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Wreck of the s.s. Tararua
29 April 1881
Death on the Southland shore.
Passengers & Crew
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"My God, she's ashore!"
said the Captain and he at once gave orders to call all on board and clear away the boats.
The Union Company s.s. Tararua, built and engined by Messrs Gourlay Bros. & Co. Dundee in Scotland in 1864, of 563 tons, & 155 hp nominal, struck the Otara reef, to the north of Waipapa Point, and to the south of Slope Point, a few miles north of Toi-Tois, the entrance of the Mataura river, 35 miles from Wyndham, Southland, New Zealand in fair weather off about half a mile from shore at 5 o'clock, in the morning 29 April 1881 with the loss of 131 lives (carrying 112 passengers and a crew of 40 plus live geese and pigs) from Port Chalmers to Melbourne via Bluff/Hobart. She was travelling from Port Chalmers to Bluff. Port Chalmers is Dunedin's port. 'The night was dark but clear overhead; a haze hung over the land, the loom of which could be seen, but no distinguishing features could be discerned'. The vessel was close to shore. Three boats were got out but were swamped. One got away to seaward and one came ashore, landing five or six men. The steamer parted amidships and a large number of those on board perished. The distance from the Bluff to Otara Reef is 26 miles.
Dunedin, April 30
A terrible sea arose with flood tide, after the Tararua struck on the reef, breaking over and sweeping her from stern to bows. The vessel filled immediately after striking. The boats were launched, but only succeeded in landing seven steerage passengers and six seaman. The remainder of the passengers took to the rigging and bows, but numbers were washed off by each succeeding sea, while others, who attempted to reach the shore by the aid of pieces of wood and life-bouys, were drowned in the surf. It was quite impossible to assist the poor creatures from shore, although they were in sight. The vessel and cargo broke up, and the beach was strewn with wreckage. Only one person came ashore after the boats were found useless. The vessel parted amidships towards the afternoon. At 2.35 this morning she became a total wreck, the masts breaking, and the hull went over on her board side, drowning all who remained on board.
This locality has been a somewhat notorious one for accidents to shipping. The coastline resents a series of jutting points and bights all the way from the Nuggets to the Waipapa Point where there is a sudden sweep inland. The Otara reef is a dangerous reef runs out some distance from shore. The barque William Akers, 299 ton, was wrecked at Waipapa Point on 12th December 1876, eight lives out of eleven were lost. Only three bodies were found and two of them were not got till six weeks after the occurrence. The steamer Coomerang nearly had to leave her bones some six years ago and Easby also had a misadventure in the same neighbourhood each struck on it some years ago, but got off. The Otago steamer, 642 tons, en route Dunedin to Melbourne, sank on 4th December 1876 some miles further north, at Chasland's Mistake, the Surat a few miles still further north, two bays, south of Nugget Point. The Star of Erin was lost February 1891 in the same area.
"I have done all I can. I have no boats available. The tide will be out in another half hour, and I will try to do the best I can" "Oh God! what shall we do now." Captain Garrard's exclamation when all hope was lost. A heavy sea came and carried away the dingy and cutter.
First Mate's statement
I turned in at 4 a.m., the captain and second mate being on deck. From two to four had been steering W.S.W. The weather was hazy over the land. The captain came on deck and altered course, given the order to alter the course to W. I was asleep when the ship struck. I rushed on deck. The engines were reserved but to no use. The vessel had struck aft, unshipped the rudder, broke the propeller, and the engines were of no use. All hands were called to clear the boats. Ten minutes after the engines stopped the ship was full of water. At 5.30a.m. the first boat was lowered with the second mate in charge, four sailors, and one passenger as a crew to try for a landing. One of the passengers, Lawrence, a young man, when about half way swam ashore, having previously promised if successful, to remain and help in landing the passengers. He did so after finding his way to Brunton's and causing to be sent the first telegraph message per station hand, Charles Gibb, who rode 35 miles to Wyndham by 12.30. Another attempt at landing passengers was made, but of five two were drowned in the surf. Another boat was lowered, the carpenter being sent with it to see if a landing was practicable on the reef. His report was unsatisfactory. The second mate was sent and tried a landing on the reef, without success. One man was lost. The captain next sent the first mate in charge of a boat containing three passengers and a boy, all whom landed safely except the boy (a brass cleaner, lamp cleaner) who was drowned. (the boy, Colin Campbell, son of one of the lighters at Port Chalmers, and was some three years since in the employ of our shipping reporter as messenger) The boat capsized and opened at both ends rendering her useless. Repairs were made by men ashore, but the sea was too heavily to launch her. The passengers were in the rigging and clustered on the forecastle head, the sea breaking over heavily. At 2.30 p.m. a heavy sea washed several passengers (women and children overboard, and after that they dropped off one by one.
