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

The Lutterworth

page 111

The Lutterworth.

One of the Shaw, Savill Line—Dismasted in Cook Straits—Ship Thrown on Her Beam Ends—Rescue of the Crew.

Of all the ships that traded to New Zealand in the early days, and brought so many thousands of settlers to the colony, the number that have ended their days here is remarkably small. Probably the most interesting of the few was the Lutterworth, a fine iron barque of 883 tons that was launched at Hartlepool in 1868, and was purchased in 1872 by the Shaw, Savill Company for the New Zealand trade. She was not a flyer, but made good average passages. After trading between England and the colony for over thirty years she was sold to Messrs. Turnbull and Co., of Christchurch, but her active career was ended a few months later, when she was dismasted during a south-east gale in Cook Straits. The misfortune happened in October, 1906, when bound from Timaru to Kaipara to load timber for Melbourne. She was first observed to be in serious trouble by a settler living at Kopotorua Beach, who rode into Levin and reported a ship some eight or nine miles off the land, apparently dismasted. The news was immediately conveyed to Wellington, when the Marine Department sent out the steamer Duco to search for the vessel and render assistance. When the Duco discovered the barque it proved to be the Lutterworth, and she was being towed by the tiny 77 tonner Aorere, Captain Fisk.

A severe S.E. gale had been blowing in the Straits for several days, and the Aorere, bound from Patea to Wellington, when off Kapiti Island, was struck by a squall of hurricane force, and had to seek shelter there. The following day she made for Ohau Bay, and while at anchor there the Lutterworth was sighted drifting through the middle of the Straits. A heavy sea was still running, with strong S.E. squalls. Later the sea moderated, and the little Aorere set out in pursuit of the wreck, which was reached at dusk. No response was received from signals made, so Captain Fisk decided to stand by until daylight, when the ship was taken in tow. Later the Duco came on the scene, and the two steamers towed the vessel into Wellington. On arrival it was learned that the crew, numbering eighteen, had been rescued by the steamer Penguin, bound from Wellington to Picton, and they were later conveyed to Wellington.

Steering Gear Breaks.

the Lutterworth, under command of Captain Hicks, had left Timaru on the 30th September, 1906, with 415 tons of shingle ballast. When off the Kaikoura Peninsula the weather became thick, sail was shortened, and the ship was headed east until the conditions improved. Intending to run through Cook Straits, Captain Hicks ordered the helm up, but the vessel would not pay off. The steering gear broke, the fore lower topsail split, and the ship became unmanageable. There was then a moderate gale blowing and heavy sea running. The ballast shifted, and the masts had to be cut away to save the ship from going under, being then on her beam ends with the lee yardarms under water. Captain Hicks stated the cause of the whole trouble was the breaking of the steering gear.

One of the officers, describing the disaster, stated that when the vessel heeled over the water was up to the combing of the main hatch. The crew could not move along the deck, and had to crawl along the weather side of the ship on the outside. Mrs. Hicks, the captain's wife, was hauled out of her cabin by a rope. The crew were ordered to cut away the three masts, and overboard went the incubus, the main mast first, then the mizzen, and lastly the foremast. "You'd think the ship was struck by electricity when the masts went," remarked one of the crew. "It was all sparks when the splinters went flying." Preparing for the worst, they jettisoned their clothing, until they stood in only their shirts and trousers, scant protection against the gnawing cold. They remained thus, under the weather bulwarks, for 24 hours, with their bodies afflicted by the freezing wind, and their minds tortured by suspense. Then, believing that the barque would hold her own, the men went to the fo'c'sle and "warmed themselves a bit and had a smoke."

Down below the men endeavoured to straighten the shingle ballast, which had shifted, and with ropes aroundpage 112 their waists they tried in vain to make an impression. "It flowed around us like water," said one of the workers. Theirs was the labour of Sisyphus, whose punishment in Hades was to roll a stone uphill for ever. When it was seen that the helpless barque was likely to drift on the rocks, an attempt was made to lower the boats—the cutter and the lifeboat—but they were both smashed. Retreat being now cut off, the unfortunates had to cling to the derelict, merely hoping that Providence would put salvation in their way." We thought we would pass over the long trail," remarked one in a tone that had a ring of conviction. Captain
Barque Lutterworth Alongside Firth's Old Wharf At Auckland.

Barque Lutterworth Alongside Firth's Old Wharf At Auckland.

Hicks was injured while bringing up lifebelts. A lurch of the barque knocked him into the scuppers, breaking his right arm, and cutting and bruising his head. Mrs. Hicks also cut her head on some broken crockery. "When the lifeboat went you could hear nothing but groans for about five minutes," said a seaman. The one available anchor failing to hold, sea anchors were rigged, and an endeavour made to get the ship's head to the wind, but all efforts failed, and the ship still dragged.

The crew were ready to abandon her and endeavour to reach the shore the best way they could when the s.s. Penguin was seen bearing down upon them, the barque at that time being about a mile off the shore and about 200 yards off the rocks, and being swept shorewards. The Penguin launched a lifeboat, and, with difficulty succeeded in rescuing the poor unfortunates. They were utterly worn out with fatigue and hard work, Captain and Mrs. Hicks being considerably knocked about. The sailors spoke glowingly of the courage of Mrs. Hicks.

Captain A. Davies, of the Marine Department, Auckland, was mate of the Lutterworth when she met with this disaster, and he tells me that none of them on board thought they would get out of it alive after the ballast shifted and the ship was thrown on her beam ends.

The Nautical Court exonerated Captain Hicks and his officers from all blame, and sympathised with the captain, stating that he was fully justified in cutting away the masts to save the lives of all on board.

