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

The British Empire

The British Empire.

One of the fastest sailers visiting New Zealand in the seventies was the barque British Empire, a vessel of 1499 tons, owned by Mr. George Duncan, of London, and sent out by the Shaw, Savill Co. She came to Auckland on two occasions bringing a large number of immigrants and a few saloon passengers, among the latter in 1875 being Mr. Arthur Colbeck, Mr. J. W. Smith, Mr. A. Blake Green, and many others who have made successful settlers and held prominent positions in the Dominion.

On each of her runs to Auckland the barque was under the command of Capt. Mather. the British Empire sailed from Gravesend on July 1st, and arrived in the Waitemata on October 7, 1875, making a fine passage of 88 days from the docks. Her next visit to Auckland was in 1880. She arrived on February 4th after another good passage of 93 days from the docks. The same vessel made one voyage to Dunedin under Captain Rowe, arriving there on September 8th, 1875, doing the run out in under 100 days.

Another ship bearing the same name, a large vessel of 2600 tons, arrived at Lyttelton on September 6th, 1884, with 33 saloon and 366 immigrants. The "Lyttelton Times" reporting her arrival stated she was the largest ship which had ever entered Lyttelton harbour.

There is a history attached to this vessel. Bad luck appears to have followed her even during her early days. As the vessel was being towed down the river from Bristol, a place where the tide has a great rise and fall, her bow stuck on a projecting part of the bank. The tide running out very fast at the time swung her round until the stern caught the opposite bank and left her high and dry and several lighters and small vessels actually sailed under her. Naturally such a large ship was severely strained and considerable law costs were involved. The ship was floated again during the next tide and some repairs effected. Finally, bad luck having kept close company with her, she was wrecked with many other vessels in a tidal wave at St. Thomas, West Indies.