ON THE TRAIL OF THE BRIG UNION
This story spans some 150 years and connects a piece of old 1859 technology and modern 2008 computerisation. It also demonstrates how important it is that archaeology is involved in any shipwreck salvage.
In early March 2007, shipwreck expert Nick Freeman, searched "Trademe" , New Zealand's custom internet auction house, with the key word "shipwreck". It brought up an item for auction...it was an old pintle from a shipwreck. Pintles are “vertical pins on which the rudder ships and turns”. (This definition comes from p. 204 of Manual of Seamanship, Vol.1, Admiralty, London, 1908). The hardware counterparts are the gudgeons or “eyes which ship over the pintles”. The gudgeons are typically found secured with bolts to the stern post and the matching pintles are on the rudder blade. They are generally well made of anti-corrosive bronze and of bulky, strong proportions, as any failure of this hardware could have dire consequences for the vessel. On old shipwrecks, once the wood is eaten or rotted away, these items survive quite well on a wreck site, and many have been found around New Zealand’s coast. It is easy to get confused between what is the gudgeon or pintel, but it’s also easy to remember…the Pintel is the part with the “Pin”.
The trademe sales description of the item was as follows:
“Brass Rudder Part
Large brass rudder hinge off shipwreck, found washed up on beach after storm over 15 years ago, in the far north of the north island on the East coast. 14.5 kg, 55cm x 23cm, solid origin, but guessing 80yrs+. Would appeal to marine or metal antique collector”.
The Listing ID was 89727880, and the seller was “tejas1”. Nick didn’t bid on the item himself, but instead forwarded the listing to fellow shipwreck enthusiast Noel Hilliam of Dargaville. The auction ended 9:24pm, Monday March 5th, 2007, with the winner as “bosun6”, the trademe name for Noel Hilliam. At this stage, no one knows what wreck this “rudder hinge” came from. As Nick was Auckland-based, Noel asked him to pick up the pintle from the seller.
The seller’s first name was Josh and his home was in the suburb of Point Chevalier. (Currently Archaehistoria is trying to trace “Josh”). Having the right kind of shipwreck investigative background, Nick discovered the provenance behind the auctioned item…
The pintle was recovered by Josh when he was holidaying about 1992. The pintle came from a copper-sheathed rudder washed up on the beach in Waimahana Bay, on Northland’s East coast. There were actually two pintles recovered, and Josh had donated the slightly bigger one to the Auckland Maritime Museum (actually named The New Zealand Maritime Museum but based in Auckland).
Nick’s curiosity was piqued. What wreck could this be from? An old copper-sheathed, massive sailing ship rudder in beach sand? It looked old, sounded old, just HOW old was it? What kind of vessel did it come from? Waimahana Bay? Where is that? If the rudder is on the beach, how did it get there? It may indicate a wreck nearby? Or it floated into the bay from miles away? Can a rudder float? If it was 80 years old like Josh suggested, then it would date from about 1927….as it turned out, the pintle is probably a lot older than that.
Nick brought the big “U” shaped, bronze piece of shipwreck home and took some photographs of it on his kitchen bench. Within a few days he delivered it to Noel Hilliam. He then followed the lead up and phoned the registra at the maritime museum who confirmed Josh had indeed donated the bigger pintle but it was not on display. Rather, it was in storage at another site and an appointment had to be made and the access was not straight forward.
I heard about the pintle at about the same time. In November 2007, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the NZ Underwater Heritage Group in Dargaville and took the opportunity to view and study the pintel which was at Noel Hilliam’s house nearby. I photographed it too. No one knew what wreck it was from or had any idea.
At this time, I was involved in the Boyd project. This was a study to survey what remained of the 1809-vintage Boyd wreck in Whangaroa Harbour. As part of this investigation, I researched the history of Whangaroa including other shipwrecks in the vicinity. I found the 74 foot schooner Blue Bell was wrecked in 1868 some five miles down the coast from Whangaroa Heads, the brig Lord Rodney (subject of an Archaehistoria search in November 2010- see separate webpage) was wrecked on the North Whangaroa Head in 1836 and another brig, the Union, according to Ingram’s “New Zealand Shipwrecks 1795-1970” , page 158, was wrecked in “Whangaroa Bay”. None of those matched something wrecked in Waimahana Bay which was 14km North of Whangaroa Harbour.
