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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1998

The Plague Ship and the Monkey

page 29

The Plague Ship and the Monkey

When the Kennedy docked on 2 January 1896 it reported that the Lothair was near Farewell Spit and making its way to Nelson. It was believed that the ship was in difficulty due to the loss of several crew members with illness. It became known as the plague ship and when Dr Leggatt went on board he concluded that the deaths had been due to dengue fever. The ship was put in quarantine and not allowed to enter harbour as there was a suspicion that the disease might have been cholera.

The Lothair was a tea clipper of 793 tons owned in Genoa and on its current trip had left Hong Kong on 15 October for Callao. The people on board included ten Chinese and four Peruvian passengers, none of whom spoke English. The crew had originally numbered 16, but after three deaths there were not enough to work the ship. The dead were Hose Branas, Benito Pagazan and Luis Herreri. Maria Gonzales, a Peruvian passenger who had also died, was thought to have already been ill when she embarked. Nelsonians thought it would be better if the ship was towed to Somes Island in Wellington harbour, but this did not eventuate.

Many gifts of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat were sent aboard by a number of citizens and Major Paton provided a number of Chinese testaments. Doctors returned to the ship on 16 January, at the captain's request, to attend to a Chinese passenger who was dying, but they were unable to help. They decided that his illness had been due to beriberi, a vitamin deficiency liable to occur when the diet is based on polished rice. The Italian consul visited the ship from Wellington to help with arrangements before it was able to sail in early February.

Captain J.B. Cafranza had befriended the barmaid at the Customhouse Hotel and when the ship sailed she went too. J.A.Pattie, home in Nelson from his position with the Eastern Extension Cable Service in the Philippines, had acted as an interpreter for the Spanish sailors when the doctors went on board, and on his last visit the crew presented him with a monkey in a scarlet coat in recognition of his services. Having had monkeys as pets he tried to refuse, but the spokesman said "Senor why not? You and the doctors have been good to us. You have saved our lives from the terrible sickness and we wish to show our gratitude. This is the Don, our brother and one of the crew. He is a fine fellow, always first to go aloft in a gale to reef the sails. He is good company, can drink his glass of grog and throw the dice. He will be better to you man a first-born son, and will bring you good luck."

After being in possession only a few hours Pattie thought he would have been better off with twin babies. Passing him over to W. Walker in the Wood put locals in an uproar as Berri Berri, as he was now named, wrung fowls' necks and plucked them clean. Next he page 30went to the caretaker of the Queen's Gardens, where he embarked on wholesale slaughter which resulted in his being condemned to death.

He was reprieved by a person from the country offering to take charge of him, but he failed to improve and continued to change owners.


The Colonist January 1896, 5 & 7 February 1896. Nelson Evening Mail 20, 21 & 23 July 1926.