Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 44, September 2000
On the night of Thursday 10 June 1926, the vessel Manaia ran aground on the south eastern point of Slipper Island, off the coast of Tairua. The Manaia was a vessel of 1159 tons, with a length of 220 feet and belonged to the Northern Steam Ship Co. At the time of the wreck she was on her regular run from Tauranga to Auckland, under the command of Captain W F Norbury, with a crew of 36. There were also 55 passengers aboard.
She had left Tauranga at 7.30pm, and was steaming north at eleven knots on a night that was dark and squally, when, at 11.20pm, she ran up on to a rocky reef at the Southeast end of Slipper Island. It was soon evident that the ship was badly holed at the bow, and was taking water fast. To prevent her from slipping back into deep water, the Captain kept both engines running. No one was injured when the ship struck. By 1am the Captain had been able to established radio contact with Auckland, and assistance was on the way.
The Company's steamer Ngapuhi was diverted as she approached Auckland from Whangarei, and, after seven hours of steaming, she came within sight of the wreck at about 9.30am. Captain Dorling approached from the east, around the south end of the island, and brought his vessel up to within a mile of the wreck.
In Tairua, morning mist over the sea obscured the view and nothing of the drama was known until a telephone call was received at the Cory-Wright homestead, from the Auckland Star [see note below] office in Auckland. They asked if the men could go out and photograph the Manaia, which they stated was wrecked on the "Watchman" Island. The request was agreed to and the Cory-Wright brothers, Harold and Cyril, set out in their boat, the Ellida.
From the home, Mrs Phyllis Cory-Wright could, with the assistance of a good pair of binoculars, watch the events. She recalls "The mist was lifting and I could see that the Manaia was definitely on the Slipper Island and not the Watchman, as had been reported. The Watchman was some miles away but the Slipper only 5 or 6 miles. The Ngapuhi arrived at about 10am and the scow Motu was also there."
"The Ngapuhi and her masters were very popular with us, as on occasions of great emergency they stopped out by Shoe Island, where a launch would be waiting with some urgent medical case for Auckland. They knew our roadless state but could only stop in calm weather."
"Our launch arrived and I could see it moving around, to enable the taking of photographs at different angles. Rex Petley later carried the photographic plates to Puriri on horseback. We were later paid £10 for our efforts."
At this stage the Manaia was sitting hard and fast on the reef. She had a slight list, and her stern was low in the deep water, but the falling tide had left her steady on the rocks, and her propellers were still turning. The wind was from the northeast, which meant that the vessel was in a comparatively sheltered position. The Manaia's passengers were still aboard, although the life-boats had been lowered. The passengers were soon transferred to the Ngapuhi where they were provided with a hot dinner, and by 2pm the Ngapuhi had departed for Auckland.
Meanwhile, the Northern Company's Rimu had been dispatched from Auckland with salvage and rescue gear, and the auxiliary ketch Motu had also arrived at the scene of the wreck. At 6pm the Manaia's furnaces were fired for the last time, the stokers being above their knees in water. At 6.20 the engines stopped. There was still sufficient steam, however, to drive the generator for the lights and for radio communication with the Rimu as she approached. By 8pm the lights were failing. Oil lamps were lit, and cheers went up when the lights of the Rimu were seen approaching. The Rimu cautiously approached to within half a mile of the wreck, where she stood off while three boat loads of crew members were transferred to her. Captain Norbury remained on board the Manaia with the mate, 1st engineer, and 1st and 2nd stewards.
An assessor, Mr Smith, arrived to decide whether or not the Manaia could be refloated. After a dawn inspection on Saturday he decided the ship was to be written off along with her cargo. It was decided to strip the wreck of as much portable gear as possible. By now the water was calm, and it was found possible to bring the Rimu to within 100 yards of the stern of the Manaia. A line was then run, connecting the two vessels and enabling boats to be pulled to and fro. Salvage operations began at 7am. The whole crew of the Manaia re-boarded her and, assisted by several shipwrights and officials of the Northern Company, set to work with spanners, sledge hammers and cold chisels, dismantling everything of value that could be removed, instruments, accessible parts of the engine, washbasins, revolving chairs, light fittings, piano, carpets and cushions, all went over the side into the life-boats. The work ceased at 7pm, when the two holds of the Rimu were full. The wreck was then abandoned, the lifeboats and rafts were hoisted on deck, and the Rimu set off for Auckland.
