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White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885

Chapter VII. — Port Of Napier

page 95

Chapter VII.
Port Of Napier.

When dealing with the history of the beginnings of settlement in Hawke's Bay we are on somewhat different ground from that of other parts from which settlement spread—such, for instance, as the four large large ports, and New Plymouth and Nelson. In each ease, as far as the other provinces are concerned, we have something more or less similar—the decision to form a settlement, the dispatch from the Old Country of a ship or ships, the arrival at the New Zealand port, and then the gradual spreading of the newcomers back into the adjacent country. Hawke's Bay was handicapped to a certain extent by the fact that it had no good harbour, such as was possessed by Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, and Dunedin. There was no doubt about the quality of the land, and had the district been blessed with a safe haven we would probably have heard of Hawke's Bay much earlier in the shipping history of New Zealand. Otago, which was the last of what we may call the provincial districts to be settled by parties organised in the Old Country, dates from the year 1848, but it is not until 1857 that we hear of an overseas vessel calling at Hawke's Bay, and even then it was not to bring passengers, but to pick up wool, which shows us the settlement of the back-country must have been accomplished in some way rather different from that to which we have been accustomed when reading of the founding of other provinces. Hawke's Bay was settled by way of the backdoor, and it was not until we come to 1864 that we read of the first ship to arrive from the Old Country direct with immigrants on board.

Being an open roadstead, except for small vessels, Hawke's Bay was long handicapped in the matter of shipping facilities, but her settlers were of the right stamp, and to-day they have triumphed over these disabilities in a manner that calls forth one's keen admiration.

Apart from the whalers there is not much doubt that the Rev. W. Colenso, the missionary, was the first white man to settle in the Bay. He arrived in the Nimrod from the Bay of Islands on December 29, 1844, which is a definite date in the history of the province. Dealing with these early days, Mr. W. Dinwiddie, in "Old Hawke's Bay," says: "The whalers were already here when Mr. Colenso arrived in 1844. Mr. Alexander settled at Onepoto in 1846. Hollis opened the first public house at the Port in 1851. In 1852 there were about 50 whites with their families settled at the Port, including Mr. Villers and Mr. McKain. Mr. Donald McLean was the first Government officer to reside there, and he held a magistrate's Court in the "Whare Kawana" erected for him by the natives in 1852 in Battery Road. By this time the Port was already a placepage 96 of trade in Maori produce. There were eight hotels, often full of travellers. The settlement of the country began in 1849, when Messrs. H. S. Tiffen and J. S. Tiffen came from the Wairarapa and settled on the plains. Land was quickly taken up and in 1852 Mr. Alexander and Mr. Burton did a good business carting wool and other produce from the country to the Port. The first sale of sections in Napier took place in 1855, and the same year it was appointed a port of entry.

Whaling Stations.

The whalers seem to have come to the Bay in the late 'thirties, and when they arrived they found the bulk of the natives settled round the northern shores, between the Wairoa River and Mahia, whither they had migrated after some rather disastrous raids at the Heretaunga by Taupo and Waikato tribes. Whaling stations were established at Mahia, Waikokopu, Cape Kidnappers, Wairoa, and other places. In 1847 there were seventeen five-oared boats in the Bay, employing over 120 men. In that year £3000 worth of oil and £700 worth of whalebone was taken by these Bay stations. These fellows lived a care-free, devil-may-care life, drinking and gambling, without any check whatever, and it is said that more died from the effects of drink than from the accidents of their calling, hazardous as it was.

These whalers were naturally a wild lot, just as they were at half a dozen other places round the coast. "The New Zealand Spectator," writing in 1850 about a murderer who had escaped said, "He is trying to escape to Hawke's Bay, on the East Coast, which seems the Alsatia of the colony, where all disorderly and desperate characters resort to be out of reach of the law." We read that in 1847 a coastal trading vessel "was plundered near Waikokopu of goods and money by white men connected with the whaling stations." Other disreputable doings are also on record and the missionary Colenso seems to have had a busy time trying to keep his native flock from being utterly contaminated by this white flotsam.

