White Wings by  Sir Henry Brett

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"White Wings"

His most interesting work, the fruit of his experience as a shipping reporter, was "White Wings: Fifty years of sail in the New Zealand Trade" of which the first volume was published in Auckland in 1925. This book originated in two articles Mr Henry Brett wrote for the Auckland Star to clear up doubts about the quickest passages made by the old sailing ships trading with Auckland.  The original design was, however, enlarged into a general narrative, in the form of biographies of these fast and beautiful vessels, well illustrated with their portraits, and the book abounds with stories of narrow escapes and feats of seamanship. 

The Late Sir Henry Brett Sir Henry BRETT was born and educated at St. Leonards on-Sea, Hastings, Sussex on February 23, 1843. He obtained his knowledge of the printing business in the office of his uncle, who was proprietor of the Hastings and St. Leonard's Gazette. Henry arrived in Auckland in September 1862 aboard the 'Hanover', and before going ashore was offered work on a daily newspaper the Southern Cross for 1 pound a day, as a shipping reporter, and in 1865 transferred to the N.Z. Herald, (Auckland NZ Daily.)  After five years he bought an interest in the Evening Star (later named Auckland Star) and this was the start of his career as shipping journalist.  He married Mary Moon, eldest daughter of Mr James Moon, of Westfield, Sussex on 22nd Nov. 1864 and they had two sons and three daughters.  In 1865 he was transferred in this capacity to the NZ Herald.  In 1870 he joined Mr McCullough Reed in founding the Auckland Star, of which he became sole proprietor in 1878.  The Star's politics have always been Liberal. Its early success was largely due to the use of carrier pigeons to cope with the then very incomplete telegraphic communication. In 1890 Mr Brett started the New Zealand Graphic, the first illustrated weekly newspaper in Australasia. In the 1880s he moved into the field of book publishing and he produced a number of quarto volumes including  A history of Printing In NZLife & Times Of Sir George Grey and The Albertlanders.  He was Mayor of Auckland in 1877 and 1878, president of the chief musical societies in Auckland, a founder and past president of the New Zealand Press Association, Commissioner for New Zealand at the Paris Exhibition in 1889, and a Commissioner of the New Zealand Exhibition in 1906-7 and the recipient of a knighthood in 1916.  He personally collected the information for both volumes of White Wings.  As a shipping reporter he was able to talk to captains, crew and passengers as the vessels docked.  He wrote both volumes late in his life and died at Rotorua on 29 January 1927 in his 84th year and regrettably did not see White Wings Vol. 2 published in 1928.

Obituary The Times 1 February 1927 pg 17
New Zealand Encyclopaedia.
Jacket of White Wings Vol. 1
Jacket White Wings edited by Cyril R. Bradwell.  A full page preface by Mr Bradwell, gives more details of the life and times of Sir Henry Brett. DNZ Bio

White Wings Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 digital images online

Master Mariners in White Wings Vol.1

Ships mentioned in "White Wings"    Wellington ship arrivals   Captains     Vessels      Icebergs
The Admant.     The Halcione        The Rodney        The Carnatic        The Inverene wayback  Lancashire Witch

Illustrations appearing in 'White Wings Fifty Years of Sail in the New Zealand Trade, 1850-1900' Vol. 1 by Henry Brett. Auckland: The Brett Printing Company, Limited, Publishers, Shortland Street, 1924. Reprint by Caper Press Christchurch, NZ from the copy in the University of Christchurch Library 1976.

