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

Blundell's Wily Skipper

Blundell's Wily Skipper.

"A short, squat, high-wooded, painted-port barque, more like a haystack than anything else, and she could sail about as fast as a man could walk," is the way Mr. James Dacre, of Auckland, described the 573 ton vessel Blundell, that during the summer of 1862-63 lay out in the Waitemata, and became as familiar to the early Aucklanders as the coal-hulks that now lie in "Rotten Row" are to us of the present day. She is best remembered by the old hands, however, as the craft that crept out of harbour in the night to avoid the long arm of the law, which on this occasion was either not quite long enough or did not care to stretch itself.

"The Blundell left London on February 16, 1862, and the Auckland merchants who were expecting consignments had almost forgotten her when she tumbled into port on August lst—167 days out! She struck bad luck right from the start, carrying away the tiller-head off the Scilly Islands, and had to put into Fowey for repairs. Contrary or light winds did not help to increase the naturally slow speed of this queer old hooker, so it was not until the second week in April that she crossed the equator, and the Three Kings were not sighted until July 30. When she left London she had on board six hares, eleven pheasants, nine partridges, and six fallow deer, consigned to His Excellency the Governor—probably one of the earliest attempts in connection with acclimatisation. Considering the sort of trip the ship had, it is not surprising that when Auckland was reached only four birds had survived the ordeal."

"As may be expected," said Mr. Dacre, "the Blundell's cargo was in a most awful state when she got here, everything being more or less damaged by the knocking about it had received. The consignee of ten cottage mangles said, when he got delivery, 'I thought I ordered mangles, but bless me if I have not got mousetraps.' Claims for damages were numerous, and several judgments werepage 125 obtained against the master of the vessel (Captain Richard McLean). I may mention that such was the state of the cargo that some of it was actually swept up into sacks. There was a consignment of whiting among the cargo, and this had broken adrift, so that everything had a good coating of it."

Upon one of the judgments obtained against him, Captain McLean was sent to Mount Eden for a term, but he must have been a pretty shrewd gentleman, as in spite of judgments and the lawyers he managed to "cut his stick" and get clear away. The story is told in the "Daily Southern Cross" of February 9, 1863.

"The barque Blundell," said the "Cross," "took her departure at an early hour on Saturday morning, greatly to the surprise of most people in Auckland. Our readers are familiar with the judicial proceedings taken against the master of this vessel, who was detained in gaol up to eight o'clock on Friday evening, in consequence of a judgment obtained against him some time ago in the District Court, because of short delivery and the disgraceful state in which he delivered his cargo to importers. When Captain McLean would be able to procure his release seemed problematical, and the Blundell lay at her moorings in the river fouling her bottom and rapidly eating up her value in expenses. The public had become familiar with this vessel, and most people came to regard her as a fixture in our harbour, so long as she held together—which last was a point on which no two nautical men agreed."

But by some means Captain McLean became possessed of money sufficient to pay the amount for which he was detained—£60—at the suit of Messrs. Gilfillan and Co., and on Friday night he was set at large. Once at liberty the master of the Blundell did not let the grass grow under his feet, for, as the sequel proved, his arrangements were complete. He went on board his vessel, and at an advanced hour of the night lights were hoisted, answered from the shore, and two boats went alongside. The sails were bent, anchors tripped, and at two o'clock next morning the Blundell took an abrupt farewell of Auckland. So far as is known, the crew consisted of the master, the former second mate, and three seamen. The first mate remained behind in Auckland.

As the Blundell had left without a clearance, she had no business to be on the high seas, and some of the Auckland merchants interested waited on the Governor, and asked him to send H.M.S. Miranda in pursuit, but that ship could not be spared, and Mclean got clean away.

Fourteen years before she made her prolonged appearance in Auckland, the Blundell visited Dunedin, being then in command of Captain C. Renaut, one of the most skilful men afloat in those days. She left London on May 4th, 1848, and arrived at Port Chalmers on September 21st, after a long passage of 140 days. After landing 140 passengers and cargo, she proceeded to Wellington, Nelson and New Plymouth, for each of which places she had passengers.