Early Coastal Craft.

The first vessel to enter the Iron Pot in the year 1857 was a small brigantine under the command of Captain Alex Blair, either the Esther or the Sea Serpent, of both of which he was in charge in the early days. His first appearance at Napier was in 1854. In 1866 he left Wellington for the Chathams, but neither vessel nor crew were ever heard of again. As mentioned before, Napier was declared a port of entry in 1855, and the first vessel to enter and clear was the schooner Salopian, 50 tons. The produce of the district was sheep, pigs, flax, and wool. Among the old shipping records we find mention of the fact that the Salopian in 1857 cleared for Auckland with 150 sheep. Other vessels trading to the port at that time were the Sea Serpent and the Shepherdess, which plied regularly to Wellington. The first steamer to call at Napier was the little Wonga Wonga, Captain Bowden, well-known up and down the coast, which arrived on May 24, 1857, having sailed from Auckland. Shepage 97 used to take 36 hours to do the 203 miles between Napier and Wellington, and the passenger fare for the run was four guineas.

In the course of some interesting reminiscences of old Napier, Mr. W. A. Harding, of Napier, writing about the Iron Pot, says: "The Iron Pot was a natural basin with the Eastern Spit (now Ahuriri) on the north, and Gough and Maori Islands on the south. Shortly after the provincial government was inaugurated it ordered the forming of a causeway connecting the two islands, which had the effect of diverting the bulk of the water of the Tutaekuri River and the inner harbour into the main channel. This main channel flowed to the north of the Iron Pot, which gradually got shallower. The Government then purchased the steam dredge Huntress, which at first appeared to be a success, but later had to cease operations as the sand came round her faster than she could dredge it out. A commission of inquiry was set up and eventually the dredging was discontinued. The Huntress was re-converted into a paddle steamer, and used for some time conveying troops to various parts of the East Coast during the Maori War."

The dredge Huntress was built at Richmond River, New South Wales, in 1853-54. She was bought by the Hawke's Bay Provincial Government for £3000, and came across in 1860 in charge of Captain Ross. She had 50 h.p. engines and came over partly under steam and partly under canvas. Experiencing heavy weather in Cook Strait, and the coal running short, she put into Port Hardy, where the crew went ashore and cut enough firewood to carry her to Wellington. After being detained for nine days, owing to a defect in her boiler, she again set out, but it took her fourteen days to get to Napier, being part of the time under canvas. She arrived in the Iron Pot on May 14, and started dredging on September 19 of the same year.

The Wonga Wonga, whose name appears several times in connection with the early history of Napier, was a well-known vessel on the coast. The late Mr. Robert Mair gave the following particulars about her. "About the year 1853 or 1854 some Auckland merchants purchased the little steamer Wonga Wonga (which is the Australian name for the wood-pigeon) for the Auckland coastal trade. She was a vessel of about 140 tons register. She was intended to work the trade between Auckland and Bay of Islands, Maugonui, Whangarei, and Coromandel. Her commander was Captain Bowden, who had been a popular skipper in the Auckland-Sydney trade, on board the brigs Maukin and Moa. One week the Wonga Wonga would leave Auckland on Monday for Russell, Whangaroa, and Mangonui. After returning to Auckland she would make a trip to Coromandel, which was then a busy place. The following week she would leave Auckland on Monday for Whangarei, return to Auckland and make a trip to Coromandel."

First Wool Ships.

There used to be some dispute as to when the first ship loaded wool at Napier for London, but the best authorities seem to agree that it was the Southern Cross, Captain George Charlton, which took away a small shipment in 1858. According to some informa-page 98tion supplied by Mr. W. A. Harding, the Southern Cross was at Wellington when she got orders to go to Napier. Before taking his ship up Captain Charlton went overland to Napier and surveyed the harbour. Having done so he returned to Wellington in the s.s. Wonga Wonga. The Southern Cross arrived at Napier on December 19, 1857, having done the passage from Wellington in 36 hours. She left again for London, via Wellington, on February 25, 1858, having 650 bales on board. Her long stay of nine weeks was due to the fact that she arrived much too early for the wool season.

