The City of Auckland
Built for New Zealand Trade - Popular Craft and Skipper - Ship Afire in Auckland Harbour - Miraculous Escape from Icebergs - A Great Race to London - Wrecked on Otaki Beach.
The most popular commander up till 1872 was Captain William Ashby, who made more voyages from London to Auckland than any other skipper. Captain Ashby claimed to have carried more passengers to and from New Zealand than any other commander. None of the passages, either out or Home, could be called records. He considered his passengers, and did everything possible to make them comfortable. At the same time he never exceeded the 100 days from London in the City of Auckland, the average being 92. When Captain Ashby retired from the sea in 1872 he was appointed the first Marine Superintendent in London for the newly-formed New Zealand Shipping Company, and most of the New Zealanders returning to Auckland booked through his agency. After the death of his first wife, who generally travelled with him, he married the widow of Mr. J. N. Crombie, who was one of the leading photographers in Queen Street, Auckland, during the sixties.
Captain Ashby's first trip was in 1858 in the barque Mary Ann. Among the passengers on this occasion was Mr. Robert Froude, who in 1862 married Miss White, daughter of Mr. Henry White, who arrived at Auckland with his wife and family by the ship Westminster in 1842. During 1922 the happy couple celebrated their diamond jubilee at Howick. The following year, in March, 1923, at the ripe age of 85, Mr. Froude passed away. Mrs. Froude is now in her 84th year, and is still residing at Howick. Mr. Henry White the father of Mrs. Froude, assisted in the construction of Pardington's old mill in Karangahape Road; also the old mill in Little Queen Street and the stone foundations of Pitt Street Methodist Church. the Mary Ann sailed from Auckland the same year for London, taking Home the officers and men of the 58th Regiment. Captain Ashby in the following year arrived at Lyttelton from London on August 5, 1859. The ship had a trying experience in the Southern Ocean, where she encountered numerous huge icebergs, several from 500ft to 800ft high and two miles long. When passing through the ice on the 19th July something struck the ship a smart blow under the main chains on the starboard side. On the following morning it was discovered that the copper was dented. It was supposed that the ship had struck some wreckage, as on the previous day the Mary Ann passed a very large spar like a ship's lower mast, with top and rigging. On July 20th the ship passed more wreckage from a ship of about 800 tons. In 1860 this vessel, after discharging at Auckland, made a trip round to the Kaipara, being the first large ship to cross the Kaipara Bar, and loaded up with kauri spars for the Admiralty.
Mr. Alfred Jowitt, who was in Auckland at the time, states: "The spars were all choice specimens of kauri, some being of great length, approaching 100ft. The one noticeable thing about the Mary Ann was that she was 'in chains.' She had two heavy cable chains wrapped all around her about the fore and mizzen shrouds respectively, "boused taut" and wedged up tight. They were certainly not ornamental, but were calculated to hold the ship and her freight together should rough weather be met. the Mary Ann was no clipper, and the drag of these chains in the water would naturally reduce her speed."
Captain Ashby's next vessel was the Maori, and later he took command of the ship Siam. Mention of this ship recalls stirring times, as in 1866, when the British troops were withdrawn, she was chartered while in Auckland to take some of the 14th Regiment across to Hobart Town.
Captain Ashby left the Siam to superintend the building of the ship City of Auckland, which was specially built for the London-Auckland trade. She was a composite vessel, having iron framing, sheathed with 5½ inch teak, copper fastened throughout. She was specially finely fitted up. On a scroll at the break of the poop were carved the lines by Campbell:
"Her path is o'er the mountain wave,
Her home is on the deep."
An interesting fact connected with the ship's arrival in Auckland on December 11, 1870 (her second trip), was the appearance of the name W. F. Massey on the passenger list, our present Premier being then a young man direct from the North of Ireland.
Scuttled To Save Her.
