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

Chapter III. — Rough And Ready Sailorising

page 126

Chapter III.
Rough And Ready Sailorising.

Gwalior's Long Passage.

Passengers who came out in the barque Gwalior in 1852 had such an awful experience that the hair of one poor lady turned white. Afterwards there was a rumour that the vessel was never intended to reach port, and the circumstances certainly lent colour to the suspicion. She was unseaworthy, had a decided list, and was manned by the scum of the docks—desperate men, ready to take any chance. To add to this unfortunate combination the craft had a drunken captain, and in the latter part of the voyage the food was scarce and unpleasant. Even in the cabin the passengers had only a little salt fish, weevily biscuits, and the water was nearly as thick as oil. A month before reaching Auckland the food was so scarce that in desperation the cargo was broached, and some salt fish and bags of rice were freely used. To crown all, the barque took the unconscionable time of 186 days to make the voyage.

Auckland was her first port of call, and she was so long overdue that the worse fears were entertained. She had sailed from London on December 10, 1851, and it was not until the second week in the following June that she was heard of. Over six months out, she at last made the coast of New Zealand, and was spoken by the Children, a schooner that plied between the Bay of Islands and Auckland. The schooner supplied the barque with some fresh water, and also took off several of the passengers, who could not stand the life on board any longer. Rumours of a strange kind were brought to Auckland by the schooner, and the barque's agents induced the authorities to send out H.M. brigantine Pandora to search for her. However, the two vessels passed each other at night, and did not meet.

When the Gwalior came into port, six months out, a remarkable story was told. It had been a most wearisome, uncomfortable passage, and everybody was heartily sick of the sea and the ship. During the passage the captain had spent seventeen days in irons, as he was suffering from delirium tremens, during which he threatened to stab the mate with a carving knife. He frequently strode about the deck with a drawn sword, terrifying all the passengers. In his sober moments he was a first-class sailor; but when on a drinking bout he was the terror of the ship. Mrs. Thomas Hirst, wife of one of the passengers, very good-naturedly used to nurse the captain when he was convalescing from these bouts. It is said that he was so saturated with liquor that the sponge with which his heated brow was bathed used to smell strongly of rum. No wonder such a hard drinker came to a violent end. Dr. Matthews, the medical officer in charge, met his death shortly after landing at Auckland. Hepage 127 was drowned when sailing over to the North Shore with four others in an open boat; their bodies were never recovered.

After the Auckland cargo was discharged, the Gwalior continued her voyage to New Plymouth, where she arrived on August 18, and landed several passengers, among whom was Mrs. Hammerton, who resided for many years at New Plymouth. She passed away on October 12, 1926, at Inglewood, aged 88. I believe she was the last survivor of the Gwalior.

Apparently the barque was subsequently in the colonial trade, for the next we hear of her is that in April, 1853, she arrived at Lyttelton with cattle from Newcastle, New South Wales. Reporting her arrival, the "Lyttelton Times" said: "We regret to state that Captain Davidson, the commander, threw himself overboard on April 16, being at the time in a state of delirium tremens. He had for some time previously been in that state. On the morning in question he managed to evade those employed to watch him, and he threw himself overboard. The barque was hove-to so suddenly that she was in considerable danger, but all attempts to rescue the captain were unsuccessful. The mate, Mr. Taylor, brought the vessel safely to port."

Ship With No Sidelights—The Tanjore.

The City of Tanjore, a ship of 800 tons, built in 1856, and chartered by Patrick Henderson and Co., sailed from Greenock under Captain Smith with passengers and cargo for Port Chalmers on January 16, 1874, and made an average passage of 104 days. A passenger sent me the following interesting narrative of the voyage. He writes:—