In some accounts of the port the Snaresbrook, 459 tons, Captain G. Mundle, is given as the first vessel to load wool, but she did not come until the year after the Southern Cross. She reached Napier from London, via Wellington, on October 19, 1859, and sailed for London, via Wellington, on February 22, 1860, with 345 bales of wool, 147 sheepskins, one hide, her cargo being valued at £7646 3/2. She took five passengers, four of whom were for London.

The first vessel to load wool for London from the Inner Harbour was the barque Eclipse, which met with an accident when leaving for Auckland, where she was to fill up.

For what happened to the Eclipse I am indebted to the researches of Mr. W. A. Harding. The Eclipse was a two-years-old Aberdeen-built clipper barque of 254 tons, commanded by Captain W. R. Elliott. At the end of 1859 she arrived at Napier from Wellington, and took on board 490 bales of wool, valued at £10,449, which was consigned to London. On March 14, 1860, advantage was taken of the s.s. Wonga being in port to have the barque towed out of the harbour. The morning being fine, the vessel cast off from her moorings preparatory to her being taken in tow. About two p.m., when all was ready, it unfortunately came on to blow hard from the north-west, and in ordinary circumstances the pilot (McKinnon) would not have attempted to take her out; but as she had cast off from her moorings she had to be got away. After she passed through the entrance and got beyond the influence of the tide, it was found that the little Wonga Wonga could not make any headway against the fierce wind that was blowing.

The pilot then ordered the barque's anchor to be dropped, but as the depth of water did not exceed twelve feet, while the vessel drew ten feet, he could not pay out more than fifteen fathoms of chain, which was quite inadequate to hold her. At the same time the tow-line unfortunately became entangled in the steamer's propeller, and for his own safety her master (Captain Renner) had to cut away the line. When Renner got his propeller clear he again sent a line on board the barque, but failed to move her, and as a matter of fact barque and steamer were fast going astern.

The Wonga Wonga again had to let go for her own safety, and soon afterwards the Eclipse took the ground just below the pilot's cottage. There was a considerable sea on at the time, and she rolled heavily until seven p.m., when she was towed off by the s.s. White Swan and taken into the harbour again.

The Eclipse was successfully taken out again on April 4, anchoring in the roadstead and eventually sailing three days later.page 99 In order to see what damage had been done to her bottom the barque went on to Auckland, where she arrived on the 12th. She apparently went aground off Official Bay, and was then taken up the harbour to have her cargo discharged, after which she went down to Swansea Bay, Kawau, to be hove down in order that repairs might be effected to her false keel, damaged when she was aground at Napier.

From London Direct.

Upon searching the available records I have come to the conclusion that the first direct vessel from London to Napier was the barque Rangoon, 374 tons, Captain Pearman, which anchored in Napier Roadstead on July 24, 1864. Leaving the East India Docks on November 26, 1863, the Rangoon had to remain at Gravesend until December 4, waiting for dispatches. After she started on her voyage she was fouled by the barque Lord Maidstone, and had her bows stove in, besides suffering other damage. To avoid going down the captain slipped his anchor and chain and called for assistance, being eventually towed to Ramsgate, where she remained until January 13, 1864, undergoing repairs. She at length sailed from the Downs on the 24th, crossed the Equator on the 24th of the following month, and the meridian of the Cape 45 days from Start Point. Off the south coast of Tasmania she had very severe weather until June 2, when she put into Sydney for supplies, of which she was badly in need. There was one death and three births on board.

