Stranding of the Hawea


Imagine the drama there would be today if a ship ran aground on Rocks Road.

Hawea, 1886, aground in NelsonThe Union Company steamer, Hawea aground on the Nelson foreshore in 1886. Kingsford and Baigent, Museum of Wellington Collection
Click image to enlarge

In 1886 shipwrecks were more common, but there was still plenty of consternation from residents near the old harbour entrance around Haulashore Island, when they awoke on March 30 to see the Union Company steamer Hawea with her nose on the beach near the sea wall.

 It was a fine, clear, starlit night and the Captain, Joseph Hansby, said the course was the one he always steered when coming into Nelson and that he had come in earlier on the tide twice before.   "The only way I can account for the accident is that she took a steer in the strong eddy and did not answer her helm sufficiently quickly. The engines were working properly. We were coming dead slow. As soon as she touched the engines were reversed and put full speed astern... but this had no effect on her," He told the Nelson Evening Mail.

The 25 passengers were disembarked onto the beach and the cargo was redistributed from the forehold to the stern, but there was no budging the stranded vessel on that tide. The Hawea stayed on the beach all day, and as the evening high tide approached the crowd grew.

Ships of the Union Steam Ship Co.The Old And The New Ships As Of The Union Steam Ship Company.[Some well-known ships, Old and New, of the Union Steam Ship Company's Fleet. From top (left): The "Hawea, " the "Beautiful Star," the "Maori," and the "Taupo," Right: The "Taroona,"the "Monowai," the "Rangatira," and the "Aorangi."]Retrieved from NZETC. Click image to enlarge

The Nelson Evening Mail somewhat whimsically suggested that if cabmen had their say ‘there would be a vessel ashore at the harbour entrance two or three times a week at least, for they were kept pretty busy conveying spectators to the Rocks from the town as the time for high water approached'.  

Another Union Company ship, the Mahinapua tried to drag the Hawea into deeper waters, but succeeded only in breaking three towlines, and was dispatched on her journey to the West Coast.

The Hawea remained aground until the following morning, when she spontaneously floated off on the high tide. Thanks to the soft shingle of the beach she was undamaged. An enquiry held on the stranded vessel while she was still aground found no one to be at fault. The Mail reported: 'the grounding of the steamer was one of those accidents which it is said it is impossible for the best regulated families to avoid'.  

The Hawea was a 66 metre single screw steamer built in Scotland in 1875, and able to carry 92 passengers. She was speedy in good conditions and in 1876 steamed from Picton wharf to Barrett Reef, Wellington in 3 hours 20 minutes. The vessel had a short but eventful career and sank after striking a submerged object while coming into New Plymouth (from Onehunga) in 1888. The Hawera and Normanby Times reports that the ‘mails were landed all dry' and the passengers were taken by boat to the wharf where arrangements were made for them to continue by train. There were two race horses on board, Allegro, which had just won the Auckland steeplechase, slipped her sling and was drowned, while the other horse, Armourer, made it safely to shore.

This article was first published in Port Nelson Limited report. August 2008.(p.12).

Updated May 14, 2020

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