Nick and myself were then immersed heavily in the Boyd project and the rudder pintle mystery fell into the background until January 2008. Our focus on the Whangaroa area held our attention and discussion on the other local shipwrecks too. The Lord Rodney was worth searching for…her area of loss was small and localised, so a search to discover the wreck was quite feasible. What about the Union? She was the same size of ship, the same rig. The entry in Ingram’s book was disappointingly brief… “the brig went ashore in Whangaroa Bay…” You couldn’t get more sketchy than that! Significantly, Whangaroa Bay was huge…it stretches from Flat Island to Karaui Point…it would take years to locate a wreck along that stretch of coastline. I wondered if I could narrow down the wreck point of the Union?. I researched more and punched “Union” into Papers Past. This website has computerised many old New Zealand newspapers. On 8 January 2008, I made a break through. In the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Vol. XXXII, Issue 92, 16 August 1873, page 2, was an article, “Wreck of the Brig Union, at Whangaroa”. The account was far more detailed than what was in Ingram’s, and I read the following passage:
“The thick weather prevented the [Whangaroa] entrance being discerned, and the gale still continuing an attempt was made to cross the bay. The brig, however, would not answer her helm, but drifted towards the rocks in shore. The captain, seeing a small bay called Waimahanga [sic] Bay, endeavoured as a last resort to run in there for shelter. When just inside the heads he let go both anchors, but the wind was too strong, and the brig dragged in towards the shore, striking a ledge of rocks and completely bumping her hull to pieces.”
I couldn’t believe it. The Union had turned out to be wrecked in the VERY SAME BAY where our “mystery” rudder pintle was found! Waimahana Bay is on a very remote piece of coast. I could find no other wrecks in the vicinity. The SIZE of the pintle tends to match a 158 ton brig, probably about 80-90 feet long (the actual length of the brig is unknown at present). The CONDITION of the pintle seems consistent with when the brig was wrecked on July 28th, 1873. The brig was built in 1859, which made the pintle 148 years old…nearly twice as old as what Josh reckoned! The DESIGN of the pintle is also appears consistent with 1859 vintage. The birthplace for the Union, No. 31,978 was Samuel Biggins and Eliz. Hogg boat builders at New River, Tasmania. Presumably, a local blacksmith produced the pintle.
Interestingly, the Union was on the same mission as the ill-fated Boyd 64 years earlier. The Union, under command of Captain A. McCallum, left Auckland in ballast on July 12, 1873, for Whangaroa to load timber. Captain McCallum may possibly have intended to load timber at the three year old business of Lane and Brown at Totara North (there were a number of timber mills milling Kauri at Whangaroa) but the brig instead itself would end up becoming stock material for the young firm…after the wrecking, McCallum sold the brig to the two young men for 80 pounds. The brig had eight crew but with the assistance of the Maoris on that mid-winter stormy day, all gained shore safely. The Union was owned by Mr. H.B. Evans of Hobart Town. The Nelson Examiner article described the brig as “a very old vessel”. At time of wrecking the brig was 14 years of age. By modern standards, it could hardly be described as “very old” but perhaps in 1873, when vessels were wrecked frequently and maintenance technology wasn’t highly developed, it may have been “old”.
An anchor recovery
There is reports that a large old anchor has been recovered from the Waimahana Bay area in recent times and is located at a local marae. Two anchors were dropped during the extremis by the Union, so it’s possible one anchor still remains in original location. Archaehistoria does not recommend anchor recoveries unless (1). An archaeological style survey of the area is completed to check that a wreck is not associated with it (2). A conservation plan for the anchor is in place before it is recovered so that the anchor does not corrode away and (3). A precise record/report is made of the anchor location. Anchors are sometimes the most prominent marker for a wreck site and once they are raised, the wreck site is possibly lost forever! In 1873, in the heavy maritime industry of New Zealand, anchors were very valuable items and highly sought after. The selling of the wreck to Messrs. Lane and Brown meant they would make all efforts to recover the anchors. The anchor chain cables would have stretched out across the bottom and the well defined wreck site I would have thought would mean the anchors would be relatively easy to salvage. Lane and Brown could drag for the anchor cables, raise them, and then in fine weather haul in the anchors. In light of this, it is a little surprising that anchor(s) may still be around that are associated with the 158 ton Australian brig Union.
The Research Continues by Archaehistoria and the future (August 2011).
Mike Fraser is tracking down the second pintle in the Auckland Maritime Museum. Photographs, measurements, sketch to be made.
The trademe seller “Josh” needs to be traced and further interviewed if possible.
A magnetometer survey by Archaehistoria to locate the remains of the wreck of the Union is planned. The bay itself is very small and a survey can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. Magnetometer and archaeological surveys cost money. If you would like to be part of the discovery of the wreck of the Union and support the survey please contact Archaehistoria.
The anchor at the local marae is to be researched and establish if associated with the Union.
