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White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885

The Lucky Slains Castle

The Lucky Slains Castle.

Some strange experiences befell the barque Slains Castle, a vessel of about 600 tons, during the time she traded to New Zealand. Many times ships have been overtaken by disaster through the merest accident; on the other hand, many ships have just as narrowly escaped. The Slains Castle is a rather remarkable example of the latter class. It was not often that a vessel got out of Palliser Bay when it was a lee shore, but the Slains Castle did; and as willpage break page 129 be seen from the narrative, the captain was subsequently miles out of his reckoning, mistaking Kapiti for Cape Stephens!

The Slains Castle's first appearance in New Zealand was in 1841. On January 25th of that year she arrived at Wellington with 224 passengers. After landing some passengers the ship went on to New Plymouth with the remainder, arriving there early in February. Among the passengers was Dr. Wilson, who kept a diary, and some interesting extracts quoted in Seffern's "Chronicles of New Zealand" give an admirable idea of the difficulties sailing ships sometimes encountered when making port. The Doctor wrote:—"On January 21st, 1841, after a series of contrary winds, we made that splendid snow-clad cone, Mount Egmont, the N.W. point of Cook's Strait, which we entered on the following morning at daylight. The day broke forth most auspiciously. The wind was free and fair, so that all circumstances concurred to lead us to the anticipation that before night we should be at our destination. On we prosperously went with the day's advance, till about 2 p.m., at which time we had gotten nearly abreast of Kapiti; but then the weather began to thicken, and the wind to blow too strong for us to venture, strangers as we were (and bamboozled to boot by contradictory charts) too near the coast or to enter the strait.

"As evening came on the murkiness of the sky and the gale increased, so having made the headland at Kapiti on the one side, and Queen Charlotte Sound on the other, the Captain, with his usual prudence, thought it best about sunset to lay the vessel to in mid-channel for the night. About midnight the gale suddenly shifted from N.W. to S.E., and it blew so fiercely and the weather was so muggy and thick, that the Captain deemed it advisable to run the ship back to the width of the strait. On the morning of July 22nd we found ourselves nearly abreast of Stephens Island, and as the wind had greatly moderated, though not changed, we entered Blind Bay, Nelson. In this we cruised about pleasantly under easy sail till the following morning, when we made a start again with a favourable breeze for Port Nicholson. The day was beautiful, and we advanced so fast that by noon everyone was assuring himself that we should be in Port Nicholson by 5 p.m., numbers even dressing themselves in their best toggery to go ashore, and all were more or less preparing for that purpose, or to appear Christian-like to such as might visit the ship when she anchored; but just as we rounded Sinclair Head a heavy squall from the height of Cape Terawiti overtook us, and after that there came such a hurricane from the N.W., that by the time we opened Port Nicholson we were scudding along at the measured rate of ten knots without the aid of a single bit of canvas.

"To attempt to gain the doubtful entry of our port with such an adverse gale was altogether out of the question, nor had we other seemingly safe alternative but to let the ship run with the gale into the ocean to gain sea room. The whole of that night the wind continued very boisterous, but as we lay to after we had made a difficult offing, our admirable ship was easy enough. On the morning of the 24th we found ourselves under the lee of the mountains of the South Island, and so far down that some of the officers fancied they could see Banks Peninsula from the mast-head.page 130 Towards evening the gale subsided, and during the night the wind veered round to a favourable point for Port Nicholson, which we availed ourselves of at daybreak, and at four o'clock in the afternoon of January 25th we had the pleasure of letting go our anchor in the port of our destination."

The Slains Castle was in Nelson in 1845, in command of Captain Dawson. She left Plymouth on October 24th, 1844, and arrived on January 26th, 1845, making the passage out in 91 days, which led the "Nelson Examiner" to remark: "The arrival of the Slains Castle in the unprecedented short space of 91 days port to port has put us in possession of English news up to the 24th October last. This fine ship has brought the most valuable cargo ever shipped to this port." The vessel proceeded to Wellington, where she arrived on February 16th, and then on to New Plymouth, arriving there early in March. This paragraph reminds us that in those days colonials had to be content with English news at least three months old, and often more.

