Wreck of the “Dundonald”

Wreck of the “Dundonald”

This incredible text was written by Daniel McLaughlin who was the second mate and senior surviving officer on this tragic voyage. In later life he became a Clyde Pilot. I have since seen the story printed in a Swedish nautical publication which also contained photographs of some of the crew, and of the small coracle that they built, which was preserved and is now on display in New Zealand.

More information, book titles and some photographs can be found from at the following links:


The Dundonald was a large steel four-masted barque of 2205 tons gross and 2115 tons net register. Her dimensions were: length 284.2ft; beam 42ft; depth (moulded) 25ft 11in. She was built at Belfast by Workman, Clark & Co, and was owned by Messrs Kerr, Newton & Calder, Glasgow.

We arrived in Sydney, Australia on 17th January 1907, after a record voyage of forty-five days from Callao, Peru. Shortly afterwards we shipped some wheat for stiffening to allow the ballast to be discharged. The stiffening in, we towed into the bay and discharged the ballast; this done, we towed to Piermont to complete our cargo of wheat. The shippers were anxious to get us away quickly, so loading was completed in the short space of four days. Our cargo comprised 36,000 bags of the finest wheat. The shippers were messrs Bell & Co., and we were bound for Falmouth, for orders.

Loading completed we towed out into the bay to get the ship ready for sea. Once the sails were bent, we were ready. Captain Thorburn cleared the ship at the Customs House on Saturday and ordered the tow-boat for the same day. The towing company, too busy on that day, asked us to wait till Sunday when they would give us a good long tow, clear of the land.

On Sunday morning, 17th February, all hands had coffee at 4.30 a.m. and immediately after, we started clearing the ropes. At about 5 a.m. the pilot came on board and shortly afterwards, the tow-boat Hero arrived. Hero passed her hawser aboard and it was made fast. We then began towing out of Sydney harbour.

Once clear of the land, Hero gave us the signal to set sails. Sails set, we let go the hawser, the ‘last link’ as it is called. As is usual, the tow-boat dropped aft to bid the captain a smart voyage and, at the same time, she passed her ‘lucky bag’ aboard. This was a small canvas bag carried by every tow boat. When it was passed aboard, the custom was for the captain to put in a bottle of whisky and a few pounds of tobacco. A man was sent aloft to look around for inward-bound ships- none was in sight. Hero’s captain, being told there was nothing in sight, gave three blasts of his whistle in farewell.

Once the anchors were secured, all hands had dinner. Watches were set at 12.30 p.m.

As second mate I had the watch on deck from one bell to eight bells. During my watch, the wind rising, I began to shorten sails. At that time, we were braced sharp up on the starboard tack and just laying our course. During that evening, the wind still rising, Mr Peters, the mate, took in more sail. It had all the appearance of a dirty night.

Monday, 18th February- the weather moderated. At 5.30 a.m. the watch on deck began clearing up. In the afternoon we set sails again: the wind was hauling to S.W. This was a head wind so we could not steer our course, steering by the wind.

Every master expects favourable winds from Australia to the Horn, and therefore, he looks forward to making a smart passage. In summer the wind, as a rule, is northerly and N.E. until you are clear of New Zealand, and then you look for S.W. and westerly winds to enable you to run your eastern down. This is the reason ships make southerly passage in summer, and northerly, in winter.

Tuesday, 19th February- Work proceeding, getting everything fixed aloft for bad weather. The wind is still S.W. and very unfavourable.

Wednesday, 20th February- little or no wind. Ship’s work goes on- all hands engaged in repairing aloft and reeving new running gear.

Thursday, 21st February- still calm- work as usual.

Friday, 22nd February- calm again- work still proceeding.

Saturday, 23rd February- the wind sprang up strong. The watch was kept busy all day, hauling and bracing yards because the wind was so unsteady. This unsteady wind can be expected in the Doldrums but not off the coast of Australia.

Since leaving Sydney we have had only three hundred miles on our course. This was indeed poor luck; with favourable winds, we expected to be abreast of New Zealand in a week.

Sunday, 24th February- a change of wind from the N.E. but very light. At present we are on port tack, with yards checked in a couple of points and steering a southerly course. The wind kept steady all day.

Monday, 25th February- N.E. wind, but light. Work goes on as usual.

That night, between 8 p.m. and 12 p.m. the wind dropped to a calm.

