The Wreck of the Hydrabad
5: The first attempt at salvage
5: The first attempt at salvage
Captain Holmwood was optimistic that Hydrabad would easily be refloated once lightened by the removal of most of her cargo. But from the first there were others who saw little hope of getting her off the beach, and on 5 July it was reported from Otaki that 'tempestuous seas' had driven her so far up the sand that at low water she was almost dry.
Three groups of insurers were interested in the question of salvage. The ship was insured at Lloyds of London for $50,000 and the rolling stock was insured for the same amount. This risk was earned by several companies in Adelaide, the largest share of $13,000 being carried by the Mercantile Marine Insurance Company of South Australia. Captain Holmwood's freight money was insured by the South British, National and New Zealand Insurance companies. The Marine Underwriters Association held a meeting in Wellington on 4 July and decided to telegraph the South Australian Government asking them if they would be willing to take the cargo, if it was recovered, instead of the insurance money.
From 8 July 1878 tenders were called for the salvage of the hull, gear, fittings and cargo. The time was later extended but the only tenders were those submitted by S. page 53 Brown. He later said he sent a tender for $18,400 to Mr Simpson of New Zealand Insurance and asked for three months to recover the ship. His partners were a civil engineer and a dock builder. Neither this nor a subsequent tender were acted upon.
In the meantime the South Australian government was concerned that the delay in delivering the rolling stock could cost them $80,000. Their Adelaide insurers met and appointed Mr Boothby, secretary of the Mercantile Marine Insurance Company, to act for them all. He sent over Captain James H. Gibbon who arrived at Wellington on 12 August 1878. Captain Gibbon immediately went to the wreck and found that nothing had been done to save the cargo or clear the rigging. According to him Chief Officer List was amusing himself boating. List told him there had been six to seven feet of water in the hold. He was instructed by Captains Gibbon and Bendall to send down all the spars to ease the rigging. A contract was drawn up with a Mr Ross to land the rolling-stock for $1,870, Ross to find all appliances for the job. A few days later Lloyds' agent, Mr George Hunter, agreed that Ross should try to get the ship off and that he have the use of all the ship's gear. Hunter and Captain Holmwood verbally agreed that if Ross got the vessel off and it was worth $6,000 when it reached Wellington he would be paid that amount.
Separate tenders were invited on 31 August for the cartage of the cargo landed on the beach to the wharf at Hartley's Bend, Foxton, on the Manawatu River. No piece was to exceed three tons. This contract was let to the three-man syndicate of Bowe, Birchley and Company of Foxton.
Before Hunter would allow any cargo to be removed Captain Gibbon had to put down a heavy anchor and 200 page 54 fathoms of chain to prevent the ship drifting inshore as she was lightened. This task was carried out from 2 October by the steamer Jane Douglas at a cost of $2,600.
Ross was now able to begin recovering the cargo. This was unloaded on a cable strung from Hydrabad's foremast to a post embedded in the beach. The ship's donkey engine was used to hoist the items up to a cradle which ran down the cable to the shore. Twenty to twenty-five tons a day could be landed by this method and by 11 October 150 tons of cargo were on the beach. This included two of the locomotives, a number of carriages and trucks and a large quantity of wheels and parts. Bullock drays conveyed these through the sand hills to Foxton.
To carry the cargo back to Adelaide the insurers chartered Elder, Smith and Company's 210-ton steamer Glenelg. Under Captain Robert Mailer she left Adelaide on 28 September and had light winds across to Wellington which she reached on 7 October. She could carry 150 tons of cargo and had a useful donkey boiler and steam winch. Gear for refloating the Hydrabad was taken on board and she sailed for the wreck.
The Adelaide steamer Glenelg played a large part in recovering the cargo (I. J. Farquhar).
Hydrabad's owners, Stephens and Co., expecting a quick salvage sent out Captain King to take command once the ship was in Wellington Harbour. However, Bethune and Hunter, Lloyd's agents, remained in charge on behalf of the underwriters — though the position was complicated since Mr Ross was working both for them and for the cargo underwriters represented by Captain Gibbon.
