on the sailing ship "Bulwark", 1872
THE VOYAGE OF THE BULWARK
THE BULWARK IN PORT
The Bulwark lay at the East India Docks, awaiting sailing orders. It was to be her first voyage to New Zealand.
She was a smart looking ship, with a "full but clean stem and a well-rounded stern". Travelling First Class were Captain Kelly's wife and three children, also Mr Rye (a New Zealand settler of some years' standing) and his wife, plus Miss Scott, Master Goetz, John Cowan, Walter Chitty, Ralph Allison, and Henry Hoare. In the "Second Cabin" were Edward and Anne Matthews and their six children, plus Miss Bostic, Miss Franklin, Mr and Mrs Evans, Mr and Mrs Jolly, Miss Kelson and Miss Andrews. Travelling steerage were Messers Murphy, Milner, Higley, Davies and Wilsford. Also aboard was John Parsons, who died at sea.
The Bulwark was ten years old. Described as a large, first class sailing vessel, she was nearly two hundred feet long, and forty feet wide at the broadest part. Fitted with all the latest technology, except a motor, she was considered to be a well equipped migrant ship. Compared with other ships of the Shaw Savill fleet, the Bulwark was in the top quarter for size.
The Bulwark was built in 1862 under special survey by Storm and King at St John’s New Brunswick. She was 198ft long, 40ft wide and had a draft of twenty-four feet. Apart from iron bolts used in her construction, the 1332 ton ship was constructed entirely of wood. She had a single deck. Her hull was sheathed in a protective casing of "yellow metal", a metal alloy. She was originally owned by Smith and Co, London annd was acquired by Shaw Savill in 1872. [Information about the Bulwark is from Lloyd’s Register of Shipping and Sir Henry Brett’s "White Wings".]
Perhaps other family members accompanied Edward and Anne to the dockside. One can imagine that the children, ranging in age from baby Ernest at two and a half years, to thirteen year old Edward, would have felt alternately excited and frightened at the prospect of the long voyage.
After the customary hymns and prayers at departure, we can imagine our little group at the rails, eleven year old Howard perhaps lifting Ernest up for a better view. All too soon the dockside would have slipped away, as ship was towed through the congested waterway of the River Thames.
As far as is known, none of the family ever returned to Britain.
The Bulwark left the Port of London on the 27th day of February 1872. As well as her small contingent of passengers, she carried a large general cargo of livestock, paper, linen, general drapery, plus more than five thousand "packages" for various destinations in New Zealand. Deep in her holds were 450 tons of railway iron, for use in Auckland's new rail system.
Although by the 1870's many voyages to the antipodes were being made on steam driven vessels, there were still ships, like the Bulwark which relied entirely upon sail power. A blurred photograph of the ship at a dockside suggests her to have been a three masted, square rigged vessel of solid proportions. Her dark hull is graced by a bright line, which follows the contour of the main deck. On this voyage she was very low in the water by reason of her heavy cargo.
According to a report taken from the log book, the Bulwark had "left London on Feb 27th and Portland March 6th", Portland presumably being the lighthouse in Dorset. From there, progress southward was slow until the 20th of March when the Bulwark picked up the north-east Atlantic Trade Winds.
After crossing the equator (on April the 3rd), the ship ran into the south-east Trade Winds, which no doubt brought welcome relief from the equatorial heat. Soon the ship was buffeted by a heavy south-east gale, during which large quantities of water were shipped on board, and the vessel was "considerably strained". A period of relatively good weather stayed with them for a week, before the Bulwark was again overtaken by a storm, during which the overburdened ship sometimes rolled "gunwale under". When this occurred, the ship was rolling so far over that the gunwale - at deck level - was pushed under water. It takes little imagination to realise that on this angle, water may be forced down the hatches, or the cargo could move, causing parts of the vessel to give way under the strain.
By beginning of May however, (late autumn in the Southern Hemisphere), the weather had improved and the voyagers found themselves south of Tristan da Cunha, passing within fifty miles of Gough Island. Here, at latitude 38.0° south, longitude 12.0° west, the Bulwark lay within the prevailing westerly winds. A straight 7000 mile run would take them past the Cape of Good Hope and across the southern oceans to New Zealand. The Atlantic storms however had taken a toll of the Bulwark. Presumably at this position off Gough Island, a check had revealed damage to the fresh water tanks from the battering gales. There was insufficient water to last for the duration of the voyage. Accordingly, Captain Kelly (not one imagines without chagrin) decided to make an unscheduled stop at Simons Town, near Capetown, for water and provisions.
After seventy days cooped up on the ship, perhaps the passengers went ashore. Anne may have found time to write, in her neat refined hand, to her sisters at Comer House School in Worcester, and to her brothers in London, Worcester, and North America.
