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

The Messina

The Messina.

Long Battle at Sea—What Early Immigrants had to Suffer.

In comparing sea travel of to-day with that of half a century and more ago the thing that strikes one most forcibly is that although the disasters of to-day far exceed those of bygone days, the early immigrants to New Zealand were always nearer danger than the modern traveller. A very striking instance is provided by the long battle of the Messina against a succession of gales.

The ship Messina, a vessel of 552 tons, sent out by the Shaw, Savill Co. with general cargo and fifteen passengers, sailed from London Docks on January 5, 1862, in command of Captain T. H. Lethbridge, and did not arrive in the Waitemata until June 30. She started from the Downs nine days after leaving the Docks, and from that date until the 27th experienced very foul weather. On the 23rd January, whilst crossing the Bay of Biscay, she met with a terrific gale with a tremendous sea. The ship was hove to under a close-reefed main topsail. On January 24 the quarter-boat was washed away. The gales, with very short intervals, followed fast on each other, and on February 5 the standing jib was blown away and the mizzen topsail was split. On the 10th two tremendous seas broke on board, staving in the lifeboat and filling the cabin with water. On the 21st of the same month the straining and lurching of the ship had been very severe, and when in lat. 34 degrees 46 minutes, longitude 15 degrees 52 minutes it was discovered that the mainmast was badly sprung.

The ship was hove-to under close-reefed main topsail, and all hands were set to work to fish the mainmast head, which was effected by lashing a large spare spar abaft the mast and getting a steel hawser to the masthead. In this crippled condition the Messina battled with the heavy gales, which still continued until the ship crossed the Equator on March 18. On April 3 she sighted the Martin Vaaz Rock, and on the 23rd the island of Tristan de Acunha, where she was becalmed for three days. On May 13 she encountered another heavy gale from the N.W., and had a continuance of bad weather until the 25th of the same month. The ship was off the Cape of Good Hope on May 10 and abreast of Van Dieman's Land on June 16. She fetched the Three Kings on June 28, and was hove-to again off Bream Head during another gale. She eventually reached Auckland on June 30, making, all things considered, a very fair finish to a very trying voyage, which occupied 167 days from the Downs and 175 from the docks.

After discharging her cargo she under-went repairs. A survey was held by Captain Pulham and Captain Kelly, with the result that the mainmast was condemned and a recommendation made to replace the foremast. Acting upon this advice, Captain Lethbridge called tenders for both, but he was doubtful if a spar large enough could be procured. His doubts, however, were soon overcome when a fine kauri tree, straight as a line, without a single knot, was secured for the mainmast, near Waiheke.