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

Inter-Colonial Clippers

page 12

Inter-Colonial Clippers.

The Circular Saw Line—Alice Cameron Rescues Crew of Sinking Ship—Fast Passages from Sydney to Auckland.

How many people in Auckland can tell you what the signals on Mount Victoria mean? A certain number can possibly tell when the flagstaff indicates a steamer arriving, but beyond that very few bother their heads. Steam and wireless have taken much of the romance out of the sea.

Fifty years ago, when we had to depend on the beautiful old sailing ships to keep us in touch with the outside world, an expected arrival from overseas was an event, and we used to watch the Mount Victoria flagstaff for days ahead.
Barque Alice Cameron.

Barque Alice Cameron.

Everybody knew the graceful clipper ships and discussed their performances, and the names of their captains were household words. People who came to the young colony had a feeling of affection for the ship that had been their home for so many days, and there was always a friendly rivalry between the admirers of the different vessels.

That this natural love of British people for a ship still survives is shown by the keen interest taken in the performances of the old-time craft. How many times in the newspapers have you not seen paragraphs from old hands recalling a fast passage by such and such a ship or barque? In the past twenty years the "Auckland Star" and other journals in the province have contained scores of letters and statements concerning fast passages made in the sailing ship days between Sydney and Auckland, San Francisco and Auckland, and London and Auckland.

As I was shipping reporter ("marine reporter" we used to call it in those days) on the "Southern Cross" from 1863 to 1865, and then on the "Herald" from 1865 to 1871, it has occurred to me that some reminiscences of the fast sailing ships of half a century and more ago would be of interest. During the periods I speak of I made notes of notable passages, and in going over old records I have been able to decide several points which are still being disputed.

Quite recently, for instance, several correspondents have written to the "Star" about the fastest sailing time between Sydney and Auckland, one crediting the Alice Cameron and another claiming that it was the Trieste, with making the record passage under five days. Neither of these statements is correct, and I venture to assert that no sailing vessel has made the run from Sydney to Auckland—that is, port to port—in less than five days.

page 13

the Trieste's Record.

One correspondent, writing to the "Auckland Star," stated that the barque Trieste, Captain J. G. Clarke Rowland, made the passage from Sydney to Auckland in four days three hours, but the facts do not bear this out. I may mention in passing that many people have apparently confused the time taken "between land and land" with the time "port to port." the Trieste was purchased in Sydney by Messrs. Thornton, Smith, and Firth, millers, whose flour mill stood on the site now occupied by Smeetons, Ltd., Queen Street, Auckland. She left Sydney on May 13, 1866, at 6 p.m., and passed the Three Kings four days eight hours later. the Trieste experienced heavy westerly gales in the Tasman Sea, but after rounding the North Cape she met with light south and south-west winds down the coast, and anchored between North Head and Rangitoto on the morning of the 20th at 6 a.m. I boarded the barque an hour later. The actual time occupied by the Trieste from port to port was six days twelve hours. Captain Burgess, late mate of the Alice Cameron, was in command, not Captain Clarke Rowland, as stated by the writer, and Captain Sewell, late commander, came over as a passenger. Captain Clarke Rowland was later in command when the Trieste sailed from Auckland for San Francisco to load a cargo of wheat or flour for Messrs. Thornton, Smith and Firth.

A Dead Heat.

Another correspondent. writing to the "Star" over the signature "An Auckland Shipping Agent," claimed that the Circular Saw liner, the barque Alice Cameron held the Sydney-Auckland record, her time being five days four hours. This also is not in accordance with the facts. The Alice Cameron, left Sydney at 11 p.m. on the 16th August, 1862, and passed the Three Kings after a fine run of five days from Sydney. Like the Trieste she met with variable winds after rounding the North Cape, and arrived outside Rangitoto reef about 11 a.m. on the 23rd. She was becalmed there for some hours, and anchored off the Queen Street wharf at 7 p.m. Taking the time of the two vessels inside of Rangitoto Channel, the run occupied about six days twelve hours, so we may call it a "dead heat."

But neither of these runs can be compared with a passage made by the Alice Cameron in 1862. On this occasion, under Captain Barron, she left Sydney on July 27th, at 1 p.m., and carried strong westerly and north-west winds across to the Three Kings, which were abreast at 5 a.m. on August 1st, the barque being then only four days eight hours from Sydney. Her run from North Cape to Cape Brett was done in seven hours. The vessel then had to beat up with a strong south-west wind, during which, shortly before reaching port, she carried away her foretopsail yard. According to the report in the "Daily Southern Cross," she anchored in harbour, completing the passage in five days 22 hours.

The barque Kate holds the palm for the record passage from Sydney to Auckland of any sailing vessel from 1850 to date. the Kate, in command of Captain Sherlock, left Sydney on August 27, 1863, having embarked 80 volunteers under the command of Ensign Coulter and Dr. Drake. She sailed from Sydney at 2.30 p.m. on the date mentioned, and carried a westerly with clear weather right across, the wind ranging from N.W. to S.W. The Three Kings were sighted at 9 a.m. on the 31st after an excellent run of four days six hours.

