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The Iron Barque May Queen 1869- 1888

Type:     Iron barque
Displacement:     733 tons net register, 849 gross
Length:     178 feet, 6 inches
Beam:     31feet, 2 inches
Draft:     19 feet
Registered number:     60694

1869     Built in Scotland by A. Hall and Company for Shirris, Leslie and Company of Aberdeen.

1869     July 24     Loading for departure to city of Dunedin (as reported in Otago Witness, 9 Oct 1869).


1869     August 15     Departed from London in the command of Captain John Leslie and under charter to Shaw, Savill and Company for the Port of Dunedin in Otago, New Zealand. Aboard were William and Jane Barnes (above) with their two sons and seven daughters. They had purchased their passage ticket (below) for £135 at Edinburgh on the 23rd of July, 1869.

The ticket is signed by Walter Savill

1869     November 23     Arrived Dunedin from London with cargo (as reported in Otago Witness, 27 November 1869).

1870     February 17     Departed from Dunedin bound for London with cargo under the command of Captain John Leslie (as reported in Otago Witness, 19 February 1870).

Leslie was a remarkable owner-captain able to run any ship under his command with efficiency and safety. He was not a passage-breaker, but his attitudes to his responsibilities on board commended themselves both to the charterer and to passengers. Captain Leslie had the knack of getting the best out of a ship and all on board her so that both profited from the experience. In his own way, he set an example to other Commanders flying the firm's flag and was held in high regard for the fifty years he was active in the New Zealand trade. When he came ashore in 1885, he was appointed to co-ordinate in New Zealand the steamship service of Shaw Savill & Albion, and on his return from there he served on their board as a director. He became a close friend and colleague of Waler Savill.

1870     November 8     Arrived Dunedin from London under the command of Captain John Leslie. Passengers - Mrs Leslie, Mur and Mrs Robertson and child. Messrs Bevan, Portway, Sieveason and 23 in the steerage (as reported in Otago Witness, 12 November 1870).

1870     November 12     Otago Witness Report: "The clipper ship May Queen, from London, arrived off the Heads on Tuesday afternoon, was boarded by Pilot Stevens, and towed up over the ebb last evening by the Geelong to the Quarantine Ground, where she brought up for the purpose of discharging her powder. On this voyage, the May Queen has kept up her prestige as a fast sailer, having made the passage in the short space of 79 days from anchorage to anchorage, or 75 days from land to land. She comes into port neat and clean, reflecting credit on those in authority. The following account of her passage is taken from her log: - Left Gravesend on August 20th, anchored at the Nore same evening; got under way next day, and proceed down Channel with a westerly wind; parted with pilot off Dartmouth on the 24th, and took final departure from off Start Point same day; had fair average winds to the N.E. Trades, caught in lat. 30° North, but only carried to lat. 15° North. She then experienced the usual variables to the Equator, crossed on the 17th September, in long. 25° West; had ordinary S.E. Trades to lat. 15° South and variable breezes to passing the meridian of Greenwich, on the 6th of October, in lat. 40° South and the Cape on the 10th. From this point winds veering from N.E. to S.W., veering round westerly, with but slight exceptions, prevailed in running down her easting on a general parallel of 45°. Made the Snares on the 7th passed Stewart's Island yesterday morning and had a fine run to off Saddle Hill, then light winds to arrival. The health of the passengers and crew was good throughout the passage. After discharging, the May Queen will probably load at this port for London."

1871     August 26     Under charter from W. Shirris to the Shaw Savill Company, she departed from London with emigrants for New Zealand.

1871     November 15     Arrived Port Chalmers from London under the command of Captain John Leslie. Passengers - Mrs Shair, Mrs Calcutt and family (2), Misses Newman, Franks, Werry, Bond. Mrs Leslie and family (2), Mr Gundy, Mr Green and 40 in the steerage (as reported in Otago Witness, 18 November 1871).

1871     November 18     Otago Witness Report: "The iron clipper ship May Queen, so well known for her fast passages between this port and London, arrived at the Heads from the latter port at 4.45 p.m. on Wednesday, signaled all well on board, and also for a tug. The wind was light from the eastward, and as the tug Geelong was engaged towing the barque Northern Cross to sea, the ship under the charge of pilot Kelly, sailed in to an anchorage in the middle of the Cross Channel, where the wind failed her, and she brought up for the night. The tug, on leaving the Southern Cross outside, came across the E. P. Bouverie, from Glasgow and towed her up to a berth off Deborah Bay. The Golden Age, after her arrival from Dunedin, was chartered to proceed down to the arrivals, and the authorities boarded the May Queen first and cleared her. Of the May Queen's passage, the following is culled from her log: - Left Gravesend on the 26th of August; brought up in the Downs same night; sailed again on the 27th, and had a fine run down Channel, taking her final departure from off Start Point on the 29th. Thence experienced light weather to the Equator, crossed on the 25th of September, in long. 26W; had fine S.E. Trades to lat. 17° South, and variable easterly breezes to passing the meridian of Greenwich on the 12th October: ran down her easting on a general parallel of 46° South, with light weather, and sighted several icebergs; made the Snares on Monday last at daylight, and had light variables on the coast to arrival. She brings, besides a large and valuable cargo, 53 passengers, all of whom have enjoyed good health. Captain Leslie is still in command of this fine vessel, accompanied by his old chief mater Mr Williams, and several old faces. She comes into port neat, clean and tidy below and aloft, reflecting credit on all concerned."

