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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter LXII. Conclusion

page 279

Chapter LXII. Conclusion.

The morning of my marriage at length arrived. Jessie's friend's gave her a large number of presents, both useful and ornamental. The cermony took place at eleven o'clock, and the school children strewed the path with flowers as we walked through their ranks. Jessie had four bridesmaids, and Captain Snell acted as 'best man.' A large number of people greeted us with cheers as we drove back to Mr. Munroe's house previous to an immediate start for Auckland.

In a short time the coach arrived, accompanied by six armed men as escort. I need not dwell on our parting from old friends, suffice it to say that it was painful for both of us. I promised Jessie's parents to revisit Wairuara in twelve months, and that hope tempered their grief in a great measure. At the last moment, Taipua, Hoani, Te Tangemoana, and other Maori friends, presented me with a valuable collection of native weapons, nose rings of gold and greenstone, &c. As we waved our last adieu, our friends fired a volley of rice and old slippers. Some of the horses belonging to our escort did not appreciate i as they nearly threw their riders.

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We arrived in Auckland without any mishap, and spent the next day in looking at the beautiful scenery about the harbour. The North Shore and Remuera seem to me to be the most charming of the half dozen suburbs around Auckland. The North shore is a very pleasant place to live in for anyone connected with the city, as it is only separated by about a mile of water. There are beautiful bathing places on the sandy shore, but unfortunately the place is infested with sharks.

Some short time before our visit, several boys, newly arrived from England, were bathing on the beach, and they were unaware of any danger. Suddenly a large shark pulled one of them under, and his companions were unable to render any assistance, as several other sharks made their appearance close to the place. Some hours after, portions of the unfortunate boy were found over a mile away.

Auckland is situated on the waters of the Hauraki harbour, which is completely protected by numerous islands. A little outside the harbour is the volcanic three peaked island called Rangitoto, supposed by the Maoris to have been thrown there by one of the Great Spirits. About three miles at the back of the town stands Mount Eden, an extinct volcano about 900 feet high. The land about the mountain is tastefully laid out as a park, and is a favourite resort of the Aucklanders. The view on the top of the mountain is very grand, and well repays the labour of climbing it.

On the following morning we drove to Onehunga, where we embarked in the "Isabella" en route to Hokitika, which we expected to reach in about forty-eight hours.

Onehunga (pronounced O-ne-hunga) is a little village on the banks of the beautiful Manukau harbour. Green hills slope page 281down to the water's edge, and reminds one of the Scotch lakes, as the portion leading to the sea is scarcely visible in some places.

The Manukau opens on the west coast and extends inland towards Auckland, leaving only a narrow strip of land between it and the waters of the Waitemata. Some time ago a syndicate proposed to make a canal across between the two waters, so as to allow ships to come stright through to Auckland from the west coast. As it is only a short distance I have no doubt it will be one of the works of the future.

The Waitemata is called a river, but that is a misnomer, as it is an arm of the Hauraki harbour.

When we were passing over the narrow bar, I pointed out to Jessie a number of low pointed rocks like shark's teeth, where the ill-fated man-o-war "Orpheus" was lost, and many brave men lost their lives where the water was churning itself into milk white foam. Although the wreck of H.M. Ship "Orpheus" took place over thirty-two years ago, it has ever had an indelible place in the memory of the public, owing to the tragic and peculiar circumstances surrounding the catastrophe—one in which 187 British seamen lost their lives out of a ship's company of 256 officers and men. The shipwreck will rank with the great naval disasters of the last half century, the only melancholy satisfaction left being that it brought out the best qualities of the British sailor; his devotion to duty, the excellence of discipline, and his determination to face and meet death as British seamen, officers and men, always will meet it when called upon to do so. One of the points connected with the wreck of the unfortunate ship which has always made a deep impression on the public mind, is that it occurred not only in open daylight, page 282but on a bright and brilliant day, with moderate wind and smooth water. The "Orpheus" was the finest and largest vessel that had ever been despatched to the New Zealand station, and had been transferred from the North American station to strengthen the Australian fleet, in view of the troubled relations with the natives in New Zealand, and the prospect of a racial struggle to maintain the sovereignity of the Queen. She had brought out a year's provisions for the fleet, and two new suits of sails for every vessel in the squadron.