The barque experienced light winds from the S.W. and fine weather down the coast, and anchored in the Waitemata early on the morning of September 3, five days 20 hours from Sydney. Mr. Alder Fisher, who was an A.B. on the Kate under Captain Sherlock in 1862, is still living in Grafton Road, Auckland.

The Record From Newcastle.

None of these passages are, however, the record from Australia. The barque Adela, Captain Le Brien, sailed from Newcastle with a cargo of 400 tons coal at 4 p.m. on the 30th July, 1876, and passed the Three Kings on the 3rd of August. The same evening she was off the Bay of Islands, exactly four days from Newcastle. She anchored at Auckland on the following day, having made the run in five days. Captain Le Brien reported strong favourable winds throughout the passage to Tiri Tiri island.

Captain Cooper Springs A Surprise.

I well remember on one occasion, I believe in 1867, boarding the Alice Cameron during a black nor'-easter at about 9 p.m. off the Queen Street wharf. Captain Carter, who was in command, said: "the Kate started two hours after us,"page 14 and rubbing his hands with a smile, he added, "you will not see Cooper for two or three days. We rounded the North Cape just as the N.E. gale started, and we did not sight land again until we got a glimpse of the Barrier; dirty weather all along the coast." To my surprise, at about 11 p.m., Captain Cooper, of the Kate, made his appearance at the office to hand in his report. He left Sydney two hours after the Alice, and dropped anchor about two hours after her in Auckland Harbour. Two years later, on December 6, 1869, the Kate collided with an unknown vessel at sea, and was sunk.

The Auckland-built barque Novelty was also a clipper, and made consistent fast passages from Sydney to Auckland. Her best run was six days 16 hours, and
Barque Kate.

Barque Kate.

on two other occasions she made the passage in between seven and eight days. The beautiful little barque was launched from Messrs. Niccol and Sons' yard, Mechanics' Bay, just about where the railway arch leading to Parnell now stands. the Novelty made one fast voyage to London, and accomplished the run out in 92 days from the Lizard.

The name of Mr. H. Niccol, the builder of the barque Novelty, was inseparably connected with the early history of the shipping industry in Auckland. He turned out many large and fast sailers from his yards in Mechanics' Bay. Later Mr. Niccol shifted across to the North Shore. In 1866 he erected a patent slip, and it was big enough to take a 1000-ton ship. Mr. Malcolm Niccol, who was for many years secretary of the Grand Lodge of the New Zealand Constitution of Freemasons, and is still living in Auckland, is a son of the builder of the barque Novelty.

A Noted Line.

Both the Kate and the Alice Cameron belonged to the famous Circular Saw clippers owned by Messrs. Henderson and Macfarlane, and their sailing capabilities were about equal, although the Alice Cameron during the years the two vessels were engaged in the Auckland-Sydney trade had a better record than the Kate. The Alice Cameron started her career in this run in 1862, when only eight years from the builders' hands. On her first run from Sydney to Auckland, in May of that year, she made the passage in a little over seven days. The "New Zealander" of June 7, 1862, referring to the advent of this little clipper, says: "The Alice Cameron is unquestionably the very finest addition that has been made to the tonnage of the port of Auckland, and is another conspicuous example of the good taste and sound judgment which have been the guiding principles of the enterprising firm to which she belongs. There is no house which has done so much as that of Henderson and Macfarlane. Mr. Thomas Henderson, a son of the head of the firm of Henderson and Macfarlane, was for many years manager of the Union S.S. Company at Auckland. He retired from business in 1923.

page 15

Alice Cameron To The Rescue.

Sea history is studded with countless tales of heroism, and many lives have been sacrificed in trying to save others. On the other hand one is thankful to say the list of despicable actions is comparatively brief. A story which has fortunately never been duplicated in these southern seas as far as I remember occurred some fifty years ago. It happened in the Tasman Sea, about 100 miles off the coast of New Zealand. The boat that played an ignominious part was bound from Auckland to Sydney, and the victim was a barque bound from Newcastle to Auckland with coal. Sailing along at midnight one dark and hazy night in the month of October the 337-ton barque A. H. Badger, doing about six knots, was suddenly crashed
Barque Novelty.

Barque Novelty.

into by a steamer which never even slacked up to see what had happened, and continued on, going west, at top speed.

The "Badger," as she was generally called, was owned and-sailed by Captain J. L. Leddra, and he had with him his wife and children, who were making their first trip. A fearful smack on the side was dealt to the barque by the steamer, rigging and bulwarks being carried away, and below water the barque's hull was badly holed. Luckily Mrs. Leddra and the children were sleeping on the starboard side, for nothing could have saved them had their cabin been on the port side, where the damage was done. Captain Leddra at once ordered out all the boats left, and his family and the crew put off, as there was no telling what would happen to the Badger. They even saved a favourite Newfoundland dog that had been maimed in the collision.


