Heartfelt thanks from the mother and father of an HMS Orpheus survivor

The painting below features in a slideshow which is part of the Gatherings on the Manukau Exhibition. This travelling exhibition opened at the Waiuku Library on 17 October 2017, closing on 4 November 2017.

Image: G.C. Beale, HMS Orpheus wrecked in the Manukau Harbour, February 1863. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 7-C6.

In terms of lives lost, it still ranks as New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster. On 7 February 1863 the Royal Navy corvette HMS Orpheus had difficulty entering the Manukau Harbour in stormy weather, struck a sandbar near Whatipu Beach and rapidly began to sink.

Part of the Australia Squadron, the corvette was delivering reinforcements and supplies to assist British troops and settler volunteers in the Waikato War. There were 259 men on board. In the attempt to abandon ship many were dashed to their deaths in the sea’s powerful surge.

The coastal steamer Wonga Wonga was in the harbour at the time and came to the aid of men struggling in the waves. Only 70 survived. Among them was 19-year-old midshipman Charles George Hunt.

Charles came from a distinguished Gloucestershire family. Some of his older relatives were acquainted with the New Zealand Governor, Sir George Grey, who invited the young sailor to Kawau Island to recuperate.

Among the manuscripts in the Library’s heritage collections are letters from Charles’s parents thanking Sir George for his help in their son’s recovery.

24 April 1863

Dear Sir George

I embrace the earliest opportunity of offering you my most sincere thanks for your great kindness to my son after his rescue from perdition thro' the calamitous wreck of the Orpheus - That he & his companions should in their destitute condition have experienced from their fellow-countrymen in a distant land the utmost sympathy & benevolence was no more than might have been expected from the character of Englishmen -but I had no right to anticipate that Providence would have raised up for my son in so especial a manner a friend such as he found in your Excellency, whose personal attention to his wants & comforts he describes as resembling those of a Father to his Son - Again I most heartily thank you - His escape from the destruction which overtook so many of his brave comrades was quite marvellous - and he & his friends can never acknowledge with sufficient gratitude the great mercy vouchsafed by the Almighty in his deliverance - nor should I feel satisfied without making an endeavour to recompense in some measure the Maori crew of the Cutter who picked up my son and conveyed him to their huts, treating him & his companions with all the hospitality their simple means afforded - I have therefore taken the liberty of enclosing an Order on the Auckland Bank for £10 - payable to your Excellency - and it will add to my many other & greater obligations if you will kindly direct its distribution among these poor men in the manner your Excellency may think most suitable.

Believe me to remain
dear Sir George
Your most sincerely obliged

C Brooke Hunt


April 24th
Bowden Hall

My dear Sir George

I cannot resist enclosing a few lines in my husband's letter to thank you with all my heart for your great kindness to our dear boy. He has been home for a few hours & you can imagine our joy & gladness at seeing him again safe & well after all he has gone thro' -

It really seemed as if he came to us from the very dominion of Death Himself - Only a fortnight & a day after the news first reached us of that terrible shipwreck to have him among us appeared almost like a dream! God has indeed been very good to us & deeply do we feel for those who cannot rejoice as we do - & join with them in mourning the loss of those brave fellows who met their sad fate with so much fortitude.

Charlie will I am sure never forget your kindness - He told us again & again how good you were to him - dressing his bruises yourself, supplying all his wants & cheering him by your kind remembrance of dear Lady Downe, Annie & myself - I cannot find words to thank you as I would wish - but believe me I do feel very grateful-.

You will be glad to hear that dear Lady Downe ("Grannie" as she likes to be called) is wonderfully well - as full of life & energy as when she & Genl. Spink used to have such animated discussions with you in Charles St. She desires me to offer her very kind regards to you - Genl. & Mrs Spink are very flourishing just now - The Genl. had a serious illness some time since but has quite recovered. They are living at South Norwood - Since my poor sister had the pleasure of meeting you at Cuddesdon she had I grieve to say lost her excellent husband. It is indeed a terrible blow. She has seven children. Her eldest son has just got his Lieuty & she is expecting him home soon from Malta. But I must not trespass any longer on your valuable time & once more proferring my grateful thanks

I remain
Dear Sir George
Very sincerely yours

Louisa Hunt


As part of the Gatherings on the Manukau exhibition at Waiuku Library there was a Gathering Day on Saturday 28 October 2017 where the public were invited to bring along photographs, holiday snaps, letters, newspaper clippings and similar material.

During Seaweek in March 2018 this exhibition was also displayed in Onehunga at the request of the Manukau Harbour Restoration Society.

Authors: Iain Sharp and Sharon Smith