"The City of Tanjore left the tail of the Bank on January 27, and had light winds until past the Irish Coast, when a heavy swell set in. To the dismay of those new to the sea, the port and starboard lights were then taken in, and were not seen again during the whole voyage. When remonstrated with as to the danger of sailing without lights, an officer replied: 'Oh, we're out of the way of meeting any more boats now.' Before entering the Bay of Biscay, and on a fairly fine day, one of the youngest of the apprentices (a mere boy) fell overboard off the rigging, and the cry was given, 'Man overboard!' The ship was hard put to port, and she swung round like a bird, and lay for nearly an hour with her huge sails flapping in the breeze. In the meantime, of course, a lifebuoy had been flung to the apprentice, and one of the smaller of the ship's boats lowered and manned, with the first mate in charge. After being away as long as seemed an eternity for those looking on, they were seen at last to be slowly pulling back towards the ship, but no one could tell at that distance if they had effected a rescue or not, until they ran alongside, when it was seen that the boy was lying at the bottom of the boat. He was soon hoisted aboard again, with a large gully-knife stuck between his teeth to prevent lockjaw, and after being rubbed down and put to bed for a few hours he was soon himself again. It seemed the irony ofpage 128 fate that the same boy ran away from the ship when she reached port, giving the skipper another run for his money. He was not caught, and in later years he settled in New Zealand.

"The ship crossed the Equator on February 25, and as the drinking water (kept in iron tanks) was becoming very rusty and as red as paint, the opportunity to gather pure fresh water from the heavy tropical downpours was eagerly availed of by all, although they say that rusty water is good for the system, being a nerve tonic.

"Nearly a month after this an amusing incident occurred, The third mate had been hors-de-combat for some days in succession with a fever of the mild type, and there appeared little prospect of his early return to work. Captain Smith then decided to promote the eldest apprentice to act as third (temporarily). The eldest apprentice had, as a matter of fact, already finished more than his time, but his appointment as an officer, although applauded by the other boys of the deckhouse, was treated as a joke by most of the A.B.'s and O.S.'s. One foreign sailor named Jensen was particularly offensive over it, and when ordered by the new third to 'clew up' one of the sails, instead of the familiar, 'Aye, aye, sir,' replied, 'Clew it up yerself, kid!' This was enough, and a fight followed. Fighting is, of course, not allowed at sea nowadays, but at the time of the 'Cities' it was not uncommon. The foreign A.B. was a big burly brute of the Jack Johnston type, and had he got one blow in would have quashed the new third for ever and a day. But the young, fresh apprentice was alert, keen-eyed, and watched his chance, and he had also been brought up in a good school, as the fight had not proceeded long before he landed a lovely 'up stroke' on the foreigner's jaw which brought him heavily to the deck. After this he was, of course, the hero of the hour, and his orders were not again disregarded.

"The island of Tristan d'Acunha was the only land sighted all the way out. The City of Tanjore then experienced fine weather until after rounding the Cape, when she struck it very dirty, and a heavy gale raged for two days and nights, The seas were so high, and were breaking over the ship so frequently, that the passengers were 'battened down'—not nailed down, but ordered to keep below, and were glad to. After the third day of the storm the wind moderated to a good breeze, and continued off and on until the Snares were sighted on May 3, when the red and green lights were again swung out, and the coast of New Zealand was soon in sight"

In 1882 the City of Tanjore made a voyage to Wellington She sailed from London on April 28, and arrived on August 25, making a long passage of 119 days.

The Lucky Slains Castle.

Some strange experiences befell the barque Slains Castle, a vessel of about 600 tons, during the time she traded to New Zealand. Many times ships have been overtaken by disaster through the merest accident; on the other hand, many ships have just as narrowly escaped. The Slains Castle is a rather remarkable example of the latter class. It was not often that a vessel got out of Palliser Bay when it was a lee shore, but the Slains Castle did; and as willpage break page 129 be seen from the narrative, the captain was subsequently miles out of his reckoning, mistaking Kapiti for Cape Stephens!

