131 perish in worst civilian shipwreck in NZ waters

29 April 1881

The steamer Tararua, en route from Port Chalmers to Melbourne, struck a reef at Waipapa Point, Southland. Of the 151 passengers and crew on board, 131 were lost, including 12 women and 14 children.

The Tararua grounded only about a kilometre from shore, but would-be rescuers could not reach the stricken vessel because of high seas. Most of those who perished were washed overboard and drowned. The Court of Inquiry into the tragedy concluded that the ‘negligent failure’ of Able Seaman Weston to ‘keep a proper look-out’ was the immediate cause of the grounding, but that the ‘wreck and loss of life’ was largely due to the master, Francis Garrard, failing to ‘accurately ascertain the ship’s position’ in the hour before it struck the reef.

The worst shipping disaster in New Zealand waters remains the loss of HMS Orpheus on 7 February 1863, when 189 of the 259 naval and army personnel on board perished at the entrance to Manukau Harbour, Auckland.

Image: detail from ‘Wreck of the Tararua’ (Te Ara)

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