Ships on Fire

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Fate - Fire Afloat

The "Ocean Chief"

In 1862 the Ocean Chief arrived at Bluff under Captain T. Brown, with 4000 sheep. When entering Bluff Harbour on January 13, 1862 she was struck by a gale and driven ashore on Tiwai Point. The next day she was refloated and berthed at the wharf. In the middle of the night the crew set fire to her believing that they could get rich on the near-by gold fields. They also damaged the pumps and destroyed the fire hoses so the ship would never sail again. To save the wharf the Ocean Chief was towed away and scuttled in shallow water. A reward of £200 (pounds sterling) was offered by Captain Brown for evidence to prosecute the crew but nobody ever came forward. She burnt to the water line while the captain painted her last moments, that painting formed the cover of the book Bluff Harbour published in 1976 by John Hall-Jones.

Losses of ships and crews persist.

Incidences of fire on the water was fairly common in the days of the ocean greyhounds and the most dangerous fire afloat was in the hold of a vessel that had been smoldering for days, often started by spontaneous combustion of coal, grain, wool, and flax and was likely to happen if the bales were damp. Other causes of fire include carelessness, lightning strike, war and arson. In auxiliary steamships there was a risk of sparks from the funnel setting the sails alight but rigging arrangements were modified to reduce this danger.  Fire in the galley (cook house) was a common occurrence and often quickly extinguished. Examples of vessels destroyed by fire include 'Caribou' 1869, 'Corinth', 'Cospatrick' all at sea and the 'Beltana' at Lyttelton, NZL and the 'Lightning' at Geelong, AUS.

The Albasserwaard, took fire at sea

Otago Witness, April 15th 1882.
A short time since the ship Phasis, which arrived at Lyttelton, from Calcutta, brought a boats crew - the captain, second officer, and ten men -that the master of the Phasis had picked up at sea. They had belonged to a Dutch ship named the Albasserwaard, which took fire, and they had been compelled to abandon her. From their report the other boats crew had not been heard from, but the following taken from a Montrose (Scotland) paper, announces the arrival of the missing boat at Cape Town. There was therefore, no lives lost:- "Cape Town, January 15th - The Alblasserwaard, from Sheilds for Batavia was abandoned on fire November 28th, in latitude 35.5 N., 80E. Part of the crew are known to be safe. Nothing known of the remainder - captain, second officer, and 10 men." The news of the arrival at Lyttelton of the Captain and men had clearly not reached the Cape at the time the above was written.


Timaru Herald  Friday 27 September 1889
Thursday Island, Sept. 26. The Norwegian barque Alert struck on an unknown reef, in Gap Harbour. While the cargo was being removed she caught fire and sank. The crew are safe.


Evening Post, 6 January 1890, Page 2 FIRE ON THE STEAMER.
An outbreak of fire on board a vessel lying alongside one of our wharves is a very unusual occurrence. About a quarter-past 1 o'clock one of the engineers discovered that a fire had broken out in the engine storeroom, and an alarm was given on the ship's bell by Quartermaster Dudley. The city bells followed suit, and hundreds of people rushed out into the streets in order to ascertain the locale of the outbreak. When the ship's bell pealed forth Constable Doyle, who was on duty on the Railway Wharf, telephoned to the Manners-street Fire Brigade Station, and Captain Kemsley and his corps were soon on their way to the vessel. Meanwhile, the night watchmen on the wharves (Messrs. Hinsch, Wedde, and Tamm) ran the Harbour Board's hose reel into position alongside the Arawa. The room in which the fire broke out contained quantities of cotton waste, lamp wicks, and a little oil, and the flame were very fierce for a time. Capt. Stuart made preparations for casting the vessel off from the wharf, in case the flames obtained the mastery, but fortunately the necessity for taking such a course did not arise. Captain Stuart, of the Arawa, and his officers and crew went about the work of suppressing the fire in a methodical manner, and there is no doubt whatever that but for their great efforts the vessel would have stood a good show of being badly damaged. In a room adjoining that in which the fire occurred two large tanks of oil are stored, and considerable apprehension was felt for some time as to whether the flames would make their way through the bulkhead. Had they done so, there is little doubt that the oil would have been ignited and the vessel doomed. Up to the present there is no explanation as to how the fire originated.

Burning of the Blue Jacket 

Spontaneous combustion at sea in 1869. Cargo of flax.


Destroyed by fire

Burning of the Bunyip

The Southern Cross Wednesday 27th January 1864
Captain William Randell, master and owner of the ill-fated steamer Bunyip, whose destruction by fire on the Murray. The fire originated in the neighbourhood of the boiler and cook's galley and spread with most incredible rapidity. Mr E.B. Scott had managed to get three of the four females into the boat. A child perished in the flames. At Chowilla every attention was paid to the suffers. Miss L.E. Ansell, the only lady passenger to escape unhurt. Mrs Ivy- had her leg broken.


Otago Witness, 10 March 1898, Page 34
Shortly after midnight on the 2nd inst. a fire was discovered in the main hold of the Shaw, Savill, and Albion Company's ship Canterbury, lying at the extreme outer end oil the Victoria wharf, loading for London. The alarm was given by ringing the ship's bell. The Canterbury is an iron ship of 1245 tons. Arrived here from Liverpool, via Wellington on the 11th February, with some 839 tons of original cargo, of which 356 tons were dead weight. This was all discharged by the 26th February, and, some stiffening ballast having been previously taken in, she commenced to take in loading for London. Up to the 2nd second 1000 bales of wool had been taken on board

The cargo in this part of the ship consisted of wool and flax. Bale after bale of wool and flax, each of which, was charred, was turned over, wetered as sparingly as possible, and then tossed into the lower hold on top of the ballast. As to the origin of the fire, there can only be surmise. Captain Cuthbert, when asked for particulars, paid declined to give any information at present. The theory was that the fire was due to spontaneous combustion of the flax in the cargo.

