Rescue of Castaways
One Hundred and Three Days on the Auckland Islands
Otago Witness Thursday July 9 1891 page 24
Telegram from Bluff
"Janet Ramsay, sealing schooner, returned from Auckland Islands with crew of the barque Compadre, iron-built, 800 tons, register, consisting of 15 hands. The barque caught fire and was beached to save life. The accident happened about 16th March last, and beached on 19th. The vessel was bound to Talchuano (Talechuna), in Chili, with a cargo of bags, from Calcutta."
The mate's statement : We left Calcutta on the 22nd January. All went well till the 16th March when a fire was discovered by the captain in the after hold. He instantly called all hands and proceeded to master the fire. Holes were cut in the cabin deck and water poured in incessantly from 10 am to 6 p.m. Finding it impossible to extinguish the fire we battened all down and shaped a course for Bluff, that being the nearest port. Several men who tried to obtain bread from below were rendered insensible and had to be carried on deck. We made fair way till the night of the 18th March, when it blew a heavy westerly gale, accompanied with terrific squalls.
At 7 a.m. on March 19 land was discovered on the starboard bow, distant about 12 miles. It being very hazy at the time, we brought the wind abeam, but owing to the fearful sea the vessel laboured heavily. One tremendous sea swept the foresail and foretopmast staysail out of the boltropes, also bursting the forecastle ports, smashing the scuttle fore-hatches, sweeping the decks of everything moveable, besides bursting the cabin - thus giving air to the fire, which could not be prevented from breaking out through the immense quantities of water were flooded in. The men could not man the pumps, being continually washed away.
The carpenter sounded the well and found 8ft of water in the hold. By this time the ship was windward of the north cape of the Auckland Islands.
Giving up all hope of saving the vessel which was rapidly sinking under foot, and being unable to lower the boats in such a sea, we squared the main yard had steered towards the rocks in hopes of saving life. Previous to striking we poured oil or the water over the stern, which greatly reduced the violence of the sea.
All hands got on the jib boom. The vessel struck with a great crash, everyone making a jump for the rocks, some being bruised. In 10 minutes from the time we landed nothing but loose wreckage was to be seen.
The crew suffered severely from want of food, clothing and rest until the depot was discovered and the sealer Janet Ramsay picked up the crew. The castaways were 103 days on the island.
The crew consists of -
Captain D. Jones
F. Bates, mate
F. Cox, second mate
E.A. Richards (Robertson) apprentice
J.R. Clarkson, apprentice
H. Roberts, steward
H. English, Carpenter
F. Woods, able seaman
J. Harding, able seaman
D. Black, able seaman
F.F. Wright, able seaman
F. Englem, able seaman
A. Bleeber (Blubler) able seaman
John Mannock (Munnock) able seaman
H. Brownett, able seaman
Peter Nelson, A.B., was lost in the bush, and though a thorough search was made for him no trace could be found. This is the only one of the crew missing.
The survivors were taken off the Aucklands by the sealing schooner Janet Ramsay on Monday last, and landed at Bluff to-day.