Tuesday, 26th February- in the morning the wind hauled to the S.W. so we were braced up on the starboard tack steering by the wind, for this was a head wind again. During the same forenoon, between 8 and 12, the wind increased, so the light sails were taken in. Towards evening, the wind increasing, more sails were made fast.

Wednesday, 27th February- S.W. gale is raging, so the hands are standing by. When weather does not permit working aloft, the hands generally stand under the forecastle making sennit. This is made with a few rope yarns and is useful for bending sails..

Thursday, 28th February- the wind falls very light and hauls to the westwards- work as usual.

Friday, 1st March- the calm continues. On calm days the crew are kept busy doing jobs that could not be done on dirty days- chipping, painting and splicing.

Saturday, 2nd March- at sunrise the wind sprang from the eastward; the yards were hauled round on the port tack, steering by the wind. Work as usual.

Sunday, 3rd March- wind fell to a dead calm. No unnecessary work is done on Sundays, so the crew have time to mend and wash their clothes. On this Sunday there was too much excitement for sewing; the sea round the ship was alive with sharks. The captain’s sixteen year old son was keen to have the backbone of a shark, so we began to fish. At about noon we caught three big ones. One of the hands, a coloured man, who was accustomed to such work, began to cut out the principal bones. Sailors are fond of curios so, when a shark is caught, one wants the backbone, another the teeth, and another the jaw bones. The tail is usually nailed to the jiboom end for good luck- on this occasion it brought the reverse.

That night, between 8 and 12, we sighted a steamer making for Cook Strait. This is the first vessel we have sighted since the Norwegian barque Steona left us. The Steona left Sydney shortly after us. She was bound for Chile and was making a northerly passage, the wind being favourable for her. She checked in her yards and soon left us.

Monday, 4th March- at sunrise, the wind sprang up from the eastward. We are now on the port tack by the wind.

The rigging having been repaired and a few ropes replaced, the mate considers the ship ready for bad weather. Every mate, with thought for his men, endeavours to have all necessary work done before he gets down into the storm latitudes. In the storm latitudes, the men do little or nothing. To pass the time they make mats or sennits, but should anything carry away aloft, it has to be fixed- blow high or low.

Tuesday, 5th March- the wind is E.N.E. with heavy rain. The wind having been contrary since we left Sydney, we have been driven further south than we intended. Ships generally keep as close to New Zealand as possible. Today, being misty, we could not get our position by the sun; our position by dead reckoning was latitude 48.40 south; longitude 148 east. We have had only one day’s fair weather since we left Sydney. We knew we must be nearing the Auckland Islands but, not having had the sun for three days, our position was uncertain. On the night of the fifth, I had my watch on deck from 8 till 12. I had orders to keep a good look-out for land. At about 10 p.m. the wind became

Very strong with mist, so I made fast the fore and mizzen topgallant sails. Towards 11 p.m. the wind began freeing so I tried to set the course; I found this impossible for the compass was swinging like a top. Being near land, I called the captain. He tried, unsuccessfully, to set the course. The shipwas close hauled on the port tack so we eased the yards a little, but we still kept her by the wind. This would be about 11.45 and at 12 p.m. my watch was relieved. I told Mr. Peters the state of the wind and the weather. The ship was then heading N.E. by N.1/2N. The weather was very foggy.

I went below and there I met the captain and James Cromarty. I asked Cromarty how this weather suited him. Laughing he replied that it suited him very well. The captain said,

“Well Cromarty, I wish it suited me.”

Cromarty was heavily dressed and looked as though he was wearing all his kit.

The ship was taking large quantities of heavy water aboard.

At about 1 a.m. on the sixth of March, the mate saw land looming through the fog. He sang out “Lee fore brace”. The third mate then called the captain and all hands on deck. Our poor mate braced the yards sharply up, thinking that the land was only on our starboard side, but, the fog lifted and revealed land on the port bow. The ship being under short canvas, and a big sea running, we could not tack her. The captain then gave the order to back the fore-yards, so as to try to wear short round. The fore-yards being aback, all hands came aft to the crossjack braces. While canting the crossjack yards the ship struck and swung right round. Undeterred, we pulled away on the braces but, in spite of our efforts, she backed right in.

The captain gave the order to let go the topsail halliards and clear away the boats. We started to clear away the boats but it was impossible to launch them. The sea was running like a mountain. Aft on the port side, the ship was hard up against a precipitous cliff and, on the starboard side there was a reef. Seeing that we could not launch the boats, the captain ordered me to give out the lifebelts. I gave him one, but he told me to see to the others first.

