Gold Ribbon Banner
Friday, July 19, 2019

HMS OrpheusNew Zealand maritime historian Bill Deed wrote this story about New Zealand’s worst shipping disaster in 1963 when he was just 12 years of age. Today, with a few minor adjustments of historical accuracy Bill has given this story to Sea Breezes to record the sesqui-centennial of this horrifi c event when 189 people lost their lives, just outside the town of Waiuku where Bill lives.

During February many South Pacific maritime historians will be remembering New Zealand’s worst shipping disaster. It is 150 years since the HMS Orpheus struck the Manukau Bar on Auckland’s west coast and was wrecked shortly after with a loss of 189 lives.

It was the 7th of February 1863. Commodore William Farquharson Burnett in command of the Orpheus was a stranger to New Zealand’s coastal waters and since his chart had been made, the bar had shifted over three quarters of a mile. The HMS Orpheus left Sydney on 1st February and had enjoyed quite a fair passage to the Manukau.

At 11am on the 7th, the 21-gun steam corvette Orpheus of 1,706 tons and with a ship’s company of 258 officers, marines, seamen and boys lay just off-shore at the entrance to the Manukau Harbour. Particles of white cloud drifted in the blue sky, and a stiff breeze was blowing from the sou’ west. From the North Head was hoisted the Pilot Station signal to “Take the bar” and with steam and sail set, the Orpheus came on drawing quite confidently at 21 feet of water. At 1.30pm sudden and urgent signals were conveyed to the ship from the pilot station as watcher Edward Wing could see the imminent danger the ship was in. “Stand more out to sea” she was warned by the agitated semaphores.

It was reported after the disaster that at this time the sailing master of the Orpheus gave the order to starboard the helm, but Commodore Burnett countermanded that order — a most unheard of irregularity — saying that he intended to go by Captain Drury’s 1853 directions in the New Zealand Pilot and not by the prints of pamphlets and local instructions which the sailing master had in front of him. This irregular conduct by the Commodore was subsequently given as one reason for the cause of the disaster.

At the inquiry after the disaster, this grave accusation was also verified by two of the survivors. One of them, Mr Charles Sturtridge, said that when the Orpheus attempted to navigate the bar, the signal was against her. Also a gun was fired from the signal station as an additional warning, but the ship continued to stand on.

Mr Sturtridge continued, that on board was a captured deserter named Frederick Butler who had entered the Manukau twice before and was familiar with where the channel was. He happened to be on deck for an airing, and seeing danger ahead, gave a warning to those in command. “Put that man in irons,” stormed the Commodore. Butler’s prophetic retort was: “In five minutes we’ll all be in irons.” Five minutes afterward the ship struck.

Butler, the story goes, took French leave, jumped overboard, tied himself to a spar and was picked up by a boat nine hours later. But by now it was too late; the Orpheus had already struck heavily on the western end of the middle sandbank with a timber shivering crash. “Full speed astern,” the Commodore roared. But it was no use; she was stuck fast. Slowly she fell off broadside into the bluntnosed rollers and they came crashing on board knocking away the stern post, some of the port bulwarks and some of the ship’s boats. The topsail was lowered and others were clewed up.

Midshipman Fielding was dispatched to launch the cutter taking on board the ship’s books, records and other important items. Awkwardly the cutter cast off and was lost to sight. It was feared that it had been swamped, so the pinnace was launched and sent to the assistance of the cutter with orders to go to the Heads to obtain help from White’s lifeboat which was known to be stationed there. The lifeboat was found but there was no crew to man it.

Meanwhile, the launch was lowered with 40 men to try anchoring the ship down. But it was washed up under the bow and sunk. The crew, now desperate, climbed into the rigging and began cheering as they saw the little steamer Wonga Wonga bound south from Onehunga, coming to the rescue and approaching the doomed Orpheus as closely as she dared. Some sailors leapt into the wild raging seas and were picked up, but many who tried this were drowned. At 5.30pm the guns broke loose rolling dangerously about the decks. The masts stood for about an hour longer until the flood tide at 6.30, and then slowly they began to topple.