On July 4 the barque left Sydney in charge of Captain Harwood, sighted the Three Kings on the 10th, and all went well until off the Bay of Plenty, where she was struck on the port beam by a terrific sea during a very heavy gale she encountered. An incredible amount of damage was done, everything moveable being washed overboard, and several boats and deck-houses being stove in. Eventually she rounded Portland Island on the 23rd. Pilot Murray boarded her ten miles off the land, and after an adventurous voyage she anchored off the Napier roadstead on Sunday, July 24, as mentioned above.

Complaints were made by a number of the immigrants as to bad treatment during the voyage. Twenty-four of the passengers signed and presented a testimonial to the ship's surgeon, Dr. Alex Todd, so apparently the trouble was in other quarters. The fact that the barque changed captains in Sydney seems to suggest that everything was not all correct.

The next vessel direct was the barque Strathallan, a vessel of 550 tons. She sailed from London on July 21, 1864, and arrived on November 24 the same year in command of Captain Paddle. Shortly after sailing, when off Beachy Head, the barque collided with the ship Ann. The Strathallan suffered much damage and put into Portsmouth for repairs and resumed the voyage on August 6. She had a rough passage out, and during a heavy gale on August 21 laboured heavily and shipped large quantities of water. During this storm the foretopmast, trussel trees and topgallant mast, bulwarks, also carried away. She made a good run of 109 days from Portsmouth.

page 100

The Strathallan made two more voyages to Napier. She sailed from London on August 30, and arrived on December 17, 1865. The night of arrival the third officer and two of the crew made off with the lifeboat, with oars, sails, provisions, and ship's compass taken from the binnacle. They were never heard of again.

The third visit of the Strathallan was in 1866. She sailed on August 18 and arrived on December 2, 105 days out. Captain Paddle was in command on the three voyages.

The next vessel was the ship Montmorency, Captain Mackenzie. She sailed on December 7, 1866, and arrived on March 24, 1867. Four days after arrival she was totally destroyed by fire.

Only two other ships arrived at Napier direct from London in the 'sixties—the Henry Miller in 1868 and the R. T. Turnbull in 1869, but a large number came out in the 'seventies and 'eighties. These will all be dcalt with in separate articles to follow.

Passenger Ships.

With regard to the direct shipping from overseas to Napier, some difficulty arises in getting information, as no newspapers are available until 1863, the files at the Government Library in Wellington having been destroyed by fire.

The first vessel to arrive at Napier from London with passengers was the Royal Bride, 526 tons, Captain Laker, which brought out 24 assisted immigrants. She made a very good passage of 110 days to Auckland. This ship left the Downs on January 9, 1863, and arrived at Auckland on April 29. The pilot log-book refer to her as being the first "direct" ship from London, but the newspaper files show this was not so. She remained in Auckland from the end of April until May 31 discharging cargo, and reached Napier on June 10.

The Royal Bride was cast ashore on Petane Beach during a terrific north-east gale, but no lives were lost, all hands getting safely ashore. She was the first large vessel to come to grief on the beach. "I well remember the wreck of the Royal Bride," writes Mr. Harding. "From 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 21, there were strong gusts from north-east by east to east-north-east, with rain. At 9 p.m. the wind was still increasing and at midnight the gale was at its height—the wind gauge at the Napier meteorological station recorded a maximum pressure of 25lb. At 1 a.m., Monday, 22nd, the vessel commenced dragging her anchors, about 4 a.m. one of the cables parted, half an hour later she struck heavily aft, the sea making a clean breach over her. Until daylight the crew had a very uncomfortable time, but with the assistance of a large number of natives who had gathered on the beach, all hands got safely on shore. The spot where she struck was on the western spit (Petane Beach), about two miles from the entrance to the inner harbour. At 4 o'clock the same afternoon the wreck was sold by auction. Hull, spars, sails, rigging, etc., were purchased by G. E. G. Richardson far £35; anchors and chains £37, one hundred tons coal £5, to John Campbell."