At this time we were standing on the poop, under overhanging rocks. We were afraid that the pounding of the jigger mast would bring the rocks down on top of us. All hands were ordered forward to the fo’c’sle head. While standing there, we thought she might hold till day-break. We knew there must be several holes in her bottom for, when she was backing in, we could not stand on our feet as she was jumping about over submerged rocks.

We could see no way of escape- the cliffs were perpendicular and the cliff-top about 300ft above us. There was nothing for it but to wait for daylight.

We were not long on the fo’c’sle head when Captain Thorburn noticed that the ship was settling down. He told us we must clear out. No sooner had he spoken, than a sea came over. We were able to hold on against it, for it was not big but, almost immediately afterwards a big sea came rolling over and carried twenty-two of us overboard; the ship sinking all the time. The captain and his son were washed overboard with us. After being tossed about like corks, at the mercy of the sea, some of us were carried inboard towards the foremast. There is a saying that a drowning man will clutch at any straw to save his life; so it was with us.

We managed to get hold of ropes and, by these, we climbed to the fore-top. The ship was still going down, but when she sank as high as the foreyard she stopped.

Eleven of us managed to get into the foretop and there we remained all night, clinging to the rigging, with the sea washing about us. Most of us were wearing only trousers, so you can imagine how cold we felt. It was a terrible night.

We could see some of our poor shipmates being tossed about at the mercy of the sea, crying for help; some of them were moaning. One man, called Lagerbloom, was washed up on the foreyard. He called for help, but we could do nothing for him. He held on for a while but being weak, the sea soon washed him away. We did not see him again.

We were not long on the rigging when we saw some of the yards of the mizzen mast falling and our four lifeboats being broken into match-wood. All that night we clung to the foretop mast rigging. We were afraid to climb higher for we expected the masts to fall at any minute. We shouted to try to find out if anyone had managed to get ashore. We thought we heard someone replying, but could not be sure, for the wind and sea were very strong. All that night Mr Peters kept asking God to have mercy on us: several times he told us to prepare for the end. It looked as though we were to be drowned like rats in a trap.

As everything comes in its turn, so did daylight, and with it some prospect of escape. We kept on shouting and to our relief we saw Michael Pul, Harry Walters and Herman Querfeldt crawling along the cliffs towards us. Seeing them coming, we went up on the topgallant yard taking with us a rope we had cut from the running gear. Taking all sorts of risks they managed to get down on to a ledge abreast of us, near enough for us to throw a rope to them. The topgallant yard projected towards the land but was about 30ft. from the cliff. We threw the rope and they made it fast to a huge stone; we then made the other end fast to the yard arm. The rope being fast, we started climbing hand over hand- one man at a time. The mate was so weak we had to put a bowline round him to pull him ashore. The ship, being so unsteady, made this a very hazardous operation; however all eleven of us got ashore safely.

While we were still in the foretop we saw John Grattan and Robert Ellis huddled on a rocky ledge about 3ft above the water, nearer the mizzen mast. At that point the cliffs were perpendicular so they were unable to climb higher: there they had been all night, the rain pelting down on them. We lowered the rope over the cliff to them, but it was too short: so we stranded it, knotting each strand together. This time it was long enough. We lowered it again and one of the men made it fast around his waist and then gave the signal to pull up. We managed to rescue both of them, though their hands and feet were badly cut. This was a risky operation for the rope was liable to chafe on the sharp rocks and loose rocks kept falling on top of them. After rescuing these two men, we mustered, and found that sixteen men had been saved and twelve drowned. Mr. Peters, the mate, was one of the survivors. We searched for the others but the sea had claimed them.

Now as there were depots on almost every island we were confident there would be one on this lonely rock too. Depots were huts built and maintained by the New Zealand government. They were stocked with clothing and provisions for shipwrecked mariners.

After we had rested for a while, we began to climb the hill. The weather was foul, mist and heavy rain, so our progress was very slow. Wearing only trousers, we were miserably cold, and the rain soon drenched us. We took little notice of our discomfort for we were sure we would soon reach a depot where we would find food and warm clothing. When we reached the top of the hill, the fog thickened, so we decided to stay where we were till it lifted. We huddled together for warmth and began to go over the events of the night.

The three men who had come to our assistance told their tale first. When the order was given to go forward, they lost sight of us, and stayed aft. While aft, they saw the steward walking towards the cabin. They called to him to come up the jigger rigging with them, but he said “There is no chance of me saving my life, so try to save your own.” He then walked towards the cabin and closed the door. The steward was a big man, standing 6’2” and turning the scale at 23 stone. If he had attempted to climb the rigging, the rat-lines would have given way beneath his weight. He would not have had to wait long for death for, shortly afterwards, the sea came running aft, sweeping all before it.