On January 24 of the following year, at between two and three in the morning, when the City of Auckland was practically a full ship, a fire broke out as she lay alongside the old Queen Street wharf. Valiant efforts were made to suppress the outbreak, but it was soon seen to be hopeless, and the ship was taken out into the stream and scuttled. Two days later she was raised and brought alongside of Firth's wharf, Quay Street, where the Northern Roller Mills now stand, and she sank considerably in the mud.
When the fire broke out there was a £20,000 cargo under hatches, and forty passengers had engaged berths. It was believed that the trouble was started among the flax - a material which has been blamed several times since for causing the same sort of mysterious blaze.
Captain Ashby retained command of the "City" until 1872, and up till then she made four successful voyages to Auckland in two years two months and twenty-one days. On her last round trip she did the return voyage to Auckland in seven months 14 days, having sailed in that time no less than 30,212 miles. Her runs from London to Auckland while Captain Ashby was in command were respectively 98 days, 86 days, 96 days, and 95 days.
The "City" on her first voyage out to Auckland showed a good turn of speed and logged on several occasions as much as 298 miles and 301 miles for the twenty-four hours. The latter figure works out at a little over 12½ knots.
Stewart and Simpson of London were the owners of the ship, Captain Ashby having a £5000 interest in her.
"Star" Pigeons Go To Sea.
Most of the early Aucklanders that went home for pleasure and those that had business in the Old Country used to try and fit in their arrangements so as to sail with Captain Ashby. This was an additional reason why the Auckland people of fifty years ago used to take such a personal interest in this fine seaman and his ships. Not content with giving the "City" a wonderful send-off Auckland wanted to know how the passengers were finding their sea-legs, and just half a century back the "Star" anticipated wireless by sending some of its famous carrier pigeons out to sea with the popular skipper. On December 7, 1872, for instance, there is a message dated from the City of Auckland "63 miles eastward of Tauranga." A second message was sent when the vessel was nearing the East Cape. Four birds were given to Captain Ashby, and two never returned to the "Star" lofts, but a couple of years later Captain Kennedy, of the Tawera schooner, brought word of a pigeon in a kainga at the East Cape. The Maoris had made a pet of the bird, but an offer of £1 induced them to relinquish their claims in the foundling, which proved to be one of the missing quartet. The Maoris had kept the message which was tied round the bird's leg when it came ashore at East Cape, and it proved to be from Captain Ashby, 260 miles out, wishing Auckland farewell and telling of the sufferings of the passengers from mal de mer during heavy weather.
Captain Ashby was succeeded by Captain Ralls as commander of the "City." Captain Ralls made five successful voyages to New Zealand in her, and on the sixth he was wrecked on Otaki Beach, the "City" becoming a total loss, as I shall explain later on.
The Ship Among The Ice.
A 6500-Mile Race.
A thrilling tale of a voyage made by the City of Auckland from Auckland to London in 1877 is told by Captain Albert Duder, who for a long while was Harbourmaster in Auckland, and is now enjoying well-earned leisure over at Devonport. None of the stories that I have heard about the "City" are so absorbingly interesting as that told by Captain Duder, who at the time the voyage in question was made, was a young man before the mast, just beginning his career. Captain Ralls was in command, and Captain Duder has the liveliest admiration for his old skipper. "Captain Ralls was a fine specimen of a British seaman," writes Captain Duder, "perfect in seamanship and in the art of commanding a sailing ship. Well it was that he was all that, and more, or our voyage would not have ended as auspiciously as it did."
"The City," loaded with wool, kauri gum, etc., was a full ship and in good ocean-going trim, when she left Auckland in the beginning of February, 1877. The first three weeks passed pleasantly away. One afternoon at two o'clock, when about 1200 miles west-north-west of Cape Horn the ship ran into a fairly thick fog, and at 2.45 the look-out man reported ice right ahead - a small berg forty to fifty feet high. "Luff, luff!" was the order yelled to the helmsman, and then came "All hands on deck!" Answering her helm immediately the little ship came up into the wind and cleared the weather end of the berg, but still was well into the small or broken ice which clattered along the side. The watch below turned out in good style and were at once ordered to take in royals and all light staysails, outer jib and crossjack, while the watch on deck was hard at it, trimming yards. And the stewards, cooks, and the few men passengers, under the chief steward were put on to provision and water the boats.
