HMS Tortoise was in New Zealand to gather spars, or masts for the Royal Navy. They made a camp near Tairua on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, nearby which they cut down squared and hauling out to the coast. In June of 1842, the vessel was moved to Nagles Cove at Great Barrier Island to ensure its safety. Smaller vessels then serviced the 'cutting station', as they called it, from the Tortoise. In December, 1842, some of the crew were called on to assist in quelling trouble between Maori tribes in the Tauranga/Maketu area. In early January, 1843, the vessel was moved to 'Wakahow' near Tairua and the cutting station to enable the squared masts to be loaded aboard. Once done, the vessel departed to the Bay of Islands and then Waiheke, where it waited for Mrs Hobson, Governor Hobson's widow and children to come on board.
It then departed to England.
The vessel now lies in shallow water on the coast of Ascension Island where she was finally scuttled in 1859.
It was a barque of 969 tons. The Tortoise was an East Indiaman, originally the HMS Sir Edward Hughes, which was launched at Bombay on 22 March 1784. The Sir Edward Hughes did not become HMS until she was presented to the Admiralty in 1806, or 1809 acccording to another source.
Extracts from the log of H.M.S. Tortoise
13 Frid pm Sent launch to Mayor Island with provisions for Gig’s crew.
14 Sat pm Launch and Gig returned from Mayor Island with 16 natives.
15 Sun 8am Sent cutter to timber station with rope, grindstone and trough.
16 Mon 8am Sent cutter to timber station with rope 4 in. 70 3 ½ one coil, jacks double 2, pots & tobacco & blankets for natives.
17 Tues 8am Sent launch to Mayor Island for more natives.
19 Thurs pm Launch and gig returned from Mayor with 15 natives.
20 Frid 4am Sent launch & cutter to timber station with 30 natives.
22 Sun am launch left for the Barrier.
28 Sat pm Sent 4 cant hooks to station by a canoe. Launch returned from Barrier.
30 Mon 8am Sent cutter to timber station with rum No.3, 55gals, No.4, 55gals & No. 10, 55gals, & 1 bale of blankets. Sunset, cutter returned with mainsail & a few empty casks.
31 Tues 8am Sent launch to timber station with rope, 18 muskets, 24 bayonets, 24 swords, 4 pistols, 6 broad axes, 4 adzes, 1 tent, caps, flints, ammunition etc.
4 Sat pm launch returned with 21 men & Mr. Jeffery, Master, to assist in navigating the ship to the Barrier.
6 Mon 5am Got underweigh & proceeded out of Wakahow. 8 Castle Rock 2 leagues WbS.
Noon Mercury Islands SW 3 leagues.
12 midnight Barrier SE end WbS. Cape Colville SSW.
7 Tues Lowered boats to tow into harbour. 8.30 came to anchor.
8 Wed 8am Employed mooring ship at Nagles Harbour.
14 Tues 8am Sent launch & 1st cutter to timber station with men and Mr. Jeffery.
20 Mon 8am Carpenters employed cutting timber for sawpit.
21 Tues 8am Employed getting timber out of forest for sawpit.
23 Thurs 8am Carpenters building a sawpit.
27 Mon Carpenters at the sawpit.
1 Frid 5am Commander returned from the timber station in the launch.
In Nagle Harbour – Great Barrier Island. Arrived the Albatross Cutter from Auckland Mr. F. C Blackett, owner. Moored at Barrier.
11 Mon 8am Sent cutter to Auckland with Mr.Smith, gunner.
15 Frid pm Cutter returned from Auckland with letters.
30 Sat 2pm Arrived the Victoria colonial Brig with the Bishop of New Zealand on board.
3pm Fired a salute of 11 guns in honour of the Bishop.
31 Sund 10am The Bishop came on board & performed devine service.
22 Mon 8am Emkployed loading the launch.
3pm Sailed the launch for timber station with provisions.
30 Tues 11pm arrived the Three Bees schooner [This man was soon to be murdered by his crew- read about it here- Captain John Kennedy of the 'Three Bees'
17 Sat pm Hauled the Three Bees on shore to examine her bottom.
19 Mon 4, Engaged with Mr. John Kennedy for the use of his schooner “Three Bees” intended to be used to carry provisions & stores to the party in the forest, held a survey on the said vessel, & found her to be of 12 tons measurement. 8.10 Sent schooner with provisions to the party in the forest.
