Islands of Despair
Ten — The Wreck of the Grafton…
The Wreck of the Grafton
On Saturday, 26th August, the weather was cloudy and showery, so Graham and I decided to make an overland trip to the scene of the Grafton wreck. The journey took about two hours each way, although we subsequently found a much quicker route. The remains of the vessel were still lying on the beach, so we had no difficulty in locating this tragic spot.
In 1863 Mr. F. E. Raynal, a retired French sea-captain, was in Sydney when he was approached by a friend concerning a proposal to mine argentiferous tin on Campbell Island. Raynal had had eleven years' experience as a gold miner, and he agreed to make the trip to Campbell Island, but in view of his long absence from the sea he declined to take command of the vessel. Consequently, an American, Thomas Musgrave, was engaged as captain of the expedition's vessel, a small schooner with a carrying capacity of about 80 tons named the Grafton.
The Grafton, with her crew of five, sailed from Sydney on 12th November 1863, and had a very rough trip to Campbell Island, where she arrived at 11 a.m. on 2nd December. During the following days Raynal and Musgrave searched in vain for the supposed tin mine, but after a short time Raynal became seriously ill and narrowly escaped death. Musgrave continued the search, but on 29th December it was decided to abandon the scheme and return to Sydney, calling at the Auckland Islands en route in the hope of killing some seals.page 96
At 3 p.m. on 1st January 1864 the Grafton entered Carnley Harbour. Raynal was still very sick and could scarcely stand upright. No suitable anchorage was found that night, and next day the ship entered the north arm. A strong breeze made progress slow, and this breeze later increased to a moderate gale. By this time Musgrave was becoming weary of trying to beat up the harbour against the gale, and as he had found bottom in six fathoms near the eastern coast of the arm he decided to anchor until the wind moderated. Both anchors were put down with thirty fathoms of chain on each. Musgrave recognized that the ship was in a dangerous position, as she had very little swinging room and she was already straining at the anchors.
At 7 p.m. on 2nd January the starboard chain parted, and the other anchor started to drag. Musgrave now considered that there was little chance of escape for them, as they were too close inshore for them to have any hope of slipping the cable and beating out into the harbour. After 10 p.m. the wind blew with unparalleled fury and about midnight the ship struck. She was soon lying broadside on to the beach, and the seas were making a clean breach over her. The crew collected their personal effects and what small supply of food remained, and huddled together on deck to wait for daylight.
As the wind was still blowing with great fury, some difficulty was experienced in getting ashore, especially as Raynal was still an invalid. A sail was used as a tent, and the men managed to get a fire going. Then Raynal was left to tend the fire while others searched for a cave which might provide better shelter for the party. Their search was fruitless, and after some discussion it was decided to salvage as much timber as possible from the wreck to enable them to build a cabin. A site was selected near the beach, and the job was put in hand. The cabin was 24 ft. by 16 ft. with a stone chimney 8 ft. by 5 ft. Construction took a long time, as the only available tools were an axe, an adze, a hammer, a gimlet, two pickaxes and two spades.page 97
While the hut was being built the men lived chiefly on sealmeat, as they found the sea-lions very numerous. Musgrave reports that they also shot and ate large numbers of "widgeon", which in reality were shags. Various excursions were made in their small boat, including one long trip to what is now known as Victoria Passage, and is the western outlet of Carnley Harbour.
It was not until 5th March that the house was finished and the men were able to shift from their miserable quarters in the makeshift tent. The corner-posts of the house were made from the masts of the schooner, and the mortar for building the chimney was made by Raynal from lime he obtained from sea-shells. The sides of the house were constructed mainly from bush timber, and were well thatched with brush and tussock to keep out the weather. Raynal and Musgrave occupied one end of the room, and the three seamen the other, while a dining-table 7 ft. by 3 ft. was situated in the middle of the room.
Both Musgrave and Raynal report the misery they suffered from sand-flies, and it is rather surprising that they did not discover that by moving just a little further from the beach they would have escaped most of these pests. The blowflies were there in those days, too, as Musgrave complained of the filthy mess they made.
On 7th February the castaways took their boat to Musgrave Peninsula, where they found a point which commanded a good view of most of the harbour, and there they erected a large flag on a pole. A bottle attached to the pole contained information as to the whereabouts of the shipwrecked men.
Having completed the house the men decided that it should have a name. Every man wrote his suggested name on a slip of paper and put it in a hat. One of the seamen then drew out a paper and found that the name of the dwelling was to be Epigwaitt. This name, which was suggested by Musgrave, is an American-Indian word meaning "a dwelling by the water".page 98
Apart from their trips in search of sea-lions and "widgeons" the men had little to do, and seemed to rely on Raynal's fertile imagination for what few diversions they enjoyed. He was responsible for starting educational classes, and also manufactured a chess set and dominoes. Although he made a pack of playing cards he found that Musgrave was such a bad loser that he judged it best to destroy the cards.
The men found a nest containing three young parakeets, and although one of these soon died, they were able to make pets of the other two, and the male bird quickly learned to speak. Unfortunately one of the birds was accidentally killed by having a pot of water set down on it, and the other one pined away and died a few days later.
The favourite place for obtaining seals was a small island near the head of the north arm, which they named Figure-of-Eight Island on account of its shape. It was on this island that they found a few bricks and places where tents had been pitched and a fire lighted. They conjectured that this camp site had been used by sealers, and this encouraged them to believe that perhaps they might yet be found by some visiting sealing ship. On a later trip up the western arm they also found bricks in Camp Cove and some pieces of wreckage. These signs of previous occupation made the castaways anxious to establish a permanent lookout in a place that would command a view of the entrance to the harbour. However, they found no suitable place that could be readily reached from Epigwaitt, and the scheme had to be abandoned.
