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On the 29th June, 1862, the s.s. White Swan was holed by a rock while steaming down the east coast of the North Island from Napier to Wellington. Captain Allen Harper deliberately ran the ship aground on Waiorongo beach, at Uriti Point, to save the lives of those on board.

Passengers and crew were lucky to get ashore unharmed. Uriti PointIn less favourable circumstances this incident could have given New Zealand a different history. The passenger list included the leading politicians and civil servants of the colony who were travelling to Wellington for the first meeting of the General Assembly to be held outside Auckland – the capital at that time.

Edwin Utting, a reporter on board, wrote –

Had the accident occurred an hour sooner, while it was yet dark, many lives would most probably have been lost in the confusion…… Had the weather been boisterous it appeared to us impossible that all could have been saved. It may also be stated as a fact that had she struck a few feet further aft, ripping open the engine compartment, she would have gone down at once and not a soul could have been saved.

The survivors camped on the beach, or at John Moore’s homestead four miles away, until rescued by Captain George Mundle and the s.s. Storm Bird three days later.

A book – The White Swan Incident – tracing the last voyage of the ship and explaining what caused her destruction is available in selected book shops or directly from the publisher, Wairarapa Archive. ISBN 0-9582053-3-7. Author, Mike Warman.

book cover

book cover

“… a fascinating account of an incident that could have had horrendous consequences for the New Zealand government during the land wars and gold rush of the 1860s. The book deserves to be widely read”. The Bay of Plenty Times.

“… written in a pleasing style, well illustrated and definitely worth reading.” Wanganui Chronicle.

“The scenes in which this drama took place are well described with a fine economy of words. The whole book is as fresh as if the author was actually there. The Wairarapa Times-Age.