The Death of James Salter, Silversmith of Cork
That James Salter and his family died during a sea voyage from Cork to New Zealand on board the brig 'Sophia Pate' in 1841 is well known. What is, perhaps, not so well known is the actual details of that fateful journey as most period accounts are somewhat sketchy. Below I've put together a couple of the accounts that expose a dreadful end for the passengers of the 'Sophia Pate'.
The first short report is likely to be this one:
The Sophia Pate, Harrison, from Auckland to the Bay of Islands, and Kiapara, with twenty-five passengers, is totally wrecked near the latter place; the master and ten men saved; twenty-one lives lost.
Source: The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China and Australasia - 1842
James Buller, reminiscing on his life in New Zealand in 1878 recalls the disaster:
THE "SOPHIA PATE"
In the year 1838, Dr. Day was passenger in a ship - which called at the Hokianga. She was three months loading with a cargo of spars. During this time, the Doctor resided at Mangungu. He made a trip to the Kaipara, with the Rev. N. Turner, and, having been commissioned by some friends in Cork to buy land, with a view to their settlement upon it, he entered into a negotiation with Parore for a fine piece, in the Kaihu valley, perhaps about a thousand acres. The bulk of the goods stipulated for, was to be brought by the settlers.
In pursuance of this object, Messrs. Salter, Wilkinson, Stannard, and Stewart, with their families, embarked– in all twenty-two persons. They were to be pioneers for others. They reached Auckland, and thence, finding no other way of getting to the Kaipara, with their belongings, they chartered the brig Sophia Pate to convey them. They called in at the Bay of Islands, where Messrs. Stannard and Stewart resolved to go overland, via Hokianga, expecting to get there before their friends, and make some preparation for them. They had comfortable quarters at the mission-houses, for the first two nights, but after that had to trust to the hospitality of the Maories.
They were going along the sea-shore, and on the third night, turned aside into a beautiful valley called Waimamaku. The men were at work on their cultivations. The women prepared for them the best food they had, and garnished, with clean fern, one of their best huts. As night came on, the men, one by one, dropped in from their field-work. Their faces were tattooed, their arms and their legs were bare, and they wore shaggy mats. The strangers found themselves the "observed of all observers." They knew not what was said, but the talking seemed to be in earnest. A nervous fear began to creep over them; they questioned their own prudence in having ventured themselves among such a people. Presently there was a pause– an ominous silence! They thought the critical moment had come. They watched every movement. A man puts his hand into a bag. He pulls out–not the gleaming weapon which they feared, but–a book! Then a hymn was sung; the Scripture was read; their heads bent in prayer. The visitors, without doubt, were remembered in their petitions. And now the confidence of the travellers was reassured; they slept soundly, and left, to follow their journey, the next morning, with the good wishes of their hosts.
Our two friends arrived at their destination to hear that the vessel was a total wreck, and their friends were all drowned, but one little boy, called John Wilkinson. Very early on that morning of September 6th, 1841, I was aroused from my sleep, by the sad announcement of the event. My boat was soon launched and manned, and I rowed down the river. At the Warau, I took our two grief-stricken friends into the boat. At Mangawhare, ten miles further down, we found the captain and crew, with the little boy. They had saved themselves by getting into the boat, hanging on the davits, while the sea was breaking over the ill-fated ship, until high water, when they were able to row the boat ashore. We proceeded together to the scene of the wreck, which was embedded in the sand. We learnt that, after the vessel struck, Mr. Salter called his family and friends around him, in the saloon, and there, knee-deep in water, commended them all to God. One by one, they were swept away, by the rolling waves of that broken sea. We found several of the bodies on the sandy beach, and, digging graves in the sand, I read the burial service over them.
In this painful way, a scheme, from which we had hoped much good, was crushed in the beginning. On account of circumstances connected with this shipwreck, I felt it my duty to go to Auckland, and our two friends went with me. Not many months before, that site had been selected for the seat of Government. About two thousand souls were collected there already, living, for the most part, in tents and shanties. A land sale had just been held, and, as the proceeds of it, as much as ,Â£25,000 found its way into the Treasury.