At the beginning of November Glenelg put down another 21/2-ton anchor and 105 fathoms of cable to prevent Hydrabad drifting inshore. Captain Mailer had page 56 offered the men on the ship $2 to work at night but they refused. Laying the cable was made difficult by the heavy seas and Captain Mailer had his foot jammed as the cable was paid out but he suffered no serious consequences.
This rough weather forced Glenelg to spend much of her time sheltering at Kapiti Island. In mid-November she was in company with thirteen other sheltering ships and was called on to try to tow off the ketch Elizabeth which was driven ashore on the island. Since it was impossible to lay alongside Hydrabad Glenelg, Forest Queen and Isabella loaded at Foxton. It was not until 30 November that Forest Queen could again unload from Hydrabad. The next day she transferred most of her cargo to Glenelg and Isabella in the lee of Kapiti Island.
So far there had been no loss of life associated with the stranding, but on 3 December 1878 the sea claimed a victim. Forest Queen was anchored a hundred yards from Hydrabad with Glenelg a little further off. Captain Watchlin, John Gibb the pilot, Peter Petersen the mate, and a seaman named Charlie were pulling from Forest Queen to Hydrabad when a huge curler rose without warning and broke on board their boat, capsizing it. The hands on board Hydrabad were roused from their dinner by shouts and quickly threw lifebuoys while Mr Ross and six men launched a boat. The accident was unobserved by those on Glenelg. Captain Watchlin had grabbed an oar and swam to the beach; Gibb climbed back into the boat and drifted ashore; Charlie was picked up exhausted by Mr Ross's crew but soon recovered on the Hydrabad. Petersen, disappeared however, and his body did not wash up until 5 December.
The three salvage vessels continued to work from Hydrabad and Foxton through December into January page 57 1879. On one occasion Glenelg showed her worth by towing both Forest Queen and Isabella into Wellington against the tide and a strong north-west gale.
As the amount of recovered rolling stock built up on reclaimed land at Foxton efforts were turned to trying to refloat the Hydrabad. Her hull was reported as perfectly sound. By 20 December she had been hauled out fifty feet and a week later she was making such steady progress seawards that it was confidently expected she would soon be out of danger. But on 27 December, a heavy westerly gale commenced and one of the anchor cables parted. Hydrabad slewed round nearly broadside on to the beach. The contractors pumped in a large quantity of water to keep her down and prevent her drifting back in shore. No apparent damage was caused and the water was pumped out in six hours.
Glenelg, Forest Queen and Isabella returned to Wellington on 31 December. Glenelg was advertised for sale without attracting a buyer. On 3 January she went on the slip and when leaving harbour the next evening she fouled the Isabella, carrying away a portion of her chain plates on the starboard side and ending the lighter's part in the salvage attempt.
Glenelg took up a large hawser brought from the wreck of the Southminster at Cape Campbell by the Stella for a second refloating attempt. Captains Holmwood and Gibbon went up to Foxton on the Huia on 7 January to supervise. Hydrabad was moved out a hundred feet and strongly stayed, but before Glenelg reached the scene the wind again foiled the attempt and Hydrabad had to be filled with water. Captain Gibbon later said Hydrabad would have been refloated had the Glenelg arrived.
Working close in shore among the breakers the salvage page 58 ships were often at risk. On 13 January Glenelg towed Forest Queen to the Hydrabad but as the barometer fell and another gale threatened she was towed out to an anchorage while Glenelg took tow of Hydrabad. Later Forest Queen was moved further out but Captain Watchlin was surprised that Glenelg anchored instead of making for Kapiti in the face of the rising northerly and drizzling rain. At 11 p.m. the wind freshened west-north-west dead on shore and Forest Queen sent up a flare but she failed to attract the attention of those on Glenelg. By 1.30 a.m. Glenelg had steam up and Forest Queen's crew stood by to take a tow. Terrific seas had been raised and Captain Watchlin and his cook could hardly control the helm. Glenelg could make little headway with Forest Queen in tow and seas were sweeping the ketch, putting all on board in grave danger. The towline parted, Forest Queen was unable to tack out to sea and by the time her anchor was dropped and took hold she had drifted considerably towards the beach. Captain Watchlin had the mizzen sail set to steady his ship, while Glenelg steamed twice around her before another line could be secured. The anchor was slipped but the line had fouled Glenelg's propellor and her mate severed the tow with an axe. Nothing could prevent Forest Queen going ashore and in an effort to smooth her path Captain Watchlin spilt oil overboard.' At 4 a.m. the ketch struck the beach at half tide. As soon as low tide enabled the crew to get ashore they deserted her. Forest Queen was left lying in three feet of sand.