The other four by this time, had climbed the jigger rigging. After they had been standing in the jigger top for some time, Walter Low climbed up the topmast rigging and found he could get ashore. He came back down to his mates in the top and told them he could step ashore. He climbed up the rigging again, followed by the others. He stepped ashore but the ground gave way under his feet and he fell back over the cliff. Poor man, he must have fallen 90 to 100 feet. The other three managed to get ashore in safety, and without even getting wet. Had we known we could have escaped from the jigger mast so easily, we should all have gone up there.

The two men we had pulled up with the rope told their story. When they lost sight of us that night they climbed the mizzen mast and, from there, they went out on the topsail yard and jumped onto the rocky ledge. They could climb no higher and, to make their footing more secure, they threw off their boots.

There were two strange things about the wreck- all the married men were drowned, as were all those who could swim. I could not swim a stroke and owe my life to my lifebelt. The only explanation I can offer for the swimmers drowning is, that when they were swept overboard, they struck out for the shore, where, in all probability, they would be dashed to death against the cliffs. The sea was too rough for swimming. Those who could not swim went wherever the sea took them.

We had now been sitting, huddled together, for about three hours and still the fog continued thick, so we decided to go no further that day. Though we were shivering with cold and wet, we paid little heed for we were sure tomorrow would see us in the depot.

We lay down for the night, covering ourselves with tussock grass, but, as it was raining very hard, we soon found ourselves in a pool of water. Rather than lie in water, we sat up on some rocks: that night we suffered greatly with cramp.

The next day brought better weather so we split into groups to explore the island, each group taking a different direction. It did not take us long, for the island was only three miles long by two miles wide. We found no depot.

Mr Peters became very depressed and said another night like the last would finish him. However, the sun was shining so we stripped off our clothing and dried it. When we put it on again we felt better and we decided to go back to the wreck to see if we could salvage any stores. When we got there we found this was impossible for the cabin was wrecked. We lowered a man over the cliff onto the jigger mast. He unbent the rope from his waist and tied it round the gaff topsail and began cutting it away. Once the sail was adrift we pulled it up on the cliffs, then we lowered the rope to the man and pulled him up.

We carried the sail over the hill and there we encamped. We formed a shelter by making four walls with tussocks, then we stretched the sail over the top. Tussocks are large lumps of earth with long grass attached. After we built the shelter we gathered some wood and killed a few birds. These birds were mollymawks. These are sea-birds about the size of ducks. They are white with yellow bills. They come to the southern islands in great numbers to breed. They build their nests in marshy ground. The nest is like a large flowerpot and stands about a foot high. It contains one very large egg. Killing them was very easy for they would not rise off the nest. We tried to light a fire, but the few matches we had were wet so we had to eat raw mollymawks.

When darkness came we crawled into our tent and, though the ground was very wet, it was more comfortable than lying in the open. That night as we talked, we decided to build a raft. We slept a little. Next morning we started to build a raft, but this was a failure because the wood would not float. Our island, though we did not know it at that time, was called Disappointment Island- it was aptly named.

When the weather was clear we could see the main island, about six miles away. We knew that, if only we could reach it, we would be all right. Since the raft had been a failure we came to the conclusion that we would have to wait for a passing vessel. Among our number were two New Zealanders who said a government steamer came to the islands in March to re-stock the depots. This cheered us up a bit.

We tried to light the matches again but they would not light so we had to eat more raw birds; since these were very unpalatable we ate very little. We drank the water we found here but it made us very sick and we vomited all night. That night we decided that, in the morning, we would move to the other end of the island where we thought we had seen clearer water. We were all feeling the effects of the cold, the wet and hunger. Mr Peters was weakest of all.

Next  morning we struck camp and began our tramp to the other end of the island, carrying the sail on our shoulders. On our journey we sometimes came on a pool of water which we were loathe to leave, for they were few and far between. We marched until about 5 p.m. made a bit of a camp and, having no appetite, we lay down for the night. Next day we continued on our way till we reached a valley- this we made our home. Having managed to dry our fourteen matches, we succeeded in lighting a fire and enjoyed a bit of hot bird flesh. I could not call it cooked- it was burned on the outside and raw inside.