The mainmast was the first to go, and as it fell, the men clinging to it gave three ringing cheers in the face of disaster and death. They were answered back by the others on the foremast, and finally the mizzen mast. Those who were eventually saved managed to get down to the jib stay, on to the jib boom and then dropped into a fairly calm sea. They were picked up by boats from the Wonga Wonga. Many of them had broken bones, bruises and many had been crushed by the heavy guns when they broke from their shackles.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - March 2013 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Boudicca

Most Popular

  • Oil Leak Survey of WWII British Tanker Wreck +

  • Tragedy of the “Stellar Daisy” +

  • Six LNG Carriers Join BP Fleet +

  • Saint Brandan - "Vital Spark of the South Atlantic" +

  • Museum Says ‘it’ is the End of the Line for ‘Her’ +

  • 1
  • 2

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Crowds Tribute to the Last Tyne +

    Annie Blaker The last of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s famous Tyne class lifeboats was launched for the last time at her Read More
  • Clyde’s Vital Role in Onshore Windfarm +

    Clydeport Clydeport has played a vital role in the building of the UK’s largest onshore windfarm on Eaglesham Moor, just 20 Read More
  • Museum Says ‘it’ is the End of the Line for ‘Her’ +

    Scottish Maritime Museum The Scottish Maritime Museum, at Irvine, has abandon hundreds of years of maritime history and tradition and decided to stop Read More
  • Six LNG Carriers Join BP Fleet +

    BP Partnership Class Six new 173,400 cu m capacity LNG carriers have joined the fleet of BP Shipping, of London. Read More
  • Warehouse Boosts Import of Forest Products +

    Freight A new £17mn warehouse is to be built at Liverpool by the national logistics provider Jenkins which specialises in paper, Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Changes in Tolls for Using Panama Canal +

    MSC Pohlin The Panama Canal plans to modify its tolls structure for all types of ships “to better serve the global maritime Read More
  • Largest LNG Carrier Sails From West to East +

    Al Safliya The largest LNG tanker to use the Panama Canal since it was expanded less that three years ago passed through Read More
  • Oil Leak Survey of WWII British Tanker Wreck +

    Coimbra Wreck The US Coast Guard were evaluating a plan to remove oil from a tanker that was sunk in the Second Read More
  • Line Sells Long Beach Container Terminal +

    Long Beach Container Terminal The Hong Kong shipping group Orient Overseas (International) Ltd (OOIL) is selling its Long Beach Container Terminal, California, to a Read More
  • Terminal to be Extended After Record Year +

    Viau Montreal The Viau container terminal at Montreal, Canada, is to be expanded so that it can handle 600,000 teu a year. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • “Prelude” Makes its Debut With First LNG Cargo +

    Prelude The first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) has left Shell’s floating LNG facility Prelude some 475kms north-east of Broome Read More
  • Special Navigating System to be Fitted to VLCCs +

    AR Nav Following two-ship trials, augmented reality (AR) navigation systems are to be installed on 21 very large crude oil carriers (VLCCs) Read More
  • Work Starts on Hybrid Series +

    Grimaldi Hybrid In China, construction has started at the Jinling Shipyard on the first of the Grimaldi Group’s new hybrid roll-on, roll-off Read More
  • Tragedy of the “Stellar Daisy” +

    Stellar Daisy The very large ore carrier Stellar Daisy, 266,141dwt, was owned by Polaris Shipping, of Seoul, South Korea, and had been Read More
  • Line’s Special Offer to Help Clean Up the Seas +

    The Ocean Cleanup The Singapore shipping company APL is providing free shipping for the non-profit Ocean Cleanup organisation that is working to develop Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Fourth Dreadnought Named HMS “King George VI” +

    Dreadnought Class UK News The fourth member of the new Dreadnought class of nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines will bear the name Read More
  • US Navy Orders Flight II Landing Platform Dock +

    LDP30 American News The contract for the construction of LPD30, the first Flight II Landing Platform Dock of the San Antonio Read More
  • US Navy Seeks Faster Ship Delivery +

    FFGX Rendering American News The future frigate program for the US Navy is getting fully underway and some idea of the urgency Read More
  • HMS “Dragon” in £75 Million Narcotics Seizure +

