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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 4, October 1984

Under the German Flag – The Scow Moa, 1907–1935

page 24

Under the German Flag – The Scow Moa, 1907–1935

Thursday, 13December 1917, and a small launch moved out to intercept a large sailing vessel off Mercury Island near Auckland; but those on the launch considered her not big enough for their get-away. Then a slightly larger vessel appeared astern of the first. To those on the launch this was just what the doctor ordered. The crew of the first ship, the timber scow Rangi, watched the launch approach the second scow. Rangi's master, Captain Jack Francis and his crew, saw the launch stop the second scow which those on the launch boarded; the first man to board carried a rifle, hand grenade and a flag made from four bags. Jack Francis made port fast despite his cargo of logs on deck and reported to the search authorities the capture at sea of the second scow. They were later told that they had seen Count Felix von Luckner who was master of the Auxiliary Sailing Raider, Sea Adler. Von Luckner had been imprisoned on Motoihi Island in the Hauraki Gulf. His escape from the island with nine others in the prison governor's launch, the Pearl had started a large search in and around Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf. The ship that von Luckner had captured was the Auckland registered timber scow, the Moa. Her master was Captain William Bourke, ex Royal Navy.

Captain Bourke acted as sailing master under Count von Luckner and the first landfall they made was the Kermadec Islands midway between Auckland and Tonga. While on one of the small islands (there are four in all) Count von Luckner and his men raided a food depot set up by the New Zealand Government for shipwrecked persons. As he was heading back to the Moa after claiming the islands for the Kaiser, smoke was seen on the horizon. It was from His Majesty's Cableship, Iris, who was searching for von Luckner and the scow Moa. The launch. Pearl, had sunk not long after leaving the New Zealand coast and in order to make a
The Rangi laden with timber 1947.– N.Z. Herald & Weekly News.

The Rangi laden with timber 1947.
– N.Z. Herald & Weekly News.

page 25quick get away von Luckner had ordered some of the Moa's cargo of rimu logs to be jettisoned overboard. As soon as pursuit was evident the scow's anchor was hoisted and away to sea she sailed; but the Iris was faster and soon overhauled the Moa and von Luckner was re-captured, stripped of his weapons and brought back to Auckland. The Moa, slightly damaged, was towed astern. Count von Luckner was sent to Ripon Island in Lyttelton Harbour. At the end of the Great War in November 1918 he returned to Germany.

As for the scow Moa, she continued hauling timber between Tauranga and Auckland until she was lost on the West Coast of the South Island in 1935. She was built in 1907 by G. T. Nicol at Auckland, a two masted fore and aft rigged top sail schooner for the Ford Shipping Line Ltd of Auckland. (Off 127.03/98.5 ton register Number 122925.1 – official). Her dimensions were 94.6 feet by 30.3 feet by 5.6 feet; registered number 14/1907(26/11/07) Port of Auckland. First master was Captain Robert McKinlay. During World War I her master was Captain William Bourke, ex Royal Navy. When she was towed back to Auckland by H.M.CS. Iris the Moa suffered some damage. While still under Wm. Bourke she caught fire at Tauranga on 28 February 1921. Her owners were Leyland O'Brien Timber Co. Ltd of Auckland (1914–1929). On 17 September 1927 she was damaged off Awanui (North Island), Master I. Jensen. These were the only casualties the Moa suffered between 1907 and 1935.

In 1929 the famous timber scow was purchased by Messrs Winstone Ltd, coal merchants of Auckland. The year before alterations were made to the ship now registered No. 3/1928, (4/7/1928) Port of Auckland, 130.50//53.74 tons, 2 engines of 45 b.h.p., Fairbanks Morse, semi-diesel engines oil fired (not pure diesels). Then, on March 29, 1935, tragedy struck the scow Moa when she tried to enter the Big Wanganui River some fifty miles south of Hokitika. Her cargo was sawmill equipment for a new mill to be erected on the West Coast. That fateful day the Big Wanganui was in flood and it was believed with the flood and Moa's shallow draft (5.6 feet) she would easily cross the Big Wanganui's bar. But it was not known that the bar was badly silted up until it was too late to stop her stranding. As she crossed the bar sand, shingle and silt entered the water-circulating pipes and they became clogged, causing the engine to overheat and seize up. As her engines were of no use, the scow was uncontrollable and drifted on the shingle bar where she stayed.

With the aid of people from Hari Hari, a small dairying town up river, all the lighter sawmill equipment was salvaged, but the heavier equipment, still on board, caused the Moa to sink into the shingle bank until only the masts were showing and four of her crew were left standing in the rigging until they could come ashore. Her master was one A. O. T. Stephens who held a Foreign Master's ticket. There was no Marine Court of Inquiry into the loss of the timber scow, the stranding was an accident. The heavy sawmill equipment was later salvaged and sold by auction.

Her sister scow, the Rangi, was wrecked two years later in the Hauraki Gulf, with the loss of four lives. She was the very last of the true Sailing Timber Scows, whereas the Moa was an Auxiliary Timber Scow. Rangi never had a wheelhouse and refused to have her hull polluted with oil and two semi-diesel engines like the Moa. Long before Rangi was wrecked in the Hauraki Gulf in 1937 she was almost lost at Karamea. While the Master was in the bows taking bar soundings and her two crew members were rowing the big scow, a freak wave capsized it drowning the three crew. She later drifted ashore, was recovered and put back into service with a new master and crew from Auckland. She was very lucky not to have become a total loss at Karamea.

Wherever the timber scows of the past are today may they sail somewhere for ever. I salute you all.

page 26
The Moa ashore at entrance to Wanganui River, South Westland, March, 1935.Subsequently she become a total loss. — Alexander Tumbull Library.

The Moa ashore at entrance to Wanganui River, South Westland, March, 1935.
Subsequently she become a total loss. — Alexander Tumbull Library.