The Goverment steamer Hinemoa was also sought for an attempt to tow Hydrabad off (De Maus Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library).
Glenelg took in the coal and a ballast of sand to give her more grip in the water, but in fact she did not have the necessary power to drag Hydrabad clear. Captain Gibbon recognising that a more powerful ship was necessary went to Wellington to seek the use of the government steamer Hinemoa.*
Meanwhile Hydrabad was once more pumped full with 800 tons of water to weigh her down and three anchors kept her securely moored. On 30 January the Union Steam Ship Company's 429-ton steamer Wellington, arrived at the salvage site, but the opportune moment had passed and she could not communicate with Hydrabad because of the high seas running. She was forced to return to Wellington.
Because of the heavy surf rolling into the beach no supplies could be sent to those on the Hydrabad. On 31 January one of the Maori workers swam ashore and was lucky to be pulled exhausted from the water. Two days later a sheep was hauled on board through the surf. The sea was then breaking a mile out from Hydrabad but by the following day it had quietened sufficiently for pumping out to begin. Glenelg finally escaped from page 62 Foxton and proceeded to Wellington to take on eighty tons of coal. She had to shelter at Kapiti until rough conditions subsided. A good tide on 8 February 1879 enabled her to take up the tow again. As she steamed ahead, those on the Hydrabad heaved on the windlass which had a triple purchase on to the cable. All seemed to be going well: as the tide flowed, the ship moved seawards at every swell.
But appearances were deceptive. The strains set up by being partially afloat, added to the buffeting the after end had been taking from the breakers and the effects of the tow, had opened up leaks in the stern. By 10.30 a.m. the water in the holds was rising rapidly. Glenelg was signalled to cease towing. There was little point in hauling Hydrabad off only to have her sink in deep water. The pumps could not cope with the inflow and as the water rose to five feet in the holds the refloating attempt had to be abandoned. At 6 p.m. Glenelg steamed off for Wellington, leaving Hydrabad in a worse position than ever before.
Only a week earlier Bethune and Hunter had written a long letter to T. Stephens and Co refusing to accede to their request to abandon the ship. They expressed confidence that Hydrabad would be refloated and that the expense would be justified by the saving to the underwriters. Now, on 11 February 1879, they were forced to admit to Lloyds that there was 'no prospect of ever seeing Hydrabad in port'.
All parties concerned with the salvage met at Wellington and decided to run Hydrabad back up the beach as far as possible and try to find the cause of the leak. Once the cargo was fully discharged they would examine whether it was worth while to persist with the refloating attempt or whether the ship should be abandoned. The cables had page 63 been dropped and Hydrabad drifted in 200 feet. The water level continued to rise and she slewed broadside on to the beach.
A crisis of another kind had also been reached. Ross had been paying his labourers with promises rather than cash. Now that success had been snatched from their grasp they struck for their wages. Ross was besieged on board — for some of the men were not averse to taking out of his hide what they could not get out of his pocket. On 13 February Captains Holmwood and Gibbon accompanied Constable Purcell from Foxton to the ship. They could not find Ross at first but, following a tip, a second search found him in a railway carriage among the cargo. With the law protecting him Ross promised to pay what he owed to his disbelieving creditors. A week later Captain Holmwood turned him out since he would not fulfil his contract.
Ross left the district but not salvage work. In November 1882 he unsuccessfully tried to raise the steamer Westport sunk in relatively shallow water near Cape Campbell.
* Salvors recognize that a tug is of limited use in pulling a stranded ship off a beach. When the towing ship is not moving cavitation sets up around her screws, air gets sucked down and half the power of the screw is lost. The prolonged pressure of a ship pulling on winches is more effective and the sand will eventually give.