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

The Ben Nevis

page 169

The Ben Nevis.

Narrowly Escapes Foundering.

Although she made only three voyages to New Zealand, as far as I am aware, the Ben Nevis, a vessel of 1053 tons, was well-known in the colonies, being in the Australian trade for a number of years during which she was a favourite with passengers. She is also remembered by old shipping hands in New Zealand by reason of her sensational voyage in 1897 when she nearly met with complete disaster. Launched in June, 1868, from the yards of Barclay, Curle and Company, of Glasgow, she was chartered along with the Loch Awe by Messrs. Aitken and Lilburn, of Glasgow, for the Australian trade, this arrangement being made pending the completion of the first six ships of the "Loch" line, as they used to call the Glasgow Shipping Company, of which the firm mentioned were managing owners. The first appearance of the Ben Nevis in New Zealand waters was in 1880 when she visited Auckland, arriving there on January 11 after a rather long passage for this ship of 101 days.

the Ben Nevis was commanded by Captain Mackie during the first two voyages to New Zealand. This fine sailor had retired from the sea, but owing to the smash of the Glasgow Bank in 1878, in which he lost his life's earnings, he found it necessary to go to sea once more.

It is now 44 years since the Ben Nevis anchored in the Waitemata. Many of the passengers by this ship have held important positions in Auckland and other parts of the Dominion. Among those who landed here were Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Smith, who with Mr. Caughey founded the important drapery firm of Smith and Caughey. Mr. Smith died several years ago, but Mrs. Smith still resides in Auckland. Other well-known and respected citizens by the Ben Nevis were Mr. A. J. Entrican, merchant, who established the wholesale firm which bears his name, and who has held many important positions in connection with our civic government; Mr. A. J. Ferriday, well known in musical circles; Mr. Walton, for many years with the New Zealand railways, now retired; Mr. Johnston, several years Mayor of Te Aroha, whose only son was lost when the Wairarapa was wrecked at the Great Barrier; with others.

Her next visit was to Dunedin, where she arrived on September 21, 1882, 93 days out from London docks.

Well Buffeted.

On March 31, 1897, she sailed from Glasgow for Dunedin, but did not reach her destination until October 1—183 days out, and this was the occasion when she had such a close call. At that time she was rigged as a barque, and was in command of Captain Sims. All went well until she was right down in southern waters, where she ran into dirty weather, and sail was reduced to low topsails only. A tremendous sea was running, and now and again the barque shipped green ones that swept the decks from end to end. Things culminated on July 3, when she was about 1000 miles south-west of Melbourne. On that day a veritable avalanche swept over her, carrying away the steering gear, and washing the man at the wheel to the other end of the vessel, where he picked himself up just as the man who was getting ready to go aft and relieve him was carried overboard, and, of course, drowned, for no boat could have lived in such a boiling sea.

The steering gear gone, the vessel became unmanageable and broached-to, with disastrous results. As she swung helplessly round mountainous seas washed aboard, and for a time she was buried in water. Parts of the bulwarks were washed away, the lifeboats and boat-davits went over the side, the poop deck was damaged, and the quarter-hatch was stove in. The cabin was completely flooded, and everything movable was swept out, including the captain's navigating instruments and charts, the loss of which left him in a very bad way.

Put into Melbourne.

Strenuous work, however, gradually got the better of the storm. Emergency steering tackle was rigged, and the gale gradually abating, the storm-tossed vessel was once more put on her course. In view of the terrible knocking about his vessel had sustained, Captain Sims decided to run for the nearest port, which happened to be Melbourne, and he arrived there on July 14. The hull was found to be perfectly sound, but it neededpage 170 the expenditure of some £3000 to put the rest of the damage right. She left Melbourne on September 18, and carried fine weather until her arrival at Port Chalmers 183 days after leaving Glasgow.

In the following year the Ben Nevis was sold to a Norwegian firm, and her name was changed to Astoria. She remained afloat until January 24, 1912, when she was dismasted in the Atlantic. She was set on fire, and abandoned by the crew, who were taken off the sinking vessel by the steamer Dungenness of London.

When she was in the Australian passenger trade the Ben Nevis was very popular under the command of Captain McPetrie. This well-known master left the Ben Nevis to take over the Ben Voirlich, of the same line, and he was in command of her in 1875, when she ran from London to Melbourne in 62 days, which at the time was said to be a record for any iron ship trading from England to Australia.