The key to the disaster which befel the "Orpheus" was the fact that the Commodore was going by the sailing directions and chart of Captain Drury, of H.M.S. "Pandora," of 1853. It had been long known to nautical men that the channel laid down in Drury' chart of 1853 had shifted considerably, and that to steer strictly in accordance with the directions would ensure the destruction of any large vessel. Commodore Burnett and Sailing-master Strong were strangers to the Manukau harbour, and made the course by the admiralty chart on board. The information of the changes on the bar had been duly notified to the officer in command on the station, and by him transmitted to the Admiralty. On the 10th October, 1861, a notice was issued from the Hydrographic Office notifying that the outer south band had worked north three quarters of a point in the bearing from Paratutai, and that a part of the outer south bank had cleared away since 1853. This notice was received by the the war ships on the Australian and New Zealand stations in March of the following year, but by a strange fatality and misadventure on the part of Admiralty authorities, or otherwise, the "Orpheus," on leaving the North American station, was not furnished with the corrected chart.

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The "Orpheus" was an unlucky ship from the outset, and ill fortune dogged her career to the end. She was put into commission on a Friday (which was quite enough to settle her according to the old superstition common to sailors); on her way to the North American station, with troops for Halifax, she nearly founded in a heavy gale in the Atlantic, and after wards at St. John's, N.B., went ashore.

It was not known on the New Zealand Station that Commodore Burnett intended to visit the Manukau, there being no cable communication in those days, or frequent trips of vessels from Sydney. What his object was, will never be known, as his lips were sealed by death. He was a very active officer, a single man in the prime of life, being but 46 years of age, and a rigid disciplinarian. There were, it was understood, several cases for court martial, and he had a quartermaster of H.M.S. "Harrier," (then lying in the Manukau) named Butler, on board as a deserter, who was being brought on in the "Orpheus" to join his ship. It was conjectured that Commodore Burnett, as a new naval commanding officer on the station, thought it well to tighten up the bonds of discipline, and make a surprise visit, as the "Harrier," Captain O'Sullivan, was lying at Onehunga, and the "Miranda," Captain Jenkins, in Auckland Harbour, in case more attention was being devoted to amusements, sport, and the hospitalities of citizens than the interests of the service permitted.

It was at noon on Saturday, February 7, 1863, under a smiling sky, all sail set, full steam on, going eight knots an hour, that the "Orpheus" was lost in the attempt to enter the Manukau—a bar barbour The ill-luck of the "Orpheus" pursued her. While the terrible loss of life was going on, in broad daylight, in full view of the pilot station, the H.M.S. page 284"Harrier" was lying at her mourings at the Bluff, ignorant of the occurrence, the colonial steamer "Avon" at the Onehunga wharf, and the "Moa," Admiralty tender, at the Bluff.

The following narrative will be of interest to many of my readers, as some of the survivors of the crew have settled in the Auckland Province:—