City of Auckland

Daily Southern Cross, 25 January 1871, Page 2
The ship had nearly finished loading her cargo, and it was estimated that on Monday night there was on board wool, flax, gum, tallow, oil, &c, to the value of nearly £30,000. Forty passengers had been attracted by the superior accommodation of the vessel to take passage by her, and, if there is one consolatory consideration in the midst of this disaster, it is that they were spared the horrors of a fire at sea.  It was about one o'clock yesterday morning that the 'City of Auckland' was discovered to be on fire forward. Ship scuttled.


Cospatrick, moored, from London to New Zealand caught fire near Cape of Good Hope 1874, and 475 persons drowned. 

The Cutty Sark Fire
Statement From Richard Doughty, Chief Executive, Cutty Sark Trust

21st May 2007 - A fire broke out this morning at 4.45am this morning at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, which was put out by the London Fire Brigade by 06.28am. The ship was undergoing a major conservation project and everyone involved in the project is devastated. It was a quarter of the way through and so much work has already been carried out. However, 50% of the ship had been removed for conservation reasons, including the masts, the coach house and significant amount of planking, so it could have been a lot worse. We know that there is major damage to the tween decking and some of the ship ’s iron work has buckled but we have yet to assess the full extent of the damage.

When the original fabric of the ship is lost, the touch of the craftsman is lost, history is lost. To lose the timbers and iron frame of the ship is to lose not just maritime heritage but part of our national heritage. We must save as much as we can and hopefully the fire has left us much to still conserve.

This is a significant blow for us, and a major set back to the people working on the project. It will take us a significant amount of effort and funding to get the work back on track.£25m pounds was needed to preserve the ship; we had £18m pounds raised already and now we are appealing for help close the funding gap and to get us through the crisis and return the ship to its former glory.

One thing is certain - we will now redouble our efforts to save the world ’s most famous clipper ship. It has been rescued twice before, in 1922 and 1953 – this will be third time lucky. Now more than ever the Cutty Sark needs support from all her friends across the world.


Ship. Port of departure London to S. Australia. 1872 burnt at sea.


Otago Witness  Saturday 21 February 1862 page 4
The captain of the "Caesar Goddefroy," which arrived in Brisbane lately, reports he spoke on the 4th December, off the coast of Brazil, the American ship "C.E. Richardson," bound from London to Melbourne, the captain of which reported that the barque Eleanor, from London to Otago, New Zealand, had been burnt at sea, but that the crew and passengers had been saved by the C.R. Richardson, which was about to take them to the Cape of Good Hope.

Elizabeth Flemming

ELIZABETH FLEMING Official number 56173
Builder: Robert Duncan & Co, Port Glasgow. Built 1867, East Yard, Yard no 20.
Launched 24/01/1867
Iron Sailing Vessel 3 Masted Ship, 728 grt.
First port of register: Glasgow
P. Henderson & Co, Glasgow. 187.5 x 31.2 x 19.1ft. Cargo general.
Fate: Fire 09/08/1870
09/08/1870 registry closed after vessel destroyed by fire. However, the wreck was brought into Madeira and sold to a foreigner.

Wellington Independent, 11 October 1870, Page 2 BURNING OF THE SHIP ELIZABETH FLEMING.
The Elizabeth Fleming, an iron ship of some 800 tons, owned by Patrick Henderson & C0., left the Clyde for Rangoon with a cargo of coals, machinery, and general merchandise. She was in charge of Captain Anderson, who had under him a crew of 22 men ; and there was also on board Mrs Anderson and two children and a lady passenger. On July 14, in lat. 39.deg.N.  and long. 16deg. W., she was found to be on fire in the after hold, and on the following day she was abandoned by the crew, who were afterwards picked up by the ship Jerusalem, which arrived here yesterday. Captain Largie, of the Jerusalem, reports concerning the Elizabeth Fleming, that on July, 16, at 6 a.m., when the ship was going along with a light fair wind, smoke was observed about three points on the port bow. At half-past 2 a.m. the hull was made out from aloft, and the smoke proved to be from a ship on fire. Captain Largie immediately bore down to her, and picked up three boats, containing the captain and crew of the burning vessel. The ship had taken fire at 9 a.m. on July 14, and the crew left her at half-past 1 p.m., remaining by her, however, until rescued by the Jerusalem, when Captain Anderson desired to be landed with his crew at Madeira. The boats were hoisted on board, and at noon on the 15th the wreck, which was still burning, bore N.E. seven miles distant, lat. 87deg. 3min. N., and long. 16deg. 83min. W, On the 16th, at 9 p.m., Captain Largie shortened sail to lower topsails, the wind blowing hard from N.E. and no land to be seen. At 11 p.m. the weather was dead calm, and at daylight on the 17th it was still calm, and. hazy, and Madeira bore E. by N., distant about 12 miles. As the ship was drifting off the island the captain of the Elizabeth Fleming requested to leave with his boats, expressing himself as quite confident of being able to effect a landing. After breakfasting, they all got into the boats, and at 25 minutes past 9 a.m. left the ship " all well," and with a light wind from the S.W. The boats were supplied with sails, and were otherwise well found, and at half-past 11 a.m. they could be seen from the masthead close in shore. At dusk the island was lost sight of, and Captain Largie continued his voyage. Very little excepting the chronometer were saved from the burning vessel, the ladies escaping with only the clothes they had on at the time, and the carpenter bad his eyes very much scorched in his endeavors to keep down the fire. The ship Ben Nevis which also arrived here yesterday, passed close to the burning vessel on July 16, and found the ship Lansdowne alongside the derelict vessel stripping her. Captain M. Petrio signalled to the Lansdowne to know if he could render them any assistance, but no notice was taken of his inquiry. From papers received by this mail we learn that the Elizabeth Fleming was found by the Lansdowne, Captain Trewyn, on June 15, and was towed to the west side of the Island of Madeira, from whence she was towed into port by Her Majesty's gun-boat Dart; "and further that" the derelict ship Elizabeth Fleming was brought into Madeira by the Lansdowne, with masts, rigging, &0., burnt, hull in good order, cargo damaged. The object will be to bring the ship and cargo as they now are to Glasgow, and settle salvage in London, the owners of the Lansdowne concurring.—" Argus," 27th ult.

