Stranding of the Lutterworth


Lutterworth on Rocks.Lutterworth on Rocks. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 180994
Click to enlarge

The threat of losing our famous Tāhunanui Beach has people scurrying for ways to save the sand. Imagine the consternation in Nelson 100 years ago when the sand movement threatened the harbour entrance - at a time when passengers and all of life's essentials came and went by sea. From 1842, when the Fifeshire ran aground on what was then called the Arrow Rock, there were numerous strandings until The Cut opened in 1906. When the Lutterworth hit the rocks in 1904 the citizens of the town knew it was time to act.

The Lutterworth had attempted to leave Port Nelson under sail when she came to grief on the morning of January 19th 1904. A large crowd watched from the shore as the afternoon tide went out and The Nelson Evening Mail reported the next day:

'much interest was manifested as to whether the vessel would go over, but the ballast kept her upright As the tide came in the Mail continued: At about eight o'clock there were some thousands of people along the Rocks Road awaiting developments. At nine o'clock the tide had made sufficiently to allow the Lady Barkly (a coastal scow) to come alongside and make fast. When the tide suited the Lady Barkly went ahead and strove to move the vessel but her efforts to tow off the barque were unsuccessful. Continued attempts were made up to near midnight but without success.'

In the morning greater towing power was called out.The Anchor Company steamer Charles Edwards and ‘Mr Burford's steamer Tasman' had the advantage of a higher tide, as the Mail stated:

The Charley went ahead, towing easily, and the barque moved away amidst enthusiastic applause from a large number of people on the shore...The Lutterworth was towed to the outer anchorage and will await a favourable wind prior to sailing to Oamaru.'

Sailing ships and the harbour entrance
Under this headline the Mail made editorial comment on the ‘extremely unfortunate mishap' and the worry that it would ‘give the port quite undeservedly a bad name. The editor suggested the stranding would never had happened if the Lutterworth had been towed out rather than leaving under sail and suggested towing be made mandatory. When Nelson was settled there was a deep anchorage at the foot of what is now Richardson Street,  but this started to silt up from 1876 when the Waimea River mouth shifted north from where it used to come out at the beach - near where KFC (at the junction of Beach Road and Tahunanui Drive)  is now, the editorial noted the changed conditions:

Not only are the vessels larger and heavier, but the bar has changed so greatly for the worse that the entrance itself has become more tortuous (and) sailing ships over a certain tonnage should be compelled to employ a tug...'

There was an important lesson to be learnt from the Lutterworth, according to the editor: that the improvement of the entrance to the harbour by an entirely new channel is more than ever justified... and if the public not place unnecessary hindrance in the way, there is no reason why in the course of the next two years there should not be an improved harbour entrance with the regular arrival of tramp steamers doing away with the need for sailing vessels. The grounding of the barque Lutterworth is not an unmixed evil if it has convinced certain sections of the community that wrangling and delay are dangerous.'

Why Lutterworth?
In northern England, Lutterworth is an old market town with two famous sons. In the 14th century John Wycliffe  made a famous translation of the Bible and, more than five hundred years later, Sir Frank Whittle  developed the jet engine at the Ladywood Works. There's a kiwi maritime connection here:  the John Wycliffe was one of Otago's first settler ships. The sailing ship Lutterworth was built in Durham in 1868 and came to Nelson several times after 1876.The ship was hulked at Wellington in 1912 and finally sunk by the airforce in 1950. A barque has three masts, two square-rigged and the mizzen with fore and aft sails.  

This article first appeared in Port Nelson Report, March 2006

 Updated May 22, 2020

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Further sources - Stranding of the Lutterworth