"The "Orpheus," 21 guns, carrying the pennant of Commodore William Farquharson Burnett, C.B., left Sydney on the previous Saturday, under canvas, and mad the Manukau bar as above stated, on Saturday the 7th. On reaching the bar about 1 p.m., a gun was fired, it is stated, for a pilot; but the pilot, Captain Wing, was away on board the S.S. "Wonga Wonga," which had sailed at half-past twelve for the South, so everything conspired to accelerate the doom of the ill-fated ship. The signalman at the pilot station, Edward Wing, the son of Captain Wing, had signalled at 11 a.m., "take the bar;" at about 1 o'clock, "keep to the north;" and afterwards "keep the vessel more off shore;" but none of the signals were acknowledged, answered or obeyed, apparently because those on board did not understand the code, or, as Butler, the deserter, subsequently explained, probably the signalling gear and flags had been washed overboard. The "Orpheus" touched astern at twenty minutes past 1 p.m., but it was of no consequence, and she went on for ten minutes into the breakers, and stuck fast on the western end of the Middle Bank, which had shifted fully three quarters of a mile since Captain Drury's Sailing Directions had been published. The signalman at the Manukau pilot station first saw the "Orpheus" at half past nine a.m., but imagined that it was a large vessel for the North skirting the bank, but when he saw that she was actually making an entrance across the bank he signalled the danger. The Commodore and page 285the sailing master were on the bridge with their charts, the leadsmen at his post, the crew at their duty, and the vessel going to her doom 'with the marks all on.'

Butler, the deserter, looking through the bow port of his quarters, noticed the discolouration of the water and the bearing of the channel, and saw that the vessel was going wrong. He told the master-at-arms, who brought him to the first Lieutenant, Mudge. He, it is stated, either thought the information of no importance, or as was rumoured at the time, said: "It was more than his commission was worth to say so to the Commodore, as he was in charge on the bridge and taking her in himself." The crew, however, urged Butler to go to sailing-master Strong, which he was loth to do, being only an A.B. He was in the act of pointing out the channel to the sailing-master and the Commodore with the chart in front of them, but too late, when the vessel struck and broached to, the sea soon making clean breaches over her.

Some of the guns were hove overboard, and a quantity of shot, but all to no purpose. Although th? situation was now critical, and it was not then apprehended that the terrible calamity which overtook officers and men of the "Orpheus" would ensue. It was early in the afternoon, and the weather fine. There was the likelihood of a message being signalled or sent to the "Harrier" from the pilot station, and relief be sent. As long as the ship held together all would be well. None of these hopes were fulfilled, the explanation of which will appear later on. At the instant of the "Orpheus" broaching to, a man named Northover accidently fell overboard forward, and a life buoy was thrown to him, but he failed to reach it, and perished, the very life buoy being broken up by the rollers. The second cutter was stove in on the davits. Then the first cutter in page 286charge of Midshipman Field was got out with the ship's papers, books, money, &c., but being lost sight of and fearing she had swamped, the pinnace was despatched by the Commodore in charge of the Lieutenant and Paymaster Amphlett, with instructions to pull to the pilot station for assistance, because the latter knew the place. Lieutenant Jeckyll was ordered to take the launch out, and endeavour to drop an anchor, but she was swamped, and the officer and all the crew (about 30) perished in sight of their comrades, save three who scrambled on board the ship again. It was now 5 p.m., the pinnace and cutter were out, the launch swamped, and nearly 40 men drowned. The guns had broken adrift, and maimed and killed several men, while to add to the horrors, John Day, captain of the foretop, met his death by hanging. When descending from the maintop to the foretop, the stay was carried away, and the coil caught him round the neck and strangled him. Owing to the freshening breeze and heavy sea, the rigging had to be manned, and permission was given to the men to save themselves by swimming.

Captain Renner of the "Wonga Wonga" had been watching the "Orpheus" through his glasses as he steamed out South, and took her for a vessel bound to Kaipara for spars. At last seeing her critical position, he signalled:—"Do you want any assistance," but got no reply. He went round to the South Spit, seeing the "Orpheus" tops crowded with men, but finding it impossible to reach her for the breakers, coming back by the south channel, and taking the pinnace and pilot boat in tow, went to the "Orpheus," as near as they could go with safety. Those who could reach the jibboom, and dropped into the sea, were picked up by the boats, for no boat could live within 30 yards of the ship. Nearly all who leaped from the foremast and mainmast were sucked in by the undertow of the rollers and page 287drowned, till at last the men refused to leave the masts. The officers were on the mizzenmast with the Commodore, and had the worst position. There was now but a few minutes of day-light, and the "Wonga Wonga" had been several times in the breakers. Lieutenant Hill had been doing all that man could do to save his comrades, and now the last rays of the sun were going, with the furious breakers racing the masts and clamouring for their prey as they disappeared in the tops in sheets of foam. The succourers were sick at heart, knowing that the end was coming, and had to leave and anchor in a place of safety.