Fiery Star  - wool

Clipper ship, 1361 tons, of Black Ball Line, Captain W.H. Yule, Brisbane for London with a cargo of wool  departed 8 February 1865. Wool cargo found on fire 19 April, NW of Chathams. Ship made back for New Zealand. Captain and 71 took to lifeboats 23 February, leaving 18 volunteers aboard. All former were lost and latter rescued by the Dauntless 11 May 1865 and ship sank 12 May. Report published in the New Zealander 18 May 1865. 


Taranaki Herald, 11 June 1906, Page 4
London, June 9.— It is feared the Gothic's loss will exceed £200,000.
London, June l0.—The Shaw Savill Company state that the whole of the cargo in the Gothic No. 3 hold is damaged by fire and water, and slight damage was caused by the previous out break in hold No. 4. None of the meat cargo is damaged; The Gothic had among her cargo 4982 boxes of butter and 498 cases of cheese from Now Plymouth, and 6716 boxes of butter and: 1723 cases of cheese from Patea.  The Gothic is now on an even keel and the fire extinguished. All the cabins were destroyed and the saloon ruined.

Guy C. Goss

A vessel with perhaps a more chequered career than any other about Auckland, the former American barque Guy C. Goss, was used as a shingle loading platform - barge at Wharekawa, in the Firth of Thames, met her fate on February 9, 1935, when she caught fire and was burned almost to the water's edge. The vessel caught fire in the after end at about 10 p.m., and she was soon a raging furnace.

Destruction by fire of the "Henbury," from London within a few hours after her arrival in Otago. The origin of the fire is a mystery.

Hera, barque, 410, tons, Terkelson, burnt Pt Underwood

Daily Southern Cross, 18 March 1870, Page 3
Blenheim, March 12. The 'Hera' was discovered to be on fire between three and four. Soon after, the deck was all on fire. They slipped her cable and ran her ashore, leaving the cargo on land. Captain Terkerelson sent a message by boat to White's Bay, to telegraph for assistance, which reached at 3.30 by a party hence overland. The party was delayed, as the road was bad and difficult of access. The cargo is believed to be insured. The 'Hera' is inaccessible. The cause of the fire is unknown. March 13. The 'Hera' totally destroyed ; burnt below the copper. She heeled over towards deep water, to the port side, in 16 feet, broadside on. Nothing saved. The fire broke out aft, among the flax. No suspicion of wilful firing. A party from here went on the ranges which command a view of Port Underwood this afternoon, and could not see anything whatever remaining in the spot where the 'Hera' was lying yesterday evening. Flax is again blamed as the cause of the fire in the 'Hera.'

Daily Southern Cross, 22 March 1870, Page 4
An inquiry has been held at Blenheim, reference to the burning of the ' Hera.' It appeared that the fire was discovered before daybreak on Friday morning, in the after hold. The vessel was about half laden. The second mate was on deck all night, as the captain would not allow the men to be on watch lest they should run away, as Borne had done in Nelson. The 'Hera' had on board about 600 bales of wool, a quantity of grain, and a few bales of flax. The wool formed the ground tier, the flax above it, only a few bales being covered with canvas, and having no tarpaulins round any of them. The fire was raging with considerable force, and it was impossible to get into the hold. From the fact that the fire spread so rapidly as it did soon after the smoke was observed, and also from the fact that a good deal of the cargo in the lower part of the ship is not burned, it would appear as if the fire had originated on the top, and not from the middle of the stowed materials.


Evening Post, 22 November 1901, Page 6
The steamer Heathdene arrived this afternoon from New York via Albany, Dunedin, and Lyttelton. This is her first visit to Wellington, and the following particulars will prove interesting : — She is a turret ship of 3448 tons, and was built by Dayford & Co., of Sunderland, and launched in July last. Thence she proceeded to New York, and took in 6000 tons or cargo for, New Zealand ports and Sydney. She is commanded by Captain Milburn. Her chief officer is Mr. J. A. Sharp, and her second Mr. J. Adams ; while the chief engineer is Mr. J. Oglene. The steamer left New York on 15th August, and arrived at St. Vincent Island on 30th August. On the voyage she called at Capetown for a supply of bunker coal, but was unable to procure any, and had to steam on to Durban for fuel. On 27th. October it was found that one of the bunkers was on fire. Particulars of the fight with the fire have already been published. Albany was reached on 7th October, and after a further supply of bunker coal had been taken on board, the steamer sailed for Port Chalmers, where she arrived on 10th November. Until the whole of the cargo him been discharged no estimate of the damage done by the fire can be arrived at, but it is believed that the general cargo has not suffered to a great extent. At Wellington 1086 tons of cargo will be discharged, and the steamer will leave afterwards for Auckland and Sydney.


Daily Southern Cross, 17 March 1849
The barque Hero, scuttled a few days since at Geelong, to extinguish a fierce fire which broke out, it is supposed, by the ignition of the wool, was raised yesterday morning, and all hands are busily employed in landing the cargo. It is not known at present what extent of damage the vessel has received by the fire.—Port Phillip Herald, Feb. 19.


Hibernia, full rigged ship, 430 tons, Captain Wm Brend, Liverpool 6 December 1832 for Hobart Town with immigrants, caught fire in mid Atlantic and abandoned, with loss of 154.


India, barque, 490 tons, Captain Hugh Campbell, Greenock 24 June 1841 to Rio and Melbourne with Scots migrants, caught fire NE of Rio 19 July 1841 and forced to abandon ship with insufficient lifeboats. One sailor and 17 immigrants lost, but remaining 198 dramatically saved by the French whaler Roland speeding to the scene in the nick of time.  Many of the surviving migrants came on to Melbourne in the barque Grindlay, 368 tons, Captain Walter Grindlay, M& O. arrived Melbourne 22 October 1841.