It was on a Saturday morning when we arrived. On the next day I preached to about eighty Maories in the morning; and in the afternoon to a congregation of English, who met in a saw-pit in Mechanics' Bay. In the evening I had service in an auction-room. There still live in Auckland, a few who remember those occasions. I stayed several weeks, and preached every Sunday wherever I could find a place. I waited on His Excellency Governor Hobson, who promised me an acre of land, in a good position, as a church-site; and I took some steps towards the organizing of a church, with the few members I found there. This was the "day of small things." Auckland remained under my charge, until a resident minister was appointed. Meanwhile money was collected, and a neat wooden church was built, and opened, under auspicious circumstances, by the Rev. John Warren and myself. The only minister then living in Auckland was the late Rev. F. Churton, who for a short time was salaried by the Government as the Colonial Chaplain.
Source: Forty years in New Zealand - James Buller - 1878
But the account reported in 'The New Zealand Journal' is by far the most revealing and damming:
WRECK OF THE SOPHIA PATE
The Cork Reporter relates a disaster which has occurred in New Zealand; with the intimation that some particulars are suppressed "for a few days"–
"In the month of November 1840, three or four families of the city of Limerick (sic), remarkable for their industry and prosperity in their respective lines of business, including Mr. James Salter, his wife, and ten children, a respectable jeweller residing for many years on the Grand Parade, Mr. John Wilkinson, wife, and four children, boot and shoemaker of Daunt Square, and Mr. Stannard of Hammond's Marsh, we believe a cabinet maker, broke up their respective establishments and sailed in the ship Neptune for Sydney, their place of destination being New Zealand. Mr. Salter had made an extensive purchase of property at New Zealand, through the agency of a friend who had been there and reported most favourably of the country, and took out a considerable quantity of plate and other property. The Neptune arrived at Sydney in good order, and the emigrants landed, and sojourned there some three or four months, during which period Mr. Salter made provision there for one of his sons.
"Matters being in readiness and all arrangements perfected, the families of Messrs. Salter, Wilkinson and Stannard, proceeded in the month of August last, in the clipper Sophia Pate, from Sydney; and arrived, after a run of about three weeks, in the Bay of Islands. Here, having stopped a short time, Mr. Stannard proposed to walk across the country, about fifteen miles distant, to the spot towards which they had looked for months in that spirit of anxiety and solicitude natural under the circumstances. The proposition to proceed overland was not agreed to by Mr. Salter or Mr. Wilkinson, upon the ground that it might not be prudent in them to leave their trunks. and boxes to the care of others; and Mr. Stannard, accompanied by one of Mr. Wilkinson's sons, set off, leaving the remainder to proceed coastways.
"Upon arriving at the destined spot, he was astonished that no tidings of the vessel had been received; and he immediately proceeded to the residence of the chief of whom the property had been purchased for Mr. Salter; and whose welcome was most gracious. Accompanied by a Methodist Missionary in connexion with the London Institution, and a number of followers, the chief proceeded to the harbour likely to be selected as a landing-place by the clipper; when they were met by the master and crew, wearing Mr. Salter's clothes. Explanation quickly followed. The master reported, that when close to shore the vessel struck, and had gone to pieces; and that all on board, except himself, the hands, and a child of Mr. Wilkinson, had perished. The chief, an extremely intelligent man, instantly suspected that all was not right: his suspicions extended to his followers; and it was only by the greatest of exertions by the Missionary that the natives were prevented tearing the crew limb from limb.
"A portion of poor Mr. Salter's property, in plate, was found on the captain; and he and his crew being first stripped of the clothes on them, were conveyed to Auckland, a principal town in New Zealand, to await their trials.
"Young Mr. Wilkinson is stated to have represented, that when the ship struck, Mr. Salter entreated the captain to lower the longboat; and he did lower her, but it was to send her adrift; upon which he was asked to let down the jolly-boat; he refused at first, but upon letting her down, he and the crew lowered themselves into her, providentially pushing young Wilkinson, in the confusion, before them; he got to the bottom of the boat, and thus escaped; the last scene he witnessed on board, being Mr. Salter and family at prayer in the cabin, which at this time was filling fast with water."
Since the above was in type, the Colonial Gazette of Wednesday has afforded us some further intelligence of this melancholy occurrence.
The Auckland Herald of Sept. 25, states that the Captain had been examined by the magistrates, and had been acquitted of criminality.