Among some other details of old-time shipping that have been unearthed by Mr. W. A. Harding are some concerning the shippage 101 Margaret Roesner, 429 tons, Captain Eggers, which in 1861 took down 1800 sheep, 4 horses, and 3 donkeys for Mr. McLean's run at Oamaru, the passengers being Messrs. McLean and Bowler and eight stockmen. That was in March. A month later she was back again and took 1200 sheep, 8 horses, and 8 bullocks to Otago, the passengers being Mr. and Mrs. McLean and eight stockmen.

An early visitor to Napier was the barque Arabella, 466 tons, Captain Pinches, which brought cargo from London, via Wellington, arriving at Napier on March 5, 1862. She anchored in the roadstead, to the disappointment of consignees, who had hoped she would go into the Inner Harbour. On the 18th, when the bulk of her cargo had been lightered, she was taken inside and moored off the Western Spit, where she finished unloading. She then took on board 500 bales of wool and on Sunday, May 5, she was towed out by the s.s. Wonga Wonga, and anchored in the roadstead to finish loading, eventually sailing for London on June 12 in command of Captain Henton. Her cargo consisted of 1183 bales of wool, valued at £23,607, 397 sheepskins (£53), 30 hides and other produce (£47). She took eight passengers. The barque arrived at Gravesend after a passage of 111 days.

Shipping Notes.

Owing to the researches of Mr. Russell Duncan, of Napier, who takes a great interest in the shipping history of that port, I have been able to get together some valuable notes concerning outstanding incidents in the early days.

"The first pilot of the port of Napier was a Maori, who was succeeded by John McKinnon, who acted from 1857 to June, 1858.

"Thomas Murray, who was chief officer of the s.s. Wonga Wonga on her first visit to Napier, became pilot and harbourmaster in September, 1858, his salary being £100 a year.

"Captain Cellum, formerly of the s.s. White Swan, succeeded Captain Murray at his death, and remained in the post for two or three years. He then ran the s.s. Queen and other coastal steamers to Auckland and Wellington.

"The best known of the old-timers was Harry Kraeft, a splendid seaman, and formerly boatswain of the Wonga Wonga, who for the long period of 34 years carried out the duties of chief pilot. He joined the service as boatman in 1860, was appointed assistant pilot in 1864, and then chief pilot when Captain Cellum retired. Kraeft carried on the duties until the end of 1902, when he retired.

"In the year 1858 we find the shipping was confined to two trips by the Wonga Wonga from Wellington, five schooners from the same place, two schooners from Auckland, two cutters from Wairoa, and one from Poverty Bay.

"The entrance to the Main Harbour in those days was, very different in appearance from what it is to-day, there being no moles to confine the channel, or, in fact, any attempt at harbour improvement whatever. Every gale of wind brought up a heavy sea, which shifted the travelling shingle and altered the channel. There was nearly always a large island of shingle, two or more acres inpage 102 extent, to the north-west of the entrance, and running parallel to the bar. This island was called the Rangatira Bank, and owing to the shifting nature of the shingle of which it was composed, it was a great source of anxiety to the shipping people. Generally the channel ran to the eastward of this bank, but occasionally the deepest water was found to the westward. To show how this bank changed it is interesting to note that according to the pilot's logbook it was 9 feet high in October, 1858, whereas in January, 1860, 'the top of the Bank is now only visible at low tide, the sea always breaking on it.'

"It was many years before Napier got a steam tug. Before its advent vessels were manoeuvred in and out with their own sails—no mean feat in bad weather—and it says much for the skill and care of the pilots that there were so few accidents.

"Up to May, 1859, the largest vessel to enter the Main Harbour was the Union, 131 tons, which brought 200 tons of coal and 100 tons of general cargo from Sydney.

"The barque Snaresbrook arrived from Wellington on October 19, 1859, and was probably the first vessel to take a part cargo of wool for London. She was anchored inside the outer tail of the Rangatira Bank, and inside of the current that set in and out of the harbour. The barque lay at anchor and rode out several gales with springs on the cable (single anchor) for four months. During that long stay she loaded only 200 bales of wool and left on February 23, 1860, for Wellington to continue loading.