Isabella Kerr

Star of India  a vessel of 1045 tons built in 1861 was under charter to the Shaw Savill Co.  and in 1874 sailed from London to Wellington. Just before Cape of Good Hope fell in with a ship on fire, She was the Isabella Kerr, bound from England to Calcutta with coal.  Supplied food and water. She burned in the Indian Ocean. Her crew were rescued by a tea clipper.


Ship. Port of departure, London for N.S.W. 1874 burnt in River Thames.

Leading Wind

Timaru Herald  Saturday 17 January 1891 pg 3
Another Flax Ship on Fire. Auckland, Jan. 23 1891
At midnight a fire was discovered on the American ship Leading Wind, lying alongside No. 2 Jetty, Quay Street, where she had for the past fortnight loading flax and gum for New York, under charter to the New Zealand Shipping Company. She had 500 tons of flax on board, (3,500 bales of flax and 7000 cases kauri gum). The Leading Wind was scuttled and sunk in 27 feet water, and as the tide rises the fire is being extinguished.

 Mary Shepherd

Ship, port of departure: London, 1871, burnt Hobson's Bay.

Merope - Lost by fire near UK.

Merope, clipper ship, 1050 tons, under Captain Thomas, she loaded 654 bales wool, 197 casks tallow, 3001 bales of flax, etc. She left Wellington on April 11 and was within two miles of the Western Islands, when cargo fired spontaneously. The fire gained a rapid hold of the ship. Vessel abandoned and launched only two boats, the others already destroyed. The crew were rescued by the American ship Servia on June 27th.

Evening Post, 21 July 1890, Page 2
London, 12th July. The American ship Bobock has arrived at Queenstown with a portion of the crew of the Merope, bound from New Zealand to London, on board. On the 26th June the Bobock found the Merope in flames and burnt nearly to the water's edge. The rest of the crew are on board an American ship bound to Hull.
-15th July. The captain and eleven of the crew of the ship Merope were landed at Deal. The vessel's cargo having fired spontaneously near the Azores, the crew took to the boats and were rescued. The Merope was bound from Wellington. The Merope was a composite barque of 1051 tons register. She was built at Sunderland by Oswald and Co. in April, 1870, and is owned by the Shaw Savill and Albion Company. Her dimensions were — Length, 203 ft 3in ; breadth, 35ft in ; depth, 20ft 5in. She left Wellington for London on 4th April, with the following cargo:— 654 bales wool and skins, 197 casks tallow, 45 sacks hides, and 3001 bales flax. She was under command of Captain Thomas.


Montmorency - in the harbour, Napier, 1867

In the forehold, where the fire originated, there were casks of Stockholm tar, coal tar, oil, turpentine, pitch, resin, 200 or 300 boxes of candles, 10 or 12 casks of cook's slush, and about fifty boxes of pipes. Nearly all there was inflammable. The spirits were not kept in the forehold.

"Mr Fawkes, the ship is on fire"

Mahomed Shah, bound from London to New Zealand

Taranaki Herald, 22 June 1853, Page 1 BURNING OF THE MAHOMED SHAH.
The Ellen brig, from the Mauritius, when in lat. 40 10 S, and long 118 10 E, took on board the crew and passengers of the barque Mahomed Shah, bound from London to New Zealand, the said ship bring abandoned on fire. The following are the list of the passengers thus providentially saved : Mr. & Mrs. Jeffries, Mr. & Mrs. Hall & three children, Messrs. Herbert, Oswald, Curtis, Smith, Hall and, Mrs. Wheeldon, sen., Mr. and Mrs. Wheeldon, jun, Mrs. Roddy, Mr. & Mrs. Powell & 7 children, Mr. & Mrs. Challis & one child, Mary Knowler, Mr. W. Drummond, Ann Williams, But few particulars have yet been ascertained inspecting the fate of this unfortunate vessel. Before being so providentially fallen in with by the Ellen, the Mahomed Shah had been on fire for two days, but the conflagration had been kept under in a smouldering state by battening down the hatchways, &c. The escape of the passengers and crew was attended with no other casualty than the loss of every article of property, excepting that upon their persons, belonging to them. The fire is supposed to have originated in spontaneous combustion, as from its breaking out in the lower hold, no other probable cause can be attributed.

NZ Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian, 4 June 1853, Page 2
On the 19th April in lat. 40 deg. 10' S. and long. 118 deg. 10' E., the Ellen took on board the crew and passengers of the barque Mahomed Shah, 615 tons, Capt. Minter, from Firlay, London, 16th January, one of Messrs. Willis  & Co.'s vessels, bound for Port Cooper and to Nelson, New Zealand ; the said ship having been abandoned through fire. Passengers— 10 males, 9 females, 11 children, and Dr. H. Schenk, surgeon, Capt. W. Winter, Mr. T. Burgess, first mate, Mr. Thomas Robertson, second ditto, and 23 seamen.  Has been burned , off Van Diemen's Land. Fortunately there were no lives lost ; the mails and cargo, however, are said to be totally destroyed.   Crew - 23 seamen— Thomas Burgess, first mate, T. Robertson, second do.', D. Robb, Myers, W. Fernie, R. Clark, W. Evans, T. Ryan, S. Murphy, D. Virtue, W. Downes, W. Millings, G. Goldtrap, C. Blackburn, Henry. M'Dougall (injured -in overhauling the davit tackle fall, in lowering the boat, had the tips of two of his fingers on his right hand completely smashed, by being jammed in the block), F. Listings, F. Jackson, W. Heane, F. Clark. Built in Moulamein of teak, with the hull being coppered.  A sum of £56 has been collected in Hobarton to enable seven of the steerage passengers of this unfortunate vessel to proceed to New Zealand, to join their relatives there. The remainder of the passengers preferred remaining in the colony, and we understand that they have already obtained suitable engagements."

