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Commander Wood’s account of the wreck of his ship.


(as described by Laslett on pages 53-55 in his journal)

NOTE: A special thanks to Ben Grubb of Sailors Grave, who loaned us his copy of Laslett’s journal, helped with the article, answered our many questions and more...

Shortly after we met Mr Wood the commander of the late “Buffalo” and

learnt from him the particulars of the disaster, which was as follows.

The gale he said commenced from the eastward on the 26th July with heavy

rain, and the next day a heavy sea set into Mercury Bay where the ship

was lying which set her rolling to that degree that it was found necessary

to put the guns into the hold to ease her. Top gallant masts were sent down,

topmasts housed, and the main yards settled down to the gunwales, but the

ship owing to the increasing sea, continued to roll very heavily.

Tuesday 28th. The gale was approaching to a hurricane and the sea was

breaking across the whole breadth of the bay, with this strain the cables

parted, other anchors were let go,

and their cables parted also. Leaving the

ship to drift before the high sea . . . into shallow water the ship struck in



out 4 fathoms carrying away the rudder and the false keel. The stern

anchor was let go, but it proved of no use whatever, consequently the ship

went drifting and bumping heavily and was now only partially manageable,

an effort was made to get the head wind, with the view to get into the

Mercury river, and the foresail was set for this purpose but it failed and

instead of getting the ship into shallow water the ship was fixed for a time

upon a rock under a high cliff; while here the ship was lightened a little...

...This fortunately enabled Mr Wood to force her towards the beach on the

opposite shore and here by the force of the sea was driven far up breaking off the

wood sheathing and starting the oakum out of the seams of the bottom plank.

The starboard quarter gallery and the stern lights were almost immediately

washed away and a boat destroyed. The main yard and the mizzen mast

were now cut away, and later the fore and main masts, the ship now being a

complete wreck.

Two boats had been lowered just previously to the ship leaving the rock but both

these got upset as they got into the surf and their occupants cast into the sea.

Most of the men were saved, but two unfortunately were drowned. Owning to

the loss of these boats, the “Buffalo’s” crew could not land and they had no

other means of communicating with the shore.

Therefore on this night they were glad to huddle themselves together under the


July 29th. The gale seems to have blown itself pretty well out, but the surf along

the beach was still very high ...

such was Mr Wood’s account of the calamaty that cost him the loss of his ship

and ruined our prospects of successfully carrying out the object of the expedition.

(continues on page 56 of Laslett’s journal}

Shipwright Thomas Laslett had expert knowledge of timber, and rose quickly to the vital position

of Timber Inspector for the Royal Navy. This keen observer kept detailed journals of his four

voyages to NZ, and his perceptive accounts colourfully augment official ship’s logs. Laslett’s

third journal (1839-41), which was used as reference for this


article, recounts the HMS


ill-fated 1840 voyage, on assignment to return to England with kauri from NZ.

A shore party from the ship was logging near Te Karo Bay. Laslett writes that when a storm

threatens, the Buffalo leaves its anchorage at Slipper Island to seek shelter at Whitianga. The

shore party (including Laslett) was left behind at the logging encampment, and a schooner

later retrieves the stranded crew. Laslett then meets with Captain Wood, who describes the

ship’s fateful battle with the storm below.

In 1842, the HMS


– again with James Wood as Commander and Thomas Laslett as

Timber Surveyor – returned to retrieve the spars left by the Buffalo.

(continued next page...)






The teak ship, originally called the


was built in Calcutta, India in 1813 with the

figurehead of a water buffalo. Bought in the

same year by the British Admiralty and

renamed the HMS


it served various

purposes – a storeship during the Napoleonic

wars, a quarantine ship, a timber ship, a convict

transport ship – and with each new assignment,

it would be refitted to its purpose.

After the


transported either settlers or

convicts from England/Canada to Australia, the

ship would then return loaded with kauri spars

logged from New Zealand.

In 1836, the


joined a fleet of other ships

– the

Cygnet, Africaine, Tam O’Shanter


Rapid –

to transport genuine settlers (not

convicts) from England to form the first colony

of South Australia at Adelaide. Appointed to be

its first governor was John Hindmarsh who, for

this part of the voyage, commanded the


. While in port the ships were used as

temporary lodging, storage and space to

conduct government business.

Governor Hindmarsh however, did not fair well

with his new assignment. In constant conflict

with the new settlers, he was replaced within

18 months.

When the


sailed for NZ in 1837, the

ship’s master, James Wood, became its

captain, a position he retained until the ship’s

tragic end in 1840.




Back in England in 1839, the ship was showing

its age. Sleek schooners and even steamboats

were replacing these old merchant sailing

vessels. However, the


was needed, and,

still under command of James Wood, it would

convey 300 English troop reinforcements to

Quebec where the British were facing a French


A detailed journal

of this voyage


timber purveyor Thomas Laslett serves as our

reference (see above).

The next assignment was to transport captured

insurrectionists and other criminals from

Quebec to Sydney, leaving on 28 September

for what would be her final voyage to Australia

and then New Zealand.

It should be noted that by this time treatment of

transported convicts, who on this final voyage

were mostly educated French insurrectionists,

was more humane. Very few deaths were

recorded on the


compared to other

ships – there was a doctor on board, for

instance, and the convicts were allowed on

deck for air and excercise.

However, Laslett writes on 11th Oct, “There

was something of a scare, one of the convicts

informed Mr Black the Inspector that it was the

intention of some of the prisoners to attempt to

take the ship.” Precautions were taken against

this mutiny, including fewer convicts permitted

on deck, and the wiley insurrectionists were

unsuccessful. The voyage was also rife with

storms and stifling hot weather.

The Buffalo

arrived in Sydney 19 Feb 1840,

discharged its human cargo, and was refitted

from convict transport to timber carrier to load

kauri spars in NZ. She sailed from Sydney on 5

April arriving at the Bay of Islands on 16 April to

dispatch passengers.

According to

Laslett, upon receiving a message

there were 600 kauri available in the Mercury

Bay area, Captain Wood made the decision to

sail to the bay


arriving on 11 May


This lot of kauri proved not suitable and on 14


Laslett and a small crew left the


by boat “to examine a forest situated near the

coast but about 11 miles to the southward of

the Bay”. (Presumably near or at Te Karo Bay).

A medal from the 1936

Centenary of the

founding of South

Australia at Adelaide

honours both the HMS


which carried

the first colonists, and

surveyor general Col.

Light who scouted out

the location.

Sir John Hindmarsh,

pictured, was the

colony’s first governor.