Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Hulk of the Eli Whitney 1840-1877 sunk Wellington 1877

Captioned "Port Chalmers from a painting by Captain John Robertson"
Vessels named from far left to far right of the image
"Favourite"  "William Hyde"  "Lord Ashley"  "Eli Whitney"  "Alhambra"

The Boston built barque Eli Whitney had been used as a coal hulk in Wellington Harbour during the 1870's. I came across her when I was researching some of the hulks lying at Quail Island at Lyttleton Harbour, Christchurch. She was launched in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in 1840. A vessel of some 500 tons although the figures vary on the different reports of her. For many years between 1860 and 1870 this vessel helped to keep the trans-Tasman trade functioning. She carried everything from passengers to livestock, wool and coal. She was a vessel whose sailing career extended over thirty years before finally she was sold to Captain Williams in 1870 and stripped down to be used as a coal hulk. In 1877 the Eli Whitney was struck by the Union Steamship Co owned vessel Taupo with the loss of two lives.The resulting enquiry held both parties responsible for the accident. Williams attempted to get compensation for the loss of his vessel. However the Union Steamship Co refused to pay the amount being claimed.

Outer tee at Queens Wharf, Wellington, 1936-1942

 The Eli Whitney sat submerged, 200 yards from the end of Queen's Wharf  for several months after her sinking. In January of 1878 several attempts were made to blow the vessel up in the hope she would be obliterated and not be a shipping hazard. However in 1879 exactly 12 months after the explosions, a diver was sent down to inspect the hulk. Being of solid construction the Eli Whitney had held fast against the destructive forces of the dynamite used in her hull. A decade later in 1887 the sunken hulk was at last destroyed. 200 pounds of gun cotton were packed into the Eli Whitney which led to her final destruction. In 1890 the Mana dragged up part of the Eli Whitney while the vessel was being used to drag for lost mooring buoys. The piece of the hulk was shifted out of its original position and placed elsewhere to prevent any further shipping hazards.

Portrait Eli Whitney by Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1822)

Now and then throughout the old newspapers she is recalled. One article mentioned the possible origins of the vessel's name. Eli Whitney (1765 - 1825) inventor of the cotton gin was suggested. Being born in the same state as where the vessel of the same name was built, plus the history behind the man's inventions - it could be a possibility.

Below is a timeline of articles I've found to date about this vessel. It's not a complete list but an idea of the life of a very well built and hardworking vessel such as the Eli Whitney was paints an interesting portrait of the history of NZ shipping. It was once the backbone of our economic survival without these grand old sailing vessels our country would never have become what it is today.


The first record I have of her in New Zealand waters was her arrival at Lyttleton on April 26 1860 "Eli Whitney, ship 510 tons" Her cargo manifest included;  300 tons of coal , two horses, 1 box of books, 1 box of earthen wear, 3 pack saddles, 1 cask preserved seal skins, 50 bales of hay. Lyttleton Times 28 February 1860.

The ship Eli Whitney, which arrived in port on Thursday, is commanded and partly owned by Captain B. Jenkins, hitherto the well known commander of the equally well known and favourite brig Dart. This is the best introduction which the new visitor could bring to our port. Captain Jenkins left Sydney on the 20th March, and proceeded to Twofold Bay, where he took on board 2300 sheep, the property of Mr. Wentworth, and on the 6th April proceeded with them to the Bluff, which port was reached in six days, with the loss of only forty-five of the living freight. After discharging at the Bluff, of which harbour Captain Jenkins speaks highly, a week was consumed in coming up the coast, only light baffling winds being met with until the southerly breeze of Wednesday. The Eli Whitney passed the best days of her existence in the American trade with Liverpool, and being of Yankee origin, testifies to the substantial workmanship of the days of the earlier clippers.

