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