ship photos*

Vessel Comments




Akaroa* at Auckland 174
Alcestis* at Dunedin 121
Alice Cameron barque 12
Ann Gambles wrecked at Bluff 281
Antiope in port 332
Assaye at Gravesend 287
Asterion at Nelson 225 Collingwood 226
Auckland under full sail 31 Charles James 33
Auckland* loading wool at Wellington 34 Jenkins 41
Avalanche* off Gravesend 165
Ben Venue in port 300 McGowan 301
Ben Venue & City of Perth (Turakina) wrecks at Timaru. City of Perth refloated 302
Blue Jacket under a press of canvas 327
Calypso at Dunedin 138 James Leslie 138
Canterbury clipper in port 71
Caroline at Port Chalmers 236
Charlotte Gladstone* at Gravesend 229
City of Auckland under sail 20 William Ashby/ Ralls 19/25
City of Cashmere wrecked at Timaru 339
City of Dunedin entering Otago Heads 87 Ross 87
Cospatrick* in port 62 Elmsley and survivors 63
Coromandel capsized at Wellington wharf 145
Crusader* at Port Chalmers 37
Dallam Tower dimasted 78
Dallam Tower* 2000 miles under jury rig 79
Dover Castle at Port Chalmers 120
Dunedin at Port Chalmers 148
Eastern Monarch at port 312
Edwin Fox formerly used as a landing stage 44
Edwin Fox used as a hulk at Picton 45
Electra in port 210
England's Glory wrecked at Bluff 286
Euterpue at Port Chalmers 127 A. Banks 127
Famenoth in port 172
Fernglen in port 283
Glenlora * barque 51
Glenlora storm-tossed 52
Gladys disabled at Wellington 102
Halcione* in port 74
Helen Denny* in port 158 William Ruthe 159
Hermione* in port 142
Hinemoa (4 masted) towed down River Avon 216
Huia topsail schooner 16
Hudson* at Port Chalmers 178
Himalya at Wellington 139
Hurunia at Lyttelton dock 258
Hydaspes under sail 95 Edwin s. Babot 96
Ida Zeigler under sail 218 Abraham Lewis Reynolds 219
Invercargill* in port 65
Jessie Osborne* full sail 278 Falconer 278
Jessie Readman* stranded at Chatham Islands 97
Kate* under sail 14
Lady Jocelyn at Port Chalmers 40 photo
Lady Jocelyn in a storm in the English Channel 42
Loch Awe under sail 193 Weir
Loch Dee wayback at Port Chalmers 306
Loch Trool under sail 310
Lutterworth alongside Firth's wharf Auck. 112
Lutterworth battered hull at Wellington 113
Lyttelton at Port Chalmers 151
Marlborough at Port Chalmers 116
Margaret Galbraith or old "Maggie" 54
Mataura at Port Chalmers 268 Greenstreet 269
May Queen entering Nelson 83 R. Tatchell 84
Merope* anchored at Gravesend 89 Rose 90
Nelson* loading at Wellington 105
Neva schooner 18
Northumberland on the beach, Napier 335
Novelty under sail 15
Oamaru in port 124 Maxwell 125
Ocean Mail* stranded at the Chathams 315
Okta (Jessie Osborne) stranded at Bluff Harbour 279
Opawa at Port Chalmers 298
Orari* under full sail 266 Richard Mosey
Otago anchored at Gravesend 155 Pebbles 155
Otaki Wellington wharf 264 Devitt 265
Parsee at Port Chalmers 176
Peter Denny* at Dunedin 153
Piako under full sail 271
Pleiades* at Picton 133
Pleione* stranded at Waikeane Beach 161
Prince of Wales hulk at Wellington 337
Rakaia at Dunedin 288 J. Bone in 1880 289
Rangitiki under sail 255
Red Jacket surrounded by ice 330
Robert Henderson under sail 188
Saint Vincent under sail, English Channel 214
Sam Mendel at Port Chalmers 60
St. Leonard's* in the river Thames 69 Richard Todd 70
Taranaki at Wellington Wharf 170
Thomas Stephens at Gravesend 342
Timaru under Patrick Henderson's flag 122
Trevelyan * at Port Chalmers 82
Turakina at Port Chalmers 129 Power 131
Tweed on the Thames 136
Vanduara under sail 196
Waikato in port 295
Waimate at Port Chalmers 252
Waimea in port 296
Waipa when rigged as a barque 262
Waitangi in heavy weather 291
Waitara anchored at Gravesend 277
Wanganui (Blenheim) under sail 293
Warwick at Port Chalmers 201
Wave Queen in port 185
Weathersfield in port 197
Wellington at Port Chalmers 48 Cowan 50
Wellington after terrible experience with ice 49
Westland under sail 28
Wild Deer A fo'c'sle group 118  item wayback
William Davie at Dunedin 168
Zealandia (1869) at Port Chalmers 108

Illustrations appearing in White Wings Vol. 2 : Founding of the provinces and old-time shipping: passenger ships from 1840 to 1885. Brett Printing 1928. 