Lyttleton Times 28 April 1860

Same day, ship Eli Whitney, 507 tons, Jenkins, for Sydney. Cabin passengers—Mr. and Mrs. Day, the Misses Cain and Papprill, Mrs. Clarkson, Messrs. Lee, Robertson, Richardson and Stoddart. Steerage: Mr. and Mrs. Harrison and two children, Mr. and Mrs. Booth, Mr. and Mrs. FitzGerald and child, Mrs. and Miss Saunders, Miss Stewart, Messrs. Boyd, Thorley, Jessop, Hughes, Price, Goodman, Clark, Jones, Frame, Barrett, Higgins, G. and F. Culling, Short, Sykes, Taylor, J. and P. Wood, Swan wick, Roberts, Dowling, Cowan, Oben, Casey and Stuart.
Lyttleton Times 30 May 1860

After the despatch of the Ashburton about 1000 bales of wool of the season's clip still remained in the province — a large number of which below being shipped per Eli Whitney to Sydney, and other parcels to Melbourne. The additional value to the credit of our wool exports will be rather over £24,000 when the whole is shipped — bringing up the sum to about £175,000.
Daily Southern Cross 8 June 1860

Messrs. Burt and Co, shipped yesterday, per Eli Whitney, a draft of seventy horses for the Mauritius. They consist for the most part of strong upstanding colts of from three to five years, similar to those generally selected for the India shipments. Mr. Rodd's thoroughbred colt Eglinton,and a two year old by imported  Sleight-of-Hand junior, leave the colony by the same vessel.(Sydney Morning Herald July 21 1860)
Lyttelton Times 25 August 1860

DUNEDIN. 4th February.
ARRIVED. 2.30 p.m. — Eli Whitney, from Newcastle
Evening Post 5 February 1867

DEPARTURES. March 14.— Eli Whitney, barque, Place, for Dunedin, New Zealand, with 835 tons coal.
Daily Southern Cross 16 March 1867

DECEMBER--. 3, Falcon, ketch, 37 tons, Morrison, from Blenheim. 8, Heversham, barque, 489 tons, Yule, from Newcastle. 3, Airedale, s.s., 286 tons, Kennedy, from Lyttelton, Dunedin, and Bluff. 4, Eli Whitney, barque, 507 tons, Williams, from Newcastle. 5, Esk, barque, 404 tons, M'Kellar, from Newcastle.
Wellington Independent 6 December 1870

Captain Williams, of the barque Haversham, who has been trading to this port for some three years, intends, we understand, taking up his residence in this city. He has obtained the contract for supplying Messrs M'Meckan and Blackwood for the ensuing twelve months. He has brought the barque Eli Whitney from New South Wales, and has converted her into a coal hulk, and has also bought the hulk Rosebud, which is undergoing a thorough overhaul previous to being again brought into requisition.
Wellington Independent 10 December 1870

In anticipation of the arrival of the Claud and the Wellington, the hulks India and Eli Whitney were moored at either end of the wharf, and instead of hauling off to give the steamers room to come alongside, they remained so close to the wharf that when the Claud Hamilton came up, the pilot found himself very cramped for room, particularly as the wind had at that moment canted the Eli Whitney almost across the bows of the steamer. In addition to this combination of difficulties, the pilot seemed not to be aware of the way the steamer had on at the time, and in steering for the wharf, and endeavoring to avoid the Eli Whitney, came stern on. Two of the outer piles were grazed, but the damage, thought at first to be serious, is only trifling.
   Wellington Independent 18 March 1872

In going out of harbour to-day, the captain's orders were not carried out in steering, and the steamer 'Albion' made an attempt to go through the hulk 'Eli Whitney,' but only managed to crunch bulwarks some.
Taranaki Herald 14 April 1875


