The Auckland Islands are part of New Zealand's territories, lying approximately 320 kilometres south of New Zealand, toward the Antarctic between latitude 50.30' and 50.50' South and longitude 166. and 166.20' East. This bleak and inhospitable set of islands, is the scene of as many as ten shipwrecks. The seas are so violent that very little survives of these wrecks. What does survive is generally buried beneath tons of rocks which are rolled about during the southerly storms.
A search has been on, since shortly after a wreck occurred on May 14, 1866 through to the present day. This is for the wreck of the General Grant, an American clipper ship of 1183 tons, built in Maine, USA in 1864. The ship had a timber hull with a length of 179.5ft, beam of 34.5ft and depth of 21.5ft.
The General Grant, loaded with cargo of wool and skins, 2,576 ounces of gold, passengers (some of whom were returning to England, fresh from the gold fields of Australia), and nine tons of zinc spelter which some people believe was actually gold, left Melbourne, Australia on May 4, 1866 on a voyage to London England.
The ship was making good progress when at 11 pm on the night of May 13, a very dark night, the Auckland Islands were seen dead ahead. The crew and passengers saw with horror that they were drifting slowly towards massive cliffs. In the light winds and choppy seas they were helpless and the ship slowly crept on to its doom. At about 1 am the ship crashed bow on into the cliffs. The General Grant drifted astern and was carried further along the cliffs where it was reported to have drifted into a large cave where the mast struck the top of the cave. On the rising of the tide, the mast was forced through the hull, sinking the ship.
At dawn the first attempts were made to get the passengers and crew safely to the shore. A small boat with three crew was got away with lines to help get the other boats away. A second boat was launched carrying the chief officer, three crew and a passenger. In the panic that followed, 68 people were drowned either in the cave or in an attempt to reach the shore. Of the crew of 22 and 61 passengers the fifteen survivors included 9 crew and 6 passengers, one of whom was a woman.
One of the passengers had a match with which they were able to light a fire, a fire that they kept going. Without this fire they would surely have died. After surviving the wreck and living on seals for months and braving the terrible conditions, they decided that the only way they were going to be saved was for some of the men to sail the ships boat to New Zealand. The boat was only 22 feet long with a beam of five feet four inches, left the islands on 22 January, 1867 with four men on board. They were never seen or heard of again. In September, after a short illness, another of the survivors died, leaving 10 souls enduring the hardships on the islands. Finally on October 6, 1867 a ship was sighted. Excitedly, signal fires were lit and the remaining boat was launched to intercept the ship. Unseen, the ship sailed on. On November 21, 1867 a ship, the Amherst went to the Auckland Islands on a sealing expedition.
The survivors on seeing the ship launched their boat and intercepted the ship. The ships captain offered to take the survivors to New Zealand but they decided to stay on the islands and help with the sealing which lasted a further six weeks. Almost two years after being shipwrecked on the islands, the 10 survivors were safe.
The first salvage attempt was in 1868 from the paddle tug, Southland, with James Teer, one of the survivors as guide. This attempt was abandoned because of the weather.
1870 saw another attempt on the schooner Daphne with David Ashworth another survivor. This attempt was abandoned when Ashworth and five others disappeared in the ships boat while searching for the cave.
1876 using the schooner Flora and a third survivor, Cornelius Drew as the guide.
1877 the steamer Gazelle went south and claim to have found the cave but the divers did not dive.
1912 another trip was organised, this time using the steamer Wairoa, but did not even leave NZ for the islands.
1914 an expedition came to an end with the wrecking of the salvage ship.
1915-16 using the cutter Enterprise. This was the first expedition where a diver actually dived. The organisers ran out of money.
1970 yet another unsuccessful expedition.
1975 Royal Navy Commander, John Grattan led a team which found a wreck. The divers recovered several artefacts, but nothing to identify the wreck.
1976 John Grattan led a second expedition to the site. A few days before their departure, a fishing vessel, Atlantis with divers on board also headed for the site. Both the Atlantis and the Acheron with Grattan on board met at the site. The Atlantis was kicked off the site and got in trouble with the Marine Department for leaving New Zealand without authority and the Department of Conservation for being at the Auckland Islands without having obtained the necessary permits.
1977 saw another unauthorised attempt to discover the wreck. The divers on returning from the islands claim to have found a plate with the date "1862" on it and many other artefacts. These divers did not recover any artefacts and took only photos.
1986 a syndicate of divers, which included Bill Day, Seaworks Limited, on the dive tender Little Mermaid went to the site that was dived on by John Grattan. They proved that the site was that of the Anjou, a French ship built in 1899 and lost in 1905. They moved to another site where they discovered three anchors and two canon. The divers used a pump on the site and recovered 61 half crowns and two copper coins, all of which were dated before 1830. Part of a bell was recovered, but without any markings.
1994 a share float was issued to raise 4 million dollars to go to the Auckland Islands in 1995 to recover the gold. This attempt was by John Grattan. Sufficient funds were not raised and those who had bought shares lost their money.
