The fate of the brig Sophia Pate, wrecked on a sandbar at the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour with the loss of 21 lives, highlighted the dangers early migrants to New Zealand faced in poorly charted coastal waters.
The 165-ton Sophia Pate had been chartered by three Irish Wesleyan Methodist families to carry 23 settlers from Sydney, via Auckland, to the Kaipara district, where they planned to establish a settlement in the Kaihu Valley.
Possessing three contradictory hydrographical charts of the Kaipara Harbour, the brig’s captain, George Harrison, searched Auckland and Kororareka (Russell) for a pilot familiar with the harbour entrance. When this effort was unsuccessful, he offered to refund part of the settlers’ charter fee if they agreed to travel the 32 km to Kaihu overland from Bay of Islands. Refusing the captain’s offer, the 20 Irish immigrants who stayed on board, along with the captain’s wife and son, ten crew members and another passenger, opted to tempt fate and traverse the dangerous waters of the Kaipara Harbour entrance.
Despite waiting for favourable weather and advancing cautiously along a charted channel near the harbour’s South Head, the Sophia Pate ran aground at 4 p.m. By 10 p.m. the increasingly strong swells had broken the ship apart, destroyed the longboat and swept all but one of the immigrants, and the captain’s wife, overboard. At low water, about 3 a.m., Captain Harrison, his son, crew and one passenger reached the safety of the shore aboard the ship’s jolly boat.
Claims that Captain Harrison had prevented his wife and some of passengers from boarding the jolly boat led him being later detained in Auckland on a charge of manslaughter. The case was dismissed on lack of evidence, although the captain was criticised for his ‘injudicious’ decision to enter such dangerous waters.
Image: 'Wreck of the "Sophia Pate"' (Trove)