We get an echo of the Maori War days when we note that on January 3, 1861, "the ship Robert Low [sic], Captain Congalton, arrived in the roadstead with 600 troops on board. She landed 200 of the 14th Regiment, and took on board 100 men of the 65th Regiment for Wellington and Taranaki. She was only two days in the bay."

"On August 10, 1863, the s.s. Auckland, Captain Gibson, on rounding Napier Bluff, bound for southern ports, touched an uncharted rock. No damage was done. Owing to neglect to take accurate bearings it was some time before the obstruction was again located. It was named after the vessel that found it, and to-day is marked with a gas-buoy.

"A number of native-owned schooners traded on the East Coast in the 'sixties, and they were manned entirely by Maoris. Most of them hailed from Poverty Bay and Wairoa, but occasionally one would come up from Lyttelton.

"The arrival of two parties of Scandinavian immigrants from Christiania turned out well for the province, for these were the sterling people who settled at Dannevirke, Norsewood, and Ormondville. They came out in the ship Hovding, the first party arriving on September 15, 1872, Captain Berg in command, and the second on December 1, 1873, the ship then being in command of Captain Nordby."

Burning Of The Montmorency.

One of the earliest and most vivid of Napier's shipping memories is the burning of the ship Montmorency in the roadstead on March 28, 1867. It was the most notable event of the kind that has happened in New Zealand waters. The burning of the shippage 103 Cospatrick with the loss of hundreds of lives, when bound from London to Auckland, was more appalling, but the disaster that overtook the Montmorency was the worst that ever happened on the New Zealand coast. True, there was no loss of life, but the passengers lost heavily as so much of their luggage was destroyed. The Montmorency, a ship of 668 tons, had sailed from London on December 7, 1866, having on board a number of assisted emigrants. She arrived at Napier on March 24, and the passengers went ashore the following day. Those were leisurely times, and the facilities at the port were somewhat primitive, so all the luggage was not got out with the passengers. This was unfortunate, as there was still a large quantity of valuable stuff aboard when the disaster occurred.

At about one o'clock on the morning of the 28th the sentry at the Barracks noticed that the ship was afire, gave the alarm ashore, and the harbour authorities were roused, but as they had no fire-fighting gear they were helpless. Boats went out to the burning ship and found that her crew had already taken to their own boats and were safe.

It was a splendid spectacle, says a contemporary record. The night was calm, and the flames and huge clouds of smoke mounted steadily skyward, licking up the ropes and spars as they ascended. When the gaskets (the short ropes that are used to make fast the furled sails to the yards) were burned through, the sails fell from the yards, and as the flames caught the dry canvas the sky seemed to be full of sheets of lurid fire. By daybreak every mast and spar had fallen, and the ship was a black mass from which issued dense volumes of thick smoke.

The Hawke's Bay "Herald," referring to the disaster, said: "The ship was discovered to be on fire shortly before midnight, Captain MacKenzie being ashore at the time. Smoke was seen coming from the fore hatchway. The hatches were closed and hoses turned on the fire, but all efforts to quell the flames failed. Several unsuccessful attempts to scuttle the vessel were made by the carpenter. When the spare spars, etc., on the deck ignited, the task of saving the ship became impossible, and the crew left the vessel, losing nearly all their personal effects. By daybreak the following morning the masts had gone over the sides. The ship smouldered throughout the following day, and was later with difficulty beached between the Spit and the Bluff. The charred hull was sold by auction and fetched £110. The cause of the fire remained a mystery."

The Montmorency had previously completed one voyage to New Zealand. In 1857 she sailed from London on December 13 and arrived at Wellington on April 11, 1858, making the passage in 119 days. After landing 52 passengers and cargo the ship sailed for Lyttelton, arriving there on May 11, 1858. Captain Kiddie was then in command.