After a survey on arrival at Wellington the owners of the barque decided not to repair her, and she was sold to the Union S.S. Company for a coal hulk.page 113 She is still doing duty in Wellington harbour.

The yards from the Lutterworth subsequently came ashore at various places on the coast from Island Bay towards Cape Terawhiti. Her main yards lay for a long time on a rough beach a couple
Battered Hull Of the Lutterworth After Towing' To Wellington.

Battered Hull Of the Lutterworth After Towing' To Wellington.

of miles from Island Bay, and were gradually buried in sand and shingle.

Other Narrow Escapes.

Some years before the Lutterworth was dismasted she had a narrow escape of coming to grief at the entrance to Nelson. On this occasion, after the vessel stranded, fine weather prevailed, and she was successfully towed off by the steamers Charles Edward and Tasman without sustaining any serious damage.

On another occasion, when the Lutterworth was bound out to Auckland, in 1875, a rather alarming incident occurred. When in the Southern Ocean, on June 20, the ship was making twelve knots, an alarm of fire was raised, and as it was known the ship was carrying 40 tons of gunpowder, there was considerable excitement and alarm among the passengers. Smokepage 114 was first observed filling the cabin. It was very evident that the fire was under the biscuit locker, close to the saloon fireplace. It was soon revealed that the woodwork was on fire behind the stove, directly under the cabin stairs. Energetic efforts were at once brought to bear upon the extinction of the fire. The stove was torn out, and Mr. Eadington, the chief officer, made a vigorous attack upon the burning partition with an axe, and also with water passed down from above. Fortunately, in about fifteen minutes, all danger was past, and everyone uttered thanks for their narrow escape.

A Lively Passage.

Mr. H. B. Dobie, of Auckland, who was a passenger by the Lutterworth in 1875 on the voyage out to Auckland, after reading my account of the fire when it was published in the "Star," sent me the following:—

"In reading the very interesting account of the old Luterworth, I was reminded of a hair-raising incident that disturbed the peace of mind of those who knew about it far more than the fire in the saloon.

"The second-class passengers reached their quarters in the hold by the mizzen hatchway, which had been provided with a temporary skylight, through which came all our light and air. When this was swept overboard in a gale, the ship's hatchway was replaced, battened down, and a tarpaulin stretched over the top. This resulted in our quarters being pitchy dark both day and night for the next six weeks. To get on deck one had to climb the companion ladder, push back a wooden slide, and squeeze under the tarpaulin.

"I had a few candles, and, instructed by Mr. Eadington, the mate, I constructed a slush lamp, which smelt abominably, but gave enough light to read by. After a week of this Cimmerian darkness one of the passengers who was always begging candles of me, appeared one morning with a good supply. Not only did he return those he had borrowed, but he gave me a whole packet. It seems he had removed some boards in the bulkhead of his cabin and broached cargo. Immediately round our cabins was stowed 40 tons of blasting powder. I could hear it sifting in the barrels with the rolling of the ship as I lay in my bunk. To reach the case of candles that he had broken open he had to crawl over the power barrels with a lighted candle! It was a miracle that the ship was not blown to atoms in mid-ocean.

"According to 'The Ancient Mariner,' the albatross is a bird of ill-omen. It certainly was the case on board the Lutterworth. One morning, while we were at breakfast, Mr. Eadington caught two, but one of the passengers claimed them as they had been captured with the line he had been fishing with since daylight. This led to a violent dispute, which Captain Pearson settled by giving one of the birds—a large white albatross 10ft across the wings—to me. 'He is the only man on board who will skin it.' My wife still has it, made into a muff. This dispute was the origin of two rival factions—one headed by the passenger, the other by Mr. Eadington—that lasted the rest of the voyage. About a fortnight before we reached Auckland the feud culminated in a free fight on the poop. Some of the belligerents actually tried to fling their opponents overboard.

"On landing in Auckland, the mate and I were met by a policeman and served with warrants for assault and battery on the high seas. Mr. Eadington was bound over to keep the peace in two sureties. I was one, and my small capital was impounded by the clerk of the Court, leaving me with only a few shillings in my pocket to begin my career in a new country."

Here follow the record of passages made by the Lutterworth.

To Auckland.
Sailed. Arrived. Captain. Days.
April 13 July 26, '75 Pearson 103
July 7 Oct. 21, '80 Pearson 104
Oct. 16 Jan. 18, '84 Pearson 94
April 7 July 15, '87 Streater 98
To Wellington.
Sep. 12 Dec. 26, '79 Pearson 105
*Aug. 28 Dec. 10, '89 Streater 102
*Sep. 4 Dec. 12, '91 Kelly 88
*Aug. 27 Dec. 6, '92 Kelly 103
* Dec. 18, '93 Kelly 94
Dec. 31, '95 Kelly
*Oct. 23, '95 Jan. 24, '96 Kelly 110
To Lyttelton.
May 15 Aug. 31, '78 Pearson 105
May 27 Sep. 1, '81 Pearson 97
page 115
To Port Chalmers.
Sailed. Arrived. Captain. Days.
*Dec. 28, '72 April 5, '73 Clark 98
*NOV. 10, '73 Feb. 2, '74 Clark 84
Oct. 30, '84 Feb. 17, '85 Kelly 110
May 19 Aug. 28, '88 Streater 99
To Nelson.
Sailed. Arrived. Captain. Days.
Aug. 4, '76 95
Dec. 24, '98 Kelly
Nov. 6, '99 Woods 99
Oct. 28, '00 Woods 102
June 21 Sep. 22, '02 Woods 93
Mar. 25, '06 Hicks 105

* From Liverpool;

From Bristol;

from Glasgow.