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

The Lastingham

page 85

The Lastingham.

Wrecked in Sight of Port—A Midnight Tragedy—Half the Company Drowned.

The fine iron ship Lastingham, a vessel of 1143 tons, chartered by the Shaw-Savill Company, came to grief under sad circumstances when on her second voyage from London out to Wellington. The disaster happened in the spring of 1884. All went well until the ship was within a few hours of her destination. Those on board were congratulating one another on the pleasant prospect of being at their journey's end, and then suddenly in the night the scene was changed, and what should have been a welcome to a new land became a tragedy. The story of the catastrophe serves as another reminder of the terrible risks incidental to sailing ships and those that sailed in them.

It was not until Cape Egmont was sighted that anything of note occurred on the passage, and there the ship ran into severe weather. As the day wore on the gale increased, and suddenly, at about nine o'clock in the night, land was reported on the port bow. Captain Morrison, the master, ordered the foresail to be cut away, the course was altered, and the ship stood out for about half an hour. Then the look-out reported land right ahead, and an attempt was made to wear ship, but unsuccessfully, and in spite of the crew's frantic work the ship was driven ashore on what was afterwards found to be Jackson's Head, Cook Strait. The scene that followed was heartrending, and of the 28 people on board, only 14 ever got ashore.

On A Ledge.

The doomed ship struck heavily, and the land was so steep-to that the end of the jib-boom was jutting out over the edge of the rocks on which the vessel had come to grief. Scrambling out to the end of the jib-boom, six of the crew found no difficulty in dropping on to the rocks. While this party was getting off the wreck for'ard, the remainder of the people were aft or had taken to the rigging. Although those who had managed to get ashore shrieked out to let their comrades know there was a way of escape, the gale simply carried their cries away.

Hard as she was driven ashore, the battering of the waves soon wreaked their way on the hull of the ship. All the lifeboats were smashed, and then the masts went one by one. Yielding at last to the pitiless pounding of the giant seas, the Lastingham slipped from her precarious hold of the rocks, swung broadside on to the sea, and within two hours of striking she sank out of sight, taking with her 14 souls—including Captain Morrison, his wife, and five passengers. When the ship struck, and it was seen that it was hopeless, the captain, who was getting on in years, retired to his cabin, and when last seen was sitting at the table with his arm round his wife. With the water up to their armpits they were sitting, waiting for death.

Before the end came some of those left on the ship had tried to swim ashore, and others had tried to get a line ashore, but all was in vain. Those that tried to swim were never seen again, and those that tried to get ashore with a line had to be hauled back to the ship.

Little To Eat.

Those who had got ashore spent an awful night on the sea-beaten rocks, and they hoped against hope that with the morning they would find some more survivors, but when daylight returned neither living nor dead were seen. They started a hunt for succour. Dividing into three parties they tried to find some house. It was a bleak, lonely spot, and they were unsuccessful. Fortunately there was plenty of fresh water close to the spot where they had come ashore, but they were badly off for food. All they could find was a bag of oatmeal that had been washed ashore, but later a few pounds of pork and a packet of cornflour were added. They gnawed the raw meat and drank oatmeal and water, but this was poor fare for fourteen men.

The outlook was very black, and little parties of the survivors made excursions in search of help. The face of the cliff under which they found themselves was steep and difficult, and those that got to the top had hard work of it, wet and cold and half-starving as they were. One man fed himself on rabbits that he cought, and candles that came ashore from the wreck. Another man looking for help ate shellfish and kelp.


On the fourth morning they ate the last of their scanty store of food, and just when they were wondering whatpage 86 was going to happen a ketch hove in sight, and the castaways frantically signalled to her. She proved to be the Agnes, from Pelorus Sound. She at once sent a boat to pick up the party that had signalled her, and then stood along the shore to pick up the rest of the survivors who were out trying to find an escape from the almost inaccessible spot where they had been cast ashore. Other boats had been seen passing, but the wrecked men had been unable to attract their attention. They had nothing with which to make a fire, and the rough flagstaff they had been able to rig up on the highest part of the cliff had failed to catch the eyes of passers-by.

At the inquiry that was held concerning the wreck the Court found that the master had been guilty of an error of judgment in standing on so long on the one tack.

the Lastingham, on the previous voyage, sailed from London on March 13, and arrived at Wellington on July 7, 1883, Captain Morrison being in command. The ship did not visit any other port in New Zealand.