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This is a series of regular articles keeping you informed of happenings on our harbour today, and from bygone days — truly the ‘Jewel of the Kaipara’.
The Moa (pictured) was a typical New Zealand
scow and like the Surprise was build in 1900
‘Projected Departures. Surprise, scow, for Dargaville, tomorrow early’. That was the news in the shipping column of the Wanganui Chronicle on 18th June 1906. A regular visitor to the Kaipara, Surprise ran a virtual timber shuttle service for five years, carrying timber back to Wanganui. After a short seven-year but mostly incident free career, Surprise came to an unexpected end, although not on the Kaipara Harbour.
Built in Omaha near Mangawhai in 1900, Surprise began her working life for the Mokau Coal Company. She was said to be well equipped and capable of carrying 160 tons of coal, usually sailing from Mokau down to Wanganui. The Northern Wairoa saw-milling firm, Mitchelson Timber Company, bought her in 1902 to export their timber around the country.
During an August winter voyage two years later, loaded with 73,000 feet of timber for Wanganui, she ran into a westerly gale. A huge wave washed a passenger overboard, carried away her steering gear and dumped her on the beach a little south of Manawatu River. Two weeks later the sand-covered timber had been off-loaded with the only slightly damaged ship at anchor in the Manawatu River and soon back at
No slow coach, it was reported that in March 1904 she arrived in Wanganui with 72,000 feet of kauri aboard after just three days sailing from Kaipara Heads. But with no delay, she sailed straight back north again.
Gisborne firm Robb Bros bought Surprise in 1907 planning to use her on the Gisborne to Whangarei coal trade. When they sent her off to the north on her first trip for them, she was greeted by a savage storm, her anchor dragged and she ended up a complete wreck on Slipper Island, a few kilometres south of Tairua.
Her regular captain was sick and the stand-in captain was blamed for an error of judgement. He was drowned together with three others in the crew. Only insured for £650, Surprise was valued at £1,050.
A twenty-year old Norfolk Islander, Harry Jackson, was a sole survivor. He managed to get to the coast badly knocked about, unable to speak clearly but eventually to make a good recovery.
Three days later a police search was made for the rest of the crew, but all they found was the ship’s dog asleep on the beach which was covered with tons of seaweed, dead crayfish and fish, suggesting the fury of the storm. It was an unfortunate end for the scow that had worked well and hard for her living on the Kaipara.