The Story of the Castaways by Mr Bales (the chief officer)
All hands got out on the jibboom, and as the vessel struck with a terrific crash everyone made a jump to the rocks. All landed safe, but some were badly cut and bruised. By this time the oil had become exhausted, and the sea, regaining its force, swept over the vessel with fearful violence, and in 10 minutes from the time landing nothing but loose wreckage was seen. The whole of the ship's company climbed the cliffs, which were several hundred feet high. We saw a mountain in the distance, and made straight for it to get a better view of the island we were cast upon. We found great difficulty in reaching it, being bare-footed and scantily clothed, as previous to leaving the ship, each man had prepared to swim for life. From the mountain top we discovered a flagstaff close to the beach.... We at once made towards it, but missing our way in the bush, the night coming on., we made for the nearest beach. There we found a few limpets and one little fish, which we divided into 16 parts, one for each man. This scanty meal was greedily devoured, as we had only one meal since the fire broke out four days before. What stores had been saved from the lazaerette had been kept for the boats and were, therefore, lost when the ship went down. It was now discovered that one man named Peter Nelson, a native of Norway, was missing. An attempt was made to find him, but the night was so dark that the search had to be given up. A most miserable night was spent owing to the rain and snow, which fell incessantly. In the morning we divided ourselves into parties and proceeded to search for Nelson, but with no success. While searching one party discovered the depot. We came to the conclusion that he must have laid down in the bush and died. We made for the depot, and found all the stores complete according to the list left with them. After living there a forenight, and not knowing when we should be taken off the island - as we found a record showing that the Hinemoa had been there a month previous searching for the Kakanui - we came to the conclusion to divide ourselves, and that half should go to the other depot at the south end of the island. Accordingly I (the mate), my watch, and the steward, started for the south end. We greatly endured hardships on the way, having no boots and very little clothing, as we were obliged to leave what clothes were at the depot for the party remaining there. After tramping six days over hills and swamps, we finally reached the depot. Our feet were very much cut and swollen, and some men were racked with rheumatism. We found all the stores complete. While searching along the beach for food we discovered an old whale boat. Though very leaky and rotten it proved of great service to us. We made oars out of the branches of trees, but unfortunately, while out fishing one day, a heavy N.W. wind caught us, and while endeavouring to reach the depot the oars broke one after the other, and we drifted ashore on Adams Island. We all jumped on the rocks but the boat went to pieces. Knowing there was a good boat on the island we searched for it, and after two days ' tramp found it. When the Janet Ramsey (Captain Woods) reached the islands we were on an allowance of three biscuits a day, and were just coming down to two. During our stay on the islands al the men enjoyed good health, except for the pains caused by exposure.
Mr Bales mentioned the great service the depots at the Aucklands had been to them, but stated that unless boats are left at the depots it is impossible to live after about a week there, as the seals and birds soon scent danger from the presence of man and clear out to the outlying islands.
The Carpenter Interviewed.
H .English stated that two or three days before the fire was discovered he was in the hold drawing water from the tanks. He then noticed that the water was rather warm, but supposed it was because of the deficient ventilation of the hold. Nelson, the man lost, was the only one of the crew sufficiently clothed, having rigged himself in two suits, several shirts, and seaboots. The Port Ross division of the crew caught several sheep, pigs and goats during their stay. The pigs are now fairly plentiful on the islands. Two of the crew have joined the Janet Ramsey, and have gone back to the island.
Mr Hatch's ketch Gratitude passed westward of the Aucklands on the 17th March, the day upon which the Compadre was heading for Bluff. The Gratitude had been to the Macquarie Islands to take off Mr and Mrs Melsih. Before leaving Invercargill it is stated Mr Hatch waited upon the Customs here and asked if he should make a search of the Aucklands on his return, but as permission was not granted he did not feel warranted in going there, feeling he would only be laying himself open to the charge of seal poaching. Had permission been given the Gratitude would have lain at the islands two or three days to make a thorough search, and would have been in a position to rescue the crew.
In ocean directories no mention is made of there being stores on the islands, and the captain of the Compadre was not aware of this when they landed.. It was only after reaching the summit of a mountain that they saw the depot. It would be quite possible for castaways on some portions of the islands to remain in ignorance of the existence of the stores for weeks.
Timaru Herald Tuesday July 7th 1891
Wreck of the Compadre
Spelling of the crew's surnames differs slightly when compared to the Otago Witness article.
Timaru Herald Tuesday July 9th 1891
The wreck of the Compadre on the Auckland Islands occurred on the 18th March. The Hinemoa reached Napier on her return from the second cruise in search of castaways of the s.s. Kakanui, on March 11, one week before.
Timaru Herald July 11th 1891 page 3
Of the sheep they caught eight, of the goats three. Some of the wool the captain saved, washed and brought with him to Bluff; he thinks from fifty and sixty pounds of weight the animals have never been shorn. The wool is extraordinary long and fine. He, Captain Jones, showed it to Captain Fairchild of the Hinemoa at the Bluff, who suggested that it be sold and the proceeds handed to the Invercargill Wreck Fund which had been drawn on to send the live stock to the Aucklands from time to time, and out of this fund the crew had been provided with clothing.
Timaru Herald July 11th 1891 page 3
Life in the Auckland Islands.
Mr Bales, chief officer of the Compadre gives the following particulars of the life of the survivors of the wreck on the Auckland Islands to the Southern Times.