BACK TO GALLERY                  HOME                     ARTIST                    INFORMATION                        WORKS

The "Stirlingshire" and H.M.S."Acheron" in Nagle Cove, Christmas Eve 1848.
Oil on canvas (1200 x 850)mm

Prints are available

The painting shows the "Stirlingshire" and HMS "Acheron" as the latter departs for Waiheke.  Rigging of the "Stirlingshire" is well advanced with John Gillies’ schooner ‘"Vivid" alongside. A few weeks later, in January, 1849, the "Stirlingshire", under the command of Captain Arthur Devlin, sailed her to Auckland and then Hobart. Eventually it was sold to Launceston business interests and began a series of annual voyages between there and London until 1855 when it was sold and from then, traded to many parts of the globe. It ended its days in 1887 as an ice hulk for the herring fleet in Kinsale, Ireland before being towed offshore and sunk where its remains presumably lie to this day.

The "Stirlingshire" was built first by Robert Menzies and then by Captain John Gillies for William Abercrombie at Nagles Cove, on the west coast of Great Barrier Island, during the 1840s and launched in November, 1848. Rigging and other items required were delivered in 1841 by the brig Porter direct to the building yard. At 109 ft long, it was the largest sailing ship ever built in New Zealand. Its building was interrupted by a deep but brief recession.


HMS "Acheron", commanded by John Lort Stokes, who had previously sailed on the famous HMS "Beagle", was in the process of carrying out the first comprehensive survey of the New Zealand coast, and its chart of the Nagles Cove area was used up until recently.

Working on this painting was a challenge. The problem was that, whereas plans and a drawing of the ‘Acheron’ were available, there was not one visual reference for the "Stirlingshire";  all that was available to help construct a reasonably valid picture of the ship were two very rough contemporary sketches:  one while she was on the stocks and the other a rough drawing looking down on Nagle Cove with the ‘Stirlingshire’ and the ‘Acheron at anchor. Along with this visual evidence was a collection of newspaper articles and documents describing the vessel in some detail.


At this period of maritime design America had taken a decided lead. During the period from 1841 to 1848, when the ‘Stirlingshire’ was under construction, the first American extreme clipper ‘Rainbow’ was launched while British ship builders were still turning out ships after the old style of the Blackwall frigates. Undoubtedly the "Stirlingshire" was influenced by American design … except for one remarkable feature; the "Stirlingshire" had a flat transom stern, rather like the galleons of old! Why this was so can only be open to conjecture; it has been suggested the building and shaping of the complex curves of a counter stern was beyond the ability of the builders at Nagle Cove but I do not believe this. Shipwrights who were able to construct a ship which sailed worldwide for another four decades clearly knew their business. I do have a theory which may, I admit, just be hot air: the slipway at the cove was limited in length and the owners wanted a ship with a certain capacity so they drew the lines for a longer vessel but, inhibited by the insufficient length of the slipway, terminated the rising floors towards the stern about where the deadwood reached her light ship draft and there building a flat transom stern. This can clearly be seen in the sketch of her on the stocks along with the four windows. In the painting I have included quarter windows mainly because I would have done so if I had been designing her. In the traditional frigate stern the tiller would be located under the main stern cabin but I have assumed that stock would have been extended up through a casement in the cabin and the tiller housed under a low poop deck as became common practice. Chain tackles would link the tiller to the wheel.  The deck houses were fairly standard; the after one ranging from the poop to forward of the mizzen and the forward ’Liverpool house’ I have made fairly generous. She was a small ship lengthwise, only 114 ft. feet on deck.


The rig was no problem. As can clearly be seen in the sketch looking down on the cove, she was ship-rigged which means she was square-rigged on all three masts and I know my way around a sailing ship’s rig in practical detail. At a later date, as were many other vessels of the period, she was altered to a barque. Like the controls in Asian cars, rigs varied very little from ship to ship. At the time the ‘Acheron’ left she was nearly ready to sail for Auckland and most of the canvas would have been bent on. A report on her arrival in Auckland states that the rig was unfinished but I suspect this was only in detail such as temporary seizings and studding sail gear. The report describes her rounding North Head with the topgallants set.



Colours always present a problem when there is no record and one can only fall back on fashionable practice. The "Stirlingshire" was described as ‘an enormously lofty wooded vessel,’ and ‘suffered from a superfluous height of bulwark’. The fashion in American ships was black hulls with white or perhaps buff or gold detail. Anybody considering the paint scheme of the ‘Stirlingshire’ would have tried to make her ungainly freeboard less apparent: a broad white stripe does so effectively as well as being traditional, particularly in British ships. The ship was to be coppered in Sydney so the question arises as to what colour the hull up to the waterline might be. For a solution to this I turned to the ‘Acheron’ which was iron. Illustrations of iron naval ships of the period almost all have red to the waterline. Anti-fouling paint had not been successfully developed at that time and my guess that red lead was the basic underwater paint.  There were other possibilities such as zinc based paints which would have been a dirty white but red lead looks much better and at any rate I wanted red in the painting.


The schooner "Vivid" alongside was a typical small coastal vessel which had recently been launched from the slipways ashore. She provided a useful tender to the "Stirlingshire" while she fitted out, bringing out materiel and stores. Of course no plans or images exist of her but it is probably her anchored ahead of the ‘Stirlingshire’ in the sketch looking over the cove. I once part-owned a ketch of about the same size, which was a replica of a nineteenth trading vessel so I am familiar with what would have been her appearance. I painted her blue purely for relief in the painting.


As there were plans for the "Acheron" illustrating her was less of a challenge but even with the plans there were some gaps.  The plans show no boats and the drawing of her shows them in the water and no davits. I have depicted boats in the traditional locations; namely on quarter davits and stern davits. I imagine she might have carried other boats on deck. She apparently flew the white ensign which can be seen in the drawing and I have painted her all black with a white sheer wale and paddle housing. Another colour used by the navy was a light buff which I have used for the funnel and superstructure. People on the shore watch her leave as do the Maori in the fishing waka in the foreground. They are clad in an assortment of traditional dress and items traded from the pakeha.