We became very weak, scarcely able to move. Mr Peters lost the power of his legs. We looked after him as best we could, feeding him and carrying water to him. On the eleventh day he became very ill and on the twelfth day he died. This was the 18th March. We prepared a grave for him, digging with our hands. It was not very deep. We carried his body out of the camp and, being so short of clothing, we undressed him, leaving only his underclothes. We laid him in the shallow grave and said a short prayer over him. After the funeral we divided his clothes amongst us. His death saddened us all.

My thoughts that day were which one of us would be next to die. At that time we were all suffering greatly with intestinal trouble. We had had no bowel motions for about twelve days and then, when we did, we lost a lot of blood.

About this time we began to kill albatross for food. They were similar to the mollymawk though very much bigger. They built their nests well away from the mollymawks, on dry ground.

All this time we kept a look-out for ships but sighted none. This was now the fall of the year so we had very unsteady weather. When it rained the water collected on the flat roof of our tent and dripped down on us. One night a gale sprang up and ripped the canvas roof off the tent. It took us several hours to find it. After this we made up our minds to build a better shelter.

An ordinary seaman, Michael Pul, who was a Russian, had seen pig houses built at home. He first made a shovel out of a piece of wood; with this he dug a hole long enough to lie down in and almost deep enough for him to stand up in. At either end of this hole he formed a gable, then he put a stout piece of wood between the two, and thatched it with corngrass. Over this surface were placed large tussocks: beginning at the bottom these were piled up, each overlapping the one below. The roof was worked to a point. Brushwood was spread on the floor to keep off the damp and the walls were lined with reeds. It looked like a thatched house. We split into groups of three or four and built houses like the first. They proved to be dry and warm. Later we made ‘blankets’ from bird skins. So about 50 days after our landing on the island we were fairly comfortably housed.

Winter was now setting in and still no sign of a passing vessel. We made up our minds there was no hope of rescue till the spring. We began to pile up the wood for the fire. This was a hard job for wood was scarce and had to be carried uphill for about a mile.

As we had so few clothes, we began to make some from the sail. We sewed them with needles made from the wing bones of birds. To make these we sharpened one end on a rough stone and worked a hole with a piece of wire in the other; for thread we unravelled some of the canvas. When sewing was to be done one man made needles all day while the other sewed. We reckoned time by the sun during the day, and by the birds at night.

During the winter, darkness set in about 4 p.m. As darkness fell the birds we called ‘night hawks’ came out of their holes. The strange thing about these birds was that they built underground. These birds were about the size of pigeons. They were black and white and, when flying, made a screeching sound. They suffered greatly if caught in a snowstorm. After a snowstorm we might find anything up to two hundred of them lying dead on the ground. They seemed to be blind in daylight. About an hour before daylight they went back to their holes, so we knew, when the screeching ceased, dawn was fast approaching.

Every day was a struggle for survival. Our principal diversion was observing the wild life on the island. We watched with fascination, the mollymawks building their nests. As I have said before, the nests resembled flower pots and were about a foot high. They used soft mud and worked hard, moulding the mud with their beaks; every now and then, rather like bricklayers, they took a step backwards to survey their work, then made any necessary adjustments. When we approached the nests in which there were young birds they made a queer hissing sound and spat at us.

At other times we watched the albatross teach their young to fly. They coaxed the young bird up on to a higher piece of ground and repeatedly demonstrated to them how to spread their wings. After many failures the young birds mastered the technique and were finally airborne. We became very fond of the young albatross and resolved that, only in extremity, would we kill them for food. The antics of the penguins never failed to amuse us.

Being barefoot we felt the cold intensely but, roving about the island one day, we came on a rookery of seals. We killed three of them and found that the flesh was edible and the skin made good shoes. When we went hunting seals, one man would get under the rocks and prod the seal with a stick, forcing him into the open, where two or three others were waiting with sticks in their hands, ready to club him on the nose. You could strike a seal on the back till you were tired but, once you struck him on the nose he was finished. We did not kill many seals as long as we could get mollymawks, for the beach where they came ashore could only be reached by lowering men on ropes over the cliffs.

Our food supply was giving us cause for concern, When we came to the island it was white with birds but now it was quite bare, for we had killed hundreds: we also knew that the young birds were almost strong enough to begin their migration.

To supplement our diet we also began to eat a root we found on the island. It was rather like a potato, though much bigger: sometimes it had a very salt flavour, sometimes it tasted quite sweet, depending on where it was found. We baked them in the embers of the fire. It was now July and, though the weather was better, there was still plenty of snow. During the long winter nights we had plenty of time to talk and make plans. One night we decided we must build a boat.