A survivor, a Maltese, the cook, was one who was washed over by that big wave. He swam bravely for his own life and tired to rescue a girl. He got ashore, after a long swim northwards. The girl he tried to save was a Tasmanian native, known to the chief mate as bailing from New Norfolk in that colony, having come on board at Auckland. He states the captain got all the ladies out of the smoking-house to the forecastle head, all being there until 2.30, when a sea washed them off. The captain displayed coolness to the last.
After night came on cries were heard on shore, and then cheers, as a light, supposed to be of the Kakanui, was seen; then a great crash, and then only the rolling of the surf. At daylight the steamer was seen heeled over. The Hawea, Kakanui, and the ketch Prince Rupert were in the offing. The latter picked up the second mate's boat. A portion of the mail bags were picked up at sea and one child's body by the Kakanui.
Warren, second steward on the Tararua had a twin brother on the Hawea, and
this poor young man's distress of mind can easily be imagined
Two brave swimmers battled for life on a plank. One left the plank at the edge of the surf and came in with a roller. He was seen struggling within a few yards of the shore, and was then taken out by the back drift. The reef extends seven miles out.
Each lifeboat was supposed to carry twenty to thirty each.
Mr Hill's statement
Captain Garrard succeeded in restoring order. He put the second mate in charge of the boat. It went round to the starboard (the leeside), and the men who could swim were al-o placed in her, in order that they might carry intelligence to land. The boat succeeded in getting near shore, and a man then swam ashore. The boat returned to the ship, and passengers were anxious to get in. A line was rove from the yard arm, and six passengers were lowered into her. They were cautioned not to go unless they could swim. I saw them struggling in the water - I allude to the passengers. I only saw three of them gain the shore. It was getting light at the time when the boat returned. The captain said he would not risk any more going. The females were conveyed to the smoking room in front of the bridge. I ask the captain to allow me to go to the reef and examine it. One of the firemen went with me, and the boat's crew. In nearing the reef in the second mate's boat we found it was not so smooth as it appeared. We could not get along side the ship again on account of the high sea.
Peter Maloney: I am second officer of the Tararua. The ship struck about 5 a.m. on Friday. Early in the day the other two boats were washed out of the davits and smashed. I tried to get alongside the steamer again but found it impossible, as the sea was making a clean breach over her, expecting on the forepeak. As I could do no more I stood out to sea to see if I could fall in with any passing vessel and obtain help, and at 2.20 p.m. on Saturday Captain W. Hanning, of the ketch Prince Rupert took us alongside, and remained by till the Hawea came up. Mr Maloney is confident that there were quite 70 passengers in steerage altogether, for there were 70 bunks, and he heard complaints at Port Chalmers of no room.
John Chatterton: When the ship struck I was in my bunk, and hearing the noise said, "What's that? We are on a rock." There was an immediate rush on deck. Directly she struck the sea broke over her stern and carried away the rudder, the wheel, and the after gear. We were, I should say, a mile and a half from the shore, and drifted to within half a mile. She struck at a quarter-past five, and at a quarter before six a.m. the first boat was sent away. I went off in the mate's boat at 10 a.m. I shipped at Auckland for Melbourne and have lost everything I stood up in.