Following a three day stopover, the Bulwark put to sea. A few days of light winds carried them well on their way across the lower reaches of the Indian Ocean, but a very heavy gale from the N.N.W. was soon upon them. A brief respite, then they were struck by an even worse storm. The story of the extreme peril which had overtaken the ship is perhaps best told in the terse accounts printed many months later in the Auckland press. The Daily Southern Cross of October 2 1872 gives this "report of the passage of the Bulwark ... taken from the ship's log book". It begins the third day out from Simons Town:
From the 17th to the 20th a strong N.N.W. gale prevailed, with high seas which gradually increased in violence to the 23rd, when it veered to the W.N.W. and N.N.W., and commenced to blow a perfect hurricane. On the 25th in 42.28 S a heavy sea was pooped which washed the mate and one of the men from the wheel to the front of the poop. During the night the hurricane blew with terrific force, accompanied with a high mountainous sea.
At 8.30 pm. on the 26th a terrific sea was shipped over the stern of the vessel, which carried everything before it, smashing the wheel to atoms, washed the two men from the wheel, one onto the main deck smashing two of his ribs. The other man had his arm dislocated. At the time of the sea breaking on board the captain rushed to the wheel, but he was washed to the front of the poop, and had both legs severely injured. The second mate, who was also on the poop at that time, was washed onto the main deck, and severely cut about the chest. The poop skylight and hurricane-house were carried away, and the saloon filled with water. The binnacle, compass and timepiece were also lost. All the poop rails were smashed. Four boats were carried from their fastenings, and smashed to atoms. Hen-coops pigs, sheep etc were also washed overboard. The same sea smashed in the front of the fore-cabin and the main deckhouse. Two spars and an iron yardarm were also carried away. The port, mizzen and starboard mainchains were started, and the main deck was very much damaged. Nearly all the bulwarks were carried away. Owing to the quantity of loose stuff knocking about the deck, the fastenings of the hatches were loosened and the tarpaulins carried off, large quantities of water getting below.
When the wheel was carried away, the vessel was brought up to the wind and all sails were let fly, for the safety of the ship and all on board. Sounded the pumps, and found five foot of water in the hold. The pumps were manned with every man on board, and the women also assisted. The pumps were kept going without ceasing for 24 hours, during which time the hurricane still continued with unabated fury. A number of seamen refused to work any longer, it being fully believed that the vessel would founder. On the 27th a quantity of aquafortis was thrown overboard, it having caught fire. From that time till the 29th the vessel was on the port tack under storm trysail. On that day a wheel was fixed, and the vessel's head put for the island of Mauritius. From thence until arrival, on June 18, moderate weather prevailed.
[Mainchains included planking which ran outside the hull, to assist in fastening the shrouds to the decking.]
The following excerpt, found in the Kenderdine Scrapbooks, was not attributed. It is part of a letter written by one of the passengers to Mr Owen, a partner of Owen and Fendelow, shipping agents. Posted from Mauritius, this letter was the first indication that the ship had not gone down, for the Bulwark was very much overdue. [John Kenderdine’s scrapbooks are held at the Auckland Institute and Museum Library.]
This from Mr Rye, the "Settler" who was returning with his wife to New Zealand, after a year's absence:
[At Mauritius.] "After nearly four months at sea, we have got this far. We had little else than a succession of storms until we put into Simons Bay. Ten days later we encountered another fearful gale, and we had little hope of ever reaching land. We were running with a very heavy sea when a big wave came right on board right over the poop, sweeping away the wheel with the three men who were at it, landing them on the main deck with broken legs, arms and ribs. It also carried away our skylights, half-filled the cabin with water, and completely smashed up all the boats. We had about five feet of water in our hold. All hands turned to work - ladies and all - and after eighteen hours' pumping we at last dared to hope the ship was clear. To make a long story short, we worked hard day and night for eighty or a hundred hours, and by God's mercy here we are. No lives were lost. We send this by a little barque leaving here for Sydney.
How we feel for the travellers.
When the storm struck, the Bulwark had been at 42.8° south latitude, and 61° east longitude, approximately east south east of the Cape of Good Hope, well into the "Roaring Forties". It was midwinter in the southern hemisphere, and the prospect of sailing the leaking ship across 5000 miles of empty Indian Ocean towards Fremantle was too terrible to contemplate. Closer at hand, but madness to attempt in her crippled condition in the teeth of the adverse winds of the southern latitudes, was Capetown. It was sensible therefore to choose a safer alternative, to head northwards out of the "forties", towards the tropics and the island of Mauritius.
Three weeks later, still badly leaking, the ship reached safety at Port Louis.
