Mobile Unit. New Zealand shipwrecks

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Mobile Unit - NZ oral history, 1946-1948
RNZ Collection
Haylock, Arthur Lagden, 1860-1948, Interviewee
New Zealand Broadcasting Service. Mobile Recording Unit

An interview with New Zealand shipwreck historian Arthur Lagden Haylock who discusses wrecks around the New Zealand coastline. Mr Haylock, who was born in Akaroa, Banks Peninsula in 1860, is interviewed in Wellington, where he has lived since 1892. He talks about his interest in ship wrecks and his rescue work with the Rocket Brigade at Timaru (where he lived from about 1877).

Arthur and the interviewer discuss a map of New Zealand showing the location of various shipwrecks.

Arthur remarks that the ‘Orpheus’ wreck was one of the most celebrated in New Zealand and Waitara was very busy with ships. The Whanganui coast was dangerous and there were many wrecks. There were four wrecks in Wellington and twenty in Palliser Bay.

His interest in wrecks began with the ‘Melrose’ he describes how she became wrecked and the consequent loss of life. Arthur first got involved in wrecks when he lived in Timaru as they were fairly common due to the wind. He describes the thrill of the wreck as she strikes the beach.

The ‘Akbar’ was wrecked in 1879, after the ‘Melrose’, ‘Fanny’, ‘Glimpse’ and ‘Lapwing’ shipwrecks in 1878. Arthur explains how he joined the Timaru Rocket Brigade when the ‘Akbar’ was wrecked when Captain Alexander Mills was the harbourmaster. The Timaru Rocket Brigade’s headquarters were in a tower on the site of the old lighthouse in Timaru, where they were asked to keep watch in bad weather. The night the ‘Akbar’ was wrecked the ship couldn’t signal with a rocket or flare as they had got wet, which he feels was negligence from the captain as he didn’t keep them in a watertight box. It wasn’t until the morning that the ship was spotted on the rocks and five lives were lost including the captain and his wife.

Arthur describes that they used an 'express', which was a wagonette with two horses, to carry everything to and from the wreck, sometimes up to three miles by road and across paddocks

Arthur and the crew of the Timaru Rocket Brigade witnessed the ‘Craig Ellachie’ come ashore at 7am, after she dragged her anchor and parted her cable. He watched as Captain Meredith’s wife, the crew and then Captain Meredith came ashore.

The ‘Melrose’ was the most exciting wreck Arthur and the Timaru Rocket Brigade attended to, as it was very dangerous for the ship’s crew to hang on to the wreck and come ashore. He describes the scene as he watched from the beach when Judge Ward helped rescue the captain from drowning. He survived and was sent to hospital by Doctor McIntyre.

Arthur describes how on 22nd November 1879 the ‘John Watson’ struck the reef at Patiti Point and how the schooner ‘Saxon’ and the harbour master Captain Alexander Mills responded.

Arthur also recounts how the ‘City of Cashmere’ was wrecked on January 14th 1882 five miles north of Timaru and the Dashing Rocks. How he took a boat from the Timaru Boating Club so he could sketch the vessel in a watercolour and got into trouble at sea.

On a beautiful sunny day on the 14th May 1882, the sea ‘was in a furious state’. Whilst standing on the shore Arthur witnessed three boats capsized which were trying to reach two ships ‘City of Perth’ and the ‘Ben Venue’ that were anchored. At the inquiry the captain stated he had never seen such high waves created by the ocean currents crossing each other, not caused by the wind. The cross currents had caused the stern to slew right round. At the inquiry, the Harbour Board authorities said happened frequently in Timaru.

The ‘City of Perth’ came ashore under the Ben Venue cliffs and avoided being wrecked due to having two anchors down and ropes out. She was hauled off and taken to Port Chalmers for repairs and reconditioned to sail again. He recounts how the ‘City of Perth’ crossed the bow of the steamer ‘Ruapehu’ at 16 knots an hour and handed them a rope to tow them. Much to the excitement of those aboard the steamer, as this was a thing you would see ‘in the old shipping times’.

Mr Haylock came to Wellington in 1892 and has had 70 years of interest in ship wrecks, having kept a diary of wrecks since he was 13 years old.

In 1864 the Marine Department began publishing information on wrecks which Arthur uses for his research, earlier than that he uses books on New Zealand.

Arthur talks about the wreck of the ‘White Swan’ off Ariki Point when it raced with the ‘Storm Bird’ travelling from Auckland to Wellington, but came ashore by cutting the coast short, 36 miles from Masterton on the coast.

Arthur comments there has been between 1500-1700 wrecks around New Zealand, with the 'Endeavor' in Dusky Sound in 1769, being the earliest. Arthur collects information from the Marine Department, daily papers and books, which he then marks on the map and keeps a card system which lists the name of the vessel, the captain and the tonnage. Also collecting information from the Mission Library in Sydney and his friend George Cook. Also Mr Harris in Dunedin and he’s travelled to many places, including the British Museum and Hobart to uncover information on wrecks.

For 60 years Arthur investigated the ‘Wainui’ which was built for Mr Latter, whose sons Arthur played with. The ‘Wainui’ left New Zealand in 1874 and Arthur found out from the papers in 1879 she had been ‘lost in the islands’. Arthur contacted Miss Ida Leeson at the Mission library who advised Arthur to contact the Governor of New Caledonia. He made contact with the captain of the ‘Wainui’ who answered his questions after 60 years of investigating. Captain Champion was the last captain on the ‘Wainui’, he was employed by the Union Company in Lyttleton and captained Bishop Selwyn’s boat the ‘Undine’. The Chief Engineer of the 'Wahine', Ernest Low confirmed this to Arthur.

Sir George Shirtcliffe and Arthur Turnbull, now head of the shipping firm in Christchurch under the same name, were both members of the Timaru Rocket Brigade.