During the winter the matter of providing food was an ever-present problem. Almost all the sea-lions had left the islands. Long journeys had to be made before even one could be found, and the unfortunate men were no longer able to reject the old bulls. They were grateful for any sort of beast. The need for clothing and footwear was also becoming urgent, but Raynal succeeded in tanning seal-skins, and with them he made both clothing and moccasins.
By the end of the year the men had become very despon-page 99dent as it seemed that no vessel was likely to appear, and Raynal reports that on Christmas Day the five men were sitting listlessly in the hut. Suddenly it occurred to him that it might be possible to construct a boat that could carry them to New Zealand. He immediately communicated his idea to the others, and work was put in hand at once. The first requirement was more tools, and these, of course, had to be improvised. Raynal, with much ingenuity, constructed a forge and bellows, and the iron ballast from the Grafton provided the anvil. With this equipment he set to work. Using rusty bolts and similar pieces of iron from the wreck he made various tools, including pincers, tongs, punches, chisels, and hammers. With a cold chisel of his own manufacture he cut notches out of a piece of hoop-iron and made a saw. This work occupied all of January, and only an auger was now required. But here Raynal was defeated, and try as he would he could find no way of making this most necessary tool.
His failure led him to consider the advisability of abandoning the idea of building a boat of 10 or 15 tons as originally planned, and adopting a new scheme of enlarging and strengthening the small boat already in their possession. This suggestion was approved by the others, although they realized that the boat would not be able to carry more than three persons. The scheme was to increase the length of the boat from 12 ft. to 17 ft., and to raise the gunwale by a foot.
It was essential that the boat should be completed and seaworthy before winter. In any case it proved to be most inconvenient to be without her as a means of transport when the men were requiring seals. The party worked long hours on the job. Since the work had to be done on the beach they suffered agony from the sand-flies. Musgrave specialized in making sails and rigging, while Raynal had the job of making about 180 bolts and 700 nails and spikes. This work was mostly done in the evening, and the daylight hours were spent searching for rata trees that were straight enough to provide page 100planks, which of course had to be laboriously sawn with the piece of hoop-iron.
About the end of June the boat was launched, and the men were rather disturbed to find how delicately she was balanced. This matter was remedied by loading about a ton of ballast into her. The next day a successful trial run was made to Camp Cove, and it was now only a matter of waiting for suitable weather for the long trip. Two of the seamen were left at Epigwaitt, and the other three men took the boat to Camp Cove, where they had decided to lie in readiness for departure. They had cooked a good supply of seal and shags to consume on the voyage.
They set sail on 19th July 1865, and after clearing the eastern entrance to Carnley Harbour they made good progress. After passing the northern end of the islands the south-westerly wind increased to gale force, and all the men were miserably seasick. The following day was much worse and the seas became too dangerous for the Rescue, as the boat was named, to continue running before them and she was forced to lay-to. Conditions were substantially the same on the third and fourth days, but on the morning of the fifth Stewart Island was sighted, and at 11 a.m. the Rescue entered Port Adventure. Here they were fed and clothed by Captain Cross, who next day took them in his cutter Flying Scud to Invercargill, New Zealand.
Musgrave then appealed to Government officials to send a ship to rescue the remaining men, but his petition was in vain. However, a public meeting was called by Mr. Macpherson, and a subscription list was opened which soon produced enough funds to finance a relief expedition. The only reasonably suitable vessel immediately available was Captain Cross's Flying Scud, and she was chartered for the job, Musgrave agreeing to go as navigator.
Before returning to New Zealand the Flying Scud visited Port Ross, where, as has already been recounted, the crew discovered a dead body, this probably being a castaway of the Invercauld. On 5th September the cutter sailed for Stewart Island, arriving there after four days of rough weather. At Port Adventure they picked up the Rescue with the intention of towing her to Invercargill for exhibition. Unluckily the tow-rope parted when the boats were crossing the New River bar, and the Rescue was lost.
Musgrave then travelled to Melbourne by steamer, and he was successful there in arousing the interest of the Government in the possibility of further castaways being on the Auckland Islands. The steam corvette Victoria commanded by Captain Norman was dispatched to the islands, and Musgrave accompanied her as pilot. It appears that the vessel made a fairly thorough search of the harbours and inlets, but no further evidence of castaways was found, and the visit is chiefly remarkable for being responsible for so many of the place names in the islands.
In the meantime the New Zealand Government had at last become interested, and the paddle-tug Southland was sent to the islands. When she arrived at Port Ross the body found by the crew of the Flying Scud was exhumed and examined by Dr. Monckton, after which it was placed in a coffin and reburied in the cemetery established by the Enderby Settlement. The crew of the Southland also released about a dozen domestic fowls and planted a quantity of potatoes, while carrot and turnip seed was sown. Similar work was done in Carnley Harbour, after which the vessel returned to New Zealand without finding any sign of further castaways.
And so ended another tragic chapter in the history of the page 102islands—fortunately this time without loss of life. Graham and I had no difficulty in finding Epigwaitt, as the rusty stove and some of the ship's spars were still there, although heavily overgrown with ferns. We did not wonder at how Musgrave complained about the gales, as the camp site he had selected was very exposed, and we could not easily understand why he had not gone just a little further into the bush. However, he probably wanted to be as close to the sea as possible, in case of a long-hoped-for visit of a sealing-vessel.