The Slains Castle's first appearance in New Zealand was in 1841. On January 25th of that year she arrived at Wellington with 224 passengers. After landing some passengers the ship went on to New Plymouth with the remainder, arriving there early in February. Among the passengers was Dr. Wilson, who kept a diary, and some interesting extracts quoted in Seffern's "Chronicles of New Zealand" give an admirable idea of the difficulties sailing ships sometimes encountered when making port. The Doctor wrote:—"On January 21st, 1841, after a series of contrary winds, we made that splendid snow-clad cone, Mount Egmont, the N.W. point of Cook's Strait, which we entered on the following morning at daylight. The day broke forth most auspiciously. The wind was free and fair, so that all circumstances concurred to lead us to the anticipation that before night we should be at our destination. On we prosperously went with the day's advance, till about 2 p.m., at which time we had gotten nearly abreast of Kapiti; but then the weather began to thicken, and the wind to blow too strong for us to venture, strangers as we were (and bamboozled to boot by contradictory charts) too near the coast or to enter the strait.

"As evening came on the murkiness of the sky and the gale increased, so having made the headland at Kapiti on the one side, and Queen Charlotte Sound on the other, the Captain, with his usual prudence, thought it best about sunset to lay the vessel to in mid-channel for the night. About midnight the gale suddenly shifted from N.W. to S.E., and it blew so fiercely and the weather was so muggy and thick, that the Captain deemed it advisable to run the ship back to the width of the strait. On the morning of July 22nd we found ourselves nearly abreast of Stephens Island, and as the wind had greatly moderated, though not changed, we entered Blind Bay, Nelson. In this we cruised about pleasantly under easy sail till the following morning, when we made a start again with a favourable breeze for Port Nicholson. The day was beautiful, and we advanced so fast that by noon everyone was assuring himself that we should be in Port Nicholson by 5 p.m., numbers even dressing themselves in their best toggery to go ashore, and all were more or less preparing for that purpose, or to appear Christian-like to such as might visit the ship when she anchored; but just as we rounded Sinclair Head a heavy squall from the height of Cape Terawiti overtook us, and after that there came such a hurricane from the N.W., that by the time we opened Port Nicholson we were scudding along at the measured rate of ten knots without the aid of a single bit of canvas.

"To attempt to gain the doubtful entry of our port with such an adverse gale was altogether out of the question, nor had we other seemingly safe alternative but to let the ship run with the gale into the ocean to gain sea room. The whole of that night the wind continued very boisterous, but as we lay to after we had made a difficult offing, our admirable ship was easy enough. On the morning of the 24th we found ourselves under the lee of the mountains of the South Island, and so far down that some of the officers fancied they could see Banks Peninsula from the mast-head.page 130 Towards evening the gale subsided, and during the night the wind veered round to a favourable point for Port Nicholson, which we availed ourselves of at daybreak, and at four o'clock in the afternoon of January 25th we had the pleasure of letting go our anchor in the port of our destination."

The Slains Castle was in Nelson in 1845, in command of Captain Dawson. She left Plymouth on October 24th, 1844, and arrived on January 26th, 1845, making the passage out in 91 days, which led the "Nelson Examiner" to remark: "The arrival of the Slains Castle in the unprecedented short space of 91 days port to port has put us in possession of English news up to the 24th October last. This fine ship has brought the most valuable cargo ever shipped to this port." The vessel proceeded to Wellington, where she arrived on February 16th, and then on to New Plymouth, arriving there early in March. This paragraph reminds us that in those days colonials had to be content with English news at least three months old, and often more.

In 1852 the vessel was once more in New Zealand, this time commanded by Captain Andrew. An interesting diary of this voyage was kept by Captain (afterwards Major) F. E. Horneman, of No. 2 Company, Her Majesty's Hon. Artillery Corps. The diary was left to his family, and it is now in the possession of Miss B. Horneman, Takanini, Auckland. Captain Horneman was accompanied by his wife and five children. Leaving Gravesend on July 22, the Slains Castle had bad luck at the very start, being fouled by a collier, which damaged the ship's starboard main-chains. The passage was marked by a series of heavy gales, varied by two snow storms, and exceptionally cold weather. After passing the Cape, the weather was very severe; the ship lost several sails, the jibboom was carried away, and other damage done. Snares Island was sighted on November 7th, and the same day the ship made Stewart Island, 108 days from Gravesend.

