1871 Rifleman schooner

The Rifleman grounded and did damage, but was refloated and got back to Auckland, but was lost at sea during October 1871 with all hands.
Source- 'NZ Shipwrecks, 200 years of disasters at sea'



Wrecks at the Great Barrier.— Last night's Thames Evening Star says : — "The Mercury, cutter, arrived this morning from Tryphena Harbour, Great Barrier Island. She brings the crew (two men) of Captain Casey’s cutter Peter Cracroft, which was driven on shore and totally wrecked at the outside of the Great Barrier, during the fearful gale on the night of Tuesday last. The men, who saved themselves with difficulty, walked overland to Tryphena, from whence the captain of the Mercury gave them a passage to here. By the arrival of the Mercury we also learn that the large schooner Rifleman was driven on shore in Blind Bay on the same night as the Peter Cracroft was lost. We may mention that Captain Ellis, of the Golden Crown, on learning of the arrival of the wrecked men, offered them a passage for Auckland, which they gladly accepted. "


Source- Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXVII, Issue 4390, 9 September 1871, Page 2




Grahamstown, September 8, 10.30 a.rm. The cutter ' Mercury' has arrived here from the Great Barrier, with the crew of Mr. Casey’s cutter ‘Peter Cracroft' The ‘Peter Cracroft’ was wrecked off the Great Barrier Island, and also reports the ‘Rifleman’  schooner to be ashore at Blind Bay.

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXVII, Issue 4390, 9 September 1871, Page 3



By the arrival of a gentleman yesterday from the Great Barrier, we learn that the rumor circulated on Monday last respecting the wreck of the three-masted schooner Rifleman at the Great Barrier is correct. The schooner left here on the 29th ultimo for the Chatham Islands, and that night, it coming on to blow a strong south-west gale, the master of the vessel deemed it advisable to run for the Barrier for shelter. It was Captain Hobb's intention to have brought up in Tryphena Bay. but owing to the darkness of the night he mistook the harbor and ran into Blind Bay, and before Captain Hobbs noticed his mistake the vessel went ashore, striking heavily. The schooner is considerably damaged, and there is little hope of her being got off again. The crew managed to get ashore all safe. When our informant left the men were engaged in stripping the vessel of her sails, rigging, and everything of value. — " Southern Cross," September 6.

Source: Wellingtom Independent 13th September, 1871 p2.




MESSRS. C. ARTHUR & SON are requested to sell by public auction, on Tuesday, the 12th instant, at 12 o'clock precisely, The Wreck of the Schooner 'RIFLEMAN’ with all her Masts, Sails, Standing and Running Rigging, &c, as she is now stranded, at the Great Barrier Island, Terms :—Cash.

Source: Daily Southerrn Cross 11th September, 1871 p4

AJHR 1872 Section G30 page 12
Return of Wrecks

Date of Casualty : 30 Aug 1871
Name of Master : Joseph HOBBS
Age of Vessel : 9 years
Rig : Schooner (3-masted)
Register Tonnage : 81
Number of Crew : 6
Number of Passengers : 2
Nature of Cargo : General
Nature of Casualty : Stranded; partial loss
Number of Lives Lost :
Place of Accident : Okapu Bay, Great Barrier Island
Wind Direction : SSW
Wind Force : Whole gale

Finding of Court of Inquiry
Miscalculation of the vessel's position when laid-to.

When the Rifleman was being refloated in Blind Bay, its ballast was unloaded overboard. This ballast rock was from the Chatham Islands, and still exists today.
Captain William Cranch was a previous captain of the Rifleman, and is my distant relative. The Rifleman was taken over by Te Kooti when he escaped from the Chatham Islands sometime previous to the vessel coming ashore at Blind Bay.

Tangled Webs 


    Sometime in October of 1871 on a voyage from Lyttleton to Havelock, the 82 ton 3-masted schooner 'Rifleman' (Capt. P. Toomey) sank along with all 6 crew. Built in 1862, it had already been to the Chatham Islands in 1868 when Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, otherwise known as Te Kooti, commandeered her and sailed to Gisborne.

Some time before 1868 the schooner had been commanded by Captain William Cranch (my grandmother's cousin's father-in-law - very tenuous) who drowned in 1873 by falling overboard and hitting his head on the Auckland breakwater. Captain Le Roy and a unit of the Naval Brigade sent him on his way on a gun carriage with band playing.
    On a later voyage from Auckland to the Chatham Islands once again, and under the command of

Captain Joseph Hobbs, the ship put into what was taken to be Tryphena on the stormy night of 29th August 1871, but which was in reality Blind Bay, where she struck heavily. After refloating, repairs were made back in Auckland (possibly not so well done?) and weeks later finally foundered. Te Kooti went on to enliven the Gisborne district and found the Ringatu faith, the Le Roys to inhabit the northern Barrier for more than a century (see p35 GBI book) and my grandmother to settle in Canada from whence her son-in-law, my father came on the 13,500 ton ship Niagara sunk three years later by German mines in 1940 not very far from here. It lays there still, draped in nets, with its stressed and rotting bunkers still containing oil, though the amount is hard to guess. - 

     There was quite a lot released when she sank, and there are reports of well-oiled beaches at the time. A recent sonar survey apparently showed nothing amiss. However, it remains unknown at this time what the real state of the bunkers are and how much oil remains. It lies in 150 metres about 28 nautical miles WNW of the Barrier in position 35degrees 53S, 174degrees 54E.       The Solomon Is government asked the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji to conduct a contamination risk assessment study of  WW II sunken ships in Iron Bottom Sound, Solomon Islands, and it was  finished in late 1999.      The conclusions from the survey about WW2 Japanese and US naval ships sunk off Guadalcanal (about the same time as the Niagara) was that oil spills were more likely from shallower vessels where oxygen levels are higher and that there was definite evidence of advanced corrosion.      The Niagara is shallower than most of the Japanese/US ships plus the colder water here means the oxygen levels tend to be higher again for given depths.      Possibly the MSA needs to be more concerned about it, but I may be wrong,  though I just can't presently see how a sonar survey can assess the state of hull deterioration 150m down.  

Don Armitage ©  First published 15 Aug 2002