Painting by Walter Wright 1908, Auckland Art Gallery
There are various and conflicting versions as to who were actually the perpetrators of the massacre, but the facts relating to the destruction of the ship and the murder of almost her entire complement of 70 persons correspond in every detail – that while lying at anchor in Whangaroa Harbour about the middle of December 1809, the Boyd was plundered and burned to the water’s edge, and all on board, with the exception of four, killed and eaten. The four spared were an apprentice named Davies, a woman, and two children.
The Boyd, an English ship of between 500 and 600 tons register, was owned by Mr George Brown of London, and commanded by Captain John Thompson. Chartered by the Government as a transport for convicts, the Boyd and her human freight of 142 convicts, five of whom died on the passage, and a detachment of the 73rd Regiment, sailed from London on 10 March 1809, and arrived at Port Jackson on 14 August. On 8 November of the same year the ship, under charter to Mr S. Lord, of Port Jackson, sailed with a cargo of timber, sealskins, coal, and oil for the Cape of Good Hope, calling at Whangaroa en route to load spars.
The first account of the destruction of the Boyd to be made public was that of Alexander Berry, supercargo on the ship City of Edinburgh, which had been lying at the Bay of Islands from the end of October, but as he derived his information from the Maori, whose language he could only partly understand, it is not likely to be entirely correct.
In an account he sent to the owner, Berry stated that during his stay in the neighbouring harbour of the Bay of Islands he heard frequent reports of a ship in Whangaroa being taken by the Maori, and her crew killed and eaten. In order to verify the truth of these reports, and to rescue, if possible, several people who had been spared in the general massacre, an armed party, which included Berry, James Russell, the mate of the City of Edinburgh, and Metanganga, a principal chief of the Bay of Islands, who had volunteered his services, embarked in three boats, and on 31 December 1809, left for Whangaroa. On arrival there the party found the remains of the Boyd, which was lying in shoal water, near the present site of Kaeo, stripped of everything of value and burned down to the copper sheathing. Through the good offices of Metanganga they rescued a woman, a youth, and two children, the only survivors of the massacre. They also brought away as prisoners two of the principal chiefs, through whom they obtained a box containing Government dispatches.
The version, which has all the appearances of being the correct one, is that given by the Rev. Samuel Marsden, and elicited from questions asked of the ringleaders, the facts of which are as follows:
Three days after the arrival of the Boyd at Whangaroa, in December 1809, the Maori, in revenge for the flogging and other indignities heaped upon the person of the chief Tara, who, along with another chief, had been a passenger on the ship, determined on and carried out the pillage of the Boyd and the massacre of almost her entire complement. In his book Voyage to New Zealand, J.L. Nicholas described Tara as having a countenance which pointed him as capable of committing such an atrocity. He had made several voyages in whaling vessels, and was known to his European shipmates as ‘George’. Tara spoke English fluently, but was of a treacherous disposition and impudent bearing. It was his father, Pepio, of the Ngati Uru tribe, who accidentally caused the fire on board the Boyd through the ignition of part of the plundered powder. In trying a flint in a musket, the resulting spark caused an explosion which killed Pepio and four other Maori. Marsden also ascertained that Te Pahi was guiltless of any complicity in the killing of the crew, but, on the other hand, made strenuous efforts to save the lives of five members of the crew who had taken refuge in the rigging, and actually had them in his canoe, but owing to his party being outnumbered, had to surrender them. The mistake Berry made in naming him as the principal culprit evidently arose from the similarity of his name and that of another Maori, Te Puhi, and the fact that he arrived on a trading expedition on the day of the massacre. Unfortunately, these facts were not known until some years later. After the burning of the Boyd seven whaling ships operating off the coast of New Zealand each despatched an armed boat’s crew, and an attack was made on Te Pahi’s island pa. Every man, woman and child in sight was shot, and Te Pahi himself sustained severe wounds, from which he died a few days later. With the 200th anniversary near, a search for the Boyd’s anchors is being made. Many artefacts are on display in the Kaeo Museum. (See The Burning of the Boyd by Wade Doak.)
Text from New Zealand Shipwrecks, 8th edition (Hodder Moa, 2007). Used with permission of the publisher and authors.
Not a lot remains today as much has been removed over the years. Before the surrounding forest was removed the waters of Whangaroa Harbour were clear and not long after the Boyd's destruction, the carronades she carried could still be seen sitting among the wreckage on the bottom of the harbour. Today visibility is very low due to to silt being washed into the Harbour from what is now farmland.
This project involves mapping out the remains of the ship, getting still images and video before it completely disappears and to use a magnetometer to detect possible artifacts in other locations in the Harbour that may be buried under two centuries of silt.
The author, Ewan Stevenson, beside the Boyd display case at the Whangaroa Museum, Kaeo, Northland, 23 February 2008.
Items from the Boyd on display at the Whangaroa Museum…copper hull sheathing, planking, barrel bungs, cannon balls and coal. Most items recovered by Wade Doak and Kelly Tarlton during their 1968 excavation. The Boyd has yielded very little archaeological material, largely because the Maoris conducted extensive salvage on the shallow wreck at the time, followed by further salvage by European colonists. Wade and Kelly were very thorough with their dredging and cleaned out the inside of the hull. They mostly found Australian coal. 23 February 2008.
Echo sounder image of the Boyd wreckage taken about the Archaehistoria research vessel January 10th, 2009. Whilst this image makes the wreck look very pronounced, most of the wreck is actually under the seafloor and only about 30% of the edge of the hull is above the muddy –silty sea bottom. This image is of the highest piece of the hull ribs which is about 700mm high (as measured) and in the short water column looks big! The wreck of the Boyd forms a low mound on the seafloor; this can be seen in the image as the outside of the hull is on the left, then the lump of the ribs and then the inside of the hull to the right at recorded 2.9 meters depth. The seafloor on the outside is about 3.4 meters. Actual depths will vary with the tide state, the depths mentioned are near low tide.
