Wreck of the City of Newcastle
City of Newcastle was a three-masted barque, 133 feet long and, at the time of her wreck, 39 years old. A frequent traveller between New South Wales and New Zealand ports, she left Wellington on November 9, 1872, being towed out of the harbour. When they got out into Cook Strait, Captain Bain decided the weather was unfavourable, so they sheltered in Port Underwood (then called Cloudy Bay) for four days.
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This may not have been a happy ship, as three months beforehand one of the seamen had been charged with setting fire to it. However, the weather seeming fine, they set off again through Cook Strait on the evening of the 13th. About 4.30a.m. the ship ran herself aground on the rocks off Wellington Head (now Perano Head) near the entrance to Tory Channel. There was apparently no crash or bump, but the bowsprit was close inshore to the cliff.
Although neither captain nor crew knew exactly where they were, the decision was made to leave the ship. The first boat was lowered, went down bow first and was immediately swamped. The captain’s gig (a 14-foot open boat with no water or supplies on board) was then launched and the women and children were put into it with three sailors, who were instructed to try and row into Tory Channel. They disappeared into the mist, and then the final boat was lowered. Into this embarked the captain and seven other men, but on a protest being made that the boat could not hold so many, one of the passengers climbed back on board the wreck.
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The boat was found to be in a very leaky condition, and needed constant bailing in a rising sea. Six men remained on the ship, and two of them, the cook and the passenger who had given up his place in the boat, were drowned in trying to reach shore. The remainder managed to get on to the cliff using a rope attached to the jib boom. Very soon afterwards the entire ship went to pieces.
Meanwhile, the women and children’s boat was swept out into Cook Strait and, when a stiff gale blew up, had a wet and rough time. Fortunately, after 16 hours at sea, they were spotted near Stephens Island by a passing ship, the John Knox. She managed to pick them all up then proceeded on her journey to Sydney. News of their rescue didn’t reach New Zealand until three weeks later, by which time they were presumed lost and at least one death notice had appeared in the papers.
Captain Bain and his companions were picked up within hours by the schooner Canterbury, bound for The Grove, and then transferred to the SS Taranaki, which put them down at Te Awaiti whaling station to search the shoreline for other survivors. There was a public letter of thanks to Mr. Norton for his assistance and hospitality, a medal and public subscription for Mr. Hamill, the second mate, for his bravery in getting most of the final men off the ship, and Captain Bain was blamed for the accident and lost his Master’s certificate.
The Fishermen’s Memorial on Picton Foreshore includes the anchor from City of Newcastle, salvaged and donated by the Heberley family.
This story was adapted from one written by Loreen Brehaut, 2014, for the Picton Seaport News. Updated Dec 2020
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Further sources - Wreck of the City of Newcastle
- Ingram, Charles William & Wheatley, Percy Owen. (2007) New Zealand shipwrecks over 200 years of disasters at sea. 8th ed. Auckland: Hatchette Livre.
- Shipwreck near Cook's Straits (1972, November 27) New Zealand Herald, p 3
- Wreck of the City of Newcastle (1872, November 16) Evening Post, p. 2