The rudder pintle recovered from the beach in Waimahana Bay after a storm in the early 1990’s and purchased by Noel Hilliam in a trademe auction on March 5, 2007. GPS for Waimahana Bay 37º 57.020’S, 173º 37.345’E. As photographed, the pintle is upside down…the pin on the left slips downwards into the eye of the gudgeon. This historic item is most likely from the Australian brig Union wrecked in the same bay in July 1873. Note the wearing of the gudgeon has cut a groove in the pin and pintle; in the case of this being from the Union, this represents 14 years of wear. You can see from the wear groove that the pin extended right through the eye and well past it. Photographed at Noel Hilliam’s residence, Dargaville, 10 November 2007.
The author, Ewan Stevenson, at Mr. Hilliam’s residence with the pintle on 10 November 2007. It is a historic piece of probably Australian 19th century maritime chandlery. It is most likely from the 158 ton brig Union, and thus manufactured in Tasmania by a blacksmith probably in the vicinity of New River about the year 1859.
The Waimahana Bay trademe pintle. The rudder blade fits inside the “U” and is generally fastened by through bolts, rudder nails and / or lag bolts. Historical researcher Mike Fraser with an eye for detail, pointed out the different indentations in the pintle straps. The round indentations are most likely from rudder nails and the square indentations are from lag bolts. Through bolts leave no indentations so it looks like none of these were used to fasten this pintle. Length: 550mm; width: 230mm; weight: 14.5 kg. 10 November 2007.
Rudder arrangement in a wooden sailing ship.
1 Rudder blade
3 Rudder head
4 Rudder stock
5 Pintle straps
7 Gudgeon straps
The arrangement in the 158 ton brig Union would have been very similar to this, although the number of pintles and matching gudgeons may have been slightly different. Source: p. 43 from “The Lore of Ships” by Tre Tryckare, Gothenberg, 1975.
The wooden Australian brig Ispolen. This brig is slightly larger at 236 gross tons than the 158 ton Union, but it was built about the same time (1865) and shows what the Union would have looked like. Source: p. 69 of “Sail in the South” by Ronald Parsons, Wellington, AH & Aw Reed, 1975
The 158 ton brig Union would have been very similar to this one. This is the 162 ton, 90 feet long, wooden brig Annie Brown, which trading around South Australia from 1875. Source: p. 136 of “Sail in the South” by Ronald Parsons, Wellington, AH & Aw Reed, 1975
A bronze pintle with three through bolts from the 1823 wreck of the 432 ton sailing ship Brampton. The item was recovered by Kelly Tarlton from the wreck site in the Bay of Islands. This item was sold at Webb’s auction no. 862 in November 2002. Note as photographed the pintle is upside down. The Waimahana Bay trademe pintle did not have through bolts but was fastened by rudder nails and lag bolts instead.
A bronze 2m long gudgeon recovered by Kelly Tarlton from the 1795 wreck of the Endeavour in Fiordland. One through bolt and the remains of another can be seen. This item was sold at Webb’s auction no. 862 in November 2002.
Rudder nails were about 5-inches in length with a full head and were specifically made for fastening rudder pintels to the rudder. Note these round heads match the round indentations in the Waimahana trademe pintel. Source: McCarthy, Mike. Ships Fastenings. The Bulletin of the Institute for Marine Archaeology, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1983): pp. 1-24.
Through bolts were used to fasten a variety of fittings including gudgeons and pintels. Note the examples of gudgeons and pintels on this webpage from New Zealand shipwrecks Boyd, Brampton and Endeavour all have through bolts. Note the lack of indentation in the face of the straps from through bolts…it appears this type of bolt was not used on the Waimahana Bay trademe pintel. Source: McCarthy, Mike (1983).
The square indentations on the Waimahana Bay trademe pintel (as spotted by eagle eye Mike Fraser) are probably from lag bolts or lag screws. These bolts consist of a screw with a wood screw thread with a square or hexagonal head. They were used in both gudgeons and pintels particularly where the end fastening was in planking. A big spanner would have been used to screw these big bolts in. Source: McCarthy, Mike (1983).
The Brig configuration of the Union. Sourced from “New Zealand Shipwrecks”, Auckland: Hodder Moa, 2007, with permission of author Lynton Diggle.
A drawing showing method of copper sheathing stern and rudder. Also note gudgeon and pintel arrangement. Source: Staniforth, Mark. The Introduction and use of Copper Sheathing – A History. The Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, Vol. 9, No. 1 & 2 (1985): pp. 21-48.
Colonists pose with a gudgeon salvaged from the shallow burn’t out wreck of the 600 ton ship Boyd. Where did this gudgeon end up? Was it used in a new build? Most probably it was melted by New Zealand colonists and the valuable bronze alloy used to make similar marine chandlery. Note the through bolt and the eye of the gudgeon through which the pintel went through. Source: p. 16, Doak, Wade. The Burning of the Boyd: A Saga of Culture Clash. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984.