Nautical ghosts inhabit coast

By Nigel Benson and Stephen Jaquiery - ODT

The greatest maritime tragedy to occur in Dunedin waters since European settlement was the sinking of the Pride of the Yarra in Otago Harbour on July 4, 1863.

There was only a ribboned dirt track from Port Chalmers to Dunedin at the time and ships were unable to navigate the harbour, so small steamboats provided a ferry service from the port to Dunedin.

A large welcoming party had arrived at Port Chalmers the previous day to welcome the first rector of the new Dunedin High School (now Otago Boys' High School), Rev Thomas Hewett Campbell, and his family after their three-month voyage from London aboard Matoaka.

The Campbell family and 50 other people, many of who had also just disembarked from the long voyage on Matoaka, clambered aboard Pride of the Yarra, where they sought refuge from the cold in the cabin and hold for the trip to Dunedin.

But just after 5pm, the ferry collided with the paddle boat Favourite off Blanket Bay (Sawyers Bay).

Rev Campbell (34), his wife, Marian (27), and their five children (all aged under 5) were drowned.

The Otago Witness reported the tragedy: "The family of Mr Campbell, happy in the knowledge of their arrival at their new home, and so unhappy in their fate at the very threshold - they must have been pressed down and suffocated by the rush of cold, chilling, choking water, under circumstances of agony from the contemplation of which the mind must withdraw, overcome with utter horror," the story read.

A total of 13 people drowned shortly after 5pm that day as the 75ft steamer Pride of the Yarra sank below the waves.

An inquiry subsequently returned a verdict of manslaughter against Favourite skipper Captain Adams and his mate, while Pride of the Yarra skipper Captain Spence was censured for excessive speed.

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