It was such a huge hulk that it must have had an interesting history: well, that history is directly linked to the end of the days of sail.
The vessel began her life in September 1889 as the Alice A.Leigh, a 3,000 ton four-masted steel barque built by the Whitehaven Shipbuilding Company, Cumbria, UK. She was named after the Mayoress of Stockport, Alice A.Leigh, who performed the christening ceremony.
The barque was well-appointed inside, with a panelled saloon - the master's quarters even had a bathroom fitted with a porcelain bath. At 309ft.long with a main mast of 176ft., Alice was the biggest ship built there, carrying 31 sails on her lofty rig and a crew of 33. But she was reluctant to begin her duties: at her launch, the £26,000 ship grounded and the yard had to pay another £1,400 for tugs to set the vessel afloat. This extra cost, atop other problems, proved the death of Whitehaven's once-thriving shipbuilding industry. The difficulties highlighted the harbour's limitations for large ships. [At this time, workers skilled in shipbuilding were paid about £85-90 a year and general labourers about £60, so that may give you an indication of the ship's huge cost.]
Alice A.Leigh ran the typical trades of the large four-masters, taking bulk cargoes from India and Australia to London, and to the Pacific coast of Nth.America. She visited Australia for the first time in Feb.1895, bringing to Melbourne a large kerosene cargo from New York, and later equipment for Victorian coal mines. She brought a 4,000 ton wheat delivery from California to Sydney in 1903…but quicker steamers were becoming more prominent.
At the helm from 1900-1917 was Captain Allan Davison. He took his wife Hannah with him, and six children were born either at sea or at various ports: two of them died, one was actually buried at sea. Davison seems to have been quite a capable chap. Awakening one night when in harbour to sounds in his cabin, he encountered a thief...who he laid into with a belaying pin until help arrived!
The barque had several adventures - she arrived in British Columbia from Shanghai in 1897 with three people suffering from smallpox: two others had died en route. In 1898 she survived a collision with German ship Rickmers, a minor mutiny in 1904 and, in 1914, made a "very fast passage" of 48 days for the 9,000 mile trip from Mexico to Newcastle. In October 1916, she was nearly sunk by the famous German submarine U-35 in the Mediterranean. Ordered to disembark, crew and passengers were rowing away from the Alice when the French destroyer Gabion sped to the scene…the submarine escaped but the ship was saved.
Alice was sold in 1917 to the New York and Pacific Sailing Ship Co. Her last visit to Australia as Alice A.Leigh was in 1920, then she was sold in 1921 to George H.Scales Pacific Ltd.of Wellington, acting for some NZ businessmen.
Renamed Rewa, she took a load of NSW coal to Wellington, only to be embroiled in a waterfront dispute over the use of new equipment for unloading her cargo.
Then she made her last major voyage to London via the Cape of Good Hope in 103 days, with a load of wool. She returned to Newcastle in ballast in 93 days, and loaded coal and sleepers for Auckland. She arrived in Auckland in August 1922 on her final voyage with cargo – steam vessels proving too great a competition.
Rewa remained laid up off Northcote Point, Auckland for eight years. There was a suggestion she could be used as a training vessel for the NZ Mercantile Marine, but this came to nothing. So in mid-1930 she was towed to the NW side of Moturekareka Island, Hauraki Gulf. Plans for her demise prompted the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin to wax lyrical about "The Passing Of Sail"...
It was a sad year for sail - in six months Britain's last full-rigged ship Garthpool sank on a Sth.African reef (Nov.1929), then Rewa, the last barque on the British shipping register, met her ignominious end. New owner Charles Hanson (well-known colourful hermit and war veteran) had planned to moor the ship across the entrance to a small bay as a breakwater, but a storm put paid to that endeavour and she ended up scuttled near the shore (June 1930).
In 1936 the Evening Post eulogised Rewa as "an excellent sea boat with a good turn of speed, often logging up to 330 or 340 miles for the day". It described a race with the five-masted barque France (the largest sailing ship at the time) – Rewa caught up five days on her bigger rival!
What's left? Well, some of Rewa's steel was salvaged in 1957. Her figurehead is at the Torpedo Bay Naval Museum, Devonport. Her ship bell was stolen just before the scuttling, and Hanson presented the binnacle and wheel to the Whangarei Cruising Club in 1937.
But what remains today on the island is still recognisable as the hulk of a massive sailing ship, an important piece of world nautical history and a drawcard for curious boaties.
|Rewa, soon after scuttling|
|Robina Trenbath and Rewa, 1957|
|photo: Peter Tasker |