Shipwreck treasure off Kawaroa

By Vicki Price - Taranaki Daily News

Divers sometimes surface clutching treasure found near steamers, ketches and other ships that have wrecked along our coast throughout the last century or two.

Some artefacts make their way on to Adam Rosser's Taranaki Dive Shop shelves for the enjoyment of those on land and to inspire other divers.

A green bottle spotted by divers over many years now rests on the Ocean View Parade shop's shelf, one side of it whitened from where it lay, undisturbed, stuck in the side of a reef that grew around it.

For years, its cork remained intact, until one day it looked as though a curious diver had poked it in. The contents are long gone, but part of the cork remains in the unbroken 142-year- old bottle.

The bottle, a pick- axe head, brass rudder pin and air cylinder are among artefacts from the Tasmanian Maid, a paddle steamer that sank off the Kawaroa Reef in 1868.

The air cylinder was used on steamers to power the paddle wheels until the steam pressure built up enough to keep them going.

The wreck is slowly disintegrating. Many of its portholes have all but disappeared. Mr Rosser says that like many ships and their artefacts which litter the ocean floor in our wild west coast conditions, it will eventually disappear.

During the wars over land ownership in Taranaki 150 years ago, the small steamship, affectionately known as the Maid, was sent from its home at the Port of Nelson to bring women and children back to Nelson if necessary.

It was used extensively by the European militia as a despatch vessel between the ports of New Plymouth and Waitara.

She would carry messages, soldiers (able, wounded and dead) and supplies. During the heat of the war, the Maid could be seen busily steaming between the two settlements nearly every day.

The 83-ton paddle-wheel steamer was built in 1856 and began her service in New Zealand the following year plying trade between Nelson, Motueka, Collingwood and Wairau.

She was the fastest the province had had, running 10 to 11 knots an hour in calm weather and still managing 7 or 8 in a strong headwind. The Maid pursued a valuable career transporting passengers and merchandise around various ports throughout the two islands, until the outbreak of war in Taranaki saw her come into military service.

One of the casualties of the war who was transported by the Tasmanian Maid was esteemed settler, businessman and military man Captain Richard Brown. Capt Brown had been the very first merchant in New Plymouth and for many years carried on extensive trade with European and Maori alike.

When the war broke out, he was already a member of the Taranaki Volunteer Rifles and joined the mounted escort, becoming a highly valued member because of his knowledge of the surrounding country and Maori inhabitants.

Capt Brown had been out for an hour's ride from Waitara to Bell Block to relieve the boredom of military camp life when he was ambushed and shot from close range.

The first bullet struck his leg and passed through, one hit his powder flask and dropped into his boot and the next took him while stooped on his horse, entering below the ribs. He survived for three months, being tended to at Waitara, before succumbing.

His body was taken aboard the Tasmanian Maid with full military honours and transported to New Plymouth.

The ship arrived with her flag at half mast and Capt Brown's body was removed from the ship amid a guard of honour of Bluejackets. He was buried at St Mary's churchyard.


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