Then, "Ice on the lee bow!" reported the lookout, and what seemed like a mountain of it rose up right alongside, the crevices being filled with frozen snow - a beautiful, but awful sight.
"Hard down the helm!" and like a yacht the ship went round on the other tack. Every man, stripped to singlet and trousers, was working for dear life. The captain stood by the man at the wheel, the chief officer with the look-out man on the fo'c'sle-head, and every man keen at his post.
Once more ice was reported, this time on the weather bow. "Hard up the helm!" was the order this time, and then "Square the yards!" and the ship paying off ran away from a small berg fifty to seventy feet high, with broken and small ice all around.
There was a few minutes breathing space, and then ice was reported on port and starboard bows, but fortunately it was not so close as to prevent the ship getting through. And thus the ship went on; now ice ahead, then to port and then to starboard, and always the yacht-like craft obeyed every order as though she were alive. Captain Ralls, quick in decision, rapped out his orders promptly, always right; and every man of the crew was quick to jump at the word of command, every ounce of strength and seamanship being thrown into the work.
At about 5.30 p.m. the fog lightened and soon the ship ran out of it into clear sky with no ice in sight. The large cluster of bergs and broken ice, together with the warmer water, had caused the fog through which the ship had been passing, and once beyond their influence the atmosphere grew clear. As Captain Duder says, "There must have been three little birds sitting aloft on our trucks that afternoon, looking after 'the City' and the lives of her crew."
"Make all sail!" was soon the order, and after that came "grog-oh," every man polishing off his half-tumbler of good old Jamaica rum. Then there was a word of praise and thanks from the captain to all hands for the way they had worked, followed by "Tea-oh" for all but the officer of the watch, and a couple of A.B.'s to keep the wheel and look-out.
Other ships on the run to Cape Horn that summer saw more ice than the City of Auckland did, and two - a Loch line vessel loaded with wheat from Melbourne, and one of Patrick Henderson's ships from Timaru - were never heard of again, having, it was assumed, collided with ice and foundered. Had it been night time when the City of Auckland got among the ice she would no doubt have joined the ranks of the "missing."
After that battle with the bergs the City of Auckland had an average autumn passage to the Horn, off which she came across the ship Timaru (Captain Taylor) 28 days out from Dunedin. The signal flags were soon speaking and before they parted they arranged a 6500 miles race to London - a notion that was right into Captain Taylor's hands, as his ship had a great reputation and he was a noted hard-driver. Next night at about half past nine the City was due to pass, on the weather bow, a small cluster of rocky islets about fifty miles south-east of Staten Island, and the look-out man was told to keep a good look-out to windward.
At ten o'clock the cook and one of the passengers were having a smoke and a yarn in the lee waist, and the passenger remarked that there was land right ahead. "No," said the cook, "that's a cloud," and went on with his yarn. But on looking again they both agreed it was land and just on the lee bow, and the cook ran aft calling the attention of the mate, who at once ordered the helmsman to luff and shouted for a hand to jump aloft and report. Captain Duder was handy to the forerigging and was soon on the lower topsail yard. Plain enough below was a long line of breakers on a reef running out to windward of the group The yards were braced sharp up, and the smart little ship sailing a couple of points more into the wind cleared the end of the reef and breakers by about two hundred and fifty yards! The ship had been carried in towards the mainland by an unknown ocean current and she was eight or nine miles off her course from noon that day.
When the ship had passed the Falkland Islands and left behind the worst of the stormy latitudes, orders were given to bend extra sails - main middle staysail, mizzen topgallant staysail, a second flying jib (over the lower flying jib), the jib-topsail, and a "Jimmy Green," or "bull-driver," as it was sometimes called - a square sail fitted and rigged to set under the jib-boom and bowsprit. One seldom passed a ship with a "Jimmy Green" set, says Captain Duder, but it was quite a helpful sail in moderate weather, and as we intended to give the Timaru a run for it, we wanted all the sail we could set. Day and night it was a case of trim yards and set sail, swig and set still better, and crack on until the ship was lee-rail under.
