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H.M.S.Orpheus on Manukau Bar
H.M.S. Orpheus strikes the Manukau Bar, 7 February, 1863.
Oil on board (800 x 600)mm.

Orpheus was a steam corvette transporting stores from Sydney for ships on the New Zealand station.  At about 1 p.m. on 7 February she arrived off Manukau Heads on the west coast of New Zealand's North Island.  All the harbours along this coast have treacherous bars across the entrances and Manukau was no exception.  On this occasion the weather was fine and clear with a moderate south-west wind and the signal was rerceived from the shore signal station to "take the bar" and the corvette proceeded inwards under all plain sail and steam.  Due to a confusion of Admiralty sailing instructions for the bar, signals from ashore and a lack of recent local knowledge which would have told of a shift northwards of the northern end of the Middle Bank, Orpheus struck at about 1:30 p.m.

She broached and was swept by the seas over her port side, her hatches were sprung and she flooded.  Efforts were made to lighten her and get out the boats, two of which were got away.  At The Heads the boats met a small steamer, the Wonga Wonga which took the boats in tow and steamed out to the wreck which was not reached until 6 p.m.  By this time the seas were breaking clear over Orpheus and the officers and hands had taken to the rigging.  The only way to get the men off was by way of the bowsprit and jibboom, where they could jump off into reasonably clear water where the boats could pick them up.  Apart from the boats' crews, nearly all who survived were rescued in this manner.

As evening wore on, with hands still in the tops, the masts and bowsprit went by the board and by 9 p.m. the ship was breaking up.  Later on that clear moonlit night more sailors were rescued from floating wreckage and spars.  Out of a complement of 259, 189 were lost including her commander, Commodore W.F.Burnett, C.B.  No other wreck in New Zealand history has taken so many lives.

The H.M.S.Orpheus had been built in 1861 and commissioned in Portsmouth in 1861 for the Commodore of the Australian station.  She was a new, improved, flush deck corvette of 1,706 tons.  Her 400 h.p. horizontal direct acting engine, with four boilers in opeeration could drive  her at almost 12 knots.  Her armament consisted of 20, 8 inch guns and one pivot 100 pound Armstrong.