Auckland Islands Depot Boat

Friday, November 21, 2014

During the 19th century, sailing ships were sometimes lost to the stormy Southern Ocean. Eleven were shipwrecked on bleak islands to the south of New Zealand’s mainland.

To help marooned mariners, the New Zealand government set up castaway depots on the desolate sub-Antarctic islands providing food, clothing, fuel, shelter and often a boat.

The four-oared gig below, which allowed the shipwreck survivors to hunt and fish for food, is the last surviving depot boat from the Auckland Islands. The 17ft (5.4m) wooden depot boat was stored at the castaway depot on Adams Island, about 400km south of Stewart Island.

The Auckland Islands lie on the path of the Great Circle route that sailing ships once took from Australia to Europe via Cape Horn. They would sail below the Roaring Forties to ride the prevailing westerly winds. With poor ocean charts and treacherous weather conditions, many ships came to grief on the rugged islands.

Among the wrecked vessels was American clipper GENERAL GRANT, and its cargo of gold, which sank without trace in 1866. The 10 survivors lived on seals, seabirds and wild goats for 18 months before being rescued by whalers.

After news of the castaways reached land, the New Zealand government decided to establish provisions depots on the sub-Antarctic islands. The huts contained emergency rations of food, clothing, blankets, axes, fishing equipment, matches, cooking utensils, rifles and ammunition.

Some islands had boatsheds with small boats – like the four-oared gig – to allow the stranded men to catch more food, or reach another depot or island.

Finger posts placed around the islands pointed survivors to the nearest huts and boatsheds. Survivors of the French barque ANJOU, shipwrecked in fog in 1905, used the Adams Island depot boatshed during their three-month stranding.

The depots were checked every six months by government steamers like NZGSS HINEMOA. But in 1929, with new technologies in navigation and changes to trade routes, the islands were no longer considered a shipping hazard and maintenance of the depots ended. 
These days, the Auckland Islands are a haven for wildlife, including the endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguins. These little critters are currently in the spotlight as part of a Department of Conservation expedition to take an accurate count of their numbers. Joining the expedition is Museum educator, Frazer Dale, who recently blogged about the bio security preparation he's been going through before setting out for the Islands.