A Glorious Night.
With the exception of a pampero (so called from the pampas of Argentine, over which it blows) that compelled the ship to heave-to for 24 hours when off the River Plate, she met with moderate and favourable weather that carried her into the south-east trade winds, which, however, were light, and not so steady as they usually are in those latitudes. "On the northern edge of the trade wind," writes Captain Duder, describing a wonderful experience the ship had, "we passed through a belt of the ocean about 50 miles wide that was like molten silver. Every star in the sky was shining bright and clear, the sea was densely full of every kind of tropical sea animalculae, which caused the water to sparkle like myriads of brilliants. The scene was wonderful and beautiful, but withal so weird that it created a most uncanny feeling. Even our steel-nerved captain felt the influence, and he ordered all light sails to be taken and furled.
"While I and two other seamen were out stowing the jib-topsail and two flying jibs we saw, greatly to our astonishment, three pretty little heads bobbing up and down in the silver sea under the jib-boom. One grizzled old 'matlow' (a sailor's name for an old salt, from the French 'matelot') declared they were mermaids, and he recalled how on a similar night near the same region, he had many years before seen the same sort of thing. After all the light sails had been stowed and the watch, with their pipes lit, had made themselves comfortable on deck, the conversation turned to the wonderful and beautiful night with the added marvel of the three mermaids (so-called) under the bow. Opinions varied of course. The younger hands were very sceptical, but the old ones had no doubt whatever that the heads we had seen were the real thing.
"Seamen following their trade all over the world, in every latitude, in gale and calm, in varied climes, see many beautiful and magnificent sights, but that entrancing night of forty-five years ago was easily the most rare, the most beautiful and awe-inspiring I have ever experienced, or ever hope to experience."
When the ship picked up the north-east trade wind she found it very strong, at times amounting to a moderate or a fresh gale, which lasted to the 30th north latitude. All plain sail was set and hung on to, a number of them being blown away, but always replaced by others, night or day. At times the ship drove bows under, and one afternoon one heavy sea rolled so high that the belly of the maintopmast staysail was torn right out of the sail, and the decks were swept clean of everything movable from fo'c'sle head to poop. Light, variable and squally weather was experienced in the run from the trades to the mouth of the English Chanel, a converging point for hundreds of ships from all over the world, and one of great interest to the homeward bound seamen as old friends among the craft would be recognised and furnish material for much talk about other crews and other voyages full of stirring incidents.
After passing the Western Islands the ship got favourable fresh winds for some days which carried her up to sight the Lizard Light. That night the wind came down Channel from the eastward and freshened to a very hard gale. During this time about twenty-five large ships and barques with smaller craft had got bunched, all hove-to, and down to a few of the smallest and the strongest sails. On the afternoon of the third day the wind eased, and the order came on the City of Auckland to reef and set the upper topsails.
When the men were up on the yard they saw another ship about five miles off doing exactly the same as the City of Auckland. Apparently none of the other skippers thought it prudent to make sail at that state of the weather, and these two ships soon forged away from the rest of them. Twenty-four hours later the City of Auckland was in Torbay on the port tack, the wind north-east, and the ship laying well up the Channel; everybody elated, homeward bound, Old England right alongside, and London (and pay-day) close ahead of them.
A Dead Heat.
"At about four p.m. that afternoon a large ship under full sail came standing into the bay on the starboard tack," continues Captain Duder. "We also were under full sail, slipping along close-hauled and doing about ten knots. No other vessels of any considerable size were in sight. All eyes were turned on the stranger. She was a perfect picture, with her painted ports, every sail setting faultlessly, and the ship beautifully sailed. One of our A.B.'s declared it was our friend and rival the Timaru, but the idea was hailed with derision. 'the Timaru is in London, and paid off by this time,' said the mate.
