FORREST HALL, iron full-rigged ship:
On the morning of 27 February 1909, when bound from Newcastle to Antofagasta, Chile, with a cargo of 3127 tons of coal, the ship went ashore on the north-west coast of the North Island, 25 miles south of Cape Maria Van Diemen, where she became a total wreck. The vessel, which was 21 days out on her passage, stranded at 9.30am, and all on board reached the shore safely on 1 March. The Forrest Hall listed heavily seaward, her back broken, and heavy seas swept clean over her, at times reaching half way up the mainmast.
A Court of Inquiry was opened at Auckland on 15 March. The master of the vessel, Captain J.F. Collins, stated that the ship sailed from Newcastle on 7 February. The chief officer was the only certificated officer on board. At daybreak on 27 February his attention was first drawn to the fact that land was in sight. There was a light breeze blowing and the ship was heading straight for the land, with all sails set. The atmosphere was clear and the vessel was about 15 miles off when land was sighted. When he, the master, came on deck at 5am he told the chief officer to keep on as far as possible so as to make a favourable port tack. All hands were ordered to stand by to put about at 8.30am. The ship was then about four and a half miles off the shore and about three miles inside the last line of soundings. An effort was made to put the ship about, but she would not answer. About three minutes before she struck the mate told the man at the wheel to put the helm hard up, but witness countermanded that order and told him to keep straight on. Soundings were not taken prior to striking, and witness trusted solely to his eyesight, as he thought the ship was well outside the line of danger. Captain Collins had been in ill-health after leaving Newcastle and had an epileptic fit on 6 February and another on the following Sunday.
After evidence of several members of the crew had been taken, Selwyn Mays, for the Marine Department, said that this was the first case ever heard of by nautical men of a ship going ashore on a weather shore, in calm weather, and in broad daylight. The captain, it seemed to him, had neglected every precaution which it was incumbent on him to have taken. Counsel contended that the evidence showed sheer neglect to take the necessary precautions. The court found it very difficult indeed to understand why the captain put the Forrest Hall on the course he did when he had made up his mind to sail either through Cook Strait or to the extreme south of New Zealand, negligent navigation – namely, in standing to the land longer than he was justified in doing, and in neglecting to take soundings or any steps whatever to ascertain the depth of water. The court also found that the chief officer was in no way to blame for the wreck. On the contrary, if the captain had adopted the chief officer’s suggestion shortly before the vessel struck in all probability the disaster would not have occurred. The court ordered the master’s certificate to be suspended for two years, and that he pay the costs of the inquiry.
In gratitude for the kindness offered by a local resident, Gustavus Yates, one of the sailors painted a picture of the vessel on canvas salvaged from the sails of the Forrest Hall. The painting is done in great detail, the very fine lines being drawn as in scrimshaw art. With generous donations from the Yates descendants and other donors, and the skills of Eason Chen, senior conservator at Wrightway Studios in Auckland, the canvas was repaired and now hangs in the Far North Regional Museum, Kaitaia. The ship’s bell is at the Te Hapua School, Parengarenga Harbour.
The Forrest Hall, No. 87,889, 2052 tons gross and 1999 tons net register, built at Liverpool in 1883 by W.H. Potter & Son. Length 276.6ft., beam 40.1ft., depth 24.2ft. Owned by Charles G. Dunn and Company, of Liverpool.
Text from New Zealand Shipwrecks, 8th edition (Hodder Moa, 2007). Used with permission of the publisher and authors.