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

The Avalanche

page 165

The Avalanche.

Great Race Home—Triangular Contest—A Fatal Collision.

the Avalanche was a fine comfortable ship of 1160 tons, owned by the Shaw, Savill and Albion Co. She made some good runs in the New Zealand trade, especially on one occasion when racing Home with the celebrated crusader. After completing three successful voyages to Wellington she came to grief when starting out again in 1877, bound for Wellington with 60 passengers. She collided in the English Channel with an American ship, and went down in a few minutes, with all the passengers and crew, a total loss of 99 souls—only three of the crew being saved. the Avalanche on her first voyage to Wellington was
the Avalanche Off Gravesend.

the Avalanche Off Gravesend.

commanded by Captain Bishop, and on the other passages by Captain Williams. She sailed from London on October 22, 1874, and arrived at Wellington, via New Plymouth, on January 25, 1875, making a good run of 92 days. She landed at New Plymouth 260 passengers, and this was the first immigrant ship (stated the "Herald") to call there for twenty years. the Avalanche made a second voyage to Wellington the same year with another batch of immigrants. She sailed from London on September 1, and arrived at Wellington on December 3, 1875, making the run in 93 days. The following year, 1876, the ship sailed from London on September 10, and arrived at Wellington on December 8, making the passage in 89 days, and 81 land to land.

An Ocean Race.

Mr. Warren, who was a passenger by the Avalanche, when she left Wellington early in 1877, has kindly supplied me with details of the memorable race between the Avalanche, the Ocean Mail, and the Crusader to London. "These three clipper ships," he states, "left their respective ports on the same date, the Avalanche and Ocean Mail from Wellington, and the Crusader from Lyttelton. the Avalanche was in charge of Captain Williams, a very popular and able commander, and the Ocean Mail (New Zealand Shipping Company) in command of Captain Roberts. As the Avalanche and Ocean Mail proceeded down the Wellington Harbour a heavy ' southerly buster' sprang up, and the Avalanche anchored off Worser Bay. the Ocean Mail put back and anchored off Somes Island. The following morning, with a fair wind, both ships sailed away. the Avalanche on this occasion carried about one hundred passengers. Both ships were becalmed for a day off the Chatham Islands, and Captain Roberts paid a visit to the Avalanche.

page 166

"A large number of fine albatrosses were sailing about the ships, and several were shot for their skins, which were presented to some ladies on the Avalanche. The sailors predicted bad luck from killing these birds, and strange to relate, Captain Roberts' boat was stove in against our ship's side, and he had to be conveyed back in one of the boats belonging to the Avalanche. A breeze coming up we parted company that evening and never sighted the Ocean Mail again, but when our pilot came aboard in the English Channel we were informed that the Ocean Mail had gone ashore and was totally wrecked at the Chathams. When rounding Cape Horn and in sight of land we sighted a full-rigged ship, sailing much closer to the Cape, and rapidly overhauled her. To our surprise it was the Crusader. By evening we had left her hull down astern.

"The following day our course was altered a point or so to the south, and some hours later we were taken aback in a heavy squall. Our wheel was smashed and many of our sails blown to ribbons. Heavy weather and head winds held us up for 14 days, and but for this unfortunate mishap we should probably have had a neck-and-neck race to the Channel. When the pilot boarded our ship he informed us that the Crusader had passed up the Channel several days ahead of us. the Avalanche arrived on June 2, 1877, making the passage in 78 days."

The Collision in the Channel.

It was on her return trip to Wellington, leaving on September 10, 1877, that the Avalanche collided with a large American ship, the Forest Queen, in the English Channel. Both ships were heading down channel, but upon opposite tacks, the Avalanche being on the port tack and the Forest Queen on the starboard tack. One of the survivors supplied the following details of the collision:—"The night was unusually dark, with drizzling rain, a very heavy wind, with mountainous high seas running. When about twelve miles off Portland, and without scarcely any warning, a little after 9 p.m., the Forest Queen collided with the Avalanche, striking her between the main and mizzen masts. The force of the collision was so great that in less than five minutes the Avalanche gave three plunges and then sank, carrying with her the whole of her crew, except three—the mate and two able seamen. The night was so dark that it was almost impossible to discern the mass of human beings struggling in the water below, and the cries of men, women, and children for aid were heart-rending. Some of the passengers had managed to scramble on deck as soon as the Avalanche was struck, but others were in their cabins when the ship sunk, and went down with her. The sea was literally alive with human beings, whose cries for help were heard without the crew of the Forest Queen being able to render aid. We had as much as we could do to look after our own safety, our vessel having suffered so severely from the effects of the collision as to be in a very leaky condition. The water was gaining on us so fast that at last, in order to save our lives, we had to abandon her. For this purpose three boats were launched, and in these frail craft the whole of the crew of the Forest Queen and the three belonging to the Avalanche took their places. The weather to which we were exposed throughout the night was fearful, the wind and sea being so rough that we thought the boats would be swamped every minute. Unfortunately, in the case of two of the boats these fears were realised, as only one of the boats, containing the three survivors of the Avalanche and men, with the captain of the Forest Queen, was rescued. Five bodies and a boat were found washed up upon the beach by a party of fishermen—the dead being identified as a portion of the crew of the Forest Queen. Only twelve men remained out of the passengers and crew of the two ships, numbering over 120 persons."

The Forest Queen capsized about an hour after being abandoned, and next day she was seen floating bottom upwards a few miles off Portland.

How the Accident Happened.

A narrative given by other survivors of the Forest Queen stated that when the collision occurred the Avalanche was slightly ahead, and being on the port tack she ought, according to the law of the road at sea, to have given way directly she sighted the Forest Queen. As, however, she held on her course, without tacking, it was but fair to assume that either from the darkness of the night or the neglect of the officer on the watch, the near approach of the Forest Queen was not perceived. It then became the duty of the Forest Queen to keep clear, and the master, Captain Lockhart, asserted that, seeing the risk of collision, he ordered the helm to be luffed and that his order was carried out. But it was too late.

Referring to the disaster, Mr. Basil Lubbock, in "The Colonial Clippers," states that the ship which collided with the Avalanche was the Forest of Windsor, of Nova Scotia, that four boats were launched safely and were all picked up by fishermen the following morningpage 167off Portland. Both accounts agree that three survivors only were saved from the Avalanche.

Another ship named Avalanche, a vessel of 692 tons, made four passages to Auckland. On three occasions she was under the command of Captain Stott, and on the fourth voyage under Captain Sinclair. She arrived first on September 2, 1858—96 days; second on May 7, 1860—95 days; third on February 7, 1862—114 days; and fourth on May 16, 1864—102 days. On the passage in 1862 she called at the Cape of Good Hope and shipped some cattle for Auckland. This vessel also made one passage to Lyttelton, arriving there on February 27, 1863.