1872     July 29     Departed London.

1872     October 24     Arrived Port Chalmers.

1872     November 2     Otago Witness Report: "The iron clipper ship May Queen, with Government immigrants on board, arrived off the Heads at daylight on the 24th ult., and signaled all well. She was boarded by Mr Pilot Kelly and brought up to an anchorage off Deborah Bay by the tug Geelong in the forenoon. The immigrants, to the number of 102, including 29 single females, were brought to Dunedin in the afternoon by the Harbour Company's steamer Golden Age. They are a healthy looking lot, and no illness has taken place amongst them, their health being looked after by Dr Besby. Captain Leslie is still in command, but we miss Mr Williams, her old chief officer, who has been appointed to the command of the Queen Bee, which is expected daily at Auckland. The May Queen's passage has been a smart one, not withstanding 7 days' detention in the Bay of Biscay by S.S.W. gales. She has accomplished the run out in 87 days from Gravesend, and 81 from land to land, thus beating many of the late arrivals of clippers at Melbourne. Of her passage, the following resume is taken from her log: - Left Gravesend on the 29th of July, had strong westerly winds in the English Channel, and took her final departure from Start Point on the 3rd of August. After clearing the land she was detained for seven consecutive days by heavy head gales. The N.E. Trades sprang up in 30N, and continued till 11N. Variables were then experienced till 2N, when the south-east Trades were picked up. Crossed the Equator on the 2nd September, in long. 21° West; carried the S.E. trades to 21° South and had variables to crossing the meridian of Greenwich on the 19th September, in lat. 41° 30" South, and the Cape on the 25th, in lat. 44° 30" South. Her easting was then run down on the parallel of 45° South and was characterised by heavy boisterous weather, accompanied by heavy showers of snow and hail. The Snares were passed, but not sighted, on Monday, the 21st inst., and the first land sighted was the Nuggets, on the 23rd. She ran as far as Cape Saunders, and hove to till daylight, when she was boarded by Pilot Kelly. It is expected she will discharge at the Railway Pier. She comes into harbour in fine order."

1873     August 7     Departed London under the command of Captain R. Tatchell (Right).

1873     November 5     Arrived Port Chalmers from London with five passengers in steerage (as reported in Otago Witness, 8 November 1873).

1873     November 8     Otago Witness Report: "The iron clipper May Queen has again made her appearance in our waters, this time her passage being made in 89.5 days from London Docks to anchorage in Port Chalmers quarantine ground, where she anchored at noon on Wednesday, until the powder portion of her cargo is lightered; after which she will be berthed at the Railway Pier. She is on this voyage in command of a stranger to this port, Captain Tatchell, but well-known as in command of other vessels trading to the Colonies and East Indies. Her old master, Captain Leslie has remained at home to superintend the building of a new ship. The May Queen left London on the 6th of August, Gravesend on the 7th, the Downs on the 8th, had adverse westerly winds in the English Channel. Took her departure from off Start Point on the 13th, with strong westerly breezes and thick dirty weather, till taking her final departure from Cape Finisterre on the 18th. Light winds followed to the Trades, which were moderate, and lost in lat. 12° North. Doldrums then became the order of the day, in consequence of which she made a rather long passage to the Equator; crossed on the 14th September, in long. 27° West, 32 days out from the Start. The S.E. Trades were indifferent. After losing them she had slashing fair winds, and with mainskysail rounded the Cape of Good Hope, after a rattling passage of 19 days from the Line. Her easting was run down on a general parallel of lat. 46°. Crozets passed and sighted on the 9th passing to the north of them, and was off Kerguelen Land on the 13th October, since the period she had very unsettled weather, sometimes only making 60 miles per day of a straight course. Made the Snares at 4 a.m. on the 4th, and passed between them and the Traps. She was then favoured by a splendid sou'wester, sending her along at the rate of 13 knots, and she arrived off Otago Heads at 11 p.m. Received Pilot Stevens on board at 6 a.m. yesterday, and was towed up by the tug Geelong. She is in fine trim, and the passengers unanimously express their thanks to her captain, officers and crew, for the kindness shown them following the passage out."

