The Wreck of the Clyde

The majority of history goes unrecorded – or is considered unimportant enough that the records of it are eventually lost.  This is one of the lesser-known events in history; a horrible and tragic shipwreck on the coast of New Zealand in 1884, that of the Clyde.

From the Sydney Morning Herald‘s report:

By the steamer Hauroto, which arrived from Wellington
(N. Z.) last evening, we have received fuller particu-
lars of the wreck of the barque Clyde, and the
loss (with tho exception of a lad) of all on
board, at Akaroa Heads. From the Wellington
Evening Post we gather the following particulars, which
were telegraphed to that journal from Dunedin and Christ-
church. The first telegram is dated Dunedin, November 6,
and reads : “The barque Clyde, which left here yesterday
morning for Lyttelton, is ashore at Duvanchelles Bay, near
Akaroa Heads.” A later telegram was received; as
follows:—” The s.s. Akaroa has gone to the assist-
ance of the barque Jessie Alice Clyde, which went
ashore at Horseshoe Lake last night. Perati, an apprentice,
has got ashore, but there are 19 souls aboard There is rather
a rough sea on. A volunteer crew with boat accompanies
the steamer.” Subsequently the following was received :—
” Captain Fox this morning received the following telegram
from Duvanchelle Bay :—’ Clyde is ashore near Akaroa
Heads ; only myself saved as yet.—George Gib-
son.’ The vessel is a vessel of 682 tons. She
left Dunedin yesterday for Lyttelton, with 150
tons of sugar (part original cargo from Mauritius) cou-
signed to Wood, Shand, and Co., Christchurch. Captain
Bulmer had his wife and three children on board. He was
well acquainted with the coast, having for years commanded
the schooner Edith May. The Clyde belonged to the
fleet of C. Ellis and Co., of Newcastle, New South Wales.
The following were crew on board :—William Currie,
mate; H. Ferdinand, second mate; Richard Marney, A.B. ;
Herbert Bohle, boy ; Ah Lah, cook ; Ah King, boy ; H.
Thompson, David Murray, W. M’ Lean, P. Soderguest, P.
Smith, Charles Brown, Andrew Christopherson, A.Bs.”
On Thursday, the 7th instant, the Post published the
following fuller account of the disaster, dated Christchurch,
6th November :—
” From accounts to hand, it would seem that the Clyde
went ashore about 4.30 a.m. On receipt of the news of the
wreck, Kinsey, Ward, and Co., agents, telegraphed orders
to Akaroa for the steamer Akaroa to proceed to Horseshoe
Bay, and that everything should be done for the comfort of
the survivors. At 4 p.m. the steamer returned with the sad
news that the barque had broken up, and nothing but
wreckage could be seen around the spot where she struck.
It thus appears that the captain, his family, and all
on board except the lad Gibson—eighteen lives in all—have
perished. One body was recovered, that of a boy about 14,
also an apprentice of the ship. It was arranged that the
s.s.Hawea should call at Akaroa Heads at 6 p.m. on her
way south from Lyttelton in order to see if the ill-fated
barque could be got off, but need for this no longer remains.
The surveyor of the Underwriters’ Association left in the
Hawea for the scene of the wreck. The lad Gibson is detained
at Akaroa for the inquest on the body picked up. He is also
rather exhausted, and requires rest. Kinsey, Ward, and
Co. are advised it is doubtful If anything will be saved from
tho wreck, as the ship is in pieces. Gibson has telegraphed
to the agents, asking them to send a message to his mother
at Newcastle that he is safe, and they have cabled to her
through tho owner, J. Ellis, of Newcastle.
” Captain Tilhurst, the Underwriters’ Association Sur-
veyor, who left in the Hawea, met the steamer Akaroa at
Akaroa Heads, and has returned by her to Lyttelton. The
sea was very rough off the Heads when the Akaroa went out,
and the top of a mast was all that was visible where
the vessel sank. Horseshoe Bay is a small and
extremely rocky inlet on the coast four miles to
the south of Akaroa Heads.It is difficult of
entry even for a boat. Inspector Pender will despatch two
constables to meet Sergeant Brooks at tho head of the bay,
whence they will proceed on horseback to the coast, and do
all that remains to be done. They will watch for bodies
that may be cast ashore, and see that they are decently
” From the account of the lad Gibson, it appears the
barque left Dunedin steering N.E. by N. half W. About
4 this morning the weather was foggy and the sea rather
heavy. Gibson had turned in a few minutes later, when
the mate told the off watch to be handy in five minutes.
The man on watch called out land on the lee bow, and all
hands were called to put the ship about, but she missed
stays. The captain tried to wear the vessel, heading off the
wind, but she struck amidships. A boat was lowered, and
the captain ordered Gibson and another boy in to bale,
and put in his wife and three children, The lee rail
of the ship was then low down, and the stern of the boat
caught under it and was swamped. The woman and
children were dragged on board, and Gibson, seeing the
mainmast falling in, dived and got to the spanker-boom,
and on board. He saw the captain bleeding and stunned,
floating about the deck, which was under water, with his
two children. Gibson pulled the children out, and they,
with the boatswain’s mate and others, got into
another boat, which was swamped among the wreckage.
Gibson again got on the spanker-boom, and saw the cap-
tain’s body and a girl of nine years old float by. Gibson
seized the child, but a heavy sea swept over him and he
lost his hold of her. He then got on a deckhouse drifting
by, and was carried into a little bay, from which he man-
aged to reach the shore. He walked some miles to
Macphaile’s house, near Duvanchelles Bay, whence news
was sent. Gibson afterwards returned to the shore, and was
taken on board the steamer Akaroa.
” The Clyde was a wooden barque of 552 tons register.
She was built in 1874, at Williams River, New South
Wales, for Mr. James Brown, but is now owned by
Mr. E. G. Ellis, M.L.A., of Newcastle. Captain
Culmer was fairly well known in Dunedin and at the Port,
as he commanded the Edith May when that vessel was
trading here some time ago. The vessel arrived in Dune-
din on the 29th ultimo from Mauritius, after having
made a rather long passage of 40 days. He had visited
this port on a previous occasion, about seven years ago.
The Clyde was consigned to Messrs. W. Scoular, and
brought a full cargo of sugar, 11,714 packages in all,
of which 7449 were for Lyttelton. She was re-consigned to
Messrs. Wood, Shand, and Co., of Christchurch, and had
on board about 150 tons of sugar—this being the 744 mats
mentioned before. It was expected that on leaving Lyttel-
ton she would have sailed to Newcastle in ballast. The
Clyde was a strongly built and well appointed vessel, having
originally cost £13,000. The Sydney office of the N.Z.
Insurance Company hold a risk of £1000 on the hull, and
the South British and Union offices also have £500 and
£250 respectively on the hull. The remainder of the
insurances on the hull in all probability are with some
of the Sydney offices. The cargo is valued at £6000, and
is insured in the National Insurance offlce for £4600.
Most of this amount, however, is re-insured in the
New Zealand, South British, and Victorian Insurance
Offices. There is a deep and widespread feeling of regret
for the untimely fate of Captain Culmer and his family.
While he was in Dunedin he made many friends, and all
those whose business brought them into contact with him
speak highly of his good nature and genial deposition.”
Another article:
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I can only imagine what a harrowing experience that must’ve been for young Mr George Gibson, the sole survivor, who was age 19 at the time.
Gibson would go on to become my great-great-grandfather, which is the main reason I’m aware of the tragedy of the Clyde.  I wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t survived.

17 thoughts on “The Wreck of the Clyde

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