Surat, Ship; Sailed from Gravesend on September 28, 1873, with 271 emigrants and a valuable cargo, and had an uneventful passage until 10pm on December 31, when the ship struck a rock, bumped and grated several times, and then floated clear. The weather was cloudy with showers of rain, a haze covered the land, and a fresh north-west wind was blowing. The master was uncertain of the location of the rock upon which the Surat struck, it may have been the reef off Slope Point, but was probably in the vacinity of Chaslands Mistake. It was the second officerís watch when she struck, and the last landmark seen prior to striking was Dog Island light, at 8 pm on the 31, bearing W. b N. distant about 22 miles.
The well was sounded, and the vessel found to be making no water. During the night, however it was discovered that the ship had developed an alarming leak. All hands were called, and the crew and male passengers manned the pumps. As relay after relay of men were overcome with exhaustion it was found necessary to call upon the services of the women to pump in order to keep the vessel afloat. Hope of a speedy deliverance was aroused in the morning when the steamer Wanganui hove in sight to leeward of the Surat. This hope was dispelled when the master made it evident that he did not intend to seek assistance in that direction. An attempt was made by some of the passengers to signal to the steamer for help, but they were compelled to desist on the master threatening to shoot anyone defying his orders. He was armed with a revolver and was alleged to be in such an intoxicated condition that it was quite possible that he could carry his threat into execution, and the Wanganui was allowed to proceed on her course.
In response to the entreaties of the passengers, who asked for a reasonable chance to save their lives, the captain anchored the ship in Jacks Bay, a short distance south of Catlins River, and about 100 had been landed when it was discovered that the vessel was likely to founder. The cable was immediately slipped, sails were set, and on January 1, 1874, the Surat was beached on the sandspit on the northern side of the entrance to Catlins River, where she ultimately became a total wreck. The beach north of where she stranded has since been known as Surat Beach. Under the supervision of Captain C. E. Hayward, harbour master at Catlins River, those remaining on board were safely landed, and received food and shelter at Messrs. Guthrie and Asherís mill.
When news of the wreck reached Dunedin on January 9, Captain Jacquemart, of the French warship Vire, had his vessel undocked and proceeded to the scene of the casualty. Owing to her draught the Vire could not come close enough in shore to embark the Suratís compliment, but the difficulty was overcome by the steamers Wallabi and Waganui, which had arrived from Bluff, entering the river, embarking the passengers, and then transferring them to the warship.
The wreck of the Surat was sold as she lay on the beach of Messrs. Guthrie and Asher for 7000,050 pounds, and the sale provided another unwelcome shock to her passengers, as the purchase not only included the vessel and her cargo, but also the passengers luggage and effects. The conditions of the sale were quite legal, and it was left to the generosity of the people of Dunedin to raise a fund to compensate some small measure the loss they had sustained.
The Surat, No. 45,879, was a full rigged ship of 1.000 tons register, built at Jarrow in 1863. She was under the command of Captain E.J. Johnson, and carried a crew of 37 all told. She had on board 980 tons of cargo. Mostly railway iron.
The Court of Inquiry found that the ship was lost through the wrongful act of the master and his officers. Captain Johnsonís certificate was cancelled, and he was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment for neglect of duty. The first officer was severely censured and his certificate cancelled, while that of the second officer was suspended for two years.
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