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

Loss Of The St. Leonards

page 68

Loss Of The St. Leonards.

Immigrant Ship Tragedy—Sank in Nine Minutes—Popular Captain Todd.

There were many tragedies in the old sailing ship days, when a journey from the Old Land to the New was a matter of some adventure, but probably one of the swiftest was that which overtook the ship Saint Leonards with 62 souls aboard, soon after she had left London on the long voyage to New Zealand. She was a well-known visitor to the colony, and both she and her master (Captain Richard Todd) were particularly popular in the trade. An iron ship, built by Pile, Hay and Co., at Sunderland in 1864, for the Shaw, Savill Company, she was employed in the New Zealand trade between 1873 and 1882, making during that time many voyages from England. It was in 1883 that she met with disaster. From the outset the voyage was unlucky. She first left the docks on August 31, but was caught in a terrible storm a few days later, and had to put back with a sprung bowsprit and other injuries that took ten days to repair. It was not until the 13th of September that she set sail again. Captain Todd was in command of a crew of 29 all told, his officers being Mr. Broadway, first, and Mr. Allsop, second. Everything went well until the 17th, when the ship was about eighteen miles east of Start Point.

Mate's Thrilling Story.

"The ship had all sail set, and at eight a.m., when my watch expired, she was going about two and a-half knots before a fair wind," said the chief officer, Mr. Broadway, in giving an account of what happened on that fateful voyage. "The weather had turned foggy, so that you could not see more than 200 yards before you.

"I don't know which of us noticed it first, but all of a sudden I saw a steamer on the port side, apparently only about a hundred yards off, and coming straight into us. The pilot roared 'full speed astern,' and someone on board the steamer replied 'full speed astern it is.' By this time she was nearly upon us, and the pilot, seeing a collision was inevitable, gave the order 'port helm.' This brought our captain on deck. He, too, realised that a bad smash could not be averted, and told us to lower the boats. The steamer then struck us amidships, crunching through the side of the Saint Leonards as if she was a bonnet box.

A Doomed Ship.

"There seemed to be hardly any shock; in fact, those below said they didn't at first think anything serious had happened. We, however, knew the vessel would go to the bottom in a few minutes, and no time was lost lowering the boats and getting the passengers—first the women and children, and then the men—into them. The Cormorant (for that was the steamer's name) recoiled after striking us, but she immediately came and stood-by, throwing a rope aboard, by means of which most of our crew clambered into her. Everybody behaved extremely well. There appeared to be no hurry or panic, yet the loading of the boats was managed remarkably quickly.

"Between eight and nine minutes after the collision the last man, (Captain Todd) left the ship, and within a few seconds the Saint Leonards plunged, prow foremost, into the sea and disappeared. She had all sail set, which made the sight even more remarkable and impressive. The air in the saloon exploded with a loud noise that made some think the gunpowder aboard had been got at; and the sea was covered with wreckage, live stock and luggage. The Cormorant steamed for Dartmouth, after making sure all the human beings, a total of 62, belonging to the Saint Leonards, were safe aboard, and landed us there at noon."

High Praise.

A great sensation was caused by the tragedy of the Saint Leonards, and the London "Standard" commenting on the saving of all hands, said "Englishmen may all read with a feeling of pride the account of the coolness and presence of mind displayed alike by officers, crew, and passengers. The quickness with which the boats were lowered is in strong contrast to the delay and bungling that have occurred in two or three collisions during the last few months. The saving of the people of the Saint Leonards may be cited as a model of what should take place on such an occasion; calmness and coolness prevailing, the boats being rapidly lowered, first the passengers and then the crew, and lastly the captain taking theirpage 69 places in them, and they row off just as the ship goes down. High credit is due to all concerned."

First Visit to Auckland.

Upon her first visit to Auckland forty years ago the Saint Leonards was commanded by Captain Petherbridge, and on that occasion she had among her passengers Mr. S. Philpott, now with Jagger and Harvey, ship chandlers, Auckland, as head of their sail-making department. He came out with his parents. On that voyage Mr. Tom Bowling, afterwards in command of the Invercargill and other ships, was the chief officer of the Saint Leonards, and the second officer was Mr. McDonald, who was in the Ben Venue when she was wrecked at Timaru, and was one of the only three survivors from the Cospatrick
The St. Leonard's in the river thames.