As the sun set, those on the "Wonga Wonga" could perceive the Commodore, officers, and men on the masts—no tumult, no frantic gestures marked their demeanour, everything looked as orderly as if no peril surrounded them. Commodore Burnett had disdained to leave his post or consult his safety, stating that he would die with his officers and men. He addressed his men as the masts were beginning to go, inviting them to prayer, telling them also, as for himself, there was but one way of performing his duty, that of being the last man to leave the wreck. Just before the masts gave way he told them to shout all together, so that the boats and steamer might pick some up. His fears were soon realised, for with a mighty crash the mainmast fell, and directly after the other two masts went also. As the mizzen mast was falling one of the spars struck the Commodore on the head, and on his falling stunned into the water he rose to the surface, but never moved, and drowned while unconscious. The crews of the "Wonga Wonga" and the boats heard the death cries of the men, and saved 15 out of the wreckage of floating spars, and then nothing was heard save the moaning of the angry sea, for death had claimed the rest. Mid-shipmen Hunt and Barkley, a son of Sir Henry Barkley, the page 288Governor of Victoria, were picked up by the boats, the latter after being two hours in the water. A seaman was also picked up inside Puponga, who had been eight hours clinging to a spar, the copper on which had cut his chest completely open. The "Wonga Wonga" burned blue lights during the night to encourage any unfortunate floating on wreckage that help was near, but when the dawn revealed itself and she steamed over to where she had left the "Orpheus." scarce a vestage was to be seen. Steaming to the Heads, she transferred the remnant of the gallant crew to the "Avon," which had come from Onehunga, and resumed her voyage South. On counting the survivors there were found to be six officers, three warrant officers, and over 60 sailors and marines saved out of the ship's company. All the officers drowned, with the exception of the Commodore, were married men.

While the relief party in the "Wonga Wonga" and the boats were at work, Paymaster Amphlett had got a whaleboat at the Heads, and by pulling up the Mauukau reached the Bluff (below Onehunga), and told his terrible story to the officers of the "Harrier."

Strange to say the ill-luck of the "Orpheus" still pursued even the efforts to succour and save the survivors. The colonial gunboat "Avon," which could have sailed at once under ordinary circumstances, had some part of her machinery in Auckland getting repaired, and was unable to go until it was brought out. She left at two o'clock in the morning, in charge of Lieutenant Hunt (a survivor), and with Captain Jenkins of the "Miranda" on board.

On reaching the Heads not a vestage of the wreck was to be seen; but she took off from the "Wonga Wonga" the men page 289rescued by the steamer and the boats. In anxiety to get away to render help, Captain O'Sullivan of the "Harrier" started at four o'clock in the morning and grounded, and did not get away till three p.m. on Sunday, when the "Avon" had returned with the scanty band of ragged, maimed, and bleeding survivors in charge of Lieutenant Hill. A large supply of blankets were sent to Onehunga, and when the wounded arrived on Sunday afternoon, His Excellency the Governor (Sir George Grey), Sir John McNeill, and Drs. Mouatt and Temple, and Mayor Hamley were there to meet them.

A public meeting was convened next day, and in two hours £690 was collected, giving £10 a piece to the survivors, all additional coming in to go to the widows and orphans of the men drowned. Sir George Grey gave £50, and Bishop Selwyn, £20. Sorrow and disaster made "all the world akin" that day, and Captain O'Sullivan of the "Harrier," sinking the "Queen's Regulations," gave Butler, the deserter, from the "Harrier," who had vainly tried to save the "Orpheus," his £10 with the rest. On that evening, as the sun was sinking behind the Waitakerei ranges in a flood of molton gold, the last honors were paid to the gallant Commodore, a salute of eleven minute guns being fired from the "Miranda." Some of the survivors volunteered for service on the "Miranda" and "Harrier," and others settled in New Zealand.

