Saturday, May 22, 2010

Of wrecks and mysteries

One could be forgiven for thinking that Captain John was a little careless with his vessels but his wrecks must be seen in the context of his times. With no motors these ships were at the mercy of the wind, tide and rocks. Several of the ships he had owned or sailed were lost under other captains. The "Tay" was wrecked near Waiheke in 1866, the "Christina" was lost at the Otago Heads, and the one I find most chilling the "Josephine" which left Foxton for Sydney in 1882 and was never seen again "presumed to have foundered at sea".

I have often wondered how he got back to Auckland after the wreck of the "Reliance" and have just found this curious account in "Papers Past". It seems that he shipped as mate on board the "Hamlet's Ghost". On board was a very shady character indeed - Count Von Atem.

"The Hamlet's Ghost, with the spurious Count on board, put into Somerset (Cape York) on or about the 15th of August.[1868] On being boarded by the police boat, he made inquiries as to whether a frigate had arrived there, and on being answered in the affirmative became agitated and eagerly inquired about her movements, but appeared relieved when told that the vessel was ELALS. Virago, and that she had left the settlement in January. He remained eight days, and during the whole time kept a bright look-out for vessels in the offing. The captain and crew were discharged in consequence of a row between the c Count' and the captain, in which revolvers were drawn. The crew refused to put the captain in irons. It appears that the Count had kept them in awe by threatening to give them twenty-five lashes a-piece when he fell in with the Austrian frigate he was always expecting. The acting police magistrate induced the crew to re-ship under a fresh, agreement, all but the captain and steward, who remained behind. While in port the Count was always dressed in the uniform of an Austrian captain of cavalry, and wore a sword when on shore. He made a great display of the money he had with him, and purposely left bills of exchange lying about his cabin for visitors to see, many of which were filled in for large amounts, and only wanted his signature, lie succeeded, in imposing upon the authorities, taking supplies for his vessel aud paying for them in bills, which the holders will doubtless discover are about as valuable as drafts upon Aldgate pump. He sailed for Batavia on the eighth day, leaving letters for the captain of the Austrian frigate and his bankers in Sydney. Two days after he left Somerset, the schooner Captain Cook arrived from Bowen, with a warrant for the arrest of the Count."