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Volume 20, 1887
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Art. L.—Notes on the Derelict Ship in Facile Harbour, Dusky Bay.

[Read before the Otago Institute, 14th June, 1887.]

Plate XXI.

Recently discovered though New Zealand is, the frosts of time have already commenced the graving of her antiquities, and to almost the oldest of these I beg to draw your attention for a few minutes this evening. The last remnants of an old wrecked vessel are still to be seen, at favourable times, lying in Facile Harbour, Dusky Bay. Numerous and various have been the conjectures as to the how, whence, and where of this ocean waif, which, if my conclusions are correct, has been resting in its grave for near upon a hundred years. In the endeavour to unravel the riddle, which, sphinx-like, this old vessel propounds, I venture to lay before the Institute a few notes, the result of inquiries from many trustworthy people, and of yet further research. The last discussion with which I am acquainted appeared in some of the December numbers of the “Southland Times” for 1882, under the striking heading, “The Madagascar Mystery.” From this it appears that the Madagascar was a ship bound from Sydney to England 36 years ago, in the good old days of early New South Wales and Victorian diggings, and that she carried a valuable freight of gold. Nothing was ever heard of her. Notwithstanding this, it is stated that the discontented crew mutinied, overpowered the captain and officers, ran the vessel into Dusky Bay, and stole and buried the boxes of gold, marking the cache by driving a pickaxe deep into an adjoining tree. The crew, reduced to three by privation and exposure, managed to reach Lake Wakatipu, where they were hospitably treated by the

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Maoris and enabled to leave the district, though in what direction is not said. The simple narrator goes on to add that the lucky man who finds that pickaxe will have no further cause to work for a living.

I tell this wild story not merely because it is exciting and romantic, but as showing on how trifling a foundation a conspicuous story is too often built, and how flimsy, though positive, may be the information vouchsafed to curious inquirers after something buried in mystery. Ten years ago, when on a trip to the West Coast, I first saw this mysterious vessel as our steamer passed her. Since that time I have allowed no opportunity to escape of gaining any reliable information of her. My first application was, in 1879, to Mr. William Docherty, who for so many years has avoided the haunts of men, and preferred to bury himself in the wild fastnesses of the inhospitable West Coast region whilst searching for mineral wealth. In response, Mr. Docherty, in the most obliging manner, made a special trip to the old vessel, and sent me certain articles which he found in her, and most of which are now exhibited. In the interesting letter accompanying these relics, he says: “What is left of her now is but the shreds of a wreck; yet, putting one thing and another together, one can fasten in his mind that she was once a large, well-put-together vessel. She must have been in a perilous and sinking condition when she came here, because he who had command ran her ashore on the first beach inside the harbour. I travelled through the bush to several of the headlands, thinking that I might see some traces of humanity; but everything in nature was in situ there.” The specimens sent consist of lead and copper sheathing from off what remains of the stern, a rusted iron bolt, and, what is of more importance, pieces of bamboo cane and of stone ballast. This ballast is freestone, and under it, says Mr. Docherty, are lots of cane, which he reasonably concludes to be dunnage—that is loose material thrown into a ship's bottom to prevent injury by water to the cargo.

Captain Fairchild, of the Hinemoa, has most kindly given me a full account of his visit to the wreck in 1878. He says: “She is in a little nook, or pocket, so small that it was impossible for her to sail in. She must have been hauled in with ropes made fast to the trees. She is 180 feet long and about 32 feet beam. Her outside plank is 5 inches thick, all East India teak. She is sheathed with pure copper, and all the bolts used in building her are pure copper also. She is built about one-third of English oak and two-thirds teak. Her stern is in 20 feet of water and her bow in 5 feet only. She was known by the whalers to be there sixty-five years ago, and was an old ship then. In the early days the whalers used to chop her away for firewood, and they have chopped her down to the water's

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edge, and she only shows a little above the water at low water spring tides. She is quite clear of the ocean swell, in a perfect snug harbour, and must have been taken there on purpose to be condemned. She has freestone and chalk for ballast, and has some little bits of bamboo amongst the ballast. She is a good model, and, I think, was a fast sailer, and she must have been between 700 and 800 tons register. I got one of her rudder braces off her. It was composition, and weighed 200lbs. It had the words ‘Saville, London,’ on it. There are also some pieces of cast-iron amongst the ballast. Her upper deck and beams are all gone, and nearly all her 'tween deck beams have been chopped away by the whalers. The wood is quite sound, and has not been eaten by worms, as might be expected. There is a good deal of fresh water where she lays, which keeps away the sea-worms.”

