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1894 SS Wairarapa Sinking

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Great Barrier Island, Auckland, New Zealandmap
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A New Zealand Disaster

2 November 1894
Article from Papers Past, “The Bruce Herald, volume XXV, Issue 2626, 2 November 1894 page 2.

A rumour for the time unverified disturbed Milton at a comparatively early hour yesterday morning of the loss of the Union Company’s fine steamer Wairarapa. From the time it was known she was overdue anxiety about her has been gradually intensifying. The most serious misgivings, however, did not exceed a breakdown of machinery and information of her safety was confidently looked for. Her total loss and sacrifice of 134 lives was not even dreamed of, so great is the confidence in the Union Company's service begotten by long immunity from serious disaster.

This, in fact, is the first fatal wreck since the Tararua was lost in the year 1881. The rumour, however, grew and even details were mentioned, that she had gone ashore on the Great Barrier and then sunk in deep water with the loss of 100 lives. Quite a gloom crept over the town, and when there could be no longer any room for doubt, for telegrams began to drop in from Dunedin, expression of deep sorrow and commiseration were heard on all tides.

According to the report published by the Dunedin star it seems the Wairarapa made the New Zealand coast all right and ran up from the Three Kings for Auckland in a more or less thick fog. From the accounts to hand her captain seems to have trusted to the patent log for distance until the light on the small island of Moko Hinou was passed. This light is only 14 miles from Miner's Head. This was on last Sunday, and soon after passing the light the course of the steamer was altered and at midnight she struck with a tremendous crash on Miner's Head, the north point of Catherine Bay on the north west side of the Great Barrier Island, and about 60 miles from Auckland, a very bad part of the coast.

A tremendous rush of passengers took place from below, but the heavy sea running interfered with boat launching, and what boats were got into the water at first were swamped and the occupants drowned. Lifebelts had been distributed to the passengers but many of the poor creatures were washed about the semi-submerged decks and drowned. The scenes are described as heart rendering. A good number of passengers, including women, took refuge in the rigging of the fore and in main masts and in the morning when the sea had somewhat subsided a line was conveyed to the shore, and by this means fifteen of the female passengers and seventy-six males were got safely to the beach.

Of the crew all the engineers and the first, second, third and fourth officers, the majority of the firemen and crew, the carpenter, and the purser and his assistant were saved, and the moat of the stewards. The crew drowned included Captain McIntosh, stewards Judd, McLean, McDonald, Crouch, A. Holmes. Stewardesses Mrs McDonald, Miss Macquaird, Miss Grinrcad. Firemen and trimmers J. Cooper, E. Jones, J. McGee, A, Merrill, Burke, Seamen, W. Simpson, J. McLeod, K. Pratt, C. McDonald.

The total number of the lost passenger and crew is estimated at 134, which so far as loss of life goes places the Wairarapa catastrophe as second to those which have happened on New Zealand coasts. At the wreck of the Orpheous on the Manuka bar, February, 1863, 190 lives were lost, and at the wreck of the Tararua on Otara reef, April, 1351, 131 were drowned.

Of the passengers drowned several were Otago people

Mr and Mrs Scoullar of Dunedin, with their two daughters returning home
Mrs Fyfe, wife of Mr Fyfe of the firm of Fyfe and Cuming, Dunedin, and her little child
Mr Chick of Chick's Hotel, Port Chalmers and his brother-in-law ; Mr Warry,
Mrs Begg, daughter of the late Mr North of Portobello
Miss Arkle, daughter of Mr Arkle of Palmerston
Mr Wi J. Lucas a butcher of Hope street, Dunedin leaves a wife and family.

The majority of the drowned made for the steamer's bridge when she struck and hung on there until the structure with the funnel was swept away. Captain Mclntosh stuck to his post till the last moment and then plunged into the sea and was never seen again. The survivors saved nothing, many of them being nearly naked, As soon as possible word of the disaster was conveyed overland to Port Fitzroy and the steamer Argyle was sent round to Catherine Bay on Wednesday, took the survivors on board and conveyed them to Auckland where they arrived early yesterday morning.

Evening Post report 2 November 1894 Eliza Baldwin/Jenkins.- Eliza Baldwin wife of Henry Baldwin (Barrie’s Great grandfather) and his 3 year old Son Henry Thomas Baldwin Drowned at the wreck of the SS Wairarapa on the Great Barrier Island, on the 29th October, 1894, Eliza Baldwin, aged 42 years and Henry Thomas Baldwin, aged 3 years and 6 weeks the beloved wife and son of Henry Baldwin. They are mourned by large circle friends.

The Wairarapa was built in Dumbarton, Scotland in 1882 for the Union Steam Ship Company. Soon after launch she sailed to New Zealand to become one of a small number of luxury steamers plying the route across the Tasman Sea to Australia.

The Wairarapa sailed from Sydney, Australia on Wednesday 24 October 1894. The ship’s destination was the rapidly growing New Zealand port city of Auckland, 2,000 miles away. As the Wairarapa rounded the top of the North Island of New Zealand four days later, fog and storms set in. However, Captain John S. McIntosh refused to slow the ship from 13 knots, nearly full speed despite the thick fog. Fatally, the ship went off-course, possibly due to a faulty compass bearing.

At the subsequent Court of Enquiry into the incident, some even suggested the ship had been steered by dead reckoning rather than using a compass at all. Whatever the cause, the ship skirted to the west of the Poor Knights Islands, not the east. As a consequence she was much closer to the mainland than the ship’s crew believed.

At around 8 minutes past midnight on Monday 29 October 1894, the ship was wrecked on the steep cliffs near Miners Head on the northern tip of Great Barrier Island, off the coast of Auckland.

The hours after the wreck saw great loss of life. Many passengers could not swim and drowned in the rough seas in trying to make it to shore. One life raft was seen floating out to sea and was never sighted again. Many men, including a large portion of the crew, took to one of the lifeboats, leaving women and children behind. A number of people took refuge in the ship’s rigging. At about 3 am Captain McIntosh jumped into the sea and was presumed drowned. Several other lifeboats which had been safely launched stayed near the stricken ship and picked survivors from the sea where possible. One lifeboat eventually succeeded in reaching a local community of Ngati Wai Māori based at Katherine Bay, on the western coast of the island. They were able to rescue and provide care for a number of the survivors.

Although the Wairarapa was expected in Auckland, there was no way of knowing where she may have come to grief. As the only contact with the island at the time was via weekly trips from a steamer, it was three full days until news of the shipwreck reached Auckland.

The Northern Company's steamer Argyle arrived in Port Fitzroy on Wednesday 31 October and took the survivors who had reached Port Fitzroy on board. The steamer then proceeded to the site of the shipwreck, and to Katherine Bay, picking up further survivors and sailing back to arrive in Auckland about 3am Thursday 1 November.

Article taken from our Baldwin family history book written by Barrie Mair.

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