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
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...)WWW.COROMANDELLIFE.CO.NZ
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.
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
Cygnet, Africaine, Tam O’Shanter
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
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.
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
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
the first colonists, and
surveyor general Col.
Light who scouted out
Sir John Hindmarsh,
pictured, was the
colony’s first governor.