Many secrets lie hidden beneath the sea around the Otago
coast. Nigel Benson and Stephen Jaquiery go shipwreck
'Pride of the Yarra'
The greatest maritime tragedy to occur in Dunedin waters
since European settlement was the sinking of the Pride of
the Yarra in Otago Harbour on July 4, 1863.
There was only a ribboned dirt track from Port Chalmers to
Dunedin at the time and ships were unable to navigate the
harbour, so small steamboats provided a ferry service from
the port to Dunedin.
A large welcoming party had arrived at Port Chalmers the
previous day to welcome the first rector of the new Dunedin
High School (now Otago Boys' High School), Rev Thomas Hewett
Campbell, and his family after their three-month voyage from
London aboard Matoaka.
The Campbell family and 50 other people, many of who had also
just disembarked from the long voyage on Matoaka,
clambered aboard Pride of the Yarra, where they sought
refuge from the cold in the cabin and hold for the trip to
But just after 5pm, the ferry collided with the paddle boat
Favourite off Blanket Bay (Sawyers Bay).
Rev Campbell (34), his wife, Marian (27), and their five
children (all aged under 5) were drowned.
The Otago Witness reported the tragedy:
"The family of Mr Campbell, happy in the knowledge of their
arrival at their new home, and so unhappy in their fate at
the very threshold - they must have been pressed down and
suffocated by the rush of cold, chilling, choking water,
under circumstances of agony from the contemplation of which
the mind must withdraw, overcome with utter horror," the
A total of 13 people drowned shortly after 5pm that day as
the 75ft steamer Pride of the Yarra sank below the
An inquiry subsequently returned a verdict of manslaughter
against Favourite skipper Captain Adams and his mate,
while Pride of the Yarra skipper Captain Spence was
censured for excessive speed.
On July 9, a procession of 2000 people - nearly the whole
population of the new Dunedin settlement - followed the
funeral cortege from St Paul's Church in the Octagon
(replaced on the same site in 1915 by St Paul's Cathedral),
down Princes St to the Southern Cemetery, where the Campbell
family was interred in block 2P, plot 30.
Less than a month later, on August 3, the Dunedin High School
was opened with English master G.P. Abram, who had arrived
with the Campbell family aboard Matoaka, as rector.
Matoaka disappeared six years later, on a voyage from
Lyttelton to London with all 79 aboard lost.
In 2003, a plaque was laid on the Peninsula Beach Road at
Port Chalmers, near where the collision occurred.
One of the best shipwrecks to visit in Dunedin is the steamer
SS Victory, at Victory Beach, on the Otago Peninsula.
The Otago Witness reported the incident on July 6,
"We regret to learn that the Inter-Colonel Royal Mail
Company's fine S.S. 'Victory' met with an accident on
Wednesday night. She left Otago about an hour before dark
with a strong gale blowing from the N.E., and ran ashore soon
after 6 o'clock in Wickliffe Bay, this side of Cape Saunders.
"Fortunately she went ashore on a sandy beach; the passengers
and mails are safely landed. We understand the vessel is so
high upon the Beach, there being only 4 feet water at low
tide, and so embedded in the sand, that there is no prospect
of her being rescued from her present unfortunate position."
SS Victory left Port Chalmers for Melbourne, via
Lyttelton, at 4.30pm on July 3, 1861, carrying passengers,
mail and cargo.
Captain James Toogood plotted to pass three nautical miles
clear of Cape Saunders but, fatally, he handed command to the
third mate, while chief mate George Hand recovered from being
Victory ran aground at the southern end of the beach
an hour and a-half later, seven minutes after Hand had taken
charge of the ship.
Captain Toogood ran the engines full astern for 90 minutes,
but the ship was stuck fast in 3m of sand, so passengers and
mail were safely unloaded.
Hand was later prosecuted under the Merchant Shipping Act
1854, found guilty of being intoxicated and in neglect of
duty, and sentenced to three months' hard labour in Dunedin
The court also criticised Captain Toogood's actions.
However, months later, the ship's compass was found to be
Victory's cargo, equipment and hull were auctioned off
on the beach, recovering about 31,900 from the estimated
The following year, a salvage operation was launched and the
steamer was refloated and her boilers refired.
But, at a critical point, the anchor chain broke and the ship
drifted back to the beach and started to break up.
SS Victory's encrusted flywheel can be seen at low