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Captain John Fairchild - Master Mariner

New Zealand Bound

 Captain Fairchild was the sort of stuff the old Vikings were made of!

This well-known skipper was successively in command of the Government steamers Prince Alfred, Sturt, Luna, Stella, Hinemoa, and Tutanekai. Having been for many years in the public service, he was commonly credited with a more intimate knowledge of the New Zealand coasts than any other sailor in these seas. He was the Hinemoa's first Master and one of the New Zealand Government steamers finest Masters. He was accidentally killed in 1898, at age 64, when a shackle broke aloft and struck him a fatal blow. Captain Bollons was the late Captain Fairchild's immediate replacement.

He had a marvellous knowledge of the whole coast of New Zealand. In company with Captain Johnston, late nautical adviser, he explored all the harbours in New Zealand before they were handed over to the different harbour boards, and he knew every shoal and reef in and around them. Apart from his seafaring qualities he was quite a character, and most interesting man to travel with. Many are the stories told of him and his dry, sarcastic humor, which was appreciated often by those whom it was turned against. He was a safe, but bold and daring seaman. 

From Mr John Hutcheson, M.H.R., who sailed with Captain Fairchild as third mate, second mate, and first mate, I received some particulars of the late captain's career. He was a native of the South of England, and went out as a young man to Prince Edward Island. There he and some mates built a brig and sailed her to Australia. They sold her there, and Captain Fairchild left to try his luck in New Zealand, landing at the Manukau (situated on the west coast of Auckland) about the time of the wreck of the H.M.S. Orpheus (1863). He settled there for a time with his father-in-law, and engaged in bush milling. Afterwards he sailed a little schooner, the Abeona, between Manukau and Taranaki at the time of the Maori War. In January, 1865, he landed British troops from the Government steamer Prince Alfred at Wanganui, receiving high encomiums from Brigadier-General Waddy for the manner in which he handled the boats. One peculiarity of his was that he would never wear a uniform.

The Southern Cross Friday January 21 1865 pg4
Port Onehunga: Arrival Jan. 20
Prince Alfred, Government p.s., Fairchild, from Waikato.

The Southern Cross Tuesday 24 January 1865
Port of Waikato departures
January 18 - Gymnotus, Attril, for Newcastle &c. with two canoes and one boat in tow. Passengers - 5
January 19 - Stuart, p.s. 104 tons, Hill, for Bluff, with one barge in tow. Passengers - 120 men, women and children, 4th Waikato regiment, for Hamilton.
January 19 - Prince Alfred, p.s., 150 tons, Fairchild for Onehunga. Passengers - Messrs Rayner, Steedman and Scarrott.

Probably no man was better acquainted with the coasts and harbours of New Zealand, more popular or widely respected.

The Star page 2 
Wednesday July 6 1898

Wellington, July 5 
The late Captain Fairchild was the son of a Devonshire farmer, but was ?born in Prince Edward Island about sixty years ago. He served on board various steamers on the Waikato River, and obtained command of the gunboat Sturt, after giving proof of his seamanship and nerve by taking her over the Waikato bar when her captain declined to make the attempt. Subsequently, when Captain Fairchild was in charge of that steamer, and was taking explosives and stores to troops at Wanganui, a fire broke out in the hold, and the Captain was foremost in battling with flames, while there was imminent risk of a dreadful explosion taking place. 

It is said that his mother underwent a horrible experience as a girl on her way to Prince Edward Island from England. The brig in which she took passage was dismasted in a gale and capsized. The passengers and crew managed to scramble on to the bottom of the upturned vessel, where, being without food or water, they were reduced to such straits that they cast lost as to who should die to save the rest from starvation. The lot fell to the future Mrs Fairchild, but a young fellow, who was then her sweetheart, offered himself as a substitute, and was sacrificed shortly afterwards. The unfortunate people were picked up by a passing vessel, and were carried to their destination.

Wanganui Herald  page 2 
Tuesday July 5 1898

In 1865 when he took the Government p.s. Sturt of which he was then master, up to Pipiriki with troops to relieve the force there under Captain Brassey, which was cut off from communication with Wanganui, and in danger of being overpowered by the Hau Haus. The Sturt was a sea-going steamer, drawing fully six feet, and that nothing had then been done to improve the navigation of the Wanganui River, it will be acknowledged that Captain Fairchild's feat of navigating the vessel to Pipiriki and back safely was one that should have been awarded on the plucky and skilful master of the Sturt. The river fortunately at that time was somewhat swollen by recent rains, or the attempt to relieve the beleaguered garrison at Pipiriki could not have been made by steamer.