G.L. Lawrence: When the ship struck I went aft on the bridge, where I found the captain and both officers. The captain was giving orders to lower the boats. The seamen and firemen were steady and obeying orders, but the passengers were confused. The starboard boat was stove in, and the port boat was then lowered, the second mate was sent away in charge. The captain asked if I could swim, and if I would go in the boat and see if I could get to land. There were four seamen in the boat. When the boat were about 500 yards from the ship, and the same distance from the shore, the mate told me to stand by, and he would give me a chance to go ashore in a lull. I jumped and had no trouble until I was in the surf, which was heavy that I rolled over many times. I kept my senses, and at last got in on top of a breaker. I was cold, so ran about the beach to circulate blood. When warm I made for a house about half a mile off and asked them to send a man to telegraph that the Tararua had struck, and required assistance. They sent a man on horseback, at once. I returned to the beach as quickly as possible, and was just in time to help ashore three out of the six men who came in the second mate's boat on her second trip. The chief mate then tried to come in near enough to cast a line ashore, but his boat swamped. However, eight of the nine that were in her landed safely. The ninth was a little lamp trimmer who had joined at Port Chalmers.
The body brought by the Hawea has been recognised as that of a Swede named Andrew Anderson, from Carrick Ranges, aged about fifty. He had been stopping for some days at Boaz's boarding-house, Port Chalmers but it was Mr George Martin. After working for many years in the Crowell district, Mr Anderson came to Dunedin a few days ago for the purpose of transacting some business before leaving for the Home Country. He intended to go on board the Tararua to proceed Home via Melbourne. His business, however, delayed him in Dunedin, and he resolved to wait for the next boat.
Port Chalmers Departures.
Thursday - Tararau,s.s., 563 tons, Garrard, for Melbourne via intermediate ports. J. Mills, agent.
For the Bluff - Mr Bryant
For Hobart -Mr and Mrs Bryant
For Melbourne_Messrs - R. Rae, George Grey, James Young, ____ Anderson, P. Anderson, William Dobson and J. Dobson, J. Bambridge, Harry A. Cook, C. Shevar (Shrevan), M. Dowdall, H.N.G. Andrew, John Barry, W.O. Ramsay, Robert Wright, George Robins, G. Martin, Anderson, Brown, J.O. Eva, Robert Dean
Second Mate's Account
Captain Garrad thought that he was far enough to the southward to clear Waipapa Point, and gave instructions to alter course to the west, so as to head for the Bluff. Ten minutes before the ship struck the captain went aft to verify his course by the standard compass, and while he was doing so the second mate found that the vessel was in a dangerous position. The course was altered immediately, but too late, for she struck on a reef to the northward of Slope Point, the ship being on the weather side of the reef, exposed to heavy swell.
John William's statement
When the vessel struck he was awaken by the shock, and rushing on deck he saw the white beach and the breakers rolling in. We were about 600 yards from shore. He was on his way to England. had one hundred sovereigns in a small bag under his pillow and in the excitement forgot to go below and get them. The first boast was launched at daylight, but immediately filled and sank. The second boat was launched safely. She was officered by the second mate and four sailors. Captain Garrard asked the women and children to get in, but they declined, as the sea was running mountains high, and the risk appeared too great. Six passengers volunteered to go in the boat, she stared for shore. On reaching the surf three of the passengers jumped overboard. After great struggling three got on the beach and the remaining three drowned. Hill was known to have several hundred pounds with him on the steamer. On the third boat being lowered from the Tararau, it was officered by the carpenter and four sailors, and left the steamer with instructions to proceed along the coast and find a suitable landing place. When he got back to the steamer the captain ordered him out of the boat. He gave up command reluctantly, and the first mate took charge. He was ordered to save life if possible. y self and three other passengers got in, and after a good deal of trouble started for shore. When we got to the breakers a heavy sea caught us and swamped our boat. We all made a rush for shore, and all succeeded in landing except one lad, aged about 14 years.
No enquiries will bring the dead to life again, or alleviate in the least the sorrow that reigns in so many homes in New Zealand to-day.
Frank Danz, seaman, his story as told to Rev. Mr Fairclough.
