The New Zealand Shipping Company was
founded in 1873. The group of prominent New Zealand merchants and run-holders who started
the company had no idea what they were getting into when they built their first four ships
to carry emigrants and cargo. They decided that they would run their fleet in true
Blackwall fashion, their motto being "good treatment and no stint."
Most people thought they would fail
in this effort, particularly in the 1870's when everything was getting so expensive, but
much to their surprise they not only survived but also were very successful. They came
into business at the end of the sail era, but no less than 18 sailing ships were built to
fly their house flag before they turned to steam. Our little ship, built by Stephen, of
Glasgow, in 1876-7, was one of the last three beautiful little 1,000 ton sister ships
built for the firm.
The Piako's registered measurements
were: Tonnage, 1,075 tons; length, 215 feet 3 inches; breadth, 34 feet; depth, 20 feet 5
inches. Launched in December 1876, she sailed on her first voyage under Captain Fox on
February 5th, 1877 leaving the Thames for Lyttelton with a list of passengers. She made
her first voyage to New Zealand in 99 days, a good average passage at that time.
On her second voyage a new skipper,
Captain W.B. Boyd, a noted seaman, took over. Leaving Plymouth on November 20th, 1877 and
arriving at Port Chalmers of February 12th, 1878, being 76 days 12 hours from port to port
a near record breaker.
Piako's third passage and Captain
Boyd's second, almost ended in disaster. She sailed on October 11th with a crew of 40 and
317 passengers. Just a month out about 180 miles from Pernambuco smoke was reported to be
rising through the fore hatch in the 'tween decks. In order to get to the seat of the
fire, the fore hatch was removed upon which a 20-foot flame leapt out of the hold. The
foremost tier of cargo was ablaze! They tried to put the fire out with the fire hose to
little effect. They decided to batten down the hatch again and try to get at the fire from
another direction. They tried to get at the fire from below through the married quarters
below decks, but the dense smoke prevented them from advancing very far. The situation
started to look very bad indeed. The Captain then gave the helmsman a new course to steer
- toward Pernambuco. The boats were then provisioned and lowered. It required every effort
by Captain Boyd to avoid a panic among the people.
There were 160 men among the
passengers as well as families that were going to New Zealand. Some of the men were acting
bravely, but many were running back and forth in panic. The Captain stood at the break of
the poop, pistol in hand. He was calming the women on board at one moment and the next
making sure his orders were being obeyed. Once the boats were lowered into the water,
there was a rush upon the Captain by some of the rougher characters, but the Captain met
the rush with "Stand back everybody! Women and children first!"
Just then came a cry of "Sail
Ho!" Captain Boyd took one look to make sure a ship was in sight, then happily said,
"Well done! You'll all be saved if you don't get excited. Deep yourselves calm and
don't make a noise." From this time on the situation settled down and thing were much
calmer on board. The vessel turned out to be the Loch Doon. It still took 3 hours for the
vessels to come close enough together so that the passengers could be transferred. A few ex-sailors volunteered to stay on board Piako and
help fight the fire. Having reached Pernambuco the Captain found that his troubles were
increased, since there was smallpox raging at that location and four hundred people a day
were dying. There was a small island, called Coconut Island, which was uninhabited and had
a grove of coconut trees surrounded by a lot of sand, located about seven miles up the
river from Pernambuco. The Piako's passengers were landed here and had to endure the
island for nine weeks. Food was sent from the ship. Meanwhile, Captain Boyd and his crew
managed to save the ship. The fire was smothered by the expedient of scuttling the ship to
the level of her poop deck! This most effectively put out the fire, and when she was
raised again very little damage was done to the ship herself. However, the fire destroyed
most of the cargo in the forward hold, the greater part of the emigrant's baggage and
effects, and the galley and donkey-engine.
The Piako finally arrived at
Lyttelton on March 5th after necessary repairs had been made, being 145 days out from
Plymouth. An investigation was held at both Pernambuco and again at Lyttelton, but the
cause of the fire was never determined.
On her very next outward passage,
the cry of "Fire!" was again heard on the Piako. This time, however, the fire
was quickly put out. It was determined that a group of rockets stored in the lazarette had
somehow ignited, probably from rubbing against each other due to the rough seas in the
"roaring forties" while she was running her easting down. This passage was her
second best, arriving at Lyttelton on January 16th, 85 days out.
Captain Boyd had the Piako for six
voyages and was by far her best commander. Her best homeward passage, being 71 days, was
made under his command. He left the ship to take over the firm's agency at Dunedin.
Captain Sutherland was another well known commander of the Piako. He had her from 1885
until in the early 1890's she was sold to the Germans, being purchased by J.E. Schaffer,
of Elsfleth. In 1900, when bound to the Cape from Melbourne with supplies for the troops
in the Boer War, the Piako was posted missing, just short of being 25 years old. She was
always considered on of the finest ships of the New Zealand Shipping Company and
particularly noticeable for her good looks.
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