8 Jan. 1872. The government steamer Luna, commanded by Captain Fairchild, made soundings all the way up the Wanganui and found the average depth was 12 feet.

The Star
Tuesday 5th July 1898 page 3

In December 1865 he received special thanks of Mr (afterwards Sir) Donald McLean, who was then the agent for the Crown, for similar services. In July, 1866, Mr Francis Cadwll, then Superintendent of Steam Transport, spoke most highly of the important services rendered by Captain Fairchild in his despatches to Sir Duncan Cameron, K.C.B., who was at that time in command of Imperial troops. On May 18, 1870, Captain Fairchild was appointed senior master in the employ of the Colonial Government, to exercise supervision and control over other masters of Government vessels. The recovery of the lost moorings of the ship Ida Zeigler in the Napier roadstead, about the same date, and the saving of the whale ship Niger, of New Brunswick, near Russell , in May, 1871, are instances of the practical uses to which Captain Fairchild applied the knowledge of his profession. A complete survey of the channel of the Waitara River and the removal of snags from the river-bed accounts for the use of some of the Captain's spare time in 1873. In 1876 the Telegraph Department sent a present to Mrs Fairchild in recognition of special services rendered by her husband in effecting repairs by her husband to the Cook Strait Cable, and the official thanks of the Union Steamship Company were conveyed through the Government to Captain Fairchild for his promptitude in taking off the crew of the barque Edwin Bassett, wrecked near the West Wanganui Inlet on August 31 1885. Captain Fairchild was also the recipient of presentations from Messrs McKeckan, Blackwood and Co. for kindness shown to the wrecked passengers of the steamship Rangitoto in 1873, and from Sir James Fergusson, a former Governor of New Zealand, who, an ardent yatchsman himself, had ever keen appreciation for a real seaman. 

Otago Witness
July 7 1889 page 23

Killed by Accident, Wellington, July 4 1898
Captain Fairchild, master of the Government steamer Tutanekai, was superintending the loading of some iron rails this evening, when he was accidentally struck on the head by a chain. His skull was fractured, and he died in half an hour. His daughter was to have been married next week.

The Tutanekai had been loading railway iron for Greymouth, and was to leave in the evening. Almost the last thing to be taken in was a donkey boiler two tons in weight, which had been slung and lowered down the hatchway to within a few feet of the hold. A pin of the heavy iron shackle at the masthead snapped, and the whole of the gear fell. Captain Fairchild was standing at the end of the hatch, and the shackle struck him on the back of the head and crushed the skull. Two doctors were quickly in attendance, but nothing could be done, and he died in half an hour.

On hearing the accident the Premier, Richard Seddon, sent immediately a letter of sympathy to Mrs Fairchild expressing his own and other Ministers sympathy. He wrote "The colony has suffered the loss of a public servant whose place it will be almost impossible to fill, and I am sure that, wherever the news is circulated, the deepest feeling will be evoked."  Just before the accident Mrs Bean, of Addington, daughter of the Primer, had been on board.  Lady Ranfurly wrote a condolence letter, expressing "heartfelt sympathy" and adding "there are few for whom we had as much liking and respect of all those we have met since our arrival here, and we regret his loss and your sorrow most sincerely." The flags in the city and harbour were all at half-mast today, to show the respect in which Captain Fairchild was held. 

The sudden and violent death of Captain Fairchild this evening caused quite a gloom in shipping circles, and there are many people all over New Zealand who will greatly grieve over his sudden end. The accident occurred at 4.25, and at 20 minutes to 5 he was dead, having never regained consciousness. His body was conveyed to his house in an ambulance waggon, and his wife is now prostrate with the sudden shock to her nerves. 

Captain Fairchild leaves a widow, Mary, and eight children, of whom five are girls. His eldest son, John Sanders Fairchild (b.1876), is at present in England finishing his studies as a dentist, while his second son is on his way to Singapore Cable Station, where he has an appointment. Captain Fairchild's daughters are well known in society circles in Wellington, and one of them was to be married next week to Mr Peace, a son of Colonel Pearce, of the well-known firm of Levin and Co., while another is a probationer in the Dunedin Hospital.

