Chapter One

Auckland, New Zealand

Wednesday 25 June 1862

Edwin Utting stood on Queen Street Wharf considering the uncertainties of life and timetables. Yesterday, on the advertised day of departure, the s.s. White Swan had been held back for 24 hours until the mail arrived from Sydney. Now this. He read the hastily written notice again and was informed that his ship would not leave for Wellington today, either, due to fog in the Hauraki Gulf.

That didn’t explain the water pumping from her hold or why she was down at the bow. His editor at the New Zealander would want to know all the details so Utting picked up his bulging carpet bag, tucked the writing case under his arm, and set off to find a reliable source.

By 4 o’clock that afternoon the White Swan was upright and dry enough for a thorough inspection. Two experienced shipwrights – Henry Niccol and John Vickery – reported the water had come from a hose, intended for the boiler, that had slipped into the forward hold. They declared her sound, without a rivet out of place, but rumours to the contrary had started to spread on shore. The steamer had recently returned from an expensive refit in Australia which included lengthening her hull by 19 feet. The general opinion was that her new plates had sprung.

Passengers began to board next morning. Edwin Utting, the reporter from the New Zealander, and his colleague from the Southern Cross – a Mr. J. Kelly – were among them. Both men had taken note of their fellow travellers and doubted if such a powerful group had ever been crammed on to one ship in the history of the colony. Almost every branch of government and the bureaucracy was represented.

Copyright Mike Warman and the Wairarapa Archive.