Michael Pul and Santiago Marine began the work the next day. The keel was in two sections and there were six ribs sparred with thinner wood over which they spread canvas. They made paddles out of a piece of scrub and a fork at the end covered with canvas served as a blade. It was a frail craft, but it proved a success- all we needed now was a fine day. Eventually a fine day did come and we launched the boat: Pul, Marine and Ellis went in her. They were to try to reach the main island which was about six miles away. We gave them a hearty send-off and wished them success in finding the depot. They promised if they found a depot, they would light two fires. It was now 31st July. We had been on the island for 147 days.

Meanwhile we looked for new sealing beaches and eventually found one with easier access. The seals here were bigger but the flesh was coarse. All this time we kept a constant look-out for a signal from our mates and, sure enough, one day we did see a smoking fire; though we were puzzled that there was only one fire. There was great rejoicing. Our island had been covered with snow ever since they left and now, a gale raged, so it was two days before they returned to us. When we saw the boat approaching we rushed down to the beach and gave them three cheers. We beached the boat and looked at our mates. The clothes they wore were in tatters and they were almost dead for want of food. They had been lying in the open for fourteen days with no covering but a sealskin. They said the main island was well wooded and they had seen some pigs, but  they had found no depot. This was not surprising for they had nothing but snowstorms. The fact that they had seen pigs made us keen to make another attempt for, we knew the pigs must have been put there by man.

Soon after this we sighted a ship. We made a big fire but she sailed on taking no notice of our distress signals. This was the first ship we had sighted and we were downhearted when she passed.

All this time we had been cooking our food by throwing it on the fire; now we tried another method. When we killed a seal we cut it in four and hung it over the fire- now it was cooked and smoked and it tasted better. At one meal, we would eat two or three pounds of seal per man. We missed tea most of all. When we were thirsty there was nothing but water and, in winter, we had to break the ice to get it.

As long as the birds remained on the island they served a double purpose: we ate the flesh and used the skins for what we called a ‘skin wash’. We rubbed the fleshy side of the skin on our faces and wiped the grease off with the feathery side. Our hair and beards were now very long. We looked like savages. We had been wearing the same clothes, day and night, ever since we were shipwrecked and they were now falling to pieces. You can imagine the discomfort of wearing canvas jackets next the skin.

We noticed that after the albatross had fed their young they flew off and returned two days later. We concluded that they must go a long way for food so, on two occasions, we sewed a message on canvas, using twine, and tied them on to the bird’s neck. The message read- “Barque Dundonald wrecked Auckland Islands. Send help!” Each time the bird returned without the message, but no help arrived.

It was now October. The third mate and I started to build another boat and, shortly afterwards, four others began a third. We constructed them as before. When they were finished we gave them a trial trip and, though frail, we thought they would serve the purpose. Fine days are few in that part of the world but eventually one did arrive, so we went down to the beach and launched the boats. After pulling a few strokes, one was swamped and the crew almost drowned. We thought it better to abandon our attempt and wait for a better day. After two weeks bad weather we had a few fine days so Knudsen, Walters, Eyre and Grattan set off. They took with them our last two matches. They also decided to take the fire with them. They took a supply of brushwood and enough cooked sealmeat to last two days. We were all on the beach to give them a send-off and to wish them success in their quest.

The following day we sighted a four-masted barque. We signalled to her but she passed by.

Early on Monday 13th October we sighted a small boat making for our island. We lit a fire to draw their attention. When it got closer we clambered over the rocks shouting to them and indicating where they should land. The boat came closer still and finally came alongside. We recognised the occupants- they are our four mates, clean and wearing new suits and boots. They brought us a tin of meat and a tin of biscuits. They had found a depot.

They told us when they tried to beach the boat on the main island it was battered against the rocks and swamped. They reached the shore half-drowned and, of course, they lost the fire and cooked meat. They were left with two matches but these were wet; in spite of repeated attempts to dry them, they failed to light. They killed a seal and were forced to eat it raw. They salvaged the canvas from the wrecked boat and carried it with them in case they had to sleep in the open. On Friday 10th October the wind was southerly and the day clear. They decided to explore the N.E. end of the island. This involved climbing a hill from which they could see the coastline. There were many bays, but one was longer than the others, so they made for it. It was rough walking and it was late afternoon when they reached it. Once there they came on a signpost which indicated that the food depot was four miles along the beach. Wearily they walked the last four miles. Their path was sometimes along the beach and sometimes through forest. At long last they reached the depot and found that it consisted of three huts- a bunkhouse, a stores hut and a boathouse. It was now dusk and they could find no matches. They ate some biscuits and lay down on the floor, covering themselves with the canvas.