Captain Fairchild is very desirous of gaining the authority of the Government to raise her. He considers this could be done in a few days, and, if aided by a diver, thinks that some interesting and, perchance, valuable discovery might be made. Certainly, these are not times in which to incur any but the most unavoidable expenses. Still, there would be no harm in bringing the matter before the House, and, if the cost were trifling, of giving effect to Captain Fairchild's laudable suggestion.

When in London, five years ago, I made pertinent inquiries, but with no result. The present firm of Shaw-Savill is no continuation or offshoot of the “Saville” of our inquiry.

Mr. Ned Palmer, who died last year, and a sketch of whose eventful life will, I hope, soon appear in the “Otago Witness,” began sealing on the west and south coast of New Zealand sixty-two years ago. He knew the vessel well, and had cut wood from it. He did not know her name, nor where she came from, but said that Lascars formed part of her crew, and that he well knew a Lascar who had been one of her castaways, and who was also engaged in sealing and whaling in one of the earliest gangs. Captain Stevens, who lives near Riverton—one of the last remaining, if not the last, of our ancient mariners—confirms this. He came to New Zealand forty-five years ago, and knew this Lascar, who died thirty years since, at Stewart Island, a very old man. He told Captain Stevens that the vessel sailed from New South Wales for London, and that she sprung a leak, whereupon a mutiny ensued. This scanty but important information was all I could gather from this source.

Sir James Hector also saw the wreck during his interesting exploration of the West Coast, in 1863.

I omitted to mention that in the Wellington Museum there has been lying for many years a curious case, or box, found by Captain Fairchild at the time of his visit. No one has

Picture icon

To illustrate Paper by Dr Hocken.

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hitherto been able to assign a use for this article. It is parallelopiped, open at one end (which is very much broken), and measures 3 feet 3 inches in height by 13 inches in breadth. Its secret remains as unsolved as that of many a monolith. My own impression is that it was used to convey bullion. One ancient mariner, long ago engaged in the Indian trade, to whom I applied for a solution, said that gunpowder, first protected by flannel bags, was encased in such boxes. But the fact of its being of iron all but positively negatives such an explanation.

Such is a statement of all the facts connected with our subject, so far as I have been able to gather them. What conclusion can be drawn from them? It seems highly probable that the conjecture offered by a correspondent in the “Australian Shipping News” of 1878 is correct—viz., that the wreck is that of the ship Endeavour, Captain Bampton, bound from Sydney to India, in 1795. In those early days of the convict settlement, large supplies of cattle, food, and stores were brought to it from India; and about this time an occasional return vessel would load at New Zealand, principally the Thames, with spars and masts for the use of the East India Company's service. This was the germ of an extensive trade of this sort.

The results of a good deal of research have proved so interesting, and have brought so many forgotten facts to light connected with the very early history of New Zealand, that I shall not hesitate to interweave some of them into this portion of my notes, especially as they confirm the identity of this phantom ship.

Captain Cook, on the occasion of his second voyage to New Zealand, in 1773, stayed for six weeks in Dusky Bay. His interesting description of this visit is accompanied by a remarkably accurate chart. In few places in New Zealand did he find such plentiful refreshments as here, and he recommends any vessel going southward, and needing a haven, to make for it, as with the prevailing winds it is easily entered and easily left. It is therefore certain that in those early days any storm-stressed mariner steering south would seek this only-known haven.

The whale fishery in these seas had its first origin in October, 1791, when five of the transport vessels, after discharging their convict freight, and acting upon instructions received before leaving England, commenced to whale along the coast of New South Wales. Owing to various causes, which need not be recited here, their success was not very great, although fish were seen in great numbers. It was not long before the whalers went further afield. The first to visit Dusky Bay was the Britannia, Captain Raven, belonging to the great shipping firm of the Messrs. Enderby. After her departure from Sydney she touched at Dusky Bay, in October, 1792, where she left

