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

The Dallam Tower

page 77

The Dallam Tower.

Ship's Miraculous Escape—2,000 Miles Under Jury Rig.

[One of the most thrilling stories of a disaster at sea that I have ever come across concerns the voyage of the ship Dallam Tower, which, under charter to the Shaw, Sevill Company, left London for Port Chalmers in the summer of 1873, met with a succession of gales of unprecedented fury, was dismasted, had her hatches stove in, was thrown on her beam ends, and in spite of her crippled state rigged a wonderful array of jury masts with strangely and weirdly constructed yards, and sailed 2000 miles and more into port. The story is told in contemporary newspapers both in Melbourne and Dunedin, and I have drawn on both sources.]

The ship Dallam Tower, 1499 tons, Captain John Sayers Davies, bound from London to Port Chalmers, arrived at Melbourne on August 19, 1873, in a shocking condition. A more crippled looking vessel certainly never entered Port Phillip Heads before, her handsome cabin being gutted, and her usually taut masts replaced by the tiniest of spars.

the Dallam Tower left London on May 10, 1873, having on board a number of passengers and an unusually valuable cargo. She passed the Lizard on May 12. The equator was reached on June 5, and good progress was made until July 5, when in 46 south and 30 east a heavy north-west gale was encountered. On July 14, the wind gradually increased and the ship was labouring heavily and shipping great quantities of water,' At 9.30 p.m. the wind rose from the west in a terrific squall, which carried away the truss crane of the lower main topsail yard, which caused the yard to fall down on to the main stays and carried them away. At 10.30 p.m. the barometer began to fall again very fast, and at the same time the topsail yard fell down on deck, breaking into two pieces, smashing the house in which some bulls were penned, and killing one of them.

At 11.20 p.m. the gale was still increasing, and was accompanied with a high cross-sea. The ship was almost continually under water, and laboured very heavily. She shipped a sea over the poop which carried away the after end of the skylight, the standard compass, one of the steering compasses, binnacle lamps, and everything moveable about the poop. At midnight the barometer reading was 28.95. It was blowing a perfect hurricane, the sea continually breaking over the ship and sweeping everything moveable off the main deck. The hurricane was still blowing on July 15, and at 130 a.m. she shipped a tremendous sea on the main deck on both sides, which carried overboard both remaining bulls, all live stock, also the starboard lifeboat, the davits breaking in the starboard saloon doors, through which the water found ingress and nearly filled the saloon. The stewards and passengers were set to work to bail it out, and the carpenter nailed boards across the doorways.

At 2.30 a.m. the hurricane was still blowing to a fearful extent. The starboard fore-sheet parted, and the foresail was almost immediately blown clean away. Shortly after she shipped a very heavy sea on the main deck, which completely smashed the port lifeboat on the skids, breaking in the paint lockers, almost gutting them. The saloon doors were again burst open, and the men engaged in baling were washed out of the saloon. The captain's cabin was smashed up, and nearly all the nautical instruments, all the charts, master's and mate's certificates, ship's papers, the captain's desk, containing about £80, were washed completely away. The saloon passengers then took to the top of the after lockers for safety.

It was still blowing a terrific hurricane at 4 a.m., with a very high sea. The ship was labouring heavily and shipping much water. The ship was almost continuously under water, and the captain, thinking it not safe to run the ship any longer, under great risk was obliged, for the safety of the ship and all on board, to bring her to the wind on the port tack. When the ship was coming to the wind, through the violence of the storm, she was laid down on her beam, and no appearance of her rising the crew were obliged to cut away the fore-topmast, together with main and mizzen top-page 78gallant masts, to right the ship. Shortly after the foretopmast went, the jib-boom carried away.

At 9.30 a.m. the captain was obliged to send all the passengers into the forecastle for safety, as timber was floating about in the saloon in a most dangerous manner. Shortly afterwards she shipped a sea which broke in the after-hatch. Before it was possible to repair the damage great quantities of water went down into the foreward storeroom and spoilt nearly all the passengers' stores and a large quantity belonging to the ship. At 10.30 a.m. the main and mizzen topmast back-stay lanyards carried away, which caused the lower main cap and both topmasts to break and fall down alongside the ship.

Dallam Tower Dismasted.

Dallam Tower Dismasted.