A most painful sensation was excited in town this morning by the news that the hulk Eli Whitney had sunk in the harbor during the night, and, that two lives had been sacrificed. It appears that the hulk was lying at the buoy about a quarter of a mile east from the Queen's Wharf, with about 800 tons of coal on board, the property of Captain Williams, who also was the owner of the hulk. 
She was under the charge of Mr. Edwin Davey, who, with his wife Amy and his infant son Alfred Ernest (5 months old), lived on board, and slept last night in the cabin. A very severe gale was blowing from the N.W., with furious squalls, and the night was very dark. The hulk was straining heavily at her moorings. Shortly after midnight Davey suddenly was awakened, and heard water rushing into the vessel. He jumped up and found the cabin full of water. 
Rousing his wife and child, he hurried them on deck, there being no time to put on any clothing, for when they reached the deck the water already was nearly on a line with it. He rushed to the boat, and had hold of the painter, when t'ue hulk, boat, and all suddenly sank right under his feet. He had only time to seize one of the planks lying about the decks, and to get on it with his wife and child when the hulk disappeared, and the fury of the gale drove them rapidly to leeward.
About ten minutes afterwards the child was washed off, and it was impossible even to attempt to save it. The husband and wife continued drifting in the direction of Meech's baths, but before reaching the shore the wife also was washed off, and lastly Davey himself lost his hold, but was driven ashore, and although greatly exhausted, managed to crawl as far as a house occupied by Mrs. Davies, who, on being aroused, at once rendered him all the assistance in her power, while the alarm being given to Mr. and Mrs. Meech, they also promptly came to help. 
An immediate search was made for the wife, who was thought to stand some chance of being driven ashore alive. The extreme darkness made all their efforts for a long time futile, but at length the unfortunate woman was discovered, after nearly two hours' search, holding on to the wooden stage lying on the beach near Meech's baths. When found, she was quite warm, and her heart was beating, but although all possible means were used to restore animation, they utterly failed, and it soon became evident that she had passed away. About 4.30 this morning, the body of the child was found on the Te Aro beach, near the Gasworks, by a man named Thomas Minty, of course quite dead. The remains of the mother and child were conveyed to the Morgue, where an inquest will be held on Monday. 
The cause of this deplorable catastrophe at first appeared involved a mystery. Although an old vessel, the Eli Whitney was thoroughly sound, and had ridden out many gales as severe as that of last night. She was scarcely two thirds full of coals, her carrying capacity being 1900 tons, while she had barely 800 tons on board. The theory that she had simply parted, and sunk at her anchor was proved untenable, and the most feasible conjecture appeared to be that the severe jerks on her chain caused by the gale either had carried away one of her bow ports, or had caused a plank to start, on which, of course, she would fill and sink instantly. 
The real facts of the case were not known until 10 a.m., when Capt. Alexander Chambers, master of the schooner Clio, came ashore and made the following statement : —
"The Clio was lying at anchor about midway between the wharf and the hulk, but somewhat to windward of a direct line from one to the other. Wind, N.W., hard gale with violent squalls, and night dark, but not so dark but that the hulk and her mast were visible from the schooner. Shortly after midnight the steamship Taupo left the wharf bound for Picton and Northern Ports. In going out, the steamer passed very close to the schooner. Suddenly he (Capt Chambers) heard someone on board the steamer shout out that the hulk was right ahead, and the telegraph bell was sounded to stop the engines, but two seconds afterwards the Taupo ran into the hulk, striking her a little abaft amidships with a crash that was heard most distinctly on board the Clio, which was lying to windward at a distance of fully 200 yards." 
"The Taupo then dropped astern and lay for about ten minutes, apparently ascertaining whether she herself had sustained any serious damage in the collision, she then steamed away. Captain Chambers, on seeing the accident, went below for a glass, and, on returning on deck, after an absence of less than two minutes, found that the hulk had sunk, and only the top of her mast was visible above water"
The Eli Whitney was showing no light at the time the steamer ran into her. There were lights on board earlier in the evening, but as the night wore on they were extinguished, and Captain Chambers supposed that if any persons had been on board, they must have gone on shore. He heard no cry for help or anything which could lead him to suppose that anybody was on board the hulk when she was struck.
 This statement is corroborated by the night watchman on board the Avalanche, and by other eye witnesses of the disaster. As the Taupo arrived at Picton this morning, at 6.20, it is plain that she has not suffered materially by the collision, and probably some further particulars will be received by telegram during the afternoon. The three unfortunate castaways, however, were not allowed to drift to destruction without some efforts being made to pick them up as they were driven across the harbour. 