Because Mauritius was not a scheduled port for the Shaw Savill Line, Captain Kelly was unable to call for assistance from any of the company's agents. Henry Brett in his White Wings says that extensive repairs to the Bulwark being necessary, the Captain had to resort to raising funds under a "Bottomry Bond" before he could repair the vessel and leave port. "This" he tells us, "was before the days of cable communications, and consequently when a ship-master got into trouble and put into a "port of refuge" he had either to wait the remittance of funds by the ordinary course of the mail, after his owners had received advice as to his whereabouts and condition, or he had to mortgage his ship under a bottomry bond".
It would have taken many months for a remittance to have reached them from England.
The Daily Southern Cross quotes from the ship's log, "Repaired damage and landed cargo: sold about 80 tons, principally paper", for a total sum of about £4000. Another, and more likely quote from the New Zealand Herald says it was principally drapery that was sold, and on reflection, it is a more likely commodity to have survived the drenching in the ship's hold. The Herald also remarks that on leaving Mauritius it was noted that although apparently still deep in the water, the ship was "a foot lighter than she was when she left the Cape".
No letters or reminiscences have survived which tell of the family's unexpected eight weeks' sojourn on Mauritius. Their adventures however, are known to have been the subject of many exciting stories passed on to the next generation. Meanwhile, the rest of the world had given the ship up for lost. Nothing had been heard of the Bulwark since she had sailed out of Simons Bay.
On August 16, after two months' work, the vessel was able to leave Mauritius on the last leg of her journey to New Zealand. Favourable winds carried her on the long haul eastwards. By the 17th of September her position was to the south of Tasmania, from where she turned northwards for the long haul up the Tasman Sea. At last the Three Kings Islands off New Zealand's northern reaches were sighted. Rounding North Cape, the Bulwark quickly passed down the east coast of the North Island. One can picture the little groups of people leaning on the rails, looking somewhat anxiously at the uninteresting, low lying grey-green land, with its regular sprinkling of pale ochre sand dunes. We know it was misty or perhaps raining as the ship approached the entrance of the Waitemata Harbour. Perhaps Mr Rye joined our little group and named Rangitoto for them, that volcanic island whose shape has come to symbolise the city of Auckland. Perhaps he pointed to the occasional house becoming visible on the North Shore, or to the signal station on Mount Victoria, its arms already signalling the Bulwark's approach. Just past that headland (he may have told them), the harbour opens up to the west, and you will be able to see the town of Auckland.
It was the first day of October, 1872. The New Zealand Herald announced the troubled ship's arrival:
At last, the ship Bulwark, from London, is safely anchored in our harbour, after a passage of over seven months, having left the 27th of February. Great has been the anxiety in shipping circles respecting this vessel, which had, prior to the news of her having put into Mauritius, been given up for lost.
The signal of a ship in sight was hoisted at the flagstaff shortly after one o'clock yesterday afternoon, and about three a full-rigged vessel rounded the heads and anchored in the quarantine ground to await the arrival of the Health Officer. The ship's number was not hoisted, and when the Bulwark came in sight it was thought she was the Robert Henderson or the Glenhuntly, for people had ceased to look for the vessel so long overdue. Besides, she presented quite a smart appearance and did not "roll" into harbour "like a tea waggon", as was anticipated she would do... She is very deep in the water, as may be supposed, from the quantity of railway iron on board; but we are informed that she is a foot lighter than she was when she left the Cape.
The ship rounded Devonport Heads at about 1.30 pm, for the passengers' first glimpse of their new town. She anchored off Kohimarama Bay. The Herald says, "Dr Philson boarded the vessel about five o'clock, and after making the usual examination, gave her a clean bill of health. She afterwards came up as far as the powder ground." Later the ship may have berthed at the Queen Street wharf.
The Bulwark had earned a bad name in shipping circles, but perhaps this was unmerited where her sea-worthiness was concerned. Doubtless the company had overburdened the ship with railway iron. Damage to her cargo (the second ship to have arrived thus in recent weeks) so incensed local merchants, that a new, colonial owned shipping company was formed in Auckland, with John Logan Campbell as Chairman. Later this company amalgamated with others to form the New Zealand Shipping Company.
The Bulwark sailed for Port Chalmers on the 20th of November, where Shaw Savill and Co advertised as "General Government Agents". Early in the New Year the Bulwark sailed for Newcastle.
Lloyd’s Register for 1873 - 74 states that the Bulwark had undergone repairs. After two slow voyages, she was graded as only “fit to carry cargoes not liable for sea damage on shorter voyages”. She appears to have still been owned by Shaw Savill when she was wrecked in 1881. Details not known.
Meanwhile we can follow the Matthews family, waiting with the other passengers to disembark. No doubt they would soon give thanks for their safe arrival.
Captain Kelly however, was about to begin a paper-war over insurance claims against his vessel and the shipping company.
Tradition says that the Matthews had intended to settle elsewhere in New Zealand, but having at last made safe land-fall, Anne refused to travel further. Perhaps Christchurch had been Edward and Anne's original destination.
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