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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 7, Issue 1, 2009

Great White Shark Captured At Nelson Harbour

page 33

Great White Shark Captured At Nelson Harbour

We are indeed indebted to the Nelson photographer"The shark weighed 4,224lbs, was 18ft in length … the shark's teeth were sold to Nelson jeweller Louis Kerr for £150 and the liver was sold for its valuable oil". F.N. Jones, who was an avid recorder of Nelson events. This impressive photo, labelled "Monster Taniwhia (sic) Shark Caught By J. Crapper-Outside-Harbour-Nelson-N.Z", was taken by Jones and is part of the Nelson Provincial Museum photographic collection. It is most fortunate that Jones usually labelled his images, in this case including the name of Crapper and the location. He occasionally included a date, but did not do so here.

It is a Great white shark (White pointer) Carcharodon carcharias, known as Mango Taniwha to Maori. At today's prices, shark jaws have been reported to be worth $18,000 and teeth $1,700. Great white sharks are threatened with extinction and are now protected in New Zealand and some international waters.1

During April 1990 I phoned local residents with the surname of Crapper. This led me to Peter Crapper, who lived at Westdale Road, Redwoods Valley, who was the grandson of the adult in the photograph. Peter, who had also been a fisherman, had a copy of the photo with notes on the back of it written by his father.

These notes identify the people in the photo from left as James (Peter's father), Colin, Connie and James Crapper senior. It was taken at the rear of James Crapper senior's fish shop in Hardy Street and he dated it as February 1918. Additional information from the notes includes that the shark weighed 4,224lbs, page 34was 18ft in length, and the smaller shark was a 6ft long Dogfish. The shark's teeth were sold to Nelson jeweller Louis Kerr for £150 and the liver was sold for its valuable oil. Crapper's fishing boat was called the Eclipse. For monetary comparison, in 1916 a Ford car was worth £180 and a horse £40.

I found no references to the shark in Nelson newspapers of February 1918 but, while later searching for a World War I topic, I uncovered the following references to James Crapper's capture of the Taniwha shark on page 4 of the Nelson Evening Mail of Saturday October 7, 1916:

"A monster shark was captured by Mr J Crapper in the Cut, near the mole, this morning. It is of the taniwha (sic), the most vicious species of shark, and is 12 feet long, 7 feet in girth, and weighs three quarters of a ton (1,680lbs). This shark was well known to fishermen, and it is stated, had attacked several dinghies, and it will be a relief to know that it has at last been safely netted. The monster has a formidable set of teeth, for which Mr Crapper has already refused an offer of £10. It is on view at his shop in Hardy Street".

On page 6 of the same paper an advertisement states: "Monster of the Deep. Huge Shark, captured at the New Cut, on view at Mr J Crapper's Fish Shop, Hardy Street until Tuesday. Admission:- Adults 6d, Children 6d".

James Crapper's fish shop was at 107 Hardy Street and his occupation was listed as both fisherman and fishmonger. The shop was located on the north side of Hardy Street two shops east of Alma Street and three shops before the Panama Hotel at the corner of Collingwood Street.2

The Colonist of October 9, 1916 carried a report on page 4:

"A monster shark, of the taniwha species, was captured by Mr W(sic) Crapper, a fisherman, on Saturday morning in the new entrance to Nelson Harbour, near the mole. The shark was 12ft long, 7ft in girth, and weighed over half a ton. It became fouled in the fisherman's net, and before it could break away was gaffed and dispatched. Although some of the teeth were damaged by the lead line, most of them were in perfect order, and Mr Crapper refused two offers of £10 for them. The shark was well known to fishermen in the bay, and is stated to have attacked dinghies on several occasions, besides getting away with valuable lines. It was on exhibition at Mr Crapper's shop on Saturday".

The following observations and additional facts come from New Zealand shark scientist and advocate Clinton Duffy: "From a look at the photo it's clear that the details of the shark provided by Peter Crapper are incorrect and that those in the page 35media reports of the day are probably accurate (i.e. length of 12ft 7in, weight 1680lbs). This shark is no where near 18ft long. That is not to say that Mr Crapper did not subsequently catch a white shark that size but it certainly wasn't the fish in this photograph. The other shark in the photograph is a rig (aka gummy shark, spotted smoothhound, spotted dogfish) and looks to be about 90cm long. The angle of the shark makes it impossible to sex.