In 1852 the vessel was once more in New Zealand, this time commanded by Captain Andrew. An interesting diary of this voyage was kept by Captain (afterwards Major) F. E. Horneman, of No. 2 Company, Her Majesty's Hon. Artillery Corps. The diary was left to his family, and it is now in the possession of Miss B. Horneman, Takanini, Auckland. Captain Horneman was accompanied by his wife and five children. Leaving Gravesend on July 22, the Slains Castle had bad luck at the very start, being fouled by a collier, which damaged the ship's starboard main-chains. The passage was marked by a series of heavy gales, varied by two snow storms, and exceptionally cold weather. After passing the Cape, the weather was very severe; the ship lost several sails, the jibboom was carried away, and other damage done. Snares Island was sighted on November 7th, and the same day the ship made Stewart Island, 108 days from Gravesend.

Then followed the ship's varied experiences on the New Zealand coast. They make such interesting reading, and the story gives such a vivid picture of the difficulties sometimes met with in voyaging along the coast, that I make no excuse for quoting in full Captain Horneman's account of what happened. He wrote:

"November 8: Off Otago Heads, waiting for pilot; had to anchor outside, as there was a heavy adverse gale blowing.

"November 9: With a favourable wind entered Port Chalmers.

"November 23: A terrific N.N.E. gale sprang up. The Stately, 650 tons, came in from Wellington with her fore-and main-topgallant masts struck. She dropped her anchor close to us, and collided with us, but without causing any damage; both ships cut away their boats to save them from being crushed. Four of our sailors, who had caused a mutiny on the voyage out, and had been lodged in the Port Chalmers lock-up, were taken on board again.

"December 1st: Sailed for Wellington.

"December 7: Hearing a great noise, I went on deck, and found land close on the starboard side, with an almost endless reef of rocks round the ship's stern. I expected her to strike at any minute, and assisted in getting her off this lee shore. She thenpage 131 missed stays. Everything that human perseverance and courage could effect was done, and we just clawed off the bluff headland. We all prayed for daylight. To our consternation, we found that we were in Palliser Bay, where recently five wrecks had occurred. Only by the splendid behaviour of the crew and four whaling men from Otago was the ship saved. The jibboom carried away, and the sailors prepared to launch the quarter-boats, but a momentary shift of the wind allowed the ship to weather the headland, upon which we had seemed certain to strike, and eventually we arrived at Wellington at noon on the 7th December. Our vessel was the first to escape from Palliser Bay. We were told that in the case of one ship that had been lost in Palliser Bay, from which we had such a providential escape, no less than 105 persons had been drowned.

"December 18: The True Brittain arrived with a detachment of the 65th Regiment.

"December 23: Left Wellington, and immediately ran into boisterous weather. The following day we made the White Bluff Head, where a terrific squall struck us. The mainsail was burst, everything moveable pitched about, and passengers were thrown to the deck. Later we made the Wairoa, and bore up for Port Underwood, where we were delayed for some hours by changing winds. When we got in, all hands were worn out from exertion.

"December 26: Stood out from Port Underwood, and next day were beating about in the Straits, first making the Two Brothers rocks and Torry Channel, then over to Mana Island, and at midnight we ran right back to Cape Campbell.

"December 28: Beating about Cook Strait all day; the men completely worn out.

"December 29: Ship running north, Mana Island on our right, then Kapiti Island, and at 9 p.m. we were becalmed.

"December 30: During the night the ship drifted south. The Captain said we were heading for Cape Stephens. The land was, however, really Kapiti, and to prove it I brought on deck a sketch of the Island I had made the previous day. This decided the Captain, and the ship's course immediately altered to west. All hands laughed at him and complained of his shameful carelessness in keeping no reckoning, in not knowing where he was, and having to be instructed by one who had never been in those parts before.

December 31: Almost a calm all day; Kapiti in sight, then Manawatu, and Wanganui. All hands heartily tired; no progress being made. This is the last day of this eventful year of 1852.

"January 1, 1853: Stephens Island is in sight… . We are running up fast to the island. At 3 p.m. we went about. Afterwards we weathered some land on the left, and then suddenly a sailor cried out, 'She is running smack on to the land now!' On a sudden the ship was wore. To our dismay, she was quite close to a large rock standing out by itself in the sea. We all shuddered. We wore ship again. Passengers and crew were in great anxiety all night. This second escape seems a repetition of our deliverance from Palliser Bay.

page 132

"January 2: Arrived off the pretty little town of Nelson, 167 days from the Docks."

Captain Horneman had letters of introduction to Sir George Grey, who was then Governor. On the advice of His Excellency, the Captain settled in the Nelson Province, and for about twenty years farmed at Motueka. The Captain kept up his interest in military matters, and used to drill the volunteers.