Wrecks at Timaru
From the early years of the South Canterbury settlement, the Timaru roadstead was dreaded for its treacherous winds and reefs. From November 1865 until 1890, when John Goodall's scheme of harbour works was completed, the port was the graveyard of 28 ships.
Although these wrecks were fairly evenly spaced over the years, two days stand out as being especially disastrous. On 27 August 1873 three vessels, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Wanderer, and the Fairy Queen, were stranded in Caroline Bay. The latter caught fire and became a total loss. The second day of disaster came on 1 September 1878, when the Melrose, Lapwing, Fanny, and Glimpse went ashore. Luckily no lives were lost.
The year 1882, however, saw the worst disasters, with four large vessels being wrecked in four months. On 15 January, in a flat calm, the City of Cashmere dragged her anchor and became a total loss. On 2 May the Duke of Sutherland, heavily laden with wheat, bumped the bottom and sank—a total loss. The worst tragedy in the port's history, however, occurred on 14 May 1882. There were five ships in the roadstead, and two, the Benvenue (999 tons) and the City of Perth (1,189 tons), lay at the inner anchorage, about half a mile from the breakwater. The ocean swell shifted the Benvenue's cargo so that she developed a list. Later in the morning she broke loose from her moorings, drifted broadside on to the rock apron at the foot of the cliff, and capsized. Almost immediately the City of Perth broke loose. A temporary anchor checked her drift and, as the ship had by this time been abandoned by its crew, the harbourmaster determined to attempt salvage. Three boats had almost reached her when the last anchor rope snapped and the ship drifted on to the Benvenue. A choppy sea hindered the boats' crews, and in their efforts to regain land, all three boats were swamped, as also were a lifeboat and a surf boat which put out to rescue the crews. In all, seven men were lost.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington and Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.