New Orleans

Timaru Herald January 1 1885 page 2
On Dec. 12 December 1884 the steamer Glanworth arrived at Brisbane from the north, brought Herr Gaune, the mate and four seaman of the German barque the New Orleans left Hamburg on July 21 under command of her owner, Captain Bergmann, with one passenger named Olesen, and a full cargo. 53 days dense smoke was observed issuing from the after hatch. Three hours after the fire was discovered the ship was abandoned. On the morning of the 17 the mates boat, hailed a ship. The vessel proved to be the Scottish Bard, which landed them at Townsville, whence they came on to Brisbane. The captain, the passenger, and the remaining four seaman got into the longboat, which was very old and leaky.


A whaler bark of New Bedford. She was captured and burned by the raider Shenandoah in 25 June 1865

Ocean Chief

Otago Witness February 8 1862 page 4
Destruction of the "Ocean Chief" by fire at the Bluff Harbour. Total loss. From the Southern News, Jan. 25.
On Thursday morning a dense smoke was seen to arise from Bluff Harbour. It continued throughput the day, and a resident observed to a friend, more in joke than in earnest, "There's a ship on fire at the Bluff" About ten p.m. M. Thomson (of the firm of Thompson and Crispe, for whom the Ocean Chief had brought so large a cargo of sheep), accompanied by Capt. John Howell of Jacob's River, arrived in Invercargill with the astonishing intelligence that the noble vessel had been maliciously set on fire the previous night - that all efforts to extinguish the flames had been unavailing - and that she was burnt down to her copper. 
    That this was the act of an incendiary, or incendiaries - a deep laid conspiracy-was proved by the manner in which the force and other pumps and hose had been bored and cut so as to render them useless. 

It is supposed that the cause of this wicked act was a desire on the part of some of the crew to desert; and it is a strange circumstance that the Ocean Chief should have thus destroyed so soon after the occurrences of three similar disasters in the harbours of Port Jackson and Hobson's Bay.

Capt. T. Brown wrote a letter to inform Capt. A.J. Elles, Collector of "Her Majesty's Customs, Invercargill" Mr Thompson, accompanied Capt. Morris and Mr W.H. Pearson and some additional policemen to the Bluff. Mr Price, Resident Magistrate proceeded to the Bluff. Only some stores were saved.

Otago Witness  February 15 1862 page 5
Burning of the "Ocean Chief," and the wreck of the "Genevieve."

The fine ship "Ocean Chief," of the Black Ball Line, was destroyed by fire in Bluff Harbor, on the 23rd January. She was discovered to be on fire about midnight on the 22nd, and in spite of all that could be done to save her she was burnt to the water's edge. It took twenty minutes to repair the pumps but by that tome it was two late. The ship was therefore scuttled and her cables slipped so as to allow her to go on shore and save blocking the harbor. An inquest was held, and the jury found the ship had willfully set fire to, but that they had not sufficient evidence to say by whom. 

Omar Pascha

She was bound from Moreton Bay to London in 1869 and about mid Atlantic the ship was found to be on fire, and all hands about 160 in number were taken aboard a little Italian barque, bound from Palermo, crew of eleven, to New York. The captain, Captain Grey, R.N.R., was a noted salt water dandy, and had everything ship-shape and Bristol fashion. He used to keep up gun drill and boat drill was on a weekly bases, but a genuine drill, every boat being lowered into the water and pulled for a stretch from the ship's side. The result was the Omar Pascha boats were tight as a drum. The Italian barque was low on drinking water but there were plenty of oranges on board. The Omar Pascha sank by the stern. Before she finally went down every rat in the ship seemed to have clambered up into the bow, and there appeared to be millions of them.  The Italian barque soon fell in with the large Zealandia loaded with guano bound from Callao to Cork and transferred the Omar Pascha people. When the Zealandia arrived at Cork she signalled to a ship there, "We have on board passengers and crew of the Omar Pascha, burned at sea." and the reply "And we have on board the passengers and crew of the ship Blue Jacket, burned at sea."

Otaki Fire 1909 in cargo hold

Paparoa  Cargo on fire Dec. 1908 -butter

The Times, Tuesday, Dec 29, 1908; pg. 12
From St. Vincent, Cape Verde, that the New Zealand Steamship Company's steamer Paparoa, bound from Wellington to London with a cargo consisting of wool, has put in there with a fire in No. 3 hold. The hold has been flooded to extinguish the outbreak. The Paparoa is a vessel of 6,563 tons, built in 1899, and valued at £70,000.  Dec. 31. The fire has been extinguished, contained over 850 tons butter. The value of butter is at 1s a pond, represents £95,000. 'tween decks 450 tons of cheese. Jan 9. The Paparoa arrived at Plymouth yesterday. The fire in the forehold, where a hundred tons of butter was stored.

The Pelorus on fire in the Bay of Biscay

The Southern Cross Tuesday 29th Dec. 1863
The screw steam corvette Pelorus, 21, Captain Boys, which left Plymouth on Thursday last, the 15th, for the East Indies and China. When she was 320 miles SE half west of the Lizard Point, the chief engineer, Mr James W. Steil, reported to the captain that the foremost starboard boiler was red hot, and that the felt over it was on fire. That part of the main deck immediately contiguous was at once scuttled in two places, so as to allow water to pass on and behind the boiler, and by 9 pm the boiler was completely cooled down. All the boats were lowered, and every other arrangement made for the safety of the crew, lest it should be necessary to abandon the Pelorus. The boiler is so much injured that it must be removed. The vessel turned back under canvas to Plymouth were the powder and shell will be at once removed. The Kingston values of the corvette are damaged. During ten fire a full rigged ship was observed five miles distant on the port tack, outward bound. Three distress guns were fired, and rockets and blue lights were exhibited, but with no response accepting from the report of a single gun.. It is supposed that she was a Federal merchant ship, and that she mistook the Pelorus for a Confederate ship of war.


Wanganui Herald, 7 June 1906, Page 5
The underwriters have also received cables reporting a fire in No. 4 hold of the steamer Perthshire. Part of the cargo was jettisoned.