A sailor who was with him several years told me he was sure he would die in harness, and almost equally sure he would die a violent death; for, said be, "he used to work cargo with tackle that no other man would look at. I've seen him shift a heavy weight," he added, in sailor parlance, "with a rope not fit to hang a cat."  This, of course, savoured somewhat of forecastle exaggeration, but it gave in expressive language the general idea of his daring entertained by his crew. With his sailors he was somewhat of a martinet, but he was always fair to a man who did his work well, albiet his orders and his methods were generally of the most abrupt nature.

Wednesday 6th: The funeral of Captain Fairchild to-day was very largely attended. There were 37 carriages, besides a large number of people on foot. Buried at the Karori Cemetery, Wellington. Captain Fairchild had one of the largest funerals seen in Wellington for some time. The Premier and a large number of members of Parliament were present, and the Governor sent representatives. The flags of the shipping and public buildings were flown at half0mast, and the government Offices were closed. It is understood that Captain Post, late chief officer, of the Hinemoa, will take command of the Tutanekai, and Captain Bollard, chief officer of the Hinemoa, Government s.s., 175 tons, will have command of that vessel.

The Star Friday 8th 1898

The Government steamer Hinemoa arrived at Lyttelton yesterday forenoon from Wellington. The Hinemoa was landing railway iron during the day. She leaves to-day for the southern lighthouses.

It was a common saying of Captain Fairchild's - and eventually a true one - that he would never be drowned.

Apropos of this, away back in the early sixties he was sailing a little hooker out of the Manukau, when she capsized inside the heads. It was night, and it was useless to hope for succour, but, on the principle God helps those who help themselves, Fairchild clamboured on the upturned bottom of his little cutter and waited for developments. The flood tide carried him merrily along up the harbour, and at daybreak he found himself high and dry on a mud bank in a place of safety.

John Fairchild as been a good public servant for the last thirty years. He knew the coast thoroughly. A worthy old salt. The colony could ill afford to lose a sterling man of his stamp.

The Star 
Wednesday July 6 1898 page 2 

At the inquest evidence was given that the pin of the shackle which broke was supposed to carry ten tons, and had actually lifted three and a half tons. It had been in use three months, and was tested four weeks ago. A number of ironfounders agreed that the bolt was slightly hard, but they could not explain its breaking and considered the occurrence extraordinary; nor could it have been foreseen. A verdict of accidental death was returned.

Captain Fairchild leaves a gap in New Zealand maritime circles which will never be filled, for he was a perfect walking encyclopedia on matters relating to the past maritime history of New Zealand. It was simply astonishing how Captain Fairchild could supply even the merest matter of detail respecting them. His advice on the many local peculiarities which are to be met with in the way if currents, tide-ways, the exact positions of particularly uncharted rocks and similar matters was constantly being sought by his less experienced fellow mariners, and was regarded with even more confidence than hade the information been obtained from the most up-to date official book on sailing directions. A glance over the pages of the "New Zealand Pilot" will at once show to what extent the navigator of the present and the future is indebted to the care and attention with which Captain Fairchild devoted himself to the all-important task of exploring many of the New Zealand harbours. Then, again, no man in New Zealand, or elsewhere, for that matter, was so well versed in the past history - a history chiefly of shipwreck and privation - of the barren islands which stud the sea to the southward of New Zealand. One great which Captain Fairchild hoped to see fulfilled was the Auckland Islands turned into a sheep-run, with their freezing works and regular visits of Homeward-bound liners calling to fill up their insulated chambers and it was with this end in view that by his repeated representations to the Marine Department those islands were leased as a run. By the death of the genial skipper the mariner trading in the vicinity of these islands has lost his best friend. The depots, containing every possible article that a shipwrecked mariner might need, the New Zealand Government, were the outcome of Captain Fairchild's representations, and many castaway sailors who have been saved from a terrible death by starvation, solely by the existence of the well-stocked depots; A lighthouse at the Snares, principally for the guidance of the shipmasters bound from Australia to English ports was amongst the things which the captain had decided should some day be an accomplished fact if his persistent representations could make it, but that task must now fall to the lot of others.

Captain Fairchild was a man of intense energy; nothing could go on aboard his ship without his knowledge, and in most cases his personal supervision; he trusted nothing to chance, and seldom or never left the deck of his vessel at night when off the coast. 

As day or night he could accurately define his vessel's position if he could obtain even a momentary glimpse of the land.

Captain Fairchild was a tall man of outstanding personality. He must have been known in every port in New Zealand!

The steamer Hinemoa in 1902. Landing light house supplies at North Head on the Kaipara Harbour.