Dorothy Cookson's white shark tooth pendant, reputedly from the shark featured. Dorothy Cookson photo.

Dorothy Cookson's white shark tooth pendant, reputedly from the shark featured. Dorothy Cookson photo.

Average size of white sharks landed around mainland New Zealand is 3–3.5m. Females mature between 4.7–5.2m in length, males between 3.5–4.1m. The largest accurately measured female was 6.4m, and the largest male 5.5m total length (TL). This is measured in a straight line from tip of snout to tip of the tail, not over the curve of the body makes a big difference in a big shark. There are, however, reliable length estimates of 7m for two females, one taken off Cuba and the other off Malta. So it's safe to say that females reach at least 6.4m TL, with reliable reports to 7m TL. Size at birth is 1.2–1.5m TL.

White sharks are present in NZ waters all year round but, according to rig and school shark fishermen in Kaipara and Manukau Harbours, they are most common inshore during October-March, when they appear to feed on rig, school shark, rays and snapper that move into these areas to breed over that time. The same species mix occurs in Tasman Bay, so it's likely that whites follow a similar pattern there".3

When ordering the shark photo I found that Nelson Provincial Museum photographic technician, Dorothy Cookson, had one of this shark's teeth, which had been made into jewellery. She was given the tooth by Colin Crapper's stepson. The tooth was accompanied by the following, rather puffy, newspaper article from the Southland Times of October 7, 1916, proving the tooth's provenance:

Huge Shark Captured
Invercargill Boy's Plucky Action

For some years past a monster shark has been in possession of the bay at Nelson and, needless to say has caused many anxious moments for the fishermen, in that locality. Several attempts have been made to capture "Blue Peter," as he was known page 36to the fishermen, but he managed to evade all attacks made on him till last Friday, when he was successfully landed. It appears that Mr James Crapper (son of Mr J Crapper, Bowment street), was engaged in the act of searching his nets which had been set the night previously, when he discovered that they had been removed some considerable distance, from the place where he had set them and on making further investigations, he found that his net contained the notorious "Blue Peter". To attack the monster single handed is a task that very few would care about, but after a struggle lasting over an hour Mr Crapper was successful in killing the brute, which was then conveyed by the pilot boat to the wharf, where it was necessary to use a steamer's winch to haul it up on to a lorry. The shark which measured 12ft in length, 7ft in girth and weighs three quarters of a ton, is of the taniwha species, which is known as the most ferocious a kind, and it is indeed creditable that an Invercargill boy should have the proud distinction of capturing such a monster, which is known to have attacked several of the fishing boats. For the teeth alone Mr Crapper has already refused an offer of £10, so it will be seen that after all the risk he took was worth while".

The Crapper family came from Oxford, England. James Crapper, with his wife Martha Ann nee Dewe and their two young children, sailed for New Zealand on the Otago in June 1874. They arrived on August 28, 1874 and settled in Invercargill, where James worked as a street cleaner before becoming a fisherman and later running a carting business. The couple had another seven children in New Zealand, but of their nine children, only four girls and one boy survived to adulthood. The boy was named James and, in 1905, he married Sarah Ann Brooklands, who came from a whaling family that had settled in this country in the 1830s. James and Sarah lived on Stewart Island before moving to Invercargill and, eventually, to Nelson with their children. This is the family that features in the photo with the shark. James Crapper senior died of asthma at the age of 47, while living at 19 Beachville Crescent, Nelson. His sons James and Colin continued the fishing occupation.4


1.NZ Herald. November 30, 2006.
2.Stones Directory Nelson, Marlborough and Westland April 1917. P211.
3.Pers Com; Clinton Duffy NZ shark scientist/expert and shark advocate employed by Department of Conservation and involved in ground breaking white shark, range research.
4.Voices from the Sea The stories of some Nelson and Marlborough fishing families Deirdre Mackay. Talley's Group, 2004.