1874     August 19     Departed London under the command of Captain Tatchell.

1874     November 13     Arrived Port Chalmers.

1875     August 31     Departed from London for New Zealand ports under the command of Captain Tatchell.

1875     December 4     Arrived at the port of Dunedin.

1876     September 18     Departed London under the command of Captain Tatchell.

1876     December 7     The ship was head reaching under three lower topsails in a furious South-easterly gale when the wind suddenly veered to the South-west and orders were given to loose the fore topmast staysail. None of the watch were inclined to obey and Mr. Boose, the second officer, only 22 years of age, sprang on to the bowsprit. The ship dipped into a heavy sea and took it right over her bows. When she rose again the officer had disappeared.

1877     January 1     Anchored at Port Chalmers with the greater part of her bulwarks between the fore and main rigging gone.

1877     October 1     Departed London under the command of Captain Tatchell.

1878     January 7     Arrived Auckland.

1878     July 30     Departed London under the command of Captain Tatchell.

1878     October 19     Arrived Auckland.

1879     August 7     Departed London under the command of Captain Tatchell.

1879     November 7     Arrived Napier.

1880     circa     Oil painting of the English Barque May Queen under shortened sails in a gale 45 x 59 cm - Private Collection Great Britain.

1880     Purchased by J. Leslie from W. Shirris.

1880     circa     Photograph of the May Queen at Nelson, taken by the Tyree Brothers.

1880     August 22     Departed London under the command of Captain Colville, who made six voyages in the ship.

1880     December 3     Arrived Lyttelton.

1881     August 27     Sailed direct from London to Tauranga under the command of Captain Colville and with passengers for the Vesey Stewart Settlement.

1881     December 16     Arrived at Tauranga where she was reported to have run aground. What really happened was that her cable parted while she was anchored at Stoney Point and she was steered into Blind Channel, where her stern just touched at low water. She did not suffer any damage and went on to Auckland, where the passengers and some cargo were landed.

1881     December 24     Arrived at Auckland.

1882     September 27     Departed London under the command of Captain Colville.

1883     January 6,     Arrived at Wellington.

1885     August 8     Departed London under the command of Captain Colville.

1885     November 18     Arrived at Nelson.

1886     August 16     Departed London under the command of Captain Colville.

1886     December 1     Arrived at Nelson.

1887     October 26     Departed London under the command of Captain Colville.

1888     January 26     Sank after striking a reef near Red Rock, in Lyttelton Harbour, with passengers and 1,200 tons of general cargo aboard.

The port pilot Lewin boarded the ship and took the vessel up through the Heads against a strong uncertain wind. When off Red Head, situated between the bay and Little Port Cooper, and close in shore, the vessel missed stays and ran upon the reef.  A tug soon approached and endeavoured to tow the May Queen off, but in vain, for she had gone ashore at nearly high water, and as the tide had ebbed about a foot she held fast and would not budge an inch.  The agents procured a lighter, which was sent down alongside the vessel and a gang of men commenced discharging the cargo.  The vessel remained in the same position for two or three days, when it slightly altered and she took a list to starboard the water at high tide covering the stern almost to the main hatch.  The following day the sea became very rough, the water was now level with the 'tween decks and the cases and other packages were being washed about.  Next day the vessel bad settled down still more aft and the whole of the main deck was covered to the deck-house.

1888     January 28     The ship was abandoned, only those interested in the salvage remaining on board.

1888     January 30     The May Queen, which originally cost £22,000, was sold by public auction, and purchased by Messrs. Wood, Sinclair and Company for the sum of £275.  Between 500 and 600 tons of cargo was salved, and the remainder, consisting of wines, spirits, fruit in hermetically sealed tanks and a lot of valuable ironware, oils, drugs and drapery was sold by auction and purchased by Mr. J. Mills, stevedore of Port Chalmers, for £1,000.  The wreck was again sold for £7.

The subsequent Court of Inquiry into the loss of the vessel considered the casualty was caused by an error of judgement on the part of the pilot, who was in charge, in venturing too close to the shore and a squall causing the vessel to strand on the rocks.  There was, however, no doubt that had a tug been available, the master would have directed her to be employed, and have avoided the accident.  The court recommended that the certificates be returned to all parties.

Although she was completely stripped soon after the accident, the hull is still semi-intact, but is now virtually buried in the silt that forms the harbour floor.  A few pieces of iron are all that remain visible.

Above: Amid the clutter of relics and curiosities that is the Lyttelton Museum is a Mahogany sideboard from the May Queen. It was probably a fixture in the Dining Saloon. Below: a couch also retrieved from the wreck.


Thanks to Scott Bennett and Marcus Castell for bringing it all together.

This page is part of the The Wrecks and Hulks of Lyttelton Harbour section of the
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