Saturday 11th October- They rose at dawn and examined the contents of the hut. There were biscuits, 10lbs tinned meat, a gun and some ammunition, a few suits of clothing, a few books and a bottle of castor oil as well as some other stores. They lit a fire, heated some water, washed and then put on clean clothes. The clothes they discarded had been worn night and day for more than 7 months. In the boathouse they found a boat but no sail, so they made one for, from this point, Disappointment Island was thirty miles away.

Sunday 12th October- They made an attempt to sail to Disappointment Island but the wind was unfavourable so it was abandoned.

Monday 13th October- Favourable wind so they set sail for Disappointment Island and arrived safely. It was nine days since they had left.

Tuesday 14th October- The wind being favourable, we decide to leave Disappointment Island. We ferry seven men over to the nearest point on the main island. They have instructions how to reach the depot on foot. The boat returned for the others. We are going to sail round to the depot. It took us from 5 a.m. till 3 p.m. That same night, those who came overland arrived at the depot. Their feet were badly cut and they were exhausted. 

Next day I took charge of the stores. There were ten suits and fifteen men so I had to share them out as best I could; everyone seemed satisfied. Provisions were very scarce in this depot. There was no tea or sugar and, even biscuits were in short supply; each man was given a ration of six per day.

We all had a good wash, cut our hair and, once we had on our new clothes, felt more like civilised men.

There was a notice in the store room which stated that the S.S. Hinemoa had called here on 10th February. She is supposed to call every six months, so we cannot understand why she is behind time. 

A few days later we took the boat and, whilst sailing, we saw some cattle on one of the smaller islands, six miles from the depot. A day or two later we took the gun and landed on ‘cow island’. As soon as the cattle saw us they made off. None of us being much of a marksman we wasted a lot of bullets and no cow fell to our gun. We went back to the depot that night with another seal instead of a bullock; however, now we had some cooking utensils, so we made a kind of stew which we all enjoyed. Nest day we tried again and, this time a bull fell to the gun. These animals were neither big nor fat, but they were a welcome change from seal meat. A cow lasted us for about five days and we killed one as we needed it.

Behind the depot we discovered a lonely little grave-yard in which were five graves. The first was the grave of an eight months old child, the second had the inscription “James Mahoney, mate of the Invercauld, wrecked on this island 16th May 1864. Died from starvation.”

The inscription on the third grave read “Erected by the crew of the S.S. Southland, over the remains of a man who had apparently died from starvation, and was buried by the crew of the Flying Scud 3rd September 1865”

The inscription of the fifth grave read “unknown”.

These graves appear to be tended by the crew of the ‘Hinemoa’ when she visits the island.

I told the third mate that, if the opportunity presented itself, I should like to disinter Mr Peters’ remains and bury them in this little cemetery. It would be a consolation to his wife to know that he was buried beside others.

It was a long time since the depot had been occupied, so it is a bit neglected. The flagstaff had fallen to pieces and the bunks had been torn down. We soon rigged up the bunks, and we set about making a proper flagstaff.

Thursday 23rd October- Four of us set out to collect wood for the flagstaff: although wood is plentiful, it is difficult to find a straight piece.

Monday 27th October- We started work on the flagstaff. By Wednesday it is finished so we get some help to hoist it up. Then we hoisted the flag to the gaff. Our house flag was made from canvas. The word ‘Welcome’ was sewn on it; there were two anchors also, one at the top and one at the bottom.

About this time we decided to build a jetty so that we could moor the boat at the end of it. This would save us having to wade knee deep in water when setting out, or coming back from one of our ‘kills’. We began to collect building material.

Friday 14th November- Westerly wind but clear; still proceeding with jetty. It is now at an advanced stage and we are able to moor the boat to it. It was always our intention to have it finished before the ‘Hinemoa’ arrived. Now we are delighted it is so far advanced, we are able top walk over it.