"The ships were drawing close together, and we being on the port tack had to give way to the other vessel. But our skipper was not giving way if he could help it, although he did not intend to take any unseamanlike risks, so 'Stand by the spanker and after braces!' came the order. Then soon, 'Hard up the helm!' followed by 'Brail the spanker in!' 'Square the crossjack!' 'After yards!' the City of Auckland fell away before the wind, a hundred and fifty feet to leeward of the Timaru! 'Steady the helm!' 'Set the spanker!' 'Brace up the after yards!' came the orders, and so we regained our course and stood up Channel.
"So it was the Timaru after all! Up to that moment our long 6500-mile race was a dead heat. We had taken 61 days from the Horn, and here in the Channel we were within a hundred and fifty feet of one another.
"Next morning the ships lay becalmed off Portland Bill, about a thousand feet apart. Soon the smoke of two tugs appeared, and they came straight for us, the larger one picking the bigger vessel (and the most money), and the other coming to us. Two days later both vessels hauled in to the South West Indian Dock, in London, the jibboom of The Citly over the poop of the Timaru. Thus ended our race from the Horn, and the honours were certainly with our vessel, she being much the smaller of the two.
"A comparison of the courses steered and the positions on the chart showed that the two ships were only just out of sight of each other on three occasions, and practically the same weather was experienced. We also found that they were less than two hundred and fifty miles apart during the whole of the race.
"The City's voyage from Auckland occupied ninety-five days, the Timaru's from Dunedin was eighty-nine, and she not only had the shorter distance, but she also had a more favourable run of winds."
The Wreck Of The City.
The "City" had not a very long life, as she became a total wreck in 1878. In command of Captain Ralls she sailed from London for Napier and Auckland with 240 emigrants on board and a cargo of railway iron, 300 tons of which was for Napier and the balance for Auckland. There was great excitement in Auckland and Napier on October 23 when the "Auckland Star" published a message from Wellington telling that the City of Auckland had gone a shore on the Otaki Beach the night before, and as communication was not so rapid then as it is now, the fate of the ship and her large number of passengers was not known immediately. The ship went ashore at half past nine at night, and one can imagine the consternation of the emigrants. Immediately she struck the hatches were battened down by order of Captain Ralls, who was then in command, and it was decided to keep the emigrants below until some measures could be adopted for their safety. The poor people, however, became so excited and were in such a state of terror that they at last burst the hatches open and rushed on deck.
Captain Ralls at once placed a guard over the boats, and took steps to restore order among the frightened people. It was eight o'clock the following morning before a boat could be launched, and the Captain then sent a crew ashore to get assistance. The Otaki settlers lost no time in going off to the help of the people on the stranded ship.
Threatened To Shoot.
When the first boat went alongside the ship there was a rush among the emigrants to get aboard. Captain Ralls had to stand at the gangway with a loaded revolver in his hand, and his threat that he would shoot the first man that disobeyed orders was not an idle one. Captain Ralls was very well known and popular in Auckland, and his splendid behaviour after the ship went a shore was just what one would expect from such a fine sailor. Fortunately the stranded vessel gave a fair amount of shelter for the landing of the passengers, and eventually every man, woman, and child aboard was safely put ashore, the women and children getting ashore without even wetting their feet.
With the exception of the ship's doctor (Dr. Andrews) and his wife, who were taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Simcox, all the passengers were accommodated in the large Maori college that was built by Archdeacon S. Williams. I am indebted to Mrs. W. H. Simcox, now residing at Otaki, for the main details of the wreck. Mrs. Simcox, before going to Otaki with her late husband and family in the year 1878, lived and were much respected residents at the Bay of Islands. At Otaki Mr. Simcox kept a diary, and it is from this very interesting document that Mrs. Simcox quotes. Mrs. Simcox tells of the excitement the wreck caused at Otaki. Three special constables were sworn in from the Otaki residents for the purpose of looking after the unexpected accession to Otaki's small population and to supervise the providoring, plenty of good beef and potatoes being furnished by the settlers.
