Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mosquito - Whakapirau 1867 (Kaipara Harbour)

The Replica of the Bounty anchored in Whangarei 1980

The Kaipara Harbour with its many changing moods can be very unpredictable. While the infamous heads have their treacherous reputation, the inner reaches of the Kaipara could be just as perilous. More than one ship and small boat had met an end in the one of the many inlets and rivers. A brief mention in a faded newspaper before as the decades passed all but forgotten and unrecorded then lost to memory.

This perhaps is the case with a boat named the Mosquito. She was built by Thomas Condon for Albertland Settler Lionel de Labrosse. Labrosse had taken land up at Pahi with his wife and family in the early years of 1863/64. He was a French Count according to Dick Scott from his book Seven Lives on Salt River. Scott covers the life of Lionel de Labrosse describing him as 'the Count who ate with the crew'. I will be researching this interesting man later on. Thanks to a very close friend of mine Lisa aka Timespanner my mind enquired beyond the written chapter and I began to look further into the account of the sinking of de Labrosse's vessel. Below is a letter from Lionel de Labrosse to Captain James then pilot of the Kaipara Harbour as it appeared in the Daily Southern Cross 25th September 1867.

Loss of Life at Kaipara

We have been furnished with the following letter by Captain James, pilot at the Kaipara, detailing a boat accident, and loss of life at Kaipara.

To Captain James

Dear Sir,

I am sorry to have to relate to you a sad event which occurred on Monday last.

I left Helensville on Friday night, the 11th instant, on board my boat the ' Mosquito' having with me Thomas Condon, the builder.

We came that night as far as Shelly Beach, and anchored there for the night. On Saturday morning we left before high water for the Heads, but when as far as the buoy, finding the sea rather heavy, and having our after hatch not closed, which caused us to ship some water, we ran back to Shelly Beach, being all the time under double-reef mainsail and staysail, and jib, wind blowing about W.S.W all the time.

On Sunday, the 13th we left before high water, with a light breeze, carrying whole mainsail and staysail, and jib. We reached your place about 10.30, and came to anchor to wait for the tide to cross the Heads and get up the Otamatea.

We left your place about 3 o'clock, with your directions to cross the bank, which we accomplished satisfactorily . The breeze being light, we sent up the gaff top-sail, and reached Masefield's between 6 and 7 o'clock, and stopped there for the night.

On Monday, the 14th, about 5 o'clock a.m., got under-way for Pahi, with double-reefed mainsail and staysail, it blowing rather fresh from the eastward. We beat against the tide, and got clear of Masefield's Bluff in three tacks, when we noticed some very dirty weather to the windward of us. We brought up and anchored, took in the third reef, and waited until the squall was over. It blew fearfully, and rained the whole time. When the squall was over we got under-way on the starboard tack, so as not to get ourselves to windward, being able to run bar-free up the Arapaua. We experienced some very heavy squalls, which caused us to douse the peak several times. The sea was pretty heavy, but the boat was riding over it like a bird, not shipping a drop of water. We go on very well, and were as far as Whakapirau; the wind having moderated and heading us a little, we let go one reef, so as to get around the large bluff, which is just opposite Manukau's Point, without putting her round.

When getting near the township, Condon suggested to me that we ought to put the jib on her, the weather being clear and fine. I said I thought she had enough, but if he thought she might carry it, he might please himself; so he went and put it on. She was at the time running free. We passed the township, and, when about half a quarter mile from it, a sudden squall struck us, coming right over the bluff. I gave her all the helm I could, telling Condon at the same time to let fly the jib sheet. She lay down considerably, and would not luff anymore, having too much headsail; and Condon not letting go the jib sheet, a second squall struck her as she was lying over, and she began to fill in the after hatch. I told him to cut away the jib-halliards, but I believe the poor fellow had lost his presence of mind, for he stood motionless by the rigging. When half full she began to right herself and go down stern first. I then shouted to Condon to look our for his life, when all the answer he gave me was "I cannot swim." I told him then to catch hold of the oar that was on deck. I jumped off to windward, and having my oilskins on, did not expect to be saved; but with aid of my knife, I soon stripped some of my clothes off, and, turning round, saw Condon struggling with a box about ten yards from me; but I saw no more of him after that moment.

I saw one of the hatches which came up, and made for it, thinking I could get to him, but my oilskins became entangled about my legs, I was unable to reach the poor fellow before he sank to rise no more. Seeing no more of him, I thought I must now look out for my life, and catching hold of another hatch, I let the tide drift me up until I was picked up by Mt Herbert Metcalfe and Mr Coates, who were down at Mr Symonds's, and saw us go down.

Great praise is due to them, and to Mr Symonds also, for the exertions they made on our behalf, and for the promptitude with which they acted against wind and tide. We have been searching for the body ever since, and dragged the river, but without success.

I remain, dear sir, most truly yours

Lionel de Labrosse

Daily Southern Cross 25th October 1867

Further notes. From the description of the vessels' location and the assistance of J. Symonds (who had a timber mill at Whakapirau) I am taking an educated guess that the Mosquito sank just near Whakapirau Beach. Per haps she still lies beneath the harbour sands waiting to be rediscovered.


  1. Hi,
    I am extremely grateful that you found this remarkable letter. The Count was my great, great grandfather and as I have developed a strong interest in classic boats I would love to know more about the Mosquito if there is more to know. My email address is

  2. Hi,
    I am still interested in corresponding about this matter.
    Tim Hanna