Evening Post, 30 August 1906, Page 2
EVIDENCE BEFORE THE COMMISSION. The commission which is investigating the causes of fires on ships continued its sitting yesterday afternoon Captain Jaggard, master of the Ruapehu, was called. He had, he said, had only one case of hot wool on a ship. That was on the Paparoa, shipped at Auckland. The bands were found to be very hot on arrival at Wellington. He also remembered a shipment at Lyttelton -which, heated and had to be taken out. He did not know where that wool came from. Some of them were so hot that a man could not bear his hand on the bands. Captain Blackburne : It's, significant that the Perthshire, Waimate, and Gothic which caught fire, were loading in Wellington from 10th to 21st April, and that on the first two of those days there was drizzling rain, and on the third day showers and hard squalls. It looks as though there was some common cause : either during baling or shipping — that is, if the fires occurred among the wool put in here.

Piako (twice)

The Piako is a clipper-built iron vessel, launched from the yard of Messrs Alexander Stephen and Sons in 1877, and registering 1075 tons. She has made two made two successful voyages to and from the Colony, and on this occasion was on her third voyage. The ship left Plymouth, bound to Lyttelton, on the morning of October 11th, under command of Captain W. B. Boyd, being well officered, manned, and equipped. Second officer, Mr Hazlewood. Besides a cargo of about 1050 tons, she had 288 emigrants on board. Piako, full rigged ship, 1075 tons, of New Zealand Shipping Company. In 1878, one month after leaving London to Lyttelton, with 288 immigrants, Captain Boyd, smoke was reported issuing from the lower fore-hatch. Within six minutes of the fire alarm flames were seen about 20 feet abaft the foremost tier of cargo, and a hose was playing on the spot. Within two minutes the dense smoke drove the men on deck, and the hatches were clapped, and wet blankets were spread over everything. All boats were ordered out and some stores were put into them. A signal of distress flown and the Loch Doon, bore up, in three hours passengers transferred. After two day the ship out into Pernambuco for stores and a few hours later the Loch Doon came in. The ship was sunk, but raised again three days afterwards without any difficulty. Sailing from Pernambuco on Dec. 28, the Piako reached Lyttelton on March 5 1879, 145 days from Plymouth. The NZ Government had to compensate the passengers for loss of most of their belongings. A letter addressed from Cocoanut Island, Pernambuco, and written by Mr. T. Beaufoy Green, on behalf of the 280 emigrants rescued from the burning ship Piako by the barque Loch Doon, and now under his charge on that island during the refitting of the Piako.  They arrived off Pernambuco on November 13, just astern of the Piako, which was still on fire, and on the 15th they were transferred from the barque to Cocoanut Island. The fire was confined to the cargo in the forehold principally, and the ship was practically uninjured.

 Departed London 23 October 1879 for Lyttelton, arrived 16 January 1880. There was an explosion in the rocket store and fire aboard 25 December 1879 but soon extinguished.

Pitcairn Island

A barque of 1359 tons built in 1888 at Glasgow. Owned by Stuart Bros. of Glasgow. On March 19 1906 she left Wellington in command of Captain H.J. Fletcher, via Cape Horn, for London, with a cargo of wool and flax. When 1400 miles west of the Horn she was found to be on fire aft. Half naked men manned the pumps and formed a bucket brigade but were gradually driven back. The pitch boiled from the wooden deck. Hatches had to be closed down to save the crew from the blinding volumes of smoke. The crew abandon her on May 3rd eight hours after the fire was discovered.  The captain and 12 of the crew landed at Maullin on the coast of South America a foresight later. The mates boat with eight crew was not heard of again. The Norfolk Island, owned by the same firm, was also burned at sea.

Otago Witness, 27 February 1907, Page 21
Wellington, February 22. The Wool Fires Commission sat here last evening to obtain information concerning the fire on the barque Pitcairn Island, abandoned on the voyage from Wellington to London. William Waddilove, a survivor, was the first witness. He deposed that prior to leaving Wellington for Dunedin the vessel loaded a considerable quantity of tow or, flax. He saw a lot of treacle-coloured stuff in the ship's bilge. This was bailed out with buckets, and it stained witness hands, but did not burn him. He was informed it was some kind of sheep dip. He did not know of any ascetic acid on the vessel. Witness went on to say that about a fortnight before the fire a permanent hatchway vas opened with difficulty and lanterns taken down went out. Claude R. Lambert, another survivor, stated that about 700 bales of tow were taken on board, but the holds were thoroughly clean and free from water.


Timaru Herald, 19 February 1883, Page 2
By the last mail the New Zealand Shipping Company received the following information regarding the fire on board the Rangitikei About 8 p.m. on November 7th, when the vessel was in latitude 17 deg 15 mm 6outh and longitude 30 deg 1 mm west, a fire was discovered m the starboard wing of the 'tween decks, a little abaft the mainmast. The hatches were at once closed, and holes cut m the upper deck, through which the hose was brought to play on the flames. After about half an hour i pumping the flames were extinguished, and a hole was made m the deck large enough for a man to go down and ascertain the extent of the damage. The burnt wool was then brought up m iron buckets and thrown overboard. The total quantity lost was eight bales. It was found that the fire had begin near the top of the cargo in a quantity of cotton clippings shipped by the Kaiapo Woollen Company. The damage done to the other portions of the cargo was trifling.


The Times, Friday, Oct 24, 1890; pg. 8
A telegram from Dunedin yesterday stated that the British barque Ranee took fire in port and was scuttled in 30ft of water and has been refloated.


Ship, Renown, 316 tons of Sydney, Wm Hosking. Left Sydney 14 April 1842 for Liv. Caught fire in South Atlantic, 25 June 1842. Steered for Rio. transferred passengers to another ship27 June. Extinguished fire 28 June and reached harbour of Rio safely. Account in Melbourne Times 1 October 1842


Timaru Herald, 18 October 1895, Page 2
One man's loss is another's gain. The New Zealand Shipping Company has suffered loss by a fire on the steamer Rimutaka. This is to be a gain to the woodworkers of Timaru, as twenty joiners are advertised for to work day and night while the steamer is in port, from this morning.