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the second mate (John Leith) and several of the crew for the purpose of procuring seals, the principal object of the voyage from England. She then proceeded on her way to the Cape of Good Hope, there to procure cattle and stores for the settlement. It is pretty certain that this was the beginning of the future great sealing industry of New Zealand, undertaken in the first instance by the English, and not, as is generally supposed, by the Americans. John Leith, recognising the possibility of himself and party remaining indefinitely and uncalled for in Dusky Bay, wisely employed a portion of his time in building a little schooner, wherewith to effect an escape in case of need. The necessity for this did not, however, arise. The Britannia again arrived at Sydney from the Cape of Good Hope in June, 1793, and was chartered to proceed to India for provisions. It was determined by the Lieutenant-Governor that the schooner Fancy should accompany her to Dusky Bay, and bring back full information regarding the seal fishery, spar-cutting, or anything else that might tend to the benefit of the settlement. The vessels sailed in October; and the Fancy returned in November, reporting that the sealing party had procured 4,500 skins. They had enjoyed excellent health, though the weather had been very bad—so bad, indeed, as often to interfere with their fishing operations—heavy rains and gales, and once a shock of earthquake. The Natives were very quiet and harmless, and, indeed, seemed rather to avoid the party. Provisions were plentiful—ducks, wood-hens, and fish. The little schooner of 65 tons was nearly completed, and was, of course, left. The accounts were not, on the whole, sufficiently encouraging to induce further attempts to develope industries in Dusky Bay.

We now come to occurrences specially connected with these notes. In May, 1795, the Endeavour, an 800-ton ship, Captain Bampton, arrived at Port Jackson from Bombay, with a large number of cattle and stores. This Captain Matthew Wright Bampton had made previous voyages to the settlements with cattle and provisions; and a third time he sailed for India to perform a similar contract with the Government, intending to touch at New Zealand by the way. It would seem to have been the practice in those days for two or more vessels to sail together for some distant port. On this occasion the Fancy accompanied the Endeavour. This was in September, and it was on this voyage the disaster occurred. News of it was brought from the branch convict settlement at Norfolk Island, in March, 1796, seven months afterwards. It appeared that on reaching Dusky Bay the vessel was so leaky that she was there run ashore and scuttled. Besides the crew, there were more than 100 people on board. Fifty of these were ex-convicts, whose term of sentence had expired; and the other fifty were what we term now-a-days stowaways. The little schooner which had been built,

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and left by the sealing party three years before, proved now a godsend. They finished it, and appropriately christened it the Providence. Crowded with as many people as possible, the Providence and Fancy sailed for Norfolk Island, arriving there in safety. Those left behind were to follow in a little vessel to be constructed out of the Endeavour's long-boat. This waif of the sea, then, which was named the Assistance, arrived later on at Port Jackson in a sad plight. The last mouthful of provisions had been consumed a day or two before her arrival. Indeed the scarcity of provisions had necessitated leaving several people behind at Dusky Bay, where it was presumed they would not starve on seals, fish, and native birds. For six months these unfortunates, thirty-five in number, remained in their desolate solitude, when they were released by the Captain of the American vessel Mercury, who landed them at Norfolk Island. There were no facilities for sending earlier assistance, and the captain of the Mercury stipulated with the Governor, who sought his services, that as a return he should be allowed to take from the wreck any stores he might be in want of.

Such is the conclusion of this interesting story; and I think there can now be no doubt that the enigma is satisfactorily solved, and that this derelict ship of Facile Harbour is none other than the Endeavour, which was bound from Port Jackson to India, and that here has she lain for the last 93 years.

These interesting particulars have been gathered chiefly from the valuable journal of Mr. Collins, first Judge-Advocate and Secretary of the colony, published in London in 1798. It is not unlikely that the publication of this account may bring forth further information relative to the very earliest visits of civilised man to New Zealand, dating from Captain Cook; and with this view I have been careful to give exact dates. At the time referred to there were no newspapers in Sydney; but it is very likely that those published in India contain many references to New Zealand.

The following note, which bears on this question, has been supplied by Captain Fairchild, being an extract from a letter from Mr. Percy Smith, Assistant-Surveyor-General for the Colony:—

“Judge's Bay, Auckland,,
“March 1, 1888.

My Dear Captain Fairchild,—

“I have just come across a little item of the history of New Zealand which will, I think, interest you.

“‘In 1803 the brig Venus, commanded by Mr. Bass, was at Port Jackson, and he there writes to Mr. Waterhouse at Hobart, notifying his intended voyage to the coast of South America,

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and speaks of his intention to go to Dusky Bay, in New Zealand, for the purpose of picking up two anchors, and taking the iron fastenings out of an old Indiaman named the Endeavour, that lies there deserted, with the intention of selling the former to the Spaniards.'

“Bass (who discovered Bass’ Straits) sailed for Chili, and was never afterwards heard of.

“No doubt the old Indiaman is the vessel you told me of, lying at Dusky Bay.

“Yours faithfully,


S. Percy Smith.”