To the Editors of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Clarence Island. July 12,1851.
Lat. 9°12' S., long. 171° 30', per chart.
It is my melancholy duty to inform yon of the total loss of the barque Novelty, of Liverpool, on this island (the vessel that you may remember made the passage, last December, to Auckland from San Francisco in twenty-nine days).
We sailed from San Francisco, for Sydney, on the 5th June, with fourteen male and two female passengers, and had light and variable winds to the Line, which we crossed on the 1st instant, in longitude 160° 45' west. We had then strong south-east trades, with heavy squalls, thick weather, and much rain. On Saturday, 5th, we took sights, and at noon, by two chronometers rated at San Francisco, we made the ship in 169° 30' west longitude, and 8° 28' south latitude ; Saturday night was squally with thick and cloudy weather ; steering a south-west half west course. At two a.m. of Sunday, I was on deck, and went below to work up the ship's reckoning since noon, and made her, by the course steered, forty miles from the island.
At ten minutes to three a.m., the second mate came hastily into my cabin, and stated that a thick haze had cleared away, and land was close to us, right ahead. I ran on deck but immediately saw nothing could save the ship ; the yards were however braced round, but without avail, the current swept her on to the reef, and she struck heavily and was thrown on her beam-ends ; the masts were immediately cut away, and we remained most anxiously waiting day light, the ship striking heavily all the time. After some difficulty we got on shore by means of the masts ; not knowing whether the island was inhabited, a party was despatched to explore it ; they soon found traces, and shortly afterwards a body of natives approached us. We made the usual signs of friendship, which were warmly reciprocated by them, in shaking of hands, rubbing of noses, and then making a low kind of moaning noise and pointing to the ship.
All the crew were immediately employed in saving such provisions, clothes, &c., as could be got at - we fortunately laid in a good supply of provisions in San Francisco, and have saved nearly two months supply, with care. The launch has been lengthened, and I am about proceeding in her to Upolu, Navigators' Islands, if I am only able to fetch them, in order to obtain a vessel to take the crew and passengers off the island. If due precautions are taken there is no fear of any rupture with the natives ; they are a fine race of people, domestic in their habits ; we have seen no weapons amongst them ; their sole dependence is upon cocoa nuts and a few cabbage palms, and fish is plentiful at times ; there is no water on this island. but on. an islet near by sinking casks in the sand we can obtain water, though brackish
Clarence Island, according in the chart, is laid down as a mere speck of land ; there are besides it twelve or fourteen islets, connected with it by a coral belt, from which there is no outlet except by watching a chance through the breakers. The circumference of the whole is from thirty-five to forty miles.
I deeply regret to state that in trying the launch in the still water inside the reef, the boat was suddenly capsized and one of the seamen. John Evans, about 22 years old. a native of North Wales, was drowned. The natives recovered the body and it was interred in the usual manner. They were much struck with the ceremony.
The Novelty was very strongly built and fastened ; had not this been the case, nothing could have prevented her immediate breaking up, as a tremendous sea was running, and making clean breaches over her. I send you a list of the passengers and crew at foot.
According to sights taken since we have been here, the island is laid down 30 miles out. The chronometers have not varied at all since leaving, and upon my arrival at a suitable place, the fact of the island being laid down wrong can be more completely ascertained.
We were fortunate enough to save the bag containing letters, but the parcels of newspapers have been destroyed ; what few have been picked up, I have put with the letters addressed to you. Under the circumstances I trust that any letters addressed to other places than New South Wales will be duly forwarded to their destination.
Opaia, Navigator Islands, 30th July. 1851.
I am thankful to inform you of my safe arrival at this port, after being at sea nine days on my passage in the longboat, with very stormy weather.
I am in hopes to leave this island in the morning, in Mr. Pritchard's schooner, for Clarence Island.
I am, gentlemen,
Yours, most respectfully,
John Harrison, Master.
The following is a list of the passengers and crew:
Mr. George Murray, supercargo, of Sydney ;
Mrs. Peters and child. of Illawarra ;
Messrs. Schofield, sen. near Parramatta ;
B. Hore. of Sydney,
Isaac Raphael, ditto.
Aaron Benjamin, ditto,
James Campbell, ditto,
J. Doyle, ditto, M'Alhinney, ditto,
John Woollen, ditto;
Michael Carroll, Limerick;
James Gough, Dublin;
J. Miller. Sydney;
Steven Swain, ditto;
D. Cain, Hobart Town;
J. Mouro, Sydney.
John Harrison, of Liverpool, master:
J. Budgeon, Isle of Wight, 1st mate;
Thomas Harrison, Liverpool, 2nd mate;
William Smith. New Zealand, carpenter;
James Wilson, Sydney, Sailmaker;
Thomas Wallace, Glasgow, cook;
John Hopkins, Adelaide, seaman;
Stephen Smith, England. ditto;
Thomas Little. Jersey, ditto;
Edmund Spence, Milford, ditto;
John Evans. North Wales, ditto.
To the Editors of the Sydney Morning Herald.
In Captain Harrison's letter, announcing to you the loss of his vessel, an impression is conveyed which might be the means of producing a similar catastrophe.
Captain Harrison appears to consider the island on which he was wrecked to be Clarence Island, whereas it appears to me (by marking the ship's position at the previous noon, and the subsequent course steered, as given by Captain Harrison, in his letter), that the vessel was lost upon a group of islets lying about fifty miles to the south-east of Clarence Island, and first inserted by Norie in his charts of 1846, one of which I saw a few months since, and corrected my own log
This group was also reported at Paris by the commander of a French whaler, as a new discovery, about the month of April last. The course steered by the Novelty would lead directly on the centre of this group. It is very improbable they were laid down on the Novelty's chart and hence the disaster. Their position, according to Norie's chart, is 9° 30' south latitude, and 170° 50 west longitude. I compared this position with that reported by the French captain, and they agreed closely. Norie calls them Low Islands.
I was nearly lost upon them myself about fourteen months since.
In conclusion, I would beg to state my opinion, that the enormous increase of British traffic in the Pacific, consequent on the opening of the California market, calls imperatively on the British Government to have some practical route to and from San Francisco, speedily and thoroughly investigated, and the charts corrected and published. The long train of recent disasters on this route are a sad but convincing proof of the necessity of such an undertaking.
Apologising for this intrusion on your valuable space, I am, gentlemen.
A British Shipmaster.
Sydney, September 26
SG Vol 8, p 277
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