The Maoris were very numerous in Otaki and the surrounding district forty-four years ago, and they played an important part in helping the strangers, not only providing plenty of potatoes, but cooking them as well. Some of the young fellows who had been saved from the wreck did not seem too anxious to help in the work that was going on; they did not offer to help when the huge piles of potatoes were being peeled, for instance, so one of the bluff, good-hearted Otaki people said, "If they won't help they can have them in their skins."
When news of the wreck reached Wellington the Government steamer Hinemoa, Captain John Fairchild, was sent up to Waikanae, the most convenient spot for taking the passengers off and to that locality the shipwrecked people were conveyed in bullock drays and anything that ran on wheels - and they were not plentiful in those days. the Hinemoa took the immigrants direct to Napier, to which port they were all bound.
A few of the crew were left to dismantle the wreck, and most of the gear was salvaged. Of course there were dozens of things, such as cabin furniture, that would not pay to take away and these things were gathered by the Otaki people as souvenirs. When the ship was launched from the builders' yards in 1869 a finely carved teak scroll bearing Campbell's lines, "Her path is o'er the mountain wave, her home is on the deep" decorated the break of the poop, and was much admired. This relic is now hanging up in the hall at Mrs. Simcox's home, and she also has the ship's poop bell, which is used to announce dinner. The fo'c's'le bell is hung in the Kiosk at Otaki Beach. Part of one of the masts of the City of Auckland may be seen on the Otaki Beach when travelling from Auckland to Wellington on the express train.
It is interesting to recall that some of the residents recently got a piece of timber that once formed part of the old ship, and out of it made a walking stick for presentation to the Rt. Hon. W. F. Massey on his birthday. Mr. Massey, it will be remembered, came out from Ireland to Auckland in the ship on her first voyage.
After the disaster, Captain Fairchild, of the Government steamer Hinemoa, strongly urged that a light should be placed on Kapiti Island, and in doing so said that a dozen vessels a year mistook Kapiti for Stephen's Island in the Cook Straits. "It is reckoned," he observed, "that on the Hyderabad, the Felixstowe, and the City of Auckland, all lost in the neighbourhood within the last three months, there has been over £110,000 insurance."
Mr. and Mrs. H. Ralls, of Ellerslie, are related to Captain Ralls, Mr. Ralls being a nephew of the Captain. During 1922 Mr. Ralls visited the old gentleman at his home at Sandford, on the Thames, near Oxford. The captain, who was a great favourite with his passengers and those he met a shore, has named his beautiful home "Auckland." He is able to get about and enjoy himself, though he is in his eighty-sixth year. During the year over which his five trips to New Zealand stretched there were forty births on board. On three occasions Mrs. Ralls accompanied her husband, and three of their children were born on board. At that time there were no doctors on board, so the worthy captain officiated at all these ceremonies on board his ship. One of his "babies," as it pleases him to call them, is Miss Hills, daughter of Mr. A. Hills, of Manurewa. As evidence of the way Captain Ralls was loved and respected, the inside of his Sandford home is full of curios and mementos presented to him and his wife. Other relatives of Captain Ralls, Mr. and Mrs. E. S. Ralls, are residing at Takapuna, Auckland.
The following gives the record of passages made from London by the City of Auckland: -
|Oct. 22, '69||Jan. 28, '70||Ashby||97|
|Sept. 14||Dec. 11, '70||Ashby||86|
|Sept. 10||Dec. 20, 71||Ashby||96|
|May 31||Sep. 3, '72||Ashby||95|
|June 5||Sep. 14, '73||Ralls||99|
|May 19||Sep. 2, '74||Ralls||105|
|June 15||Sep. 29, '75||Ralls||104|
|Aug. 6||Nov. 11, 76||Ralls||96|
|July 8||Oct. 10, '77||Ralls||90|
During the voyage in 1872 Mrs. R. Milne fell overboard and was drowned.
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