For a long time the unfortunate people drifted about, but eventually to their joy they saw a sail to the eastward. Quickly it came over the horizon, and the vessel proved to be the Alice Cameron, one of the Circular Saw Line, bound from Auckland to Sydney. No time was lost in getting the shipwrecked people on board the newcomer. It was providential that the Alice Cameron came along just when she did, as before the day closed a heavy storm come up and the rescued people saw the Badger go down. Captain Leddra's daughter, who is still living in Sydney, tells the story of her tragic first trip in a letter she wrote recently to Mr. Thomas Henderson, of Auckland, son of Mr. Henderson, of Henderson and Macfarlane, who owned the Circular Saw Line.

An Ugly Story.

Those on board the Badger knew what vessel it was that had run them down, and when they landed from the Alice Cameron at Sydney the ugly story began to get about. It was the American steamer Nevada that had crashed into them. The Nevada belonged to the Webb Line, which at that time was running the mails under contract with the New Zealand Government between San Francisco and New Zealand, and then on to Sydney. She was a big side-wheel steamer of 2400 tons, her ponderouspage 16 paddles being worked by huge beam engines that worked through the deck and gave her a very strange appearance. Not a word had been said by the Nevada people when they reached Sydney, so the sensation that was caused by the arrival of the Alice Cameron with the rescued crew and passengers of the Badger was all the more profound.

Nevada To Blame.

Those on the Nevada that were responsible for the collision had to remain behind in Sydney. The matter was investigated by the Vice-Admiralty Court in Sydney, and the judgment condemned the Nevada. It was held that even though the Badger's lights were not faultless, the Nevada did not keep a proper lookout; in fact, the judgment
The Topsail Schooner Huia.

The Topsail Schooner Huia.

of the Court says the Nevada's people evidently never expected to meet another vessel in those wide waters. The Court expressed regret that the Nevada after the collision did not stop to ascertain what damage had been done. The skipper was somewhat absolved as he was not on deck at the time, although he came up immediately afterwards and saw the Badger astern. The Court adjudged the value of the Badger at £1600, and gave judgment against the Nevada for that sum, the steamer also being mulcted in costs. One thing that would strike anyone reading the judgment is the reference to the "high rate of speed" of the mail steamer. She was doing ten knots!

In 1870 the Alice Cameron sailed from Auckland on February 15 in company with the brig Emma for the Bay of Islands. These vessels loaded with a full cargo of whale oil, etc., from the whalers in port, and sailed for New York. the Alice took a few passengers

Later the Alice Cameron sailed from Newcastle, Captain Carter in command, for Manila with a cargo of coal, and was never heard of again. Two other vessels, the American barques Jewess and Lelia M. Long, left at the same time on a similar voyage, and not a word was heard of either from that day to this.

The Brig Moa.

The brig Moa, another of the Circular Saw Line, also put up some fine records. She ran continuously for ten years, from 1850 until 1860, when her place was taken by the barque Kate. As far back as 1852, when in command of Captain Norris, the Moa ran from Sydney to Auckland under seven days, and "but for the consideration given to make the ship easy for the safety of the stock," said the captain on this occasion, "I could have readily accomplished the passage in 24 hours' less time." the Moa had on board 300 prize sheep and 12 horses, and only two were lost on the passage. the Moa also made several passages under eight days when in charge of Captain Bowden, and once—1859—with Captain H. F. Anderson in command.

page 17

The Brig Vision.

This was another smart sailer. In 1892 she ran from Newcastle to Auckland in 7 days 3 hours, and in 1894, under Captain Nillson, arrived on May 31st only 7½ days from Newcastle.

The Huia.

The most remarkable run of all across the Tasman Sea was that made by the little schooner Huia. She was built by Mr. James Barber at Kaipara to the order of Mr. (now the Hon. Sir) Edwin Mitchelson), and made a sensational passage of four days six hours from Sydney to Kaipara Heads. Captain George McKenzie, now in business, with an office in the Ferry Buildings, Auckland, was master of the schooner at the time. the Huia also made some remarkable runs when engaged in the Lyttelton-Kaipara trade.

Mr. Andrew Jamieson, writing from Waihi, has supplied me with some further details of this fast sailing schooner. He says: "I was engaged on this vessel with Captain Mackenzie when she made the sensational runs across the Tasman Sea. In addition to the run of 4½ days from Sydney to the Kaipara, on another occasion the Huia left Newcastle and 48 hours after leaving Knobbys light was 510 miles clear of land. Then followed a thrash to windward of 600 miles in nine days, the trip being accomplished in eleven days. On the following trip she frequently logged from 14 to 16 knots from Kaipara, and made another remarkable run to Sydney. When nearing Sydney Heads we almost ran down the Newcastle passenger steamer, and would have done so had not Captain G. McKenzie thrown the schooner aback. It was a close shave, as only from ten to fifteen feet separated the vessels. The passengers and crew of the p.s. Sydney have to thank Captain McKenzie for his superb handling of his schooner in such a tight corner. The incident happened about 9 p.m., when the Huia was reeling off over 14 knots."

Lighthouse At Cape Maria Van Diemen.

Lighthouse At Cape Maria Van Diemen.