I married in Auckland two years and a half ago. We had one child fifteen months old. I persuaded my wife to visit Melbourne. The Company let me take her at half-price. When she came on board, Captain Garrad came forward and said to her "I'll give you the other half of the fare and you can buy a new dress with it." When we got to Port Chalmers my wife and Mary Kelly went to Dunedin... I took the coffee and came out to drink it just as the ship struck. My wife, Mary Kelly, and another women clung to me. They were quite nude. The backwash of the sea that broke over carried us right aft. They were put in the smoke-house and covered. I put a rug and my jacket on my wife. Mary Kelly would not go into the house, but helped with the ropes, and seemed to wish to encourage the men, but they were not afraid. The captain ordered me in to the boat. I gave my child to the captain. "Now, Captain, you'll look after her, won't you?" He said, "Yes, Frank, I will be sure of that." I tied the baby's hood on. This is it (holding up a little blue hood). Frank found it on the beach. I tied this shawl (holding it up) round the wife, and lashed it on with two manila yarns. That's is all that is left to me now. I wouldn't take 30 for those two things. I had �19 and a watch. I gave them to her to make her feel safe, and so they would have something if I drowned. She cried out to the other women, "Don't be afraid, Frank will save us; he's going in the boat." Our boat was twenty-four feet long. I never prayed so much in my life before. I prayed for help... Dr Campbell while setting the engineer's leg was washed off... The last thing I saw was the captain in the rigging holding my little girl. (And playing with the little blue hood, be sobbed audibly.)
The s.s. Hawea, 461 tons, picked up seven bags of mail from the wreck. The bags were opened at Port Chalmers and the contents dried. About 1000 letters will be fit for delivery, but papers are reduced to pulp. The Te Anau which leaves this afternoon will take on the Brisbane and Orient mails.
It was a cold day below 5C and the wind was blowing hard.
The Wreck of the Tararua
Terrible! agonised awe
Gaspingly utters the word.
A shivering dread creeps over all,
And felt is the shadow of Death's black pall.
For a space no sound is heard.
Terrible! Hushed by the terrible doom,
Men fearfully pause in terrible gloom..
Near one hundred souls in one fell sweep!
Aghast with horror, man cannot weep...
No weeping or wailing here,
But shuddering, soul-felt pain:...
No weeping or wailing here,
Bu shuddering, soul-felt pain;
And men turn sick as they read the tale,
And dream they can hear the piercing wail
Of the ocean's victims slain
Otari's reef, with its fearful scene
Strikes home with cruel vividness keen
Men, women, and children dear
Are gathered on yonder wreck;
Past beautiful visions of love and life
Are lost in the maddening, raging strife
Of waters that sweep the deck,
All swallowed up in the prayer to save
Their lives from the fierce, remorseless wave.
by R.C.F. Dunedin, 30th April 1881 7 verses.
appeared in the Otago Daily Times 2nd May and the Timaru Herald 3rd May 1881.
Another poem about the wreck appears on tin the Otago Witness. Same date and page.
May 11 1881 Timaru Herald
Nautical Enquiry, Dunedin May 10
Wednesday May 18th : She had five boats. The two forward boats were life-boats. Each could carry 33 people, including the crew. The two after boats were of the same build, but not fitted with cork. They could carry about 30 people. The dingy would carry ten or twelve people. There were six life bouys and twelve life-belts which were in the bell locker. These twelve life-belts were cork packets. She had the latest Admiralty charts. She had 151 persons on board. She was drawing 16ft aft and 114 ft forward when leaving Port Chalmers. Insured. �4500.
The findings do censure Captain Garrard both for recklessness with which he changed the vessel's course without accurately ascertaining by any of the usual methods her true position, and for the purposeless manner in which the boats were handled after the vessel struck. The poor fellow is not here to answer for himself. All might have been retrieved if only a good look-out had been kept, but this was not done by the seaman Weston, and so the fatal error was not discovered till it was too late. A surprising degree of laxity seems to have pervaded the discipline of the vessel from first to last.
The certificates of the first and second mates were returned. Practical outcome of the inquiry
1. That a lighthouse should be erected near Waipapa Point
2. That lifebelts should be required to be supplied to all steamers for the maximum number of passengers they can carry.
Many church services were held in Christchurch and one minister
"Sorrow on the Sea" Jeremiah xlix, 23v
Oh God, do thou save us! what can we do more!
Captain's last recorded words
Alexander Turnbull Library has a painting depicting the wreck of the Union Steam Ship Company's vessel `ss Tararua' which sunk on the 30 April 1881and 131 of 151 people on board perished.