Saturday 15th November- Blowing strong from west and squally. About 5 a.m. the boat’s crew are having breakfast prior to going on a hunt. One of them going out of the hut sighted a steamer coming through the mist. He roused the rest of us. We tumbled out of our bunks and ran down to the beach. We hoisted our flag and gave three cheers for the ‘Hinemoa’. She anchored and lowered a boat. The captain and four men came ashore. Captain Bollons asked the name of our ship. I gave him all the particulars. He said we had been given up for lost. He said he could not take us on board for he was bound for the South Arctic with a scientific party, forty strong, but that he would return in two weeks time. We agreed to this but asked if we could have some supplies. He said we could have anything we wanted. Five of us went aboard with him and got the provisions which included tea, sugar and tobacco. The tobacco was a godsend for those who smoked. This was our first tea for eight and a half months and we enjoyed it. This was a day of great rejoicing.

Friday 21st November- Wind south and clear. We have been working hard on the jetty for we are anxious to complete this work before we are finally picked up. Today we proclaim it open. We hoisted our flag and called it Dundonald Jetty.

Tuesday 25th November- Wind west with strong squalls. We are expecting the ‘Hinemoa’ any day now so we are having a big clean-up.

Wednesday 26th November- Northerly wind but light. The ‘Hinemoa’ arrived. Captain Bollons came ashore and inspected the depot. He expressed the opinion that the depot could not be in better shape. He told me to bring four of my men aboard, as he was going to steam to Disappointment Island.

Thursday 27th November- Wind E.N.E. with rain. At 5.30 a.m. the ‘Hinemoa’s’ boat crew came ashore for our party. When we got aboard, the boat was hoisted up and we sailed for Disappointment Island. Captain Bollons did not know much about the island so he called me to the bridge to act pilot. On Disappointment Island there is only one place a boat can land and I showed him this.

The ‘Hinemoa’ anchored, a boat was lowered and we were pulled ashore. The Scientific Party also came ashore to see our huts and to photograph them. I had spoken to Captain Bollons about my desire to disinter Mr Peters’ remains and bury them in the cemetery on the main island. He agreed to this.

Landing at the point brought us about three miles from the mate’s grave. After climbing over hills and dales for about three hours we arrived at the grave. We removed the sods and  saw our poor old mate. Owing to the peaty nature of the soil, his body was almost perfectly preserved. Two of our men became sick and could give us no help. We put his body in a tarpaulin we had brought with us and then started the journey back over the hills. We arrived at the landing place worn out and drenched to the skin. We were then taken back to the main island where we prepared the mate for burial. The carpenter of the ‘Hinemoa’ made a coffin. When everything was ready Captain Bollons read the funeral service, then Mr Peters was laid to rest. We buried him at 7 p.m. We made a cross and put it on the grave. The inscription read “In memory of Jabez Peters, Mate of the barque Dundonald who died from exposure March 18th 1907.”

Friday 28th November- Mr Hamilton, chief officer of the ‘Hinemoa’ came ashore with stores for the depot. We took our all and went aboard. At 12 o’clock we steamed for Bluff, New Zealand which we expect to reach on Saturday night. Everyone on board is kind to us, especially Captain Bollons, Mr Hamilton, chief officer, and Mr Whitford, second officer.

As we near Bluff we rejoice that our ordeal is over at last. We feel some sad satisfaction that our chief officer has found his last resting place, beside other shipwrecked mariners, in a small cemetery on Auckland Island.


Shortly before he died in 1970, father told me that the survival of the Dundonald’s crew on the Auckland Islands was reckoned to have been the greatest in the annals of the British merchant service, at that time (1907).

Copy of a testimonial from Messrs Kerr, Newton and Calder.

104 West George Street


27th January 1908.

This is to certify that Mr Daniel McLaughlin served as second mate in our barque ‘Dundonald’ from 19th June 1906 till she was lost on Disappointment Island, Auckland group, on 6th March 1907.

All the information we have, goes to show that during the time he was on board, he was industrious and sober, and performed his duties capably and well.

After the vessel was wrecked Mr McLoughlin was for eight and a half months on the Auckland Islands with fourteen men, he being the senior officer who survived the wreck. They were in absolutely destitute condition, as it was impossible to save anything from the wreck, and the fact that he ultimately brought all the men to safety speaks very conclusively of his ability.

We have very great pleasure in placing on record in this way our appreciation of his conduct, and of his care of the ship’s interest, even after he landed in New Zealand.

(signed) Kerr, Newton and Calder.

“The existing map of the islands was known to be extremely inaccurate: indeed it was commonly suspected that the errors in the chart might have been responsible for a number of tragic shipwrecks that have occurred in the Auckland Islands”

Extract from “The Islands of Despair” by Allan W. Eden.

The framework of the boat, constructed by the castaways is preserved in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand.