Home' Greymouth Star : July 22nd 2017 Contents Saturday AAfternoon
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The bar crossing at the Hokitika River mouth
was especially feared.
Thousands of gold prospectors flocked to
the West Coast in the mid-1860s so unsuitable though
this river port was, it boomed with maritime traffic.
Gold diggers arrived in their thousands, gold went
out. Between 1865 and 1867, Hokitika had already had
108 strandings and 32 total losses as vessels attempted
the hazardous entry.
Unlike Greymouth, where people standing on the
tipheads were level with the wrecks, at Hokitika the
hulls towered over the beach.
Boats also grounded at Okarito, where there are
whispers of a wreck still lying under the sand dunes.
Bits and pieces of these shipwrecks do survive, if
you know where to look.
Next week: The wrecks which have stood the
test of time
The Maria was built in Russia in 1825 as
Nicholas 1 was expanding his fleet. It was
the second vessel captured by the Britons in
1854 during the Crimean War, and a decade
later it was sold to Hokitika merchants via
It stranded coming into port during
October 1865 but managed to get free
- after every last bag of flour had been
unloaded to feed the burgeoning population
- but the following May it became a total
The Maria came to grief on the exact same
spot as an earlier wreck, the Sampson. It was
the unlucky 13th to cross the bar that day.
Hokitika maritime expert Max Dowell has
the cargo list and says it shows the boat was
carrying “booze, booze and painkillers”.
Part of the wreckage was spotted on the
Hokitika beach a few years ago. Part of the
oak and spruce planking hull, along with
the trammels, were taken to the Westland
Industrial Heritage Park, although very little
is left now. Max, pictured, has a plank.
Max Dowell has a brass ring from around
one of the Tambo sails, copper sheeting, brass
button and sheethead with boat nails.
He also has the coin placed under the mast as
part of an old superstition.
Part of the replica Tambo memorial on the
Hokitika Spit is an anchor from the Alliance, a
paddle steamer built in Glasgow in 1835 which
dared to sail on the sabbath. The anchor is
currently at the heritage park.
The Alliance was the pride of the North
American fleet, and was used to run guns into
Charleston during the American Civil War.
It made seven successful runs but was
captured on its eighth trip, taken to Boston and
stripped. In 1865, Canterbury merchants were
anxious to access the West Coast so, as the guns
of the Civil War fell silent, they bought the
Alliance (PS New Zealand).
“It was something like 180ft (more than 50m),
filled with supplies in Australia,” Max says.
“It was totally wrecked the first time, it
was too long for the river. It hit bottom and
damaged the rudders.”
Sand was sucked into the boilers and it was
split in half on the north spit, coming to rest
just north of another wreck, the Oak. By the
following morning, the beach was littered with
luggage. The anchor ended up on the south spit.
Meanwhile, the Tambo, running on bad coal
from miners unhappy with their lot, became
grounded while being towed into Hokitika by
the Challenge on its 26th crossing of the bar.
The Tambo was secured to the old Alliance
However, a big flood took both the Tambo
and anchor. It kept afloat for six hours, minus
its crew, who were safely ashore.
The boat and anchor bumped along the beach
to the south and in time, the anchor parted
Alas, the boat was uninsured.
Some years ago, Allan Crowley was doing
gold recovery on the beach when he found the
remains of the Tambo.
There were reports the anchor was 50m north,
so they got in a digger and sure enough, there
All the cargo on the Zingara
was secured to the deck as it
was taking timber to Australia.
At 2am it suddenly sheered to
port. The 100,000 feet of sawn
timber was jettisoned, but the
vessel was washed further up
on the beach. Leaking badly, it
ended on the south spit.
A photograph shows a girl
of about 13 looking at the
wreckage, and in the 1980s
Max Dowell was doing
a slideshow in Hokitika
including that photo, when
a lady in her 80s, Elsie
Boddington (Wilson), roared
out “that’s me!”.
“It was about the last big
wreck,” Max says of the
The mercury barometer from
the Zingara was thought to
be at the old Southland Hotel
(now the Beachfront). Max
has two chairs and the anchor.
The Department of Conservation Haast
Visitor Centre has timber on display
from the Schomberg, while the Hokitika
Museum also has parts it believes are from
the same wreck.
Part of this wreck was found by gold
prospectors at Ship Creek, north of Haast,
in 1866 — 300ft above the waterline, with
trees growing out of it (prompting tales of a
possible tsunami). In 1874, parts were sent
to nautical experts, who found it was made
of Baltic oak and pine, with bronze and iron
bolts. It was, they said, from the Schomberg.
But the Schomberg had been wrecked at
Petersborough in October 1855, hundreds
of kilometres away.
In 1972 a fisherman’s anchor snared on
something and the following year, divers
found it was the wreck of the Schomberg,
minus the bow section, which had drifted
over the Tasman.
In 2015 a piece of shipwreck was
found at the Waita River, near Ship
Creek. It was about 2m long with
copper plating and nails. Pictures
were sent overseas, and Melbourne
marine archaeologist Peter Harvey
thought it was a rudder head with
fittings for the attachment of a tiller
or steering gear.
Hokitika Museum was also told of
some 22 marine charts of the South
Island from the collection of the late
Kelly Tarlton, who recorded hundreds
of identities of ships that had sunk
on the South Island coast. On the
chart ‘R Awarua to R Waiau’, Tarlton
records six wrecks north and south of
the Fox River, one at Cascade River
and two around Okuru River.
The two at Okuru are the Kate, a
schooner of 61 ton which sank ‘in
Open Bay’ in 1849 about one third
of the distance from Okuru to Haast
River, and the Jane, an auxiliary cutter
which sank in 1917.
The barque Pacific of 350 ton sank
or ‘foundered’ off the Cascade River
In 1935 the Moa tried to
follow where boats had not
sailed for years — up the
Wanganui River at Hari Hari.
The cargo was equipment
for a new sawmill at South
As the Moa crossed the sand
bar the crew discovered too late
that the river mouth had silted
up. Shingle and silt entered
the water-circulating pipes and
they became clogged, causing
the engine to overheat and
With the aid of people
from Hari Hari, all the
lighter sawmill equipment
was salvaged, but the heavier
equipment, still on board,
caused the Moa to sink into
the shingle bank until only the
masts were showing. Four of
her crew were left standing in
the rigging until they could
The Moa was already
infamous. In 1917, it made
headlines when German
prisoner of war Count von
Luckner tried to escape
Motuihi Island aboard the
boat. The heritage park has an
engine and an outboard motor
from the Moa’s lifeboat (later
used by the Houston family). It
also has the yoke, used to hold
the mast beam horizontal.
The schooner Sylph was the first of
a long line of shipwrecks in Hokitika,
meeting its fate in March 1865. Part
of the vessel is stored in the Countess
building on Gibson Quay.
The schooner had been stuck outside
the port for eight days with about
70 passengers on board, running low
on water and provisions. The master
attempted to sail in under a light
breeze but failed.
The wreck was sold for £-25.
Hokitika was the bar even the saltiest of captains
feared. Once a graveyard for boats, a few relics
remain from the days when the goldfields capital
rose out of the bush and ships sailed in straight
from Australia. LAURA MILLS, with the help of
maritime historian Max Dowell, reports.
ALLIANCE AND THE TAMBO
The Alliance anchor
The Tambo anchor
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