On Tuesday June 15th, the New Zealand Herald reported:
"A conference of the Directors of the Northern Steam Ship Company and the underwriters was held yesterday to decide what action should be taken in connection with the coastal steamer Manaia, which went ashore at Slipper Island last Thursday evening. It was finally decided to offer the wreck for sale. After all equipment and movable fittings were removed on Saturday, the Company decided to abandon the Manaia altogether. Tenders are now called for, and will be received until Thursday evening. The sale, however, does not include cargo".
Mrs Cory-Wright continues her recollections: "Following advice from Silston Cory-Wright (Harold and Cyril's brother) of Wellington we tendered £105 for the wreck, and in a few days were startled to receive a wire accepting this bid. Ours was a powerful launch which often towed a large punt we kept for carrying stock. There was extra help to be obtained in the village - every man wanted to go out on this exciting job. Once ready, we were blessed with two weeks of reasonably calm weather."
"I longed to go out, but with two small children I managed only one visit at that time. When I heard the launch was making a half-day's trip I rode down and went aboard about noon."
"We were towing the punt, a clumsy heavily-built craft, but the sea was calm. To get aboard the Manaia I stepped onto the punt with a couple of men. The towing rope was let out to full length and we were swung near her."
"I had been instructed as to what I had to do and, as the next wave rolled along her side, we came level with the deck. I took a real grip on the rail, but the wave was too short, and the punt dropped down 10-12 feet. I was left dangling in the air, waiting for the next swell. Mr Petley, who was working nearby removing the steam steering gear, grasped my wrists and hung on, and so did I, like a limpet."
"That was the exciting start of my adventure. The men who were with me had dropped down with the punt and, when they came level, stepped aboard nearly as soon as I did, to receive a derisive cheer from their mates. I do not remember feeling at all scared, which surprises me still, but it was all over so quickly. I had no time to think of anything except to keep my grip."
I had heard there were some mahogany boards and set out to look for them. The captain's and first officer's cabins yielded three, so I was delighted. In the Purser's Office was quite a treasure-trove of papers, pens and pencils. Into my sugar-bag they went for the young girls who help in our home and for the children."
"Another deck lower, a real find was a heavily-built mahogany chest of drawers. It was a bit water-logged, and later I peeled off the sodden edges with a penknife before I revarnished it. Above it was a large framed mirror, quite intact. It seemed that this cabin had held four feet of water at high-tide, which explained why these solitary pieces of furniture were left behind. So I was luck to find the cabin relatively dry."
"The cargo was not our affair but we got a number of enquiries about it from various consignees. We answered regretfully and politely in most cases, but one shipper's letter was very terse, and even seemed to doubt our honesty over his two cases of eggs. He demanded payment at market value, and demanded it promptly! His eggs were by then black and rotten, and floating about in thick dark water accompanied by numerous bundles of hides, sheepskins and hundreds of putrid lemons. He was told we were not responsible for any cargo, and he was welcome to collect it if he wished. The conditions were explained to him and we heard no more."
"We were salvaging gear for about a fortnight but in the end the whole thing was not very profitable. There was a lot of labour involved, for example, the port holes, made of brass, were removed in one piece, but then there was the effort of removing the glass before the metal could be sold for scrap."
Scrap metal recovered by the Cory-Wrights included; copper, 1½ tons; lead, 5 tons and brass, 3½ tons.
In 1961 part of the propeller was recovered by divers, by which time the ship had broken up and been under water for over 35 years.
Details of the vessel: Gross weight, 1159 tons: Steamer built by Wm. Denny & Bros. at Dumbarton in 1898 as the Rotoiti for the Union Steam Ship Co. Ltd. In 1912 The Northern Steam Ship Company bought her and renamed her the Manaia. She was registered at Auckland on 16 August 1912.
[Note. In Mrs Cory-Wright's recollections, some 60 years after the event she stated that it was the Auckland Star office that telephoned them requesting photographs. It may have in fact been the Weekly News office, as noted in "Tairua" by Francis Bennett. The name of the Cory-Wright's launch in spelt Elyda in that book.]