The gale began to moderate a little, but a very high cross-sea kept running and the vessel was still shipping great quantities of water. The pumps were sounded and found one foot ten inches in the well. The crew immediately got the engine to work to pump her out, but in consequence of the seas breaking over and putting the fires out this had to be abandoned. At 8 p.m. the wind was gradually decreasing, but the ship was rolling very heavily. All the lower yards broke adrift, but the crew succeeded with great difficulty in securing them temporarily.

All Hands To The Pumps.

On July 16, at 4 a.m., the gale increased again from the westward. The crew were employed setting spare sail on the foremast to run the ship before the wind, but when set the sails were almost immediately blown away. At 8 a.m. the gale was still increasing, with very fierce squalls, and the ship labouring very heavily. A most dangerous sea was running at noon. The crew were then employed clearing away the wreckage. At 5 p.m. the main yard broke adrift. The crew tried to secure it but failed.

All hands were, working at the pumps at 7 p.m., on the starboard side, when the mainmast fell on the port side, breaking in three pieces, smashing all the pump gear, and making the pumps perfectly useless for a time.

Heavy seas were continuously breaking on board, and large quantities of water went down the mast-hole before it could be stopped up with sails, etc. At 10 p.m. the cross-jack yard broke adrift, which caused the mizzen-mast to fall aft on the starboard side of the poop, breaking in two pieces, tearing the poop-deck up, smashing the skylight, the starboard mainbrace bumpkin, and breaking all the railing on the starboard side of the poop.

The gale moderated on July 17. The pumps showed 2 feet 9 inches of water. Part of the crew and passengers were sent to the pumps, which had been temporarily repaired by the carpenter, and they were kept constantly going. At 4 a.m. on July 18 the fore-stays parted, and the foremast fell right aft, breakingpage 79 in two pieces, smashing the starboard boat on the skids, the water tank on the house, damaging the donkey boiler, and breaking in the after end of the house.


The mast head plunged through the main hatch, great quantities of water finding its way down the hold through the hatchway before it could be stopped by surrounding the aperture with sails. At noon all hands wore employed pumping ship and rigging sheers to set sail on, so as to run the ship before the sea. Three studding sails were bent, one at a time, and hoisted, but these were split almost as soon as set. The wind moderated between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and the sea was going down.

As all the effects, charts, books, weather glasses, and one chronometer
2000 Miles Under Jury Rig.

2000 Miles Under Jury Rig.

had been completely washed away, nothing was left to navigate the ship with. It was found, however, that one of the passengers had an epitome and almanac. On July 20 a jury mast was rigged at the fore, and all gear set up, and the carpenter was employed getting up the topmast studding sail boom for a foreyard.

A strong gale from the westward set in on July 21. The top-gallant sail on the jury foremast was bent and set at 8 a.m. It split at noon, and the crew then bent the upper and lower mizzen topsails together, and set them on the foremast.

On July 22 the crew cut about 15ft of spare yard, and added it to the main jury mast. On July 23, 24, and 25, the ship was rolling too heavily to enable the crew to get the main jury mast on end.

On July 26, the ship Cape Clear, of and from Liverpool, bound to Sydney, came up, and the captain inquired if assistance was wanted. He was asked for a chart or two, and a few other small things, which were quickly supplied. The captain also offered to take some of the passengers on his ship. This was welcomed by those on the Dallam Tower, as there were several women on board without the necessary clothing, and whom the ship could not decently accommodate; besides, the only water supply left for the ship's use was contained in two rusty tanks. Twelve saloon and four steerage passengers accepted the offer, and they were transferred, and landed safely in Melbourne.

The crew of the Dallam Tower got the main jury mast up on July 26; on July 27 the topmast studding sail boom with a main top-gallant sail on it for a mainsail; and on July 28 the spanker boom on end for a jury mizzen mast, and bent a mizzen top-gallant sail on its proper yard and set it aft. A course was then shaped for Melbourne, as it was deemed to be more prudent than going on to New Zealand.

Not a drop of water leaked into the ship. What was met with in the hold got down through the hatches, and the mast holes. The ship answered her helm splendidly, and strong westerly wind blew her safely into port, when the storm was over. She would hardly ever have shown up in Australia if shepage 80 had not bad particularly strong winds behind her. On one occasion, with three sails on her jury masts, she ran a distance of 170 miles in 24 hours.

