Saturday, November 28, 2009

The wreck of the Marwell

In 1869 Captain Jack was back in Auckland sailing the 'Marwell' a 28 ton, 52ft cutter, owned by John Smith, draper of Queen Street. On 2nd February he sailed her in the "Trading vessels, over 25 tons" section of the 30th Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta. The prize was a silver cup presented by Mssr. Shaw, Savill and Co. and a purse of 25 guineas.
It was a great race with stiff breeze increasing until "the sea was now anything but pleasant, and the boats were dipping their noses into it breasting the waves right gallantly!" The 'Donald McLean', was an early leader when "smash went the foretopmast-head which, in its fall, broke off the main-top-mast close to the crosstree, thus rendering every sail in the ship useless".
But worse was in store for the 'Marwell' her topsail was carried away, and when near Tiri Tiri she missed stays (a tacking manoeuvre) and was driven onto the rocks and wrecked.
In February there was an inquiry into the wreck of the 'Marwell' where John Austen gave evidence-
"I was on deck when she missed stays. I had been in the cabin previously for about twenty minutes sitting on the locker. I was not drunk. I drank three glasses of brandy previous to this, but I was not in a state of intoxication." However another witness John Bucket, a friend of the owner, reported that "the master, Austen, was drunk, I saw him have seven or eight glasses of brandy at least. He was not capable of taking charge of the vessel in my opinion". Other witnesses reported that it was the mate who was in charge at the time and it was a mistake of judgement on his part in not putting her round in time that caused the vessel to founder.
The Bench decided that the master's certificate of John Austen should be cancelled.
An application for costs was declined and a separate court action by the draper whereby Captain Jack was charged with the theft of a quantity of brandy, rum and beer was dismissed.
Sadly the mate who had been in charge when the boat foundered drowned the next day when trying to salvage the 'Marwell'.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


On the 2nd of April 1868 at 3.00AM in heavy seas and squalls the 'Reliance' struck the Indispensable Reef near the Solomon Islands. The ship quickly filled with water and by daybreak the crew took to the longboat and whale boat taking provisions, enough water for 8 days and compasses and charts.
Night came on with heavy squalls, rain, thunder, and lightening - both boats were leaking. When the weather moderated they made sail for Satisfaction Island where they went ashore. The natives appeared friendly and gave them water and coconuts in return for bread. It seemed a good place so they pulled one of the boats on shore and started to repair it.
By the next day "the natives kept mustering stronger and stronger, and their behaviour showing signs of hostilities". They launched the boat in a shower of spears one piercing the steward's left hip to the depth of 5 or 6 inches, "so that we had to pull hard to get it out" and sailed away with a large canoe chasing them.
They had an uncomfortable night and next morning repaired the second boat and started off. The long-boat held the captain and second mate, the injured steward and one sailor. The faster whale-boat was manned by the mate and three sailors. They tried to keep together but the weather was raining, blowing a gale and the seas heavy. The next morning they were chased by a very large canoe manned by 15-20 men, they managed to out-distance it and after an hour it gave up the chase.
"We went to work to rig a square sail, and whilst so engaged did not perceive five canoes that were trying to cut us off until they were nearer to us than was agreeable. We hoisted the square sail and again had recourse to the oars and paddles until they gave up the chase."
Unable to see the whaleboat and fearful of the natives they set off toward Cleveland Bay, near the Great Barrier Reef. The weather deteriorated - the wind increased to a heavy gale, with heavy seas, and our Captain had to steer for "three nights and three days without relief of sleep".
"On the morning of the 25th no water in the boat, made Claremount group of islands and main land; landed on an island but found no water; all hands covered with sores and suffering from swelled feet; no water or food, dug a hole in. the sand and got some water - half salt."
On the afternoon of the 28th they started for the main land, "for we were getting very sick and weak" they were picked up by the schooner 'Maid of Riverton.' after traveling 1,100 miles in a small and open boat, in twenty-seven days of suffering.
The 'Reliance' was a total wreck and uninsured - the whale boat and its crew were never seen again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


From April 1865 Captain John Austen owned the fine brig 'Reliance' - 117tons, 84.9 x 21.4 x 11 feet. She was built in Bermuda in 1841. He sailed her regularly to the gold fields on the West Coast of the South Island.
On June 4th 1867 she sailed for Fiji with a full cargo including 12 hogsheads of rum, 2 hogsheads of whisky 2 hogsheads of brandy, 2 quarter-casks of brandy, 5 kegs of tobacco, 4 cases of tobacco, 4 boxes of tobacco and 1 case of cigar, all liable for duties.
During a court case in 1868 it was alleged that the casks were put onto a cutter "Bessie" the day after "Reliance" sailed. While "Reliance" sailed on toward Fiji, "Bessie" rendezvoused with the "Ringleader" in Mercury Bay and the casks were transfered and then shipped to Poverty Bay.
Under cross-examination a seaman reported that the rum taken out of the casks and put into a teakettle for sampling it was very strong!
The "Reliance" had not returned to Auckland (she landed in Sydney instead) so John Austen did not give his side of the story. Certificates that showed the goods had been landed in Fiji were excluded by the judge in the court case and the merchants who had stood as bondsmen were found guilty and fined treble the value of the goods.
The 'Reliance' sailed from Sydney for Fiji again in March 1868. She never returned to Auckland.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Novelty, 36749 Barque 375.77 tons. 140 x 27.6 x 14.9 ft., Built at Mechanics Bay, Aukland, in 1862, by H. Niccol.

A Captain John Austen sailed the Novelty on the Auckland to Sydney run several times during 1864 and 1865. There is some confusion as Captain Austen was also sailing the Aquila between the Port of Onehunga and the Port of Waikato. This may be inaccurate reporting and other masters were sailing his cutter. Or maybe there was more than one Captain J. Austen. Of course he could have just been very busy!!!
The Novelty was a very smart ship and the largest vessel built in New Zealand at the time. She was part of the Circular Saw Line and carried both cargo and passengers. Sadly she met her end in 1877 when she stranded on Peton Point, north end of Formosa Island [Taiwan], and became a total wreck.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


During the 1860s Captain John Austen made several trips to Fiji in the Aquila. At first the reports were glowing - "The ' Aquila' brings us late news from these islands in addition to her cargo of tropical fruit. In all probability the year 1860 will be the point of departure in the future history of the colonization of the Fijis by the Anglo-Saxon race. The islands are already favourably known to old South-sea travellers, but the inducement which has been held out to settlers, by the steps recently taken by the British Government towards making them an integral part of her Majesty's dominions, will soon render them a fair field for immigration both from the Mother Country and the Australasian Colonies. Captain Austin of the 'Aquila' gives a most glowing description of the capabilities, of the islands"
Quick Passage. — The cutter 'Aquila,' arrived at Levuka, Ovalau, Fiji Islands, on July 25th, having accomplished the quickest passage on record from Melbourne — viz , I7 1/2 days from Port Phillip Heads, and 13 days from Twofold Bay.— Extract from a letter by a passenger.
But by September 1861 - " Captain Austin reports that there is no business doing, and that all the Europeans in the Fijis would willingly leave it if they could pay their passages thence."