Sarah Sands

Daily Southern Cross, 5 February 1858
The troopship Sarah Sands, entirely burnt as sea, Captain Castles, Mr Walsh, first officer; Mr Tickle, second officer, Mr Fraser, chief officer, and Mr Long, midshipman. There were 128 barrels of gunpowder on board in the after part of the vessel, just where the fire broke out. Brave fellows succeeded in throwing all this powder overboard, with the exception of one barrel . It was the explosion of this barrel which caused such consternation. The colours of the 54th Regiment were only saved after great difficulty. Near Mauritius.

 Sophia & Eliza - whaler set on fire as a hazard to shipping

Sydney Shipping Gazette Volume II, No. 42 1845 Saturday January, 4,1845
October 8, lat. 18S long. 27W, soon after midnight, an American whaling barque the Sophia and Eliza came in collision with the Wellington, and was so much damaged, that it was necessary to abandon her, and having been abandoned without injury to any one, she was set fire to and destroyed. The captain and crew, twenty-six in number, were taken on board the Wellington.

Bark Wellington left Portsmouth on the 18 August 1844 to Cape of Good Hope 28 October. In collision 8 October in South Atlantic with American whaling bark Sophia & Eliza; so badly damaged that crew taken off by Wellington and whaler set on fire as a hazard to navigation. SMH 6 January 1845.


West Coast Times, 28 December 1904, Page 2
Perth, Dec 27. The fire on the Aberdeen liner Sophocles bound from Sydney to London was only extinguished after the vessel was flooded. Eight thousand carcasses of mutton and 2500 cases of butter were rendered absolutely useless. The damage was estimated at £20,000. The fire on the Sophocles originated in the refrigerating, storeroom abaft the refrigerating engine room. It had a strong hold when discovered, and spread to No. 4 insulating chamber, the charcoal fumes preventing, efforts to cope with the flames. The captain and several of the engineers were prostrated owing to inhaling them. The whole of the insulated portion of the bulkhead was destroyed. The burnt storeroom contained seventy cylinders of carbonic acid gas. The water was kept playing on them all the time to prevent an explosion.

Stracathro - extinguished


Strathallan, RMS, 23722 tons, of P&O, torpedoed by German sub  U562 off Oran, North Africa 21 December 1942. Fire onboard and some 3000 men being taken off  her before the troopship sank

American Whaling Ship Superior

Otago Witness Saturday February 9 1861 page 4
Awful massacre of the Crew of the American Whaling Ship Superior.
I anchored at Rubiana (Solomon Islands), on the 10th of November, and on the following day the schooner Ariel, Slate, master, arrived at the same place, having touched Treasury Island three days previously. The mate of the Ariel told me that he had reason to believe that the American whaling ship Superior, of New Bedford, Woods, master, had been taken at the last named place. On coming to my boat, gave me the dreadful intelligence that the whole of the crew of the Superior, with the exception of himself and five others, had been murdered, and the ship burnt.


The West Australian Friday 23 September 1892 page 4
Auckland, Sept. 22. A fire broke out on the ship Timaru, lying in the Auckland harbour. The origin was spontaneous combustion of oil and charcoal, from which the vessels insulators, were constructed. Only slight damage resulted.

Turakina - butter

The Times, Thursday, Mar 06, 1913; pg. 18; Fire In A Large New Zealand Liner.
The Turakina, one of the steamers of the New Zealand Shipping Company, left Wellington on February 6 her passenger list was far from fill. She called at Rio de Janeiro, as is customary with these vessels between the Months of March and June, merely in order that passengers might have an opportunity of seeing the Brazillian capital and its wonderful harbour.  She left for Plymouth, temperatures were being taken in the coal in the cross bunkers, it was found to be on fire and smoke was found to be issuing from No. 3 hold. The hold was full of butter and 'tween decks with cheese. The Government fire brigade was flooding the hold and the passengers would have to be taken ashore.  Later the vessel was beached. The cargo was worth £450,000. The Turakina is a twin-screw steamer of 7,816 tons, built by Hawthorn, Leslie and Co. (Limited) in 1902. The triple-screw steamer Rotorua, 11,000 tons, was built in 1910, and the twin-screw steamers Remuera and Ruahine, each of about 11,000 tons, built in 1911 and 1909 respectively.


Hawera & Normanby Star, 4 December 1901, Page 2
Wellington, December 4. A telephone message from Napier early this morning states that the New Zealand Shipping Company's steamer Waimate is on fire in the roadstead. The fire brigade went out in a tug to render assistance.
NAPIER, December 10. The finding of the Court in the Magisterial Inquiry re the Waimate fire, states that the fire originated in the flax shipped at Wellington, and every means was adopted to suppress the outbreak.

Otago Witness, 13 June 1906, Page 19
New Zealand Flax UNDER SUSPICION. London, June 8.
The Waimate has arrived at Plymouth. The fire was intermittent for 10 days. It is believed that these fires, including that on the Perthshire, originated among the flax included in the cargoes. The Waimate proceeds to London. The fire broke out in the afterhold and was extinguished by the Clayton fire extinguisher. It is anticipated that only slight damage has been done. A sulphur dioxide extinguisher kept the Waimate's fire under for ten days, enabling her to proceed to London.

White Rose - Captain died, put into Mauritius for repair, fire in hold, put out, fever.

The White Rose, a full rigged ship,1557 tons, built 1874, Captain Thorpe, sailed from London 14 Feb. 1875 to Plymouth to pick up her 166 passengers then on 14 April the captain was found dead in his bunk (apoplexy (stroke)). Chief Officer Best took command. The ship hit rough weather, as she had alot of railway material in her hold, it constantly moved in the rough weather also her mast was damaged. The White Rose pulled into Port Louis, Mauritius for repairs on 22 May and sailed again 10 June. Again hit rough weather then on 9 July and a fire broke out amongst the cargo but was put out. There were six births (two being stillborn). Three deaths occurred (two children, one adult). When the vessel left Mauritius tropical fever and ague (used to define the recurring fever & chills of malarial infection) existed and during the voyage one man died from fever and plague. When the vessel reached Lyttelton there was a apparently no disease on board but the authorities decided to land the passengers at Ripa Island. They were released after a stay of seven days.