Nick Freeman and Leighton Collins, members of the New Zealand Underwater Heritage Group (NZUHG), above the Boyd site in Whangaroa Harbour. Nick preparing to dive and make the first NZUHG detailed diver survey of the Boyd wreck site. 3 January 2009.
The diving conditions are atrocious with visibility 10-20cm. It’s dark, dirty, gloomy on the wreck. We find the edge of the copper sheathing on one side of the hull just protruding above the seafloor and snaking along the bottom. I shine my torch on a piece and snap this photograph. The poor visibility on the Boyd site presents a real challenge to video and still image survey. The underwater images on this website of the Boyd as captured by Ewan Stevenson of Archaehistoria are believed to be the first still images ever taken of the Boyd remains. 3 January 2009.
Edge of the Boyd hull copper sheathing 200 years old. 3 January 2009.
View down harbour towards the entrance which is to the left of Peach Island. The buoys mark the Boyd site; the two smaller ones each side of the hull. Peach Island is where some say the Boyd was originally anchored but Archaehistoria has never found any verification of this in any historical records. 4 January 2009.
A piece of wood on the Boyd site showing extensive damage from shipworms, especially Toredo Navalis. The wooden structure of the ship that was not burned or salvaged has been eaten away over 200 years by shipworms until today the remains are close to the seafloor. The worms eat the timber until it is structurally weakened and then fragments break off and fall to the bottom. The Boyd site is littered with these small worm eaten fragments. 4 January 2009.
Purple sponge growth on Boyd wreck. 4 January 2009.
Copper pin, copper sheeting, wood fragments and coal litter the Boyd site. 4 January 2009.
A copper pin about 10cm high sticks up from the Boyd hull remains. 4 January 2009.
Coal on the Boyd site. As the sailing ship sank on a flat mud bottom, any “rocks” or “pebbles” you see on the site is purely coal from the Boyd’s cargo/ballast. 4 January 2009.
Lumps of coal and thousands of coal sherds mixed with the silty seafloor inside the hull of the Boyd. 4 January 2009.
View along Boyd hull edge. 4 January 2009
Wood fragment on Boyd wreck site. 4 January 2009.
Wood fragments and hull structure of the Boyd. 4 January 2009.
Boyd hull rib structure on left, seafloor outside of hull on right. 4 January 2009.
Hull structure on the wreck of the Boyd. 4 January 2009.
Members of the fourth Boyd expedition. Leighton Collins (logistical support), Nick Freeman (magnetometer specialist) and Mike Fraser (documentary producer). Photographer: Ewan Stevenson. 12 October 2009.
The first magnetometer survey conducted October 11th, 2009 for the anchors or other archaeological evidence of the Boyd anchoring site. Conducted on the 4th New Zealand Underwater Heritage Group (NZUHG) expedition to the Boyd. The purple lines are our survey track lines…this is the tedious, time consuming and expensive “mowing the lawn” part of wreck hunting. Few people have the patience for it. Ideally the lines are exactly parallel and evenly spaced. Wind and tidal flow conspire against straight lines, but we nevertheless covered the area very thoroughly and methodically. We started the survey at the bottom right and ended where the question mark is. The story goes is that the Boyd was “anchored behind Peach Island”, but how far behind? Where does this piece of history originate from? How do we know the Boyd was behind Peach Island? Why was the Boyd not further up the harbour, closer to where the kauri spars were coming from?. Anyway, we decided to survey. We feared much magnetic contamination in the harbour from lost small boat anchors and the like, but actually found the harbour very magnetically quiet. 11 October 2009.
After many hours of mind numbing survey, fuel expenditure and sunshine, we were just ending the survey in the bottom left when we experienced our first magnetic “hit” in about 18 meters of water. You can see this where the cross hairs are centred. Corresponding GPS co-ordinates underneath record the site. You can see also how we focused on the area and towed the magnetometer in concentrated sweeps to obtain a good magnetic data set. Was this the anchor off the Boyd? Or a cannon lost over board during the conflagration on the ship?. 11 October 2009.
Self portrait of Ewan Stevenson on Boyd site. It is dirty harbour water for sure. 2 May 2009.
An old oyster adorns the Boyd wreck. 2 May 2009.
Boyd wreckage. 2 May 2009.
Purple sponge and a Common Triplefin on top of Boyd ribs. 2 May 2009.
Boyd hull structure. 2 May 2009.
Side scan image of the Boyd site 3 May 2009. Image obtained with Imaginex Side Scan @ 330kHz. After diving the Boyd site several times, on the 3 May 2009, a side scan survey was conducted by NZUHG. For the divers, the side scan image was a revelation as during diving, one never sees the wreck as a whole due to the extremely poor underwater visibility. Actually, when diving the Boyd site, all you see is 10-80cm of the wreck at a time, as you swim along it. To see the side scan image of the outline of the hull was stunning. It assisted in picturing the whole wreck and how it was orientated. Furthermore, the side scan could “see” more of the wreck than the divers as it was found the side scan sonar beams were penetrating the seafloor and bouncing off the top of the Boyd hull (probably the copper edge) that was actually under the mud and not visible to the divers. Whilst the sharp end of the hull looks like the bow, as the remaining hull is now low down near the keel, it is difficult to verify which end is which on the wreck and further survey work is required. Courtesy of Keith Gordon, SeaROV Technologies Ltd.