PC 154 The Fosbery Connection – Shipwrecked!

PC 154 1 Farewell Spit from Puponga

Farewell Spit in 2010 – getting longer every year

“Sorry, dear Papa. Needed to go to the powder room! Now, where was I? Oh! Yes. The second mate left to find a telegraph station and raise the alarm at Nelson. Meanwhile everyone I spoke to imagined we would somehow get off the sand bar, but we were stuck fast and I could see the captain and the gentleman passengers talking about what to do. By 8am, after an anxious night and having had some biscuits for breakfast, it was decided that we passengers would be split between the two boats, the lifeboat and the cutter. Henry, Mary, little Caroline, baby Emily, Emma and me were slung in a chair onto the cutter, along with eleven other passengers and four of the crew. One was a stowaway called Furness, a frightened young man who kept himself to himself.

I think the Captain wanted us and the others in the lifeboat to stay together, but no sooner had we got on board the crew cast off and we drifted away; we should have had the Chief Officer and some food and water with us! I could hear the Captain yelling for us to come back but the crew seemed resolute in their actions. I was told later that those left on board constructed a raft but we lost sight of the Queen Bee after about seven hours so at the time imagined we were on our own. The wind started blowing stronger and the waves began to break into the boat. We all took turns at bailing but we weren’t very successful; my dress was horribly wet and is completely ruined.

PC 154 2 QueenBee on Farewell Spit (2)

The Queen Bee stuck on the sand of Farewell Spit

I’ve enclosed an extract from the report into the sinking, as it sums up nicely what we endured:

“Left the Queen Bee (in the cutter) on Tuesday morning at 8 am, with 21 on board. The boat had only three oars, which were almost useless, no sails, rudder or mast, and no water, excepting one bottle, which a passenger happened to have, and three tins of preserved meat. We tried to stay alongside the ship, to get rid of some of the passengers (??) as the boat was over-loaded, but could not, the wind and sea being very high from the west. After struggling for an hour we had to run before it; when two-thirds across the bay we found we were making no southing, and we expected to be blown seaward, the boat filling three times.

PC 154 3

(Ed: You will see that if the wind hadn’t shifted they could have drifted north of D’Urville Island and maybe lost completely!)

Fortunately the wind shifted north-west and by means of a rug held on to a brass rod, we made a little southing. At eight o’clock we sighted Savage Point above French Pass, when the wind shifted west again, which blew us to the mouth of Te Puna Bay, where we held on to our oars all night, but had hard work to keep off the shore. (Ed: They thought it better to attempt a beach landing in daylight!)

PC 154 4 Islands near Frenchman Pass

 At daybreak we rowed into Te Puna Bay and landed on the beach, where we made fires, boiled some water, while some of the crew went over the hill to look for habitation and fell in with a Maori settlement, where they were treated with great hospitality. We remained in Puna ‘Harbour’ until the following day, when we rowed into Elmslie’s Place where we were picked up by the Aurora. Ten of us come on in the Aurora and the remaining eleven on a Maori boat.’

PC 154 5

And to think, Papa, we imagined that the Maori might eat us, such was our ignorance. So the Aurora took us into Nelson and at the quayside were several thousands of people congregated, who thronged the road and beach from the Pilot Station to the entrance. As we entered the harbour, ringing cheers went up from the crowd of people who were assembled on The Rocks, and were taken by one little knot after another the whole way up the harbour. There was a band which started playing the particularly appropriate air ‘Home Sweet Home’; it was so exciting. We came alongside the harbour wall and Lieutenant Gully lifted up Caroline into outstretched arms, then Emily, not 10 days old, (See Note 1) and then he helped Mary, Emma and me to climb ashore. It never felt so good to be on dry land. To the sound of louder and heartier cheers, we made our way to the shed where, to our surprise, were Philippa and Eleanor. (Ed: Two of Eva’s sisters who were already living in NZ) We clung to each other, wept with happiness and joy, as the band, at the request of the Bishop of Nelson and other clergy who were present, struck up the well-known doxology ‘Praise God from Whom all blessings flow’, which was warmly joined in by the enthusiastic crowd.

We’re going to stay in Nelson for a few weeks to recover from our ordeal and then maybe sail to Wellington. Will write soon. Love Eva.” (See note 2)

And all because someone kept the front page of a newspaper!

Richard 14th June 2019

Note 1. Emily’s health never recovered from the hash exposure of being in an open boat for three days and she died in 1880 aged 3.

Note 2. Eva Constance Fosbery went on to marry George Nation, my great grandfather, in Dunedin in May 1884, moved to California, bore three children; moved to London in 1898 and is buried with George and her second son Cecil in the cemetery of St Stephens’ Church in Shottermill, Hampshire.

PC 154 6

Note 3. The Queen Bee was uninsured and a total loss. There is no record of what happened to the 30 tons of cargo, for instance the 4 bales flour bags, 10 cases Van Houten cocoa, 30 bundle spades, 42 cases galvanised corrugated iron, 1 bale seaming twine, 150 cases Hennessy’s brandy, 2 crates brownware, 3 casks china, 15 cases marmalade, 10 kegs split peas, etc etc – or indeed all the passengers’ possessions.

Note 4. The lifeboat and Captain’s raft were also found, although when the raft had attempted to land on Puna beach, the waves smashed it to smithereens and the carpenter drowned. He was the only fatality out of the 30 passengers and 24 crew. The two boats and raft drifted about 100kms before coming ashore.

Note 5. At the subsequent Court of Inquiry Captain Davis was “adjudged guilty of the grave default in not using lead and other means of ascertaining his position when so near the shore and on a strange coast. The Master’s certificate suspended for three years. The certificate of John Going, second mate, was suspended for six months, as he was the officer of the watch at the time of the stranding, and did not use proper precautions to keep the vessel off the shore.”

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