Archives for January 2023


Frequent maritime disasters were common around the dangerous coastline of New Zealand in the 19th century. Drowning was so common in early colonial times that it was known as ‘the New Zealand death’.  To add to the unpredictable climate, which paid a crucial role in the days of sailing ships, the coastline was poorly charted. For example, the captain of the Sophia Pate had three charts as he tried to enter Kaipara Harbour in 1841, each indicating a different channel to follow. The one he chose resulted in the brig ending up on a sand bank with the loss of 21 lives. The 165-ton Sophia Pate had been chartered by three Irish Wesleyan families to carry 23 settlers from Sydney, via Auckland, to the Kaipara district, where they planned to establish a settlement in the Kaihu Valley. Though the captain waited for favourable weather and sailed cautiously along a charted channel near South Head, the Sophia Pate ran aground. Within four hours, strong swells had broken the ship apart, destroyed the longboat and swept all but one of the immigrants, and the captain’s wife, overboard. At low water, Captain Harrison, his son, six crew members and one passenger reached the shore in the ship’s jolly boat (a rowing boat used at that time to ferry people from ship to shore). read more