Vessel Comments


Alumbagh in port 192
Duchess of Argyle and Jane Gifford at anchor, Auckland 40
Ivanhoe in port 192
Philip Laing arrival on April 15, 1848 81
Mairi Bhan in port 177
Rodney in port 112
Strathmore wreck at the Crozets 112
St Lawrence item (no photo in White Wings)

Brett, Henry, Sir, 1842-1927. White Wings: Immigrant Ships to New Zealand, 1840-1902. Wellington [N.Z.]: Reed, 1984. Condensed and edited version of the two volume works by Brett.  Editor: Bradwell, Cyril R. (Cyril Robertson) Auckland. The story of 113 of the ships which brought immigrants to New Zealand in the 20th century. Contains information mainly on ships of the New Zealand Shipping Company, the Shaw, Savill Company, the Patrick Henderson Albion Shipping Co. (the chief rival of the Shaw, Savill Company before the advent of the New Zealand Shipping Company) and some Willis, Gann and Co.'s ships, the White Star Line, the Blackball Line Houlder Bros., and other privately owned ships which sailed to New Zealand. Gives data on voyages not immigrants and includes photographs. There were hundreds of vessels making only one or two voyages to New Zealand that do not appear in the volumes. Trans-Tasman shipping is not included and the book does not contain passenger lists. This book is interesting to read as it has more stories as opposed to factual statistics. e.g.. diary excerpts. 

There are a few errors in "White Wings" such as the spelling of mariners surnames and very few first names are mentioned. A few dates are wrong but over all a wonderful resource for any library public or private focusing on the sailing ships in the last half of the 19th century heading for New Zealand. Examples:

Captain Llewellyn Davies was master of Crusader. not Captain Llewellyn.
Captain Bongard commanded the Pareora 1885
Captain Bungard command the Wairoa 1887 - 1890
Captain Forsdick commanded the Waitangi 1893 - 1894
Captain Forsdock commanded the Rangitiki 1897-1898
Captain Mordue - commanded the Auckland 1885
Captain Mordeau Auckland 1886
Captain Nicol commanded the Glenlora 1890
Captain Nicholl commanded the Glenlora 1891
The Canterbury arrived in Lyttelton on August 1851 not 1857

Vol. 2   1928 Where do you obtain White Wings?

Transcribed from White Wings - Fifty Years of Sail in the New Zealand Trade - 1840-1885, by the late Sir Henry Brett. Vol. II page 24
            Shortly after the Martha Ridgway, 621 tons, Captain James Forbes Bisset, left England, smallpox broke out, and during the passage to New Zealand the ship was never wholly free from cases. She sailed from Gravesend on July 5th, 1840, with 225 emigrants, and arrived at Port Nicholson on November 14th. The first to contract the disease was a steward, who developed it soon after leaving England. It must have been of a mild type, for we do not read of any deaths. Several of the passengers we re down when Port Nicholson was reached, so a quarantine ground was established on the eastern shores of the harbour. The ship was taken across, and everybody aboard was placed in strict quarantine for three weeks. Like everything else it did, the Company had seen carefully to it that the new settlement was supplied with first-class medical men, and these soon had the disease stamped out.
     It was by the Martha Ridgway that news came out of the intention of the directors to change the name of the settlement from Britannia to Wellington, after the Duke of Wellington. In 1834 the Duke had succeeded in getting through the House of Commons the South Australia Act, which was the charter under which that colony was colonised. It had been thought that the chief town of the South Australian colony would have been called after His Grace, but it was stated that other influences prevailed at the Colonial Office, and the place was called after the Queen. Some of the people at the head of affairs in the South Australian colonisation scheme were also connected with the colonising of New Zealand, and they decided to honour the Duke by naming their principal settlement after him. Many people think that New Zealand's capital got its name from the pride men took in the memory of the great victory of Waterloo, whereas it was due to this appreciation of a much more peaceful side of the character of the Iron Duke.
    This splendid Liverpool-built ship had been constructed expressly for the passenger trade. She had a very spacious poop, with a height of 6ft gin in the 'twist decks, and was replete with every arrangement for the comfort and health of the passengers. The end of the Martha Ridgway was that, while bound from New Zealand to Bombay, she was wrecked on a reef at Nimrod's Entrance, Torres Strait, and was abandoned by the crew. Mr. G. B. Earp, the well-known Wellington merchant, member of the Legislative Council, and author, was a passenger.

New Zealand Bound

"Wireless has robbed the sea of half its terrors - as well as most of its mystery."
Henry Brett

White Wings

Sail! home, as straight as an arrow,
My yacht shoots along on the crest of the sea;
Sail! home, to sweet Maggie Darrow,
In her dear little home
She is waiting for me.

High up! where cliffs they are craggy
There's where, the girl of my heart waits for me
Heigh! ho, I long for you, Maggie
I'll spread out my "White Wings"
And sail home to thee.

Yo! ho, how we go!
Oh! how the winds blow!
"White Wings" they never grow weary,
They carry me cherrily over the sea.
Night comes, I long for my dearie,
I'll spread out my "White Wings"
And sail home to thee.

Words and Music by Banks Winter (1912)
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