She reached Melbourne with what seemed to the landsmen very rickety yards. They consisted each of them, not of a single piece of timber, but of a number of stun-sail booms of different lengths, bound together with ropes, and roughly fixed to the masts. Two of the masts limits were yards, and the third was a spanker boom. They stood in the stumps of the hollow iron masts, and were jammed tight with wedges. If any of them had given away it could not have been replaced, for apparently they represented the last pieces of timber in the ship.

With the exception of the second mate, who met with a mishap to one of his hands, not a soul—not even one of the eight or nine children—had an injury to show.

Officers and saloon passengers lost everything but the clothes they stood in. Looking at the dismantled state of the ship, people in Melbourne were astonished when they learned that the ship had sailed a distance of 2000 miles under jury masts and three small sails.

When the ship was refitted in Melbourne it only extended to her rig. Captain Davis added sky-sails to her, and lost them and the royals on the passage across to Dunedin, which was reached on March 4, 1874.

Several of the passengers who came out in the Dallam Tower on this eventful voyage are still living. One, Mr. J. W. Brindley, formerly manager of the Victoria Insurance Company, and later with the Government Insurance Department, is residing in Auckland. Another is Mr. Henry Scott, residing at Timaru. The latter gentleman, referring to a paragraph which appeared giving Captain Davies the credit for bringing the ship safe to Melbourne, states: "Captain Davies had little to do with the saving of the ship. The man who saved both our ship and our lives was the first mate, George Donald McDonald, and had it not been for his splendid seamanship and endurance (on one occasion he stood at the wheel for thirty consecutive hours, and eventually had to be carried below) we should have all gone to the bottom. Captain Davies has been given credit in some of the reports published for trying to heave the ship to under great difficulties. If Captain Davies had yielded to the advice, almost entreaties, of his officers he would have hove the ship to three days before he made the attempt, and the Dallam Tower would probably have rode out the storm with as little damage as was suffered by the clipper ship Superb, which only lost her foreroyal. This ship was in the same cyclone as we were, and was so close to us that her officers saw the live bull which had been swept from our decks swimming in the sea. These facts were supplied by officers of the Superb when we arrived at Melbourne."

the Dallam Tower was a handsome ship, built of iron throughout, and was described as a splendid sea boat and a fast traveller. Notwithstanding that she sailed close on 2000 miles under jury rig, and took 36 days to do the distance, the ship made the passage to Melbourne in 90 days. How she could travel was demonstrated in a most remarkable manner, when on one occasion before her mishap she ran according to observation, 1026 miles in three days, and for several days besides logged her 300 miles per day whilst running her easting down. Up to the time of her arrival at Port Chalmers she had spent 100 days at sea from the date of her departure from London. Not bad work, considering the adversity which befell her.

That the Dallam Tower was a flyer is substantiated by Mr. James Gilmour, of Parnell, Auckland. He came out in the ship on her maiden trip to Melbourne in 1866, and in referring to her fast sailing qualities states that the ship always overhauled any vessel sighted. Eight days before reaching Melbourne "we sighted a large vessel ahead, which turned out to be the clipper ship Light of Age. We were making only eight knots in a light wind. As we approached the stranger she appeared to be lying-to. Our captain, thinking she wanted something, drew near to inquire, but just then the Light of Age allowed her sails to fill and drift across our bows. She bumped on our starboard bow and then amidships as we slid past. The damage, fortunately, was not very serious. A studding boom was broken, and fell on the forecastle among several passengers, who luckily escaped injury."

After the disastrous voyage to Port Chalmers, the Dallam Tower sailed from Port Chalmers on June 6 for London with a full cargo of wool, wheat, gold, leather, skins, preserved meats, personal effects, and other goods of a total value of £64,232. When the ship returned to London the whole of the masts and rigging were condemned and replaced. Captain Davies was dismissed, and Captain Campbell placed in command.

page 81

the Dallam Tower visited Dunedin again in 1878, and demonstrated her fine sailing qualities. She left London on October 20, passing the Lizard on the 24th. She had a good run to the Equator of 24 days, and sighted the Snares on January 11, 1879. She arrived at Port Chalmers on the 14th, making a splendid passage of 76 days land to land and 84 from port to port.

the Dallam Tower also made one voyage to Wellington in command of Captain Campbell, arriving On the 17th March, 1875, after a good run of 81 days from Plymouth. She carried 257 passengers and made the best run of the season to Wellington. The ship left Plymouth on the 25th December, 1874, with 257 immigrants, and experienced light head winds during the first week out. She ran to the Snares in 74 days.