ARCHAEOLOGY OR SALVAGE
In 1996 Bill Day led an expedition to the Islands, diving on what they called the half crown wreck, the same site that they dived on during 1986. Before their departure, Bill Day obtained all the necessary permits, one of which was a permit from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. This permit allowed the divers to modify the site in search of gold, but did not specify any requirement to survey and record the site.
Bill Day however, contacted the Wellington Maritime Museum regarding site recording and the conservation of materials. The request for information was passed on to MAANZ. MAANZ was pleased to provided Bill with the necessary information and was pleased that this was to be the first search for the gold that was going to have maritime archaeological techniques applied. Although a site plan has not been published, this is for site security, one has been done, showing all the artefacts recovered.
During this last trip, the divers removed nearly 3000 tons of boulders and recovered more coins, including gold half sovereigns, silver rupees, farthings. None of the coins are dated later than 1833. Many other artefacts were also recovered. Following their return to New Zealand Bill Day and the divers donated most of the artefacts recovered to the Wellington Maritime Museum. This is where the Maritime Archaeological Association of New Zealand (MAANZ) became involved physically. We are in the process of conserving the artefacts and trying to identify them, in order to help identify the wreck.
Artefacts donated to the museum include:
Balance Weights: Five brass weights were recovered which weighed
27 grams = 0.95 ounces
Allowing for corrosion losses, the balance weights would have been 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16 ounce.
Following correspondence with Avery Historical Museum
the following marks were identified:
A crown with the letter G below - standing for the
reign of George VI.
5 Deck Light or Porthole(without glass):
Deck Light or Porthole(with glass):
On the fixed ring is the word CHADBURN while on the opposite side of the ring is the word SHEFFIELD. On the inner ring, on one of the locating lugs are the letters VIII.
Lavatory Flush Lever, Toggle Handle and Counter Weight.
These three items were found together but were separated for the conservation process. MAANZ staff initially identified them from similar artefacts recovered from the Water Witch site in Adelaide, reported in the publication Water Witch Wreck site, Jeffery.W., published by D.J. Woolman, Government Printer, Adelaide , 1987. Unfortunately no identifying marks have been found.
A similar artefact was recovered on the CSS Alabama wreck site off Cherbourg, France. The CSS Alabama was a British built ship, built in 1862, and sold to the Confederate Forces and sunk after an hour long battle with the USS Kearsarge on 19 June 1864. This wreck is contemporary with the building and loss of the General Grant.
This type of toilet was used during the 1860's and is derived from a project proposed to the Royal Navy in 1778 by Joseph Bramah and although adopted by the Navy, it was never used.
Lead Cistern with Brass Pipe:
The lead cistern is 275mm wide, 195mm high and 140mm deep. The lead itself is 6mm thick. The brass pipe is 380mm long with a diameter of 104mm reducing to a diameter of 69mm. On the front of the cistern is an embossed figure of a woman playing a harp and the British mark of the Broad Arrow.
Both of the canon balls are hollow and have a diameter of 101mm, one of which weighs 3019 grammes (6.649lb). The other weighs 3376 grammes(7.436lb) and has a metal plug in place.
In imperial measure, the canon balls would be four inch and if they were solid shot, they would weigh approximately 9 pound which is a standard shot size.
Other artefacts recovered were an iron knee, an iron bearing and the door of a fireplace or stove, with the name MOLYNEUX L.POOL., parts of a rudder gudgeon, assorted brass fittings, the lower part of a bronze bell, a small amount of copper sheathing along with 31 assorted bronze pins.
With the discoveries so far, we have an assortment of American, Indian and English coins with the latest date of 1833, 33 years before the loss of the General Grant.
33 years is an exceptionally long period of time without more recent coins turning up. Surely, with Adelaide minting their own gold coins in 1852 and Sydney in 1855, some of these coins would have been found on the site.
The balance weights are dated 1826 and it would be unlikely for them to have been in use as late as 1866.
The oven door has Molyneux L.Pool on it.
The lavatory flushing system, without a date or identifying mark makes it difficult to date the wreck, but if the Water Witch date of patent for the flushing system is used, it would place the one found at the Auckland Islands between 1828 and 1843.
The cistern has the British mark of the Broad Arrow on it.
The recent information received from France, dates the cistern and flushing system around 1860, which places the artefacts in the right era for the wreck to be that of the General Grant. Perhaps the General Grant was built using navy surplus materials along with other products of English manufacture, and may even be on the same site as a wreck of 1930's vintage.
The artefacts recovered and studied so far point towards an English ship. My initial response is to say that the wreck is that of the unidentified ship recorded in New Zealand Shipwrecks as follows:
1833 Unidentified Wreck, Auckland Islands.
In 1833 wreckage found on the Auckland Islands proved beyond doubt that one or perhaps two large vessels had been wrecked there between February and August of that year. The wreck was discovered by a party of sealers stationed on the island from the Caroline, commanded by Captain Anglem.
The wreck site of the General Grant has not been positively identified, and further research has to be conducted in relation to the artefacts. Further dive trips are planned for the future, and as more diving is conducted on this site, more information will no doubt be revealed.