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

Ex-Slaver Don Juan

Ex-Slaver Don Juan.

In Deborah Bay, near Port Chalmers, lie the bones of an old sailing vessel that had a very unsavoury career if all the stories about her be true. She was a ship of 635 tons, and was called the Rosalia when she made the New Zealand coast; but before that she was known as the Don Juan, and under this name she is generally spoken of by old sailors who know her history. Mr. J. Owens, of Paihia, Bay of Islands, has written reminding me of the story, and although it is well known in the South, I think it is not familiar to people further north, so it would be interesting to give just an outline of the facts connected with the vessel.

The most grim part of her history concerns her reputation as a slaver between the West African coast and the West Indies before she adopted the more respectable ways of making a living, and although very little is known about this period of her life, strong colour is lent to the story by the fact that when she was dismantled in Port Chalmers, after being condemned as unseaworthy, the workmen found in her after hold several hundred pairs of wrist and ankle shackles, such as might be used for putting on the unfortunate slaves. These grisly relics of her nefarious trade were eagerly sought after by souvenir hunters.

It was in November, 1874, that the Rosalia arrived in Port Chalmers from Puget Sound with timber, but before reaching her destination she had an adventurous voyage across the Pacific. Originally she left Puget Sound on July 31, then making an inch of water an hour, and before she was clear of the Sound the crew refused to make the voyage, and she put back, and was re-surveyed.

Leaving again on August 4, all went well until abreast of Honolulu, where the leak began to gain, and in heavy weather that was encountered the windmill used for pumping broke down. Bad weather continued until within 350 miles of the New Zealand coast, and the crew then went aft and told the captain that they were worn out with pumping and demanded that the ship should be headed for the nearest land. Eventually she made Napier on October 22, fifty days out, and stayed twenty days, taking on a steam engine to be used in pumping.

While at Napier one of the seamen of the Rosalia was charged at the Police Court with having assaulted the master of the ship, Captain Veale. The evidence was to the effect that after leaving Puget Sound the sailor refused to go to the pump, and, picking up a large block of wood, threatened to knock the skipper's brains out. A second charge against the sailor was that he refused duty an another occasion. It seems that on October 16 there was somepage 133 talk about running down to Tahiti, but the crew were consulted, and all, with the exception of the accused, agreed to continue on to Port Chalmers. The accused said he would rather go to New Zealand in irons than work, and he was put in irons and kept under restraint until Napier was reached. The sentence of the Court was a month's imprisonment with hard labour.

The ship had been bought in San Francisco by Mr. Guthrie, of Guthrie and Larnach, Dunedin merchants, from a foreign firm, Garcia y Garcia. At Port Chalmers she was surveyed and certain repairs were ordered, and in the meantime she changed hands. After she was repaired a fresh crew was shipped and she went down the harbour, the intention being that she should be sailed over to Sydney for a more thorough repair, but the Government stopped her at the Heads, in fact arrested her, and she was eventually condemned outright. For several years she was used as a store ship by the Union Company, and then finally she was taken to Deborah Bay and broken up.

I had an interesting letter about the Rosalia from the late Mr. A. E. Moyser, of Auckland, who was keenly interested in all matters pertaining to shipping. In 1895 he was a sailor on the old Otarama, and when he was at Port Chalmers the hulk was moored not far from the Otarama. "I read a sinister history in her appearance," wrote Mr. Moyser, "and one night, as a souvenir, I cut a few inches of ratline from her rigging, a piece of rope upon which slaver-men, and possibly pirates, had trodden in going aloft. When I got back to London I wrote an article, but at the time I knew little of her real history. One fact that strongly impressed me, however, was that she was pierced for guns on the main-deck. On that deck there were deep indentations showing where the guns had been moved when being loaded, and when recoiling, I suppose. I have never seen any mention of her carrying guns, and this gun-carrying suggests that possibly she may have done a bit under the 'Jolly Roger.' Her grim look, the shapliness of her hull, indeed her whole appearance, suggested the 'long, low, black-hulled vessel with raking masts,' such as one reads about in boys' pirate stories."