    HMS Dragon British News Whilst on patrol in the Gulf, the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon seized and destroyed ten tonnes of Read More
  • New Generation of Enterprise Confirmed +

    USS Enterprise American News On 31 January, the US Department of Defense announced the awarding of a block buy contract with Huntington Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Oscar Goes to Italy +

    Oscar Wilde Irish Continental Group has entered into a bareboat hire purchase agreement for the sale of its 1987-built Oscar Wilde to Read More
  • CalMac Heritage +

    Columba I include a fine poster and artist’s image of the famed Macbrayne paddler Columba. Read More
  • Russian Adventure +

    Ocean Adventurer To the North East Coast and arriving at Aberdeen for the first time for many months, I witnessed a passenger Read More
  • Further Delay for LNG Powered Glen Sannox +

    Glen Sannox The drama surrounding the much delayed new ferries for Caledonian MacBrayne continues to rumble on with the latest, not unsurprising, Read More
  • Pentland Ferries Loses Appeal +

    Hamnavoe Scotland’s Pentland Ferries has lost its appeal against Scottish government state aid for ferry services between the mainland and the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • The Green Band of Marstal +

    Bessie Ellen The Danish Maritime Museum had the schooner Bonavista built on the island of Aero at Marstal and this year they Read More
  • Norweigan National Day +

    Thorodd I was in Montrose on the Norwegian National Day, 17 May, when its independent constitution from Sweden was confirmed in Read More
  • Port of Aberdeen Fifty Years On +

    Aberdeen Harbour Extension Project When I first arrived in Aberdeen in 1968, I couldn’t believe my luck. Read More
  • Thames Tributary Barges +

    Lady of the Lea Most of the rivers flowing into the Thames had their own barge type. Read More
  • Dry Rot and Dry Dock +

    HMS Victory For some time Victory, the 110gun ship of the line, has had trouble with dry rot and is in danger Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Lifeline Cash for “Waverley” Agreed +

    Waverley The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS) has announced that it will provide immediate funding to support efforts to “Save The Read More
  • Viking Glory Celebrates Keel Laying +

    Front Altair The construction of Viking Glory is proceeding on schedule. Read More
  • The Majestic River Rhine +

    MS Charles Dickens In September of this year, my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful Riviera Travel river cruise on the majestic River Read More
  • What Next in the US-Iran Saga? +

    Front Altair Over the last year, the escalating trade war between the US and China has created many headlines, not least in Read More
  • Modus Expands Fleet of Hybrid Autonomous Vehicles +

    Saab Seaeye Modus has placed an order with Saab Seaeye for the next vehicle in its Hybrid Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (HAU V) Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Every Ash Cloud Has A Silver Lining +

    The ash cloud crisis continues to cause uncertainty as we see sporadic closures of airspace and cancelled flights, and this Read More
  • Damen Group Superyachts +

    Amels With 25 projects underway, business is booming for Amels, the Dutch luxury yacht builder. Read More
  • Singer Andrea Bocelli Trades Up in Size +

    Stella del Nord Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian tenor and song writer whose work spans both popular music and classical opera is a Read More
  • Plans for Greenock Terminal Approved +

    Greenock Ocean Terminal Plans have been approved for an iconic building on the banks of the Clyde at Greenock to welcome cruise ship Read More
  • Leixoes Cruise Terminal, Gateway to Porto +

    Leixoes Cruise Terminal With the growth of the cruise industry, many ports worldwide have been active in developing or improving their port facilities. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Suez Canal

The Creation of the Suez Canal - Part Two

IAt the end of 1858, the company’s Works Committee convened for the first time. It included an impressive assembly of Read More
Mv Saint Brandan

Saint Brandan - "Vital Spark of the South Atlantic"

In 1876, James Gardner commissioned a small vessel to transport quarried stone from Ballachulish to Glasgow. He also opened an Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Mercury

Tribute to the "Mercury"

In the summer of 1968, the training ship Mercury in the Hamble River closed down after many years of training Read More
SS Eastern (2)

MT Arthur Foss

“The last vessel to escape Wake Island before Japanese forces captured the island” Read More
  • 1
  • 2