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The S.S. TARARUA Wrecked in Foveaux Strait 29 April 1881

28 April 1881, the Steam Ship Tararua left Port Chalmers for Bluff, Hobart and Melbourne, under the charge of Captain F.G. Garrard. The ill-fated Tararua set off from Railway Pier at 5 pm that Thursday evening. It was a full flood tide as she went out past the heads at 5.40pm, Captain Garrard was in charge till then, when the Second Officer took charge, handing over to the First Officer at 6 pm. At this time they were steering by the land and no course was given, they were going at about ten knotts and the patent log was put over at Cape Saunders.

The journey continued, officers and crew were on duty attending to what has to be done during night sailing, relieving eachother as their watch came round, following the course set in the night-order book SW by S-1/4-S. Orders were left to call the captain if any other vessels were sighted, or if bad weather set in, and to call him when the Nugget Light was abeam.

At 1.30 am, the Chief Officer noted that they should have been off Long Point, he could see land but could not see the Point, as a haze was lying onshore. The captain always slept dressed ready to be called, and this Lindsay, the Chief Officer did when he judged his position to be just off Slope Point.

The Second Mate, Maloney, came back on deck at 4 am to relieve Lindsay. The captain was still on deck at the time, it was hazy on land and the weather was the same as it was on his earlier watch. “I fancy I can hear breakers on the beach” observed Maloney, the captain looked and listened carefully. Later, Maloney, again thought that he heard surf on the beach went aft to where the captain had gone to read his charts, “I think she’s rather close in” said Maloney to the captain.

Captain Garrard looked along the leeward side, then everything happened so quickly. The captain rushed aft to the wheel where he and Seaman Stewart heaved to put the helm hard to starboard, as they did the wheel lifted up three times, then the gear Broke.

Now the Tararua was coming round, but suddenly she struck, dragged heavily for just a few moments, bumped, then settled striking hard. Garrard then gave a sharp order and the engines were reversed at once, but this was useless, for striking aft she unshipped the rudder and broke her propeller. The engines were stopped immediately, being of no further use.

The passengers, awoken abruptly, ran out in their night-clothes and scrambled up the companion-ways. Some of them rushed to climb into the boats as the seamen worked to loosen them, but they were ordered out.

Within twenty minutes the four boats were slung out and the dinghy hung outside the fore-rigging on the starboard side by the topsail halyards, ready to lower. After the first boat was lowered it was hooked by the heavy rolling sea and subsequently lost. The captain called “There’s no danger and the boats are not to be lowered till daylight”

It was now after 5.30 am and a heavy swell from the south was rolling in and over the after-parts of the Tararua. The passengers fled forward, though the ship was slightly canted to port. They could do little but to wait for dawn to arrive.

Towards 6.30 am the captain ordered the Second Mate to take charge of a boat, and at the same time he called for volunteers from among the passengers “I want four young fellows who can swim to go on shore and send a message” he said. The response was immediate, so the captain picked out four passengers, but then he hesitated “One life is enough to risk at this stage” he said and turning to George Lawrence, he asked “can you swim?” “yes and I’m willing to go ashore” was his reply.

The onus was on Lawrence alone to get ashore somehow and alert someone, somewhere, of the Tararua’s predicament. He swam strongly, probably for about a hundred yards and had little difficulty until he reached the surf, which tossed him about. He finally staggered ashore, stood up, then scrambled best he could to the top of the Sandhill’s.

Once over the rise he looked out over a lonely area known to the few residents there as Otara Point (on marine charts, Waipapa Point). About half a mile away he could see a building, he was in luck, for the rough hut and barn were the out-station of a run holding, and the men were having breakfast. “What place is this?” Lawrence asked, “Bruntons Station” “Where’s the nearest telegraph?” “That would be over at Wyndham about 30-40 miles away, there’s only a post office locally at Fortrose”. Lawrence asked if one of them would ride to Wyndham and telegraph the Union Steam Ship Company that the Tararua is on the reef and to send help immediately. “Ill go at once” a young man replied, “Are there any people drowned?” “No I’m the first one ashore.

The young man, Gilbee, got to Fortrose on the coast at just after 9 am. His news spread quickly and settlers rushed to see the Tararua’s plight for themselves and offer any assistance they could.

Gilbee gave the message to Mr J. Hollywood at the Wyndham Telegraph Office, and the news item which startled New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain, was tapped along the telegraph wires. This first message read, 12.45 pm 29 April 81. J. Mills, U.S.S. Co. Dunedin: S.S. TARARUA ON OTARA REEF. ASSISTANCE WANTED. GEO ATTWOOD. It was not marked urgent.

Earlier that morning of 29 April, Mr mills the Managing Director of the Union Steam Ship Company of Dunedin, had received a telegraph from Bluff: WHEN DID TARARUA LEAVE. NOT YET SIGNALLED. Signed WADDELL AND CO. Many telegraphs were then sent between Dunedin, Wyndham, Invercargill and Bluff. But none of these reassuring messages reached Captain Garrard on the Tararua, where conditions were somewhat worsening.

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