William Brown

Barque, c450tons, Barclay, London 5 September 1861 for Nelson. Caught fire near Madeira 2 October 1861. Ship abandoned and survivors picked up by passing brig.

Daily Southern Cross, 31 December 1861, Page 4
Destruction op a New Zealand Packet ship by Fire. The loss of the London and New Zealand passenger ship 'William Brown,' Captain Barclay, commander, was made known in London on the 19th October by the arrival of one of the passengers The ill-fated vessel was totally destroyed by me on the night of the 2nd of October, in latitude 36 44, longitude 12 3 W., near the Western Islands, and it is gratifying to state that, with the exception of one man, the steward, who is supposed to have been suffocated, the whole of the passengers and crew were saved. The 'William Brown' was a barque rigged vessel, about 500 tons, classed Al at Lloyd's, and was taken up by Messrs Shaw and Savill, the New Zealand emigration agents and brokers, Leadenhall street, for a voyage to New Plymouth. She had a general cargo of merchandise, and some eleven or twelve first class and steerage passengers She sailed from Gravesend about the 7th of September, and all appealed to have gone well with the ship until about six. o'clock on the evening of the 2nd of October, when she had reached the above position. It was then discovered that a fire had broken out in her forepart, supposed to be by the bursting of some tins of oil or turpentine stowed under the forecastle. The officers and crew went down in the hope of being able to stifle the flames, but they were unable to get near the seat of mischief. The captain and crew made another effort to extinguish the fire, and after hours of vigorous exertion it was apparent that the entire deduction of the ship was inevitable, and that no time was to be lost in abandoning her. The boats ye ordered out, but, owing to a heavy cross sea that was running, there was great difficulty in lowering them and keeping them clear of the ship. The crew succeeded in getting them down, and the ship was finally abandoned at eleven o'clock. The whole of the crew and passengers were safely got in boats. About one o'clock in the morning a brig was observed which proved to be the Swedish ship "He_ling Charlotte" of Stockholm, Captain J.A. __lenglien, which was on her voyage to Rio. They were landed at Madeira. The loss is estimated at 30,000.

The New York Herald, November 30, 1861; pg. 10; col B
Marine Disasters Marine Disasters for the Month of November, and a Synopsis of the Disasters for the past Ten Months: 4 Nov. 1861, William Brown, fire, from London to New Zealand, 840 tons

One of the most extraordinary and most disgraceful records in the annals of shipping.  

The Star, August 12 1895. On June 7, a small vessel, the Why Not, of Brixham, left the French seaport of St Brieux, bound for Jersey with twenty passengers, men and women. On the following day a fire broke out in the hold. The passengers were not only free from panic, but set to work with a will to assist in fighting the fire. While this work was going on, a plot was conceived and put into execution. A bucket was dropped overboard, as if by accident, and a boat was lowered to recover it. No sooner had this boat - the only one- been launched, then captain and crew jumped into it and pulled away, leaving the passengers to their fate. One man jumped into the sea, swam after the boat, and was taken into it, though most unwillingly. As he afterwards related, "he believed they would have liked to throw him overboard." In the course of a few hours the boat landed at Erquy, where the captain - positively deprecated the idea of sending help, on the ground that it would be a useless thing to do.

Those who had been so heartlessly abandoned on board the Why Not, fortunately did not "lose their heads." A man named Jean Burlot, though utterly ignorant of seamanship, volunteered to steer the vessel, and in the end succeeded in threading a way through dangerous reefs and stranding the vessel on the beach at Erquy. Another passenger, Yves Marie Tremel, who had his eyes scorched by the hot smoke, was the look-out. Tremel called to me how to turn the tiller - right or left. When the moon rose, we steered straight towards her. We encouraged the women to pray and the men to work, but the fire made steady progress. A fishing boat came to our rescue and we all landed much exhausted. 

The Government brig, Victoria

The New Zealander Saturday December 6th 1845
The Government brig, Victoria, was struck by lightning in Cook's Straits on the 28th November, the for-topgallant sail was burnt, and four men knocked down, but were uninjured.

Zealandia - set on fire in Darwin air raid and sank.

Zealandia TSS, 6660 tons built in 1910 of Huddart, Parker & Co., as a war transport  She made the first seaboard evacuations from Darwin 20 December 1942 sailing for Sydney with 207 women and 357 children. By 19 February 1942 she was back in Darwin and was one of the last ships bombed by the Japs that day, caught fire and sank. Three lives lost.

References: Log of Logs; White Wings; Newspapers

Evening Post, 4 August 1906, Page 12
It is curious to note, says an English paper, how frequently marine casualties occur in groups, how — so to speak — there is a run on one particular species of disaster. At one time it will be nitrate ships that go badly, at another grain steamers will have a rough time; some years ago fires on cotton steamers were a feature of the Loss Book; last winter steam dredgers earned for themselves the bad opinion of underwriters. Now it is the turn of wool ships from Australia and New Zealand. It is but a short time since the sailing ship Pitcairn Island was lost by fire at sea, for which disaster underwriters had to pay out something like £100,000. Next the s.s. Waimate was reported put into Teneriffe with cargo burning. It was thought that the fire had been extinguished, but when she had been three days out from the Canaries another outbreak was observed in No. 4 hold. This steamer has just arrived at Plymouth, and the captain reports that the wool consigned to London had been smouldering off and on for ten days. The s.s. Perthshire was another similar case, and now we have the trouble of the s.s. Gothic, which also arrived at Plymouth with her wool cargo on fire, and which had to be beached and filled before the fire could be extinguished. It is impossible to say as yet what the claim is likely to amount to, but as the hull is covered for £80,000, and the cargo for anything between £100,000 and £150,000, it is sure to be very considerable. These repeated disasters, for which at present no cause can be assigned, have occasioned the gravest alarm at Lloyd's. Several other steamers and ships in which underwriters are heavily interested, are now on voyage home, and brokers have been busy during the last few days in offering reinsurances on behalf of those who wish to lighten their lines.