Then followed the ship's varied experiences on the New Zealand coast. They make such interesting reading, and the story gives such a vivid picture of the difficulties sometimes met with in voyaging along the coast, that I make no excuse for quoting in full Captain Horneman's account of what happened. He wrote:

"November 8: Off Otago Heads, waiting for pilot; had to anchor outside, as there was a heavy adverse gale blowing.

"November 9: With a favourable wind entered Port Chalmers.

"November 23: A terrific N.N.E. gale sprang up. The Stately, 650 tons, came in from Wellington with her fore-and main-topgallant masts struck. She dropped her anchor close to us, and collided with us, but without causing any damage; both ships cut away their boats to save them from being crushed. Four of our sailors, who had caused a mutiny on the voyage out, and had been lodged in the Port Chalmers lock-up, were taken on board again.

"December 1st: Sailed for Wellington.

"December 7: Hearing a great noise, I went on deck, and found land close on the starboard side, with an almost endless reef of rocks round the ship's stern. I expected her to strike at any minute, and assisted in getting her off this lee shore. She thenpage 131 missed stays. Everything that human perseverance and courage could effect was done, and we just clawed off the bluff headland. We all prayed for daylight. To our consternation, we found that we were in Palliser Bay, where recently five wrecks had occurred. Only by the splendid behaviour of the crew and four whaling men from Otago was the ship saved. The jibboom carried away, and the sailors prepared to launch the quarter-boats, but a momentary shift of the wind allowed the ship to weather the headland, upon which we had seemed certain to strike, and eventually we arrived at Wellington at noon on the 7th December. Our vessel was the first to escape from Palliser Bay. We were told that in the case of one ship that had been lost in Palliser Bay, from which we had such a providential escape, no less than 105 persons had been drowned.

"December 18: The True Brittain arrived with a detachment of the 65th Regiment.

"December 23: Left Wellington, and immediately ran into boisterous weather. The following day we made the White Bluff Head, where a terrific squall struck us. The mainsail was burst, everything moveable pitched about, and passengers were thrown to the deck. Later we made the Wairoa, and bore up for Port Underwood, where we were delayed for some hours by changing winds. When we got in, all hands were worn out from exertion.

"December 26: Stood out from Port Underwood, and next day were beating about in the Straits, first making the Two Brothers rocks and Torry Channel, then over to Mana Island, and at midnight we ran right back to Cape Campbell.

"December 28: Beating about Cook Strait all day; the men completely worn out.

"December 29: Ship running north, Mana Island on our right, then Kapiti Island, and at 9 p.m. we were becalmed.

"December 30: During the night the ship drifted south. The Captain said we were heading for Cape Stephens. The land was, however, really Kapiti, and to prove it I brought on deck a sketch of the Island I had made the previous day. This decided the Captain, and the ship's course immediately altered to west. All hands laughed at him and complained of his shameful carelessness in keeping no reckoning, in not knowing where he was, and having to be instructed by one who had never been in those parts before.

December 31: Almost a calm all day; Kapiti in sight, then Manawatu, and Wanganui. All hands heartily tired; no progress being made. This is the last day of this eventful year of 1852.

"January 1, 1853: Stephens Island is in sight… . We are running up fast to the island. At 3 p.m. we went about. Afterwards we weathered some land on the left, and then suddenly a sailor cried out, 'She is running smack on to the land now!' On a sudden the ship was wore. To our dismay, she was quite close to a large rock standing out by itself in the sea. We all shuddered. We wore ship again. Passengers and crew were in great anxiety all night. This second escape seems a repetition of our deliverance from Palliser Bay.

page 132

"January 2: Arrived off the pretty little town of Nelson, 167 days from the Docks."

Captain Horneman had letters of introduction to Sir George Grey, who was then Governor. On the advice of His Excellency, the Captain settled in the Nelson Province, and for about twenty years farmed at Motueka. The Captain kept up his interest in military matters, and used to drill the volunteers.

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."