Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gold And Silver, Opera And Death...

£5,000 of gold was alot to steal in 1880!
Grevious consternation was caused in November 1880, by the theft of five gold bars from SS Tararua on a trip from NZ to Melbourne. A £1,000 reward failed to find a culprit…but several years later, police recovered some of the gold after the death of the ship's steward.
However, 'twas business as usual for Tararua in April 1881. The twin-screwed steamer had recently passed survey and was busy plying the NZ-Australia trade route, delivering cargo and passengers.
On Sunday 3rd.April (census night), she was in the port of Napier with 140 passengers, incl.the 35-strong Simonsen Opera Company. On Thursday 28th.April, the Simonsen Opera Co.was playing to a full house in Auckland "and doing a splendid business". Meanwhile the ship that had delivered them there was steaming to its doom...
Leaving Dunedin at 5 that night, under the command of 29yr.old Captain Frank Garrard (who'd joined her a few weeks before), Tararua was headed to Melbourne via Bluff and Hobart, but ran foul of Otara Reef at Waipapa Point on the Catlins coast, before dawn on the 29th.
The first lifeboat was holed as it was launched, but the second one carried a volunteer close enough in to swim ashore and raise the alarm: a farmhand rode 35 miles/56 km to telegraph the news. The message reached Dunedin by 1pm - but it was not marked urgent so rescuers didn't leave until 5pm!
Initially, NZ's worst-ever civilian shipping disaster was reported as of minor interest, but when rescuers arrived, the full extent became known…
On the reef, the wind and waves had risen and were pounding the ship. At noon, six passengers who were strong swimmers were taken close to shore; three managed to get through the surf, the others drowned. Captain Garrard gathered the women and children on the fo'c'sle as the ship began to break up – tragically a large wave swept most of them to their deaths. He later "died nobly at his post".

Tararua took over 20 hours of battering to sink - the stern went under around 2pm and the rest disappeared overnight. Passengers climbed the rigging, and hung on until 2.35 the next morning, when those on the beach heard piercing shrieks. Daybreak: the ship was gone, bodies were floating in. Only one man managed to swim ashore. Of the 151 passengers and crew, 131 were lost. 74 bodies were recovered: 55 were buried in a nearby plot now known as the Tararua Acre. Three gravestones and a memorial plinth remain there today. Garrard lies in Christchurch's pioneer cemetery.
A Court of Inquiry found the disaster was primarily caused by Garrard failing to establish his correct position. A seaman was also blamed for not keeping a proper lookout. The court called for a lighthouse to be built at Waipapa Point - that lighthouse began operating in 1884.
Some quirky tales followed the tragedy:
+ like a "callous wealthy colonist who, when asked to supply implements to enable the police to bury the bodies", was said to have told them to bring their own!
+ Captain Garrard's fiancée (a Miss Buckhurst) lived in Melbourne, and he was on his way to marry her. But when his body was found, he was carrying a locket containing a picture of her mother!
+ One of the dead women was eloping under an assumed name – her lover had gone ahead to Sydney to await her.
+ The Bank of New Zealand had shipped £4,000 of old silver coins aboard Tararua – various futile recovery attempts were undertaken, resulting in several more wrecked boats.
+ But the oddest tale came from Adelaide, Australia, where a clergyman was eulogising about one of the victims, Wesleyan Rev.J.Waterhouse: he related that the reverend dreamt of dieing in a shipwreck! It was also mentioned that, just at the time of the wreck, a young woman dieing in Melbourne suddenly exclaimed: "Mother, yonder is Mr Waterhouse. He is standing on the shore beckoning me."
The Tararua Acre, Waipapa Point, Southland [pic by perambulations]

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