignited by knocking against one another. I remember well the boatswain calling out, 'All hands on deck, ship on fire.' The pumps were quickly manned, and the fire which was discovered amongst the stores was soon subdued, but we passed a very anxious time until all was reported safe."

Captain Boyd's Career.

The Captain Boyd mentioned above must not be confused with another Captain Boyd who, in the early 'sixties, traded from Liverpool to Port Chalmers.

Captain W. B. Boyd, of the Piako, came to Auckland as chief officer of the Loch Awe when she made the record passage of 76 days. He commanded the Rangitiki on one voyage, and had the Hurunui and other ships. Later he was appointed agent in Dunedin for the New Zealand Shipping Company and after many years' service left for England and died there on April 9th, 1899.

Cape Brett Lighthouse, Auckland.

Cape Brett Lighthouse, Auckland.

the Piako's New Zealand Runs.

The record of the passages made to New Zealand ports by the Piako is as follows:—

To Auckland.
Sailed. Arrived. Captain. Days.
Aug. 23 Dec. 14, '83 Findlay 113
July 26 Nov. 2, '86 Sutherland 99
July 2 Oct. 6, '87 Sutherland 95
May 6 Aug. 6, '88 Sutherland 94
May 17 Aug. 26, '89 Sutherland 101
April 22 July 27, '91 Sutherland 96
To Wellington.
July 27 Oct. 29, '81 Boyd 94
Aug. 18 Nov. 27, '84 Scruby 101
Aug. 10 Nov. 16, '85 Sutherland 98
To Lyttelton.
Feb. 5 May 15, '77 Fox 99
*Oct. 11, '78 Mar. 5, '79 Boyd 145
Oct. 23, '79 Jan. 16, '80 Boyd 85
Oct. 23, '87 Jan, 16, '88 Boyd 85
To Snares 73
To Port Chalmers.
Nov. 20, '77 Feb. 5, '78 Boyd 76½
Land to land 74
Sep. 25, '80 Jan. 4, '81 Boyd 101
Aug. 17 Nov. 11, '82 Boyd 85
Land to land 79
May 18 Aug. 30, '90 Sutherland 103

* Six week at Pernambuco repairing damage by fire.