The St. Leonard's in the river thames.

when she was burned off Cape of Good Hope.

After the loss of the St. Leonards, Captain Todd took command of the Northumberland. Nearly, if not all, the officers and crew of the St. Leonards shipped again with Captain Todd on this ship. Among them was a young man named Wilson, who came of a seafaring family. His kit was packed in a sea chest which had accompanied his father and grandfather round the world some seven or eight times, and was regarded by Wilson as a sort of heirloom. Weeks after the St. Leonards went down this chest, almost the only salvage, by the way, was cast up on the French coast. The authorities of the French town near which it was cast up were able to ascertain the name of the owner's people. A few days before Wilson left his home again to join the Northumberland they received the chest and a very sympathetic letter from the mayor of the town, and the chest was still in a sufficiently sound condition to be used for its original purpose, and accompanied its owner on the Northumberland.

Following is the list of the voyages made by the Saint Leonards from London to New Zealand:—

To Auckland.
Sailed. Arrived. Captain. Days.
June 19 Sep. 26, '73 Petherbridge 98
To Wellington.
June 3 Sep. 2, '74 Todd 91
Aug. 6 Nov. 12, '75 Todd 98
Nov. 2, '76 Todd 102
July 30 Nov. 5, '77 Todd 97
June 27 Sep. 30, '78 Todd 95
June 10 Sep. 27, '79 Todd 91
May 23 Aug. 22, '80 Todd 90
To Lyttelton.
June 22 Sep. 23 '72 Petherbridge 93
Apr. 15 July 29, '81 Todd 105
Jan. 4 Apr. 23, '82 Todd 109
page 70

Captain Richard Todd.

A Popular Shipmaster.

Long Resident Of Napier.
The Captain Todd, whose coolness and resource during the collision enhanced his already fine reputation, was very well known in New Zealand, to which colony he had brought so many people from the Old Land, He always had a liking for this Britain of the South, and when his time came to retire from the sea he made his home here. Born at Dundee, Scotland, in 1845, he went to sea as a boy, and his first voyage was to China on a ship carrying troops His first visit to New Zealand was as chief officer of the Asterope, in the middle 70's, and when next he arrived in these waters he was chief officer of a small barque called the Malay, of which he took command when the master (Captain Peters) was promoted to a larger vessel.

His next command was the Saint Leonards, in which he made many voyages to New Zealand, bringing out a large number of immigrants. His last ship was the Northumberland, a well-known trader to the colony, which met an untimely end at Napier in 1887, being cast ashore during a furious storm that did much damage in the Bay. Oddly enough neither on the Saint Leonards nor the Northumberland was there any loss of life. Three men were drowned when the Northumberland was cast away, but they belonged to a little steamer called the Boojum that went to the assistance of the sailing ship.

After the loss of the Northumberland Captain Todd came ashore and settled down at Napier, and five months after the wreck of the Northumberland Captain Todd was appointed marine superintendent of the Colonial Union Shipping Company. In 1889 the name of the company was changed to the Tyser Line, Captain Todd remaining with the company as marine superintendent. In 1893 he was appointed colonial superintendent of the line, which in 1913 had its name changed to the Commonwealth and Dominion Line. When this last change was made Captain Todd, in addition to being colonial superintendent, became a director of the company. The head office had always been at Napier, but on the death of Captain Todd in 1916 it was transferred to Wellington.

Captain Todd was a man of sound common sense, and of a most marked personality. He was a well-read man, and had all the qualities that one associates with the true-hearted, frank sailor. He was a great favourite with the many passengers he carried, and during his long residence in Napier he made many firm friends. He was a good man of business, and his London principals often had to thank the day they appointed him their representative in Napier, where he attracted a large amount of business for their ships.

Captain Todd was 71 when he died His wife pre-deceased him by some two years. He had three sons and one daughter.