About half-past twelve, the night watchman on board the barque Adamant heard cries of distress, apparently from a female voice in the water. Captain Bowling, on the alarm being given, at once manned and lowered a boat, of which he himself took command, and pulled in the direction from which the cries were heard, but before the boat could be got into the water, those cries had died away altogether, and, although Captain Bowling and his brave seamen pulled about for a long time, they could neither see or hear anything of the castaways. The fierce storm and rough sea rendered their own situation one of great difficulty and danger. 
They found it impossible to pull back to the ship, and at length were compelled to beach the boat at Clyde Quay, where they landed, thoroughly drenched to the skin. Another and even more daring attempt at a rescue was made by Mr. Peter Fergensen, who is in charge of Messrs. W. & G. Turnbull and Co.'s hulk India, who heard the cries while he was below in his cabin, and at once rushed up without waiting to dress, and pulled off alone in his boat. He says that had the cries only been once repeated after he' had launched his boat, he could have saved the castaways, but unfortunately not a sound was to be heard, and at length, his boat being full of water, and finding himself just under the stern of the s.s. Agnes, he shouted for help, and those on board lowered him a life-buoy and rope, by which he pulled himself on board. 
The Eli Whitney was an American-built barque of 540 tons ; built at Boston in 1840 of pitch-pine. She was purchased by Captain Williams about six years ago from Messrs. Pickett Bros., of Melbourne, and was brought down by him to this port,'where she has been used as a coal-hulk ever since.  She had two powerful steam winches on board,- one forward and the other aft, the two being valued at several hundred pounds. The coals on board were worth upwards of £1200, and the hulk herself about a like sum,  thus, as there was not a penny of insurance on either the hulk or her contents, Captain Williams, we regret to say, a loser to the amount of fully ,£3OOO. 
He informs us that the hulk was thoroughly overhauled only three days ago by several shipwrights, who pronounced her sound in every part. The unfortunate man, Edwin Davey was sufficiently recovered this afternoon to be removed to the house of his father-in-law, Mr. Price., Tory-street, where he gave to the representative of this paper a very clear account of what took place, so far as his own personal knowledge went, but throwing no light whatever on the origin of the disaster. 
He says that, having been kept awake by the gale during most of the previous night, he and his wife retired to rest early last evening, and, after a time, slept well although at first disturbed by the violent creaking and jerking of the vessel as she strained at her warps in the furious squalls. Suddenly his wife roused him, asking him to listen to the strange noise the water was making in the closet, which opened off the cabin. He sprang up and at once found the water already in the cabin.
 Rushing on deck he endeavoured to haul the boat, which was fastened by a painter to the stern — round to the side-ladder in order that his wife and child might be able to get down to it, but by the time he had accomplished this the water was coming over the vessel's bows, and he exclaimed to his wife that there was nothing for it but to strike out.  He succeeded in securing a plank and hauling his wife on to it, but in a very few minutes it capsized, throwing them into the water. He recovered the plank at last, and then managed to seize his wife by the hair and drag her on to it again, but in the shock of the immersion she had dropped the child, and they never saw it again. 
He and his wife succeeded in reaching the southern shore of the bay safely, although much exhausted — the plank several times capsizing by the way. With great difficulty he scrambled ashore, leaving his wife in safety by Meech's floating stage — aground at the time — and went to the nearest house as above stated, to get help, but overcome by exhaustion, he fainted, and for nearly an hour was unable to explain what he wanted.
The rest of the circumstances are detailed above. Mr. Davey asserts positively that the Eli Whitney's light was burning when he went to bed. He also states that he felt no particular shock, the acuteness of his perception probably having been deadened by the motion and noise of the vessel in the violent storm racing. He had been married only about eighteen months. His wife whose maiden name was Amy Price, was a young girl only twenty years of age. formerly at service in the family of the Right Rev. Bishop Hadfield, and always was a general favorite. 
In addition to the irreparable loss of his fair young wife, the unfortunate Edwin Davey has lost all his worldly possessions, and is absolutely destitute. He had furnished his cabin on board the hulk very comfortably and tastefully, and all, of course, is gone. It appears that the first messenger sent for Dr. Doyle, as the nearest doctor, went to the house in Manners-street formerly occupied by that doctor, and knocked up the present inmates, stating that a drowning man required assistance. Soon afterwards a second messenger called on the same errand. 
As Dr. Doyle was never asked for at all, the inmates were puzzled to account for this demand on their services. The mistake at length was discovered, and a third messenger went to Dr. Harding, the next nearest doctor, who was on the spot within ten minutes, and did all in his power, both for the husband, who soon recovered under his care, and also in trying, although unhappily in vain, to restore the wife to consciousness.
Evening Post 24 February 1877