Ashworth, J (Junior), Papers, Christchurch City Libraries
Barbadoes Street Cemetery, Canterbury Public Library, ChCh
Callan, Louise, Shipwreck, 2000
Garrard, Francis: will, ArchivesNZ, Christchurch
Ingram, C. W. N., New Zealand shipwrecks, 1990
MacIntosh, Joan The Wreck of the Tararua published 1970 A. H & A. W. Reed. 160pp Sailed from Port Chalmers 28 April, 1881 bound for Bluff, Hobart & Melbourne. Wrecked 29 April, 1881 on the reef at Waipapa Point near Toi Tois. Contains passenger list and names of crew, officials and rescuers.
Scholefield, G. H., 'Joseph Kinsey', Dictionary of New Zealand biography, 1940
Starky, Suzanne, 'James Ashworth', Dictionary of New Zealand biography, Vol. 1, 1990
Star, 30 April, 2, 3 & 21 May 1881
The Tararua, No. 50,088, screw steamer, 692 gt, 523 tons net register, built at Dundee in 1864, by Gourlay Brothers and Company, but alterations made at the time of a change of ownership increased her tonnage to 828 tons gross and 563 tons net register. Dimensions: length 222.6 ft., beam 28 ft., depth 16.2 ft. The Tararua was fitted with two direct-acting engines of 155 h.p.
Otago Witness November 1869 page 13
Bluff , Nov. 21st
The s.s. Tararua, Captain Hagley, arrived here at 11.45 a.m. today, after a passage of 4 days and 20 hours. She left Melbourne on the 16th. She brings 23 cabin and 87 steerage passengers, together with 206 tons of cargo and 3 horses for all ports. She passed the Company's steamer Rangitoto entering Port Phillips Heads at 7 p.m. on the 16th. On this trip she brings Mr Redwood and his two race-horses, Peeress and Misfortune, Manuka having been sold at Melbourne. Passenger list -
Messrs Wong Tip, McFarland, Johnston, McLean, J.C. Johnson, Nesfield, Redwood, Campbell, J.R. Campbell, A. Brown, Davenport, George Tardif de Morbray, Fordyce, Gorton, Miss McEwen, Mrs Langford, Mrs Campbell and servant, Mrs and Miss Templer, Mrs Fordyce and infant; Mrs Ling, Mrs Gorton; and 87 in the steerage.
Otago Witness Saturday 27 November 1869 page 14
Among the passengers by the ship Timaru, which arrived on Thursday week, was the Rev. Mr Menzies, a Congregationalist minister. The Tuapeka Times of a recent date says: The Rev. Mr Menzies, who is married to a relative of Mr Barr, the Chief Postmaster, is a clergyman of twenty years; standing, and has been of late ministering at South Cave, Yorkshire, England. He is a graduate of Glasgow, and brings with him the highest testimonials from several of the most prominent leaders of the Congregational body, including letters from the Rev. Mr Johnston, Rev. Mr Wishart, Toxteth Park Chapel, and the Secretary of the Colonial Missionary Society. It was resolved at a recent meeting in Lawrence to send an invitation to Mr Menzies asking him to settle here or a few months in order to test the support likely to be given to a Congregational Church.
Otago Witness 27 November 1869 page 16
I saw a noble vessel glide
Along the mighty deep,
And onward, through the swelling tide
Her course she did keep-
And many a lady, soft and fair,
And many a brave heart sailed with her.
Oh! gaily did her streamers fly,
And fill'd was every sail.
While strains of music rose on high,
Borne by the evening gale-
The sun, that eve, went calmly down,
And mirror'd in the ocean shone.
But ere the midnight hour was past,
Those swelling sails were torn;
Any by the wild and furious blast,
A wreck that bark was borne-
And deep beneath the ocean wave,
Sank lady fair, and seamen brave.
I trod the shore at dawn of day-
The sun looked dimly down
Upon a raging sailless sea,
With many a wreck bestrewn;-
'Midst tangled seawwed scattered round.
But, oh! that shore, so wild and drear,
Did sadder sights display-
Stretched on the beach, all young and fair,
A lovely sweet form lay-
Lovely in death, she seemed to me
Like one not yet from earth set free.
Two more verses