The following is an account of another wreck.
Accounts were received at Lloyd's on Saturday, of the wreck of the ship Sophia, of London, on the night of the 2nd October last. She was on her voyage from New Zealand (Port Nicholson) to Kiapara, and had on board a rich cargo. It occurred at about twelve o'clock at night, during a tremendous gale of wind, off the Bay of Islands. The master, Captain Harrison, and ten seamen, saved themselves by clinging to the rigging and portions of the wreck ; but the remainder, consisting of twenty-eight seamen and passengers, and two women, met a watery grave. The vessel is said to have been worth Â£5,000; but whether she is insured or not is not known.
Letters have been received in London from Mr, Stannard, dated from the Wesleyan Mission station, at Kiapara, in New Zealand, September 18th and 20th, giving more authentic accounts of the loss of the brig Sophia Pate. It was on its way from Sydney, having called at Auckland and the Bay of Islands. On board were Mr. Salter and all his family, except one who is called Jamesy, who was left at Sydney, and Mr. Wilkinson and his family. Mr. Stannard went to meet them at Kiapara; but on his arrival on the 10th September, he found that the vessel had been lost an the 29th August. It struck on a sand-spit as it entered the river. " They then cast anchor, and strove to bring round her bead, but she drove on further and firmer in the sand. It was then proposed to the Captain to lower their long-boat, and attempt to land the passengers; but he declined, saying she was not sea-worthy. Shortly after, the vessel bumped so on the sand they were forced to cut away the masts (about six o'clock); the sea, which had been rising from the time she struck, now broke over the vessel with great violence; the longboat was first washed away, then her lee bulwarks; and at by this time she was filled with water, the passengers were all on the quarter-deck, holding on by the frame of the sky-light and remaining bulwarks; the crew were also holding on by the davits and jolly-boat. Our dear friends were unable to maintain this fearful straggle with the waves very long, and by seven or half-past seven o'clock they were all, together with Stephen Ellis, servant to Mr. Atkins, the captain's wife, and another passenger washed from the wreck; the only exception to this work of destruction was young Johnny Wilkinson. He appears to have held on the longest: and when all besides were lost, and he cried out he could hold on no longer, the Captain lifted him into the jolly-boat, and made him lie down under the bows. About an hour and a half after, the sea was more calm and the tide falling, when the crew (eleven in number) lowered the jolly-boat and succeeded in reaching the shore. They remained on the beach where they landed until Friday evening, when they crossed the heads, and the next day proceeded up the Waxroah as far as Mr. Forsaith's, where they were when I arrived on the Monday. During their stay on the beach, five of the bodies were washed on shore ; dear Mrs. Salter's, Sally's, Matty's, Mrs. Stewart, and her child's, (Mrs. Stewart was wife to Mr. Wilkinson's brother-in-law, who, I should have informed you, accompanied me overland) these they interred in the sand. Several of our boxes, together with a number of our barrels of flour, biscuit, pork, beef, powder, soap, and various articles, also came on shore; these the crew broke open, rifled our boxes, dressed themselves in our linen and clothes, and destroyed a great part of what they could not appropriate to themselves. On their bringing the intelligence of their wreck up the river, some Europeans who live here, took a boat and proceeded to it, as did also a man who lives near the Heads; these finished the work of plunder which, the crew had commenced.
"The beach for some miles was strewed with the wreck of our goods; but our boxes, &c, had been smashed to pieces, and everything worth carnage had been taken. I could not recover so much as a shirt or pair of stockings, although I was much in want of both. The sailors had all of them a bundle of our things each, and it was anything but pleasing to see my good shirts on some and my friend's on others, while one clean and one dirty was all I had in my possession; to employ force was out of the question, and there was no Magistrate on the river. Mr. Buller and myself, however succeeded in shaming the Captain into the delivery of our friend James's silver teapot, basin, ewer, four table-spoons, a dozen dessert-spoons, and one dozen tea-spoons. While he was reluctantly giving up these, a second dozen of our friends tea-spoons came in sight and although the cresting was exactly similar to that on the desert-spoons, he audaciously insisted that they were his own, and we had not the means to wrestle them from him."
Source: The New Zealand Journal - 1842