THE SINKING OF THE ELI WHITNEY.CLAIM FOR COMPENSATION. Wellington-, March 2. Captain Williams, owner of the sunken hulk Eli Whitney, has demanded of the Union Company £3OOO, in compensation of the loss sustained by the Taupo running into the hulk. The Union Company have declined to pay any sum.
Grey River Argus 3 March 1877


An attempt was made this evening to blow up the sunken hulk, Eli Whitney, which was cut down by the Taupo some months ago. The hulk lies about two hundred yards from the end of Queen's Wharf, in thirty feet of water. A charge of twenty pounds of dynamite was used, and set off by electricity from a battery supplied by the Telegraph Department; there was a sharp report, a few pieces of timber came to the surface, and the mainmast was canted to an angle, with a very little commotion in the water, and no shock felt at the end of the pier.
West Coast Times 18 January 1878

ELI WHITNEY.Wellington, January 30. The second and third attempt to blow up the hulk Eli Whitney, were failures.

West Coast Times 31 January 1878

BLOWING UP A WRECK.Wellington, Feb. 18th A final effort to blow up the hulk Eli Whitney which has been lying submerged a short distance off the end of the Queen's wharf was made this evening. The charge of about 30lbs of dynamite equal to a 100lbs of gunpowder was used. All arrangements were very successful, the explosion gave a severe shock to the Queen's wharf, and was also felt in the public houses in the vicinity. A large quantity of timber came to the surface besides hundreds of dead fish, some schnapper being from 12lbs to 20lbs weight.
Grey River Argus 19 February 1878


The diver of H.M.S Emerald, says the Wellington Pod, at the request of the Marine Department, went down on Monday afternoon to ascertain what had been the effect of the numerous attempts which were made to blow up the old hulk Eli Whitney, which was sunk in this harbor by the steamer Taupo.  The diver's report can hardly be deemed satisfactory,  as he states that only the deck and a few of the vessel's ribs have been removed by the repeated explosions, the main bulk of the hull remaining practically untouched. This is a very poor result of so much trouble, expense, and consumption of dynamite, and gunpowder. It is to be hoped that now this dangerous obstruction has been ascertained to be still unremoved, no time will be lost by the proper authorities in having it cleared away.
Hawkes Bay Herald 16 April 1879


Wellington2801bs of gun cotton in four, charges was fired at the submerged hulk Eli Whitney, off the end of the Railway Wharf this evening. The explosion was felt over a great part of the town, and a large number of fish were killed, but little timber came to the surface, and it is not yet known whether the attempt has been more successful than former experiments in the same direction.
Thames Star 28 July 1887
The steamer Mana was engaged this morning dragging a short distance from the wharf for the moorings of two buoys belonging to the Harbour Board, and which became unshackled a short time ago. The moorings wore not recovered, but a large piece of the old hulk Eli Whitney, which, it will be remembered, was sunk some years ago, was picked up, and placed in a position where it cannot be the cause of damage to any vessels.
Evening Post 29 January 1890

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