A hostile climate not fit for humans

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Howling winds persisted all night and well into the morning for the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Survey team, which meant the penultimate penguin count on Enderby Island had to be cancelled. Getting ashore in the dark in 50 knot winds would simply have been too dangerous.

After a welcome lie in, the team went ashore at the site of the castaway depot and boatshed in Erebus Bay. They walked around the coastline to the remains of Hardwicke settlement, established by the whaling firm of Enderby and Company. They set up the 'Southern Whale Fishery Station' and town of Hardwicke with a simple ceremony on New Year's Day 1850.

At its height the settlement had around 30 buildings and 200 colonists but after two years and eight months, with the failure of both whaling and farming, it was dismantled and the site abandoned. Little remains today other than the cemetery with headstones for people from the settlement as well as sailors from various shipwrecks.

“In horizontal rain and gale force winds, it is easy to picture just how hard it must have been for these pioneer settlers, many of whom brought out young families lured by the promise that the island offered”, explained Frazer. 

Settlers were promised ‘Salubrious climate and level plains of grass perfect for pasture’. But the reality was very different.  Instead of grass there was impenetrable scrub and swamp. The acid peat soil and lack of sun made growing vegetables difficult. Whaling was the biggest disappointment as many ships returned empty handed.

It's not surprising that the settlement failed and most of the settlers were glad to leave. One of the settlers wrote in his diary; ‘Everyone in this place has been longing to leave from the time of his arrival’. And when he finally departed, he wrote, ‘the satisfaction I feel at this moment is beyond description, my miserable life [in the Auckland Islands] will never be forgotten.

The team also found the Victoria tree left by Commander Norman of HMCS Victoria from the first visit in search of shipwreck victims. It was created in response to the wreck of the Grafton shipwreck, and carved into the trunk of the tree is the message; ‘H.M.C.S Victoria in search of shipwreck people. Oct 13th 1865.’

“After being confined for a day on the boat, it was disappointing to have to miss out on a penguin count but was good to get off and have a good walk to stretch our legs. Tomorrow is our last day before we head home. A very early start is on the cards as we need to be on the beach ready to walk to our sites by 3.30am. At the end of the count we are hoping to have a good explore of Enderby Island before we get back on board the Evohe and head out into the Southern Ocean and sail North for NZ.”