24 Sat Sunset, arrived Three Bees with casks, staves, & hoops from timber station, also condemned stores.
25 Sun 6am Three Bees came alongside & discharged stores.
12 Employed loading schooner with provisions for the party in the forest.
2.30pm Sailed schooner for timber station.
30 Frid 8am sailed the launch in charge of Wm. Blackman (2nd Master) with a native chief, Hokianga, to the river Thames to get natives for the forest.
3 Mon 11am arrived the launch from the river Thames bringing 3 pigs & ½ ton of potatoes for the party in the forest.
7 Frid 5pm Put provisions on board launch for the party in the forest. Commander left the ship to visit the party in the forest.
Am Sent a party to cut brooms and broomsticks.
22 Sat. Boat going to Susan’s I. to purchase Pigs from Native Settlement.
23. 8.30. “Messrs Smith & Jones & Boy Jeremiah Sullivan came alongside in a Canoe with a
party of Natives with the information that on the last evening at about 6.20 p.m. as they
in the Cutter were standing in for Susan’s Bay, and near a small inlet in the Great Bay,
the boat filled, swamped & went down directly under them. And Thos. Harrison (Boy) was drowned - “ [His body not found until 12 November].
The yellow cross marks Susan's Bay where the cutter was sailing into.
For landlubbers, the distance between the 9' and 10' in the margin on the left of the chart is one nautical mile. A normal statute mile is equal to 0.87 of a nautical mile, and 1.6 kilometers equals a statute mile.
- click on chart to enlarge
31 Mon pm 0.30 launch arrived with the Commander
11.15 arrives Three Bees having landed stores & provisions at timber station.
1 Tues am 7.30 Employed getting provisions up for the timber station
9.30 Struck the following provisions in three Bees: Rum 106 gals, flour 1168 lbs, beef 4 casks, pork 3 casks, pease 1 cask, limes 1 case, chocolate 110 lbs, soap 112 lbs.
Pm 2, sailed Three Bees for timber station.
8 Tues 8am Three Bees came alongside to receive the undermentioned provisions for the forest
Party: bread 21 bags, rum 16.3 gals, tea 25 lbs.
11.30 sailed Three Bees for timber station.
17 Thurs 8am Three Bees came alongside, put in her the following stores for timber station: blankets 2 bales, tobacco ½ cask.
11 sailed Three Bees for timber station.
20 Sun pm 9.20 arrived Three Bees bringing …..Bradshaw (gunners mate), & Wm Cook (2nd master) on the sick list.
9 Frid pm 3.10 sailed the Three Bees for timber station with the following provisions: beef 4 casks, pork 3, flour 4, oatmeal 2, limejuice 1 case.
13 Tues 10am arrived the launch with Commander.
14 Wed pm arrived the schooner Three Bees with 30 seamen from the forest.
11.30 arrived the Colonial Government Brig Victoria with a detachment of 69 rank and file of the 80th Regiment
28 Mon 7pm arrived Mr.William Jeffery (Master) with 15 Royal Marines in the 1st cutter. Sent both cutters in charge of Mr. T. Bowen to Colonial Brig Victoria then several miles in the offing to bring 15 volunteer seamen lent to Colonial Government.
31 Sat pm employed variously preparing ship for sea.
1 Sun [Left Nagle Harbour].
4 Thurs Running for Wakahou. Anchored 7 pm. “Several small craft in sight 8 p.m “Heavy fire on the Main to the woods.
5 Fri. a.m Commander left the Ship in the Gig to visit Timber Station. Returned 5. pm
The following letter is by Auckland's Harbourmaster, David Rough, who reports on a cruise around the Hauraki Gulf, including visiting Great Barrier. He mentions the Tortoise moored in Nagles Cove...