The Maoris behaved well. All along the coast they buried the dead, clothing them with their own garments where nude, reading the burial service, and placing a mark over each grave, the Ngatiteata following the humane example set by the Nopera, Whatarauhi and their party on the north side.

The ill-luck of the "Orpheus" pursued the survivors. Midshipman Field saved his life at the wreck of the "Orpheus," page 290only to lose it in the Bay of Algesiras, by the upsetting of a boat in a sqall. Lieutenant Hill, who bore a charmed life at the wreck, met his fate in the trenches at the storming of the Gate Pah, leading the blue jackets. As he lay mortally wounded on the ground, he wrote his name in blood on his handkerchief and tied it round his head, so that his body might be indentified among the slain. The bronzed seamen who knew his chivalrous nature and ways so well, wept like children when they found his remains.

There are many relics of the "Orpheus" in existence, several families in Auckland and the museum have little souveners of the sad occurrence.

As we looked upon the historic scene and witnessed the huge rollers with majestic boom—deep calling unto deep—dissipating themselves in sheets of foam upon the bar, the past came up fresh and clean on turning over the tablets of memory. The lines came up to recollection which Captain Hare, of H.M.S. "Eurydice," (who afterwards went down with all his crew in a squall off the Isle of Wight) penned, entitled "Sorrow on the Sea," from the passage in Jeremiah, "there is sorrow on the sea—it cannot be quiet," and they may appropriately end this story of the wreck of the "Orpheus":—

The oceans' voice I seem to hear,
Mournfully, solemnly, bounding near,
Like a wail sent up from the caves below,
Fraught by dark memories of human woe,
Telling of loved ones buried there,
Of the dying shriek and the dying prayer;
Telling of hearts still watching in vain
For those who shall never come again:
Of the widows groan and the orphan's cry
And the mother's speechless agony.
page 291 Oh, no, the ocean can never rest
With such secrets hidden within its breast.
There is sorrow written upon the sea,
And dark and stormy its waves must be;
It cannot be quiet, it cannot sleep,
That dark, relentless and stormy deep.

But a day will come, a blessed day,
When earthly sorrows shall pass away,
When the hour of anguish shall turn to peace,
And even the roar of the waves shall cease.

Gone! for in Heaven shall be "no more sea!"
Tis a bright and beautiful thing of earth
That cannot share in the soul's "new birth;"
Tis a life of murmur and tossing and spray,
And at resting time it must pass away.

All went well until we sighted Mount Egmont with its ridge like summit and cap of eternal snow. The ridge-like appearance is formed by streams of lava radiating from the crater to the foot of the mountain, like so many large ribs. These are due to the erosive action of water, which has flowed down from the summit, which, while it washed away the after ashes and other debris, has left the harder lava ribs untouched. Such phenomena are exhibited in many other places, in Cotopaxi, in the Hawaiian, Andes, Cascade Mountains of North America, Genung Sumbing of Java and many other places. The stream of water flowing from the top summit descend into ravines, which have a definate relation to the axes of the upper crater, for this is the central from which all these streams flow. The weather became very rough, and we kept tacking abreast of the mountain for three days. Our little craft had to do her best outside, as the Manukau bar was too rough to recross. At length our captain ran his craft into Cook's Straits for shelter, and we had to do the best we could for nearly a week. Our page 292provisions were soon used up, and the little inlet where we landed was uninhabited. Fortunately we caught a good many bonitas, and shot some pigeons. Many of the latter were so tame that we killed about thirty with sticks. Andrews was very busy, as he said 'we must make a livin' somehow.' Jessie seemed to enjoy her first taste of rough life, and soon got used to coffee without sugar and milk.