From White Wings page 24.
1878. When news of the wreck (on Otaki Beach) of the "City of Auckland" reached Wellington the Government steamer Hinemoa, Captain John Fairchild, was sent up to Waikanae, the most convenient spot for taking the passengers off and to that locality the shipwrecked people were conveyed in bullock drays and anything that ran on wheels. The Hinemoa took the immigrants direct to Napier, to which port they were all bound. After the disaster, Captain Fairchild, strongly urged that a light should be placed on Kapiti island.

The Hinemoa was built in 1876 by Scott and Company, at Cartsdyke, near Greenock. On her delivery voyage, sailed from Greenock on 8 July 1876, came out via the Cape of Good Hope and South Australia, and arrived at Wellington on 2 October 1876.  She was sold in 1925 for Milford Sound cruising.  After use for excursions, she was laid up about 1932 at Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island.  She was purchased in July 1942 when about to be broken up at Paterson Inlet and was converted into a waste oil barge for use by American ships under repair at Wellington. She was towed to Bluff in November 1942, and then to Lyttelton in January 1943. She was stripped of all useful material then towed out from Lyttelton on 4 August 1944. On 5 August 1944 she was used as a target by five minesweepers. Later the same day she was sunk by the New Zealand Navy with explosive charges in 120 fathoms in Pegasus Bay, 60 miles NE of Lyttelton, in 43-17 S, 173-50 E.

Star, 20 September 1876, Page 3 News by the cable.
Melbourne, Sept. 19.
The steam yacht Hinemoa, for the New Zealand Government, has arrived at Adelaide. She is described as a beautiful model. The plate and dinner service cost 1600.

Star, 20 September 1876, Page 2
The telegraphist who compiled the message respecting the New Zealand Government yacht, Hinemoa, is evidently a man of immense mind, and clear insight. For unless he had been possessed of these qualities, it would have been quite impossible that he should have perceived intuitively the points about this yacht and her equipment, which will be considered of most importance by the New Government. Men of only ordinary calibre would have telegraphed that the yacht was or was not a good sea-boat, that her engine power was such and such, and her carrying capacity so and so, with other ridiculously trivial details. But this talented telegraph agent perceived at once that such petty matters could posses no kind of interest for the enlarged and enlightened minds of those who rule New Zealand; therefore, with unerring instinct, he fixed upon and described the only points in connection with this yacht which could be expected to excite a passing curiosity in such elevated souls. "The plate and dinner service cost 1600." Dear! dear! Think of that, ye colonists, and rest assured that no enemy, no Popoffka Novgorod, or other ironclad, can ever now prevail against you, a people whose shores are protected by an armament alike so impervious and resistless as is that of the Government yacht Hinemoa! Evidently this novel system of armour-plating is one of the great ideas of that era which preceded the prevailing dark age of New Zealand; but the realisation - the actual arrival of the Hinemoa's bright fish slices, soup-ladles, and silver spoons has been providentially delayed that they may throw a faint shimmer of cheering light across the deep gloom which wraps New Zealand's politics.

The Hinemoa

Narrative of the shipwreck and sufferings of Miss Ann Saunders who was a passenger on board the Ship Mary Francis, which foundered at sea on the 5th of Feb.1826, on her passage from New Brunswick to Liverpool. Providence: Printed for Z.A.Crossmon,1827.38 pages.
canadiana.org

I am a native of Liverpool, {Eng.} where I was born in June 1802 of reputable parents of the poorer class yet succeded in bestowing on me an education sufficient to enable me to peruse the sacred Scriptures. At an early age I had the misfortune to lose my father. My mother was left a widow with five children. When I had arrived at the age of eighteen, I was persuaded to take up my abode with a widowed aunt, with whom I remained until some time in October, 1825. It was while with my aunt, that I became first acquainted with a Mrs Kendall, the wife of Captain John Kendall. I consented to accompany her with her husband, on their passage to Liverpool to St. Johns, (New Brunswick, in fall of 1825.

