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Tortoise at Waiheke
H.M.S.Tortoise at Waiheke.
(1000 x 500) Oil on canvas.
Prints available

June 16th, 1843. After leaving Tairua with her load of spar timber, the Tortoise sailed first to the Bay of Islands and then to Waiheke Island and anchored near Man-o-War Bay at the eastern part of the Island. Governor Hobson had died the previous year and his widow Eliza and her five children were to take passage in the ship back to England. Three other boys named Cooper were in her care.


Eliza delayed her joining of the ship, much to the annoyance of the Tortoise’s complement who were longing to be homeward bound and probably had a severe dose of the “channels”. Finally, on June 16, sometime in the morning she and her family, the three boys, together with 3 servants and six other passengers, boarded the ship’s launch in Auckland. Among the passengers was Willoughby Shortland, the acting Governor who was to return to Auckland. The north-westerly wind was fair for the launch, but with all the women and children aboard they must have made some pit stops along the Waiheke shore.


Those aboard the Tortoise seemed to have been keen to get under way as they had un-moored and now lay to a single anchor. With this in mind I have depicted the courses and topsails loosed to the bunt. They were to be disappointed as Willoughby had not got the dispatches ready and the ship had to wait until they were sent from Auckland. The next day a cold front went through and it blew hard enough to make it necessary to moor the ship again to two anchors. The Tortoise got away on the 19th., putting in to Nagles Cove in Great Barrier before sailing for England.


As regards the launch, I have shown her rigged as a yawl (or ketch as the mizzen seems to have been stepped on the transom). This boat, probably around 30 foot long, was continually in use around the Gulf and islands, making extensive coastal voyages under sail. After delivering the passengers on board it was sent ahead to Great Barrier Island to get some sheep and stores for the ship. It is likely that she was fitted out to use sail instead of oars as her main motive power. The standard rig for a launch would have been a dipping lug ketch. The yawl rig is a logical improvement. I have re-constructed this rig from contemporary drawing of a boat off Tairua which I am almost certain is the launch.


The launch was the largest of the complement of ship’s boats. The heavy spar to which the mizzen is sheeted is the removable anchor crane which was part of the equipment of all launches and used for laying out kedge anchors.


As with much visual re-construction before the advent of photography and,in the absence of written depictions apart from the laconic comments in logs and the odd gem picked up in a journal, the result is informed guesswork. In painting there is licence which is necessary to build a pleasing construction, which in my admittedly retro genre (hate both words) should be as accurate as possible and tell a story.


Part of the story here is the repartee when the coxwain of the launch, must be forced to bear away around the stern of the waka, before rounding up to come alongside the Tortoise.