When we arrived off Gre eymouth our larder was replenished, and we resumed our voyage in better spirits. Hotitiki a bar soon loomed ahead and to our digust none of the tugboats would come out. The signal plying from shore indicated 'too rough.' After passing a very unpleasant night tossing about, we were glad to see a steamer making her way to us. The little craft fought bravely with the breakers, but had to return. Another attempt was made in the afternoon with success. After the line was made fast, the Captain came to where we were sitting and said:

"I advise you to take the misses below sir, as the hatches must be battened down at once. Sometimes a couple of breakers would sweep everything off the deck, and in many cases the vessels nearly get swamped. The men on deck wear their corks (life preservers) and lash themselves to something, anyhow they are ready for a ducking. I will knock on the deck when we are close to the bar. Don't be frightened missis if we get tumbled about a bit. The "Isabella" has often weathered it. Your servant is down below in the forehatch."

We took the old man's advice (sailors always speak of their captain as the 'old man,' no matter how young he is) and we were glad we did so. For a short time our craft was steady, and the close atmosphere of the cabin was very unpleasant. Suddenly we heard the signal knock on deck and Jessie flew page 293into my arms. Immediately there was a terrible din on deck, and the great waters seemed to be tearing our little craft to pieces. After that we were bumped about a few times, and then all became still. Our captain opened the hatch and called out: "Come on deck now, sir, the danger is over." When we clambered up the narrow steps Jessie asked:

"Any harm done Captain?"

"No mam, only that I'm wet from head to foot, and lost two hen coops," he answered laughing. "The tug suffered a bit," he continued, "as I see her wheel has been carried away."

A crowd gathered on the wharf to watch our arrival, as in those days a vessel crossing the bar in rough weather occasioned a little excitement. Since then the bar has been deepened and vessels can get through without difficulty. We put up at an hotel in Revel St., and determined to have a good rest before exploring further. At that time Hotitiki suffered considerably from the encroaching of the river on one side, and the sea in front. Some time ago the sea swept over valuable properties at the lower end of Revel St., and has remaihed there ever since.

Next day I called on my friends, and as the first steamer would not leave for a week, we arranged for a trip to Rosstown, Jone's Flat, about 35 miles away. Andrews was to remain in Hokitiki until we returned. Some very good gold has been found at Jones's, and Jessie was anxious to visit a gold field. Five of us, including a Miss Ross and Jessie started on horseback, and we had great difficulty in crossing rivers, and inlets of the sea. The suple jacks were abundant here, and we found our best road lay about high water mark. The breakers were very powerful in some places, and frightened the ladies very much, still on the whole we enjoyed ourselves. I noticed the exercise page 294increased Jessie's good looks to a wonderful degree. We arrived at Rosstown about dusk, and put up at a nice little hotel kept by an Italian. The next day was passed very pleasantly in inspecting the wonderful sluice tunnels* and other objects of interest, and we returned to Hokitiki well pleased with our trip. As Jessie was unaccustomed to equestrian exercise, she was very much fatigued on the following day, and we confined our rambles to the town. A few days thus passed very pleasantly, and we at length embarked on the fine steamer "Gothenburg," en route for Melbourne.

When the hurry of departure was over we stood on the deck hand in hand watching the receding shore. I thought the scene very beautiful—in fact nothing could surpass it. As it was near sunset the great coast mountains on the west were glowing with all the colours of the rainbow, and a great peace seemed to fall upon everything. I turned to Jessie and saw that her eyes were filled with tears.

"Are you sorry, Jessie?" I inquired, putting my arm round her waist.

"No, Lance, I have you," she answered.

"But here I must break off, and bid farewell,
To day, each offering some new sight, or fraught
With some untried adventure."

* Long troughs for carrying water in different directions where the miners are at work. The water is often carried many miles from high elevations through mountains and over deep chasms. A company generally takes the work in hand and lets it out to the miners at so much per head by using branch sluices.