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Islands of Despair

Twelve — The Wreck of the Anjou

page 116

The Wreck of the Anjou

On one of the days that we visited the Finger Rocks I took the opportunity to visit Cape Lovett. The cliffs are approximately 1200 feet high at this point, and run in an unbroken sweep from Bristow Point to the south-west cape. It is indeed an inhospitable stretch of coastline; one would hardly believe that there would be any survivors of a vessel that was wrecked against that forbidding line of cliffs. Yet the incredible did happen.

The French steel barque Anjou of 1642 tons, commanded by Captain Le Tallec, was bound from Sydney to Falmouth in January 1905 with a cargo of wheat, and was experiencing foggy weather with only light winds. The master believed her to be well to the north of the Auckland Islands, when a line of cliffs was seen dead ahead. A few minutes later the vessel struck. It was about 8.30 p.m., and an attempt was made to launch the boats, but when one was smashed immediately the captain refused to make any other move until daylight. Although this was much against the wishes of the crew, it was a very wise and courageous decision, as the vessel was still afloat in the morning, and three boats were safely lowered at 6 a.m. After a long pull, the twenty-two men reached Victoria Passage, which they negotiated with great difficulty. The captain got through at 10.30 a.m., but it was not until 4 p.m. that the third boat managed to enter the harbour. It rained page break
26. The author at Western Harbour

26. The author at Western Harbour

page break
27. (Top) Triangulation work on Bleak Hill

27. (Top) Triangulation work on Bleak Hill

28. (Bottom) Victoria Passage

28. (Bottom) Victoria Passage

page 117heavily all day, and the men spent the night in the bush, probably in Western Harbour.

The next morning a signpost was found indicating the direction to the boatshed, and they soon found the shed in Camp Cove. There they sheltered for nine days, living on birds, seals and shell-fish, but on the tenth day they accidentally found the provision depot, with its very welcome supply of food, matches and dry clothing. The men had suffered considerably from the cold and also from dysentery, but the latter trouble soon disappeared. A message in the depot indicated when the Government vessel was likely to arrive, but in the meantime the men erected a flagstaff on Adams Island, where an ensign was hoisted on the occasional day that the weather permitted. Owing to the smallness of the depot and the large number of castaways it was also decided to erect additional huts from scrub and tussock.

Fearing that the Hinemoa might be delayed in coming to the depot, the men endeavoured to conserve the supply of canned food and biscuit as long as possible, and some of them visited the provision depot at Norman Inlet to obtain further supplies. They had also noticed that the supply of tea and sugar was very inadequate, but this was easily accounted for when the missing goods were found in the hut of Mr. Fleming, the lessee of the islands. The castaways had separated into two groups for the purpose of seeking food. Their officers reported that the morale and behaviour of the seamen had been excellent.

Captain Bollons brought the Hinemoa to anchor in Camp Cove on 7th May. He was not surprised to find the depot occupied, as he had already found a message left by the castaways at Norman Inlet. After replenishing the supplies at the depot the Hinemoa returned to New Zealand via Campbell Island, the castaways having been on the islands for just over three months. On 17th May the Mayor of Dunedin called a public meeting at the Town Hall to consider the establishment of a relief fund for the shipwrecked men. However, it was page 118found that the French Government and the New Zealand Shipwreck Society were making all the necessary arrangements in that respect, and no fund was required. Captain Le Tallec expressed his appreciation of the gesture, and also congratulated the Government on its policy of maintaining the provision depots.

Most of these provision depots were established in the 1870s as a direct result of the disastrous wrecks of the Grafton, Invercauld and General Grant. They were located at Erebus Cove, Norman Inlet and Camp Cove on the Auckland Islands, while further depots were situated on the Snares Islands, Campbell Island and the Antipodes Islands. After the wreck of the Deny Castle had shown the need for boats to be available on the smaller islands, boatsheds were constructed and boats left on Rose Island, Enderby Island, Ewing Island and Adams Island. It was not until after the wreck of the Dundonald in 1907 that a boat was left on Disappointment Island, and it is fortunate that this omission did not lead to serious loss of life.

As a matter of interest, the principal contents of the provision depots were as follows:
Preserved meatKnives
DrippingFishing lines and hooks
MedicineRifles and ammunition
ClothingCooking utensils

The boatsheds contained a boat with oars and rowlocks, and a supply of biscuits and matches.

The maintenance of the depots was discontinued in 1929, for the simple reason that the islands could no longer be page 119regarded as a hazard to shipping. This was partly because of greatly improved methods of navigation, made possible by the universal use of radio, partly because of the almost complete disappearance of sailing vessels, and partly on account of the old shipping route from Australia to Cape Horn being very little used.