"We insert the following letter respecting the Great Barrier Island, addressed by Captain Rough, harbour master of Auckland, to the editor of the Auckland Times, " Sir, — Having seen, in a paragraph of the last number of the Times, that some interest was excited as to the result of our expedition to the Great Barrier Island, and elsewhere, undertaken by direction of his Excellency the officer administering the Government ; I hasten, with great pleasure, to give you a brief description of the places we visited, in the hope that any information regarding the vicinity of this settlement may prove interesting to your readers. "About twenty miles to the northward of the Waitemata, is the spacious harbour of Mauharangi, accessible and safe for the largest vessels. The shores of the lower parts are bold, wooded, and picturesque, and where the creek becomes narrow at the upper part, there are fine slopes of rich land available for cultivation. From the entrance of Mauharangi to the river Muta Kena, about fifteen miles farther to the northward, several islands face the coast, leaving a deep and smooth water, passage betwixt them and the shore. The northernmost of these islands has a harbour at its western side, where vessels may find a good shelter in easterly gales. The river of Muta Kcna is narrow, but deep ; in it the brig Bee was moored close to the rocks, and underwent extensive repairs. At a small bay, near the river, we made diligent examination of the appearance of coal, to which our attention had been particularly directed ; but in the opinion of the scientific gentlemen who accompanied me, it is not likely that much coal will be found in that neighbourhood. In the entrance of the channel between the large island and the main, there is a dangerous rock, visible at halftide, bearing from Point Tukatu Whenoa, S. by W. -I W. Leaving Muta Kena, we examined the flat rock, and searched diligently about Point. Rodney and the Little Barrier Island, but found no appearance of any wreck. In the deep bay between Point Rodney and Tukatu Whenoa, we found a fine river, accessible for small vessels, which docs not appear on the charts. " The Little Barrier Island is accessible at some points for boats, and fresh water may be obtained from a cascade at the north-western side, but there does not appear to be any anchorage or shelter farther than what is to be obtained from lying under lee of the high cliffs. " The harbour at the western side of the Great Barrier Island is easily made, by bringing the north end of the Little Barrier to bear about W. by S.; in entering, a very high and remarkable conical cliff must be kept on the right hand. This harbour is very extensive, the most sheltered part appears to be Nagle’s Cove, the first on the left from the entrance, where her Majesty's ship Tortoise is moored within pistol shot of the shore. "The copper ore is found in a high cliff on the sea coast, about four miles to the northward of the harbour ; and on examining the other side of the cliff, we found it came quite through, and in considerable quantity. The neighbouring rocks appear to be composed of coarse granite and limestone ; and I am inclined to think that much more of the ore may hereafter be found in parts of the island, from which it may be more conveniently removed. "The commander of her Majesty 's shipTortoise informed me of another fine harbour he had visited, more to the southward, called Port Hobson. The general appearance of the Barrier is hilly and rugged ; there are forests of Kauri timber on the hills, and some vallies said to be available for cultivation. I am, Sir, " Your obedient servant, " DAVID ROUGH. " Auckland, 27th Sept., 1842."
Source-'New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser' Vol. 1, Issue 27, 1st November 1842, page 2
The Tortoise at Ascension Island some years after being in New Zealand. The vessel appears on a 10p Ascension Island stamp. The Tortoise was scuttled at the island and its remains are still visable today.
The Tortoise arrives in England from New Zealand with spars and a collection of plants and other exotics. 14th October, 1843.
New Zealand. - Her Majesty’s ship Tortoise has just arrived at Chatham, after a three years stay at new Zealand, whither she had gone for ships’ spars &c. The Tortoise has brought home a cargo of the finest spars, it is believed, which have ever been seen in England. There is sufficient to fit out ten or twelve sail of the line; the timber was chiefly cut down by the ship’s company; and the plentiful supply of iron, pickaxes, spades, &c., taken out by the Tortoise and liberally distributed among the natives, got their goodwill and co-operation. The Tortoise has also brought home a collection of rare and valuable exotics; many of the specimens are new to science. It is worthy of remark, that when the late government was badgered by the Earl of Hardwick and Lord Colchester, both captains in the navy, about the deficiency of ship stores, and especially of spars, the Tortoise arrived with a cargo similar though inferior to the present, which closed the mouths of both noble lords. The officer in command at Chatham at the time jocosely told the Captain of the Tortoise that he had just arrived in time.
Source: The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser. Saturday November 4th 1843.
Portsmouth Oct 14
The Tortoise store-ship, Master-Commander J. Wood, has arrived here from New Zealand, and has brought home a valuable cargo of Cowdie timber for the various dockyards. She has also brought a collection of plants and other rare exotics. She has been ordered to proceed round to the eastward.
Source: The Times (of London) Monday October 16, 1843 p7