It was early in the morning on the 10th November, that I took an affectionate leave of my mother and her sisters, and embarked with Mrs Kendall and bid adieu for the first time to the shores of my native land. The wind was favorable, but it being the first time in my life that I had ever ventured more than half a mile on the ocean, with sea sickness and a depression of spirits. I was confined to my berth for three days after we left port until we reached St Johns' the port of our destination.
On the 18th January, 1826, (Capt. Kendall having obtained a cargo of Timber and made every necessary preparation for our departure) we set sail for Liverpool - on board the ship were 21 souls, including Mrs Kendall, and myself. On the 21st Feb. a gale was experienced. On the 5th visited with another severe gale., from E S E with indeed caused the sea to run "mountains high." All sails where clewed up, and the ship hove to. About noon our vessel was struck by a tremendous sea, which swept from her decks almost every moveable article, and washed one seaman overboard, (who was providentially saved) in a few moments after tremendous sea, the whole ship's stern was stove in.

Feb. 11th. All aboard were now reduced to the most deplorable state imaginable - our miserable bodies were gradually perishing. Our provisions were all consumed, and hunger and thirst began to select their victims. On the 12th, James Clarke, a seaman, died by famine, whose body, after prayers, was committed to the deep - and on the 22nd, John Wilson, another seaman, fell a victim to starvation - as the calls of hunger had now become too importunate to be resisted, it is a fact, although shocking to relate, that we were reduced to the awful extremity to attempt to support our feeble bodies a while longer by subsisting on dead body of the deceased - it was cut into slices, then washed in salt water, and after being exposed to and dried a little in the sun, was apportioned to each of the miserable survivors, who partook of it as a sweet morsel - from this revolting food I abstained for 2 hours, when I was compelled by hunger to follow their example..

On the 23rd J Moore, another seaman died, whose body was committed to the deep after taking there from the liver and heart which was reserved for our subsistence - in the course of twelve days the following persons fell victims to fatigue and hunger, to wit, Henry Davis and John Jones, cabin boys, James Frier, cook, Alexander Kelly, Daniel Jones, John Hutchinson and John James, seaman. I was so sensibly effected, by the unfortunate youth James Frier. I became intimately acquainted with him in Liverpool and more than once intimated an inclination to select me as the partner of his bosom. It was partly by his solicitations that I had been induced to comply with the wishes of Mrs Kendall, to accompany her. Before this dreadful calamity befall us, he had obtained my consent, and we had mutually agreed and avowed to each other our determination to unite in marriage. My self at the same moment reduced by hunger and thirst, as to be driven to the horrid alternative to preserve my own life to plead my claim to the greater portion of his precious blood, as it oozed half congealed from the wound inflicted upon his lifeless body. Oh, this was a bitter cup indeed.

About the 26th February, an English brig hove in sight. She did not approach us to afford assistance. Out hopes vanished with the brig. Early on the 7th March, a sail was discovered windward - the ship's crew made signals of distress. The ship soon within haul, his Majesty's ship Blonde, Lord Byron, sent out a boat. It was on the 20th March that I landed in safety at Portsmouth. Capt Kendall, William Fairchild the mate. (survivors: four men & 2 women), at latitude 44, 42, north, longitude 31, 57 west. The Frances Mary (400 tons), later in Jamaica was refitted and sent to sea again.


Otago Witness Thursday March 13 1890 pg 35
The Island's of the South
The Hinemoa's Cruise
VII - The Bounty Islands

Fergusson Bernard - Captain John Niven (ISBN: 0001921487) London: Collins, 1972, London, 1972.Dj. Based on the true story of John Bollons, renamed Niven in this historical fiction, a 16 year old apprentice, who was wrecked in 1881 on the southern tip of NZ's South Island, lived with the Maoris and became Captain of a Government ship. Map on title page.


Evening Post, 23 June 1914, Page 8
CAPTAIN WORSLEY TO COMMAND THE ENDURANCE. LONDON, 22nd June. Sir Ernest Shackleton has appointed Captain Worsley, formerly of the New Zealand Government marine service, to command the ship Endurance. The Hudson Bay Company has selected 105 Canadian Arctic dogs for the expedition. Captain F.A. Worsley is well known in shipping circles in New Zealand, having been in the Government service here for some years. He was second officer of the Tutanekai under the late Captain Fairchild, and was then promoted to the position of chief officer of the Hinemoa. When the Imperial Government presented H.M.S. Sparrow (now the Amokura) to the New Zealand Government as a training vessel, he went over to Sydney with Captain Post, and assisted to navigate the ship to Wellington. He was in charge of the ex-man-o-war until she started on her new career in New Zealand waters, and was then appointed to the command of the auxiliary schooner Countess of Ranfurly, owned by the Government, when she was running between Auckland and the Cook Islands. For some years past Captain Worsley has been connected with some fine steamers trading out of England.


Floating debt- An unpaid yacht.