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New Zealand Disasters: HMS Orpheus Shipwreck (7 February 1863)

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  • William Farquharson Burnett (1815 - 1863)
    Britain's costliest day of the New Zealand Wars occurred far from the battlefield. Commodore William Farquharson Burnett was among those who died in the wreck of HMS Orpheus.William Farquharson Burnett...
  • Capt. Robert Heron Burton, R.N. (1829 - 1863)
    The Royal Navy's corvette, HMS Orpheus, commanded by Captain Robert Heron Burton was carrying supplies and troops when it struck the Manukau bar. The seas pounded the Orpheus mercilessly and only one s...

189 people died in the wreck of HMS Orpheus, making it the worst maritime tragedy to occur in New Zealand waters.

For the British military it was the costliest day of the New Zealand Wars – but it occurred far from the battlefield. Bringing naval stores from Sydney, the modern 1706-ton steam corvette HMS Orpheus (named after the Greek hero) ran aground on the bar at the entrance to Auckland’s Manukau Harbour. Of the 259 naval officers, seamen and Royal Marines aboard, 189 died.

Minor errors and bad luck caused the disaster. Instead of rounding North Cape to reach Waitematā Harbour, Commodore William Burnett decided to berth at Onehunga in Manukau Harbour to save time. Unfortunately, he carried outdated charts and the channel through the bar had moved. Although lookouts on shore signalled a warning when they realised the ship was off course, the Orpheus missed the message.

After striking the bar, the vessel was pounded by waves and only one small boat got away. As the ship sank into the sand, the men climbed the rigging. The masts eventually collapsed, throwing the crew into the sea. Rescuers arrived too late to prevent a catastrophe. Source:

Some of those who died were buried in St Peter's Church Graveyard, Onehunga, Auckland, New Zealand

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The 189 people who died:

  1. Herbert Adams, ordinary
  2. Jqhn H. Adams, engineer
  3. William Adamson (lent from the Miranda), assistant-engineer, 2d class
  4. Frederick Allen, leading stoker
  5. Thomas Ambrose, captain maintop
  6. George Anderson,
  7. James Andrews, private, Royal Marines
  8. John H. Avis, Boy 2nd class
  9. Henry Baker; cooper
  10. Henry Baylam, private, Royal Marines
  11. William E. Bayliss, painter;
  12. John Bennett, ordinary
  13. William H. Bickle, ordinary
  14. Jesse Bignell, leading stoker
  15. Charles Binfield, private, Royal Marines
  16. William Blackwill, ordinary
  17. John Bosworthick, blacksmith
  18. Thomas Brady, gunner, Royal Marines
  19. William J. Bridle, Boy 1st class
  20. John T. Broadway, Boy 1st class
  21. John Broad-wood, gunner, Royal Marines
  22. Thomas H. Broughton, midshipmen
  23. Alfred Brown, stoker
  24. John Budge, private, Royal Marines
  25. George Bunce, Boy 1st class
  26. William Burge, gunner, Royal Marines
  27. William Farquharson Burnett, C.B., commodore
  28. Robert Heron Burton, commander
  29. Thomas Callaghan, Boy 2nd class
  30. James Clarkson, assistant surgeon
  31. John Cleary, ordinary
  32. Thomas Coffins, private, Royal Marines
  33. Samuel Cole, ordinary
  34. William H. Cookney, wardroom steward
  35. Henry Corps, quartermaster
  36. William Cowen,;
  37. Henry Crabb, gunner, Royal Marines
  38. Lewis Cramp, gunner, Royal Marines
  39. John Cronin, Boy 2nd class
  40. Alfred Crow, ordinary
  41. John Davey, captain mizen-top
  42. Charles Davis, stoker
  43. Daniel Davis, private, Royal Marines
  44. John Davis, ordinary second-class
  45. William Davis, Boy 2nd class
  46. Denis Donoghue, Boy 1st class
  47. Thomas Doren, private, Royal Marines
  48. Andrew Dorey, stoker
  49. George Drew, ship's cook
  50. George Duffett, Boy 1st class
  51. John Durkin, private, Royal Marines
  52. Albert Early, Boy 2nd class
  53. James Ellis, ordinary
  54. John E. Ernest, master-at-arms
  55. Edward Finn, ordinary
  56. Michael Flanaghan, private, Royal Marines
  57. Stephen Foyle, private, Royal Marines
  58. William Gannaway, ordinary second-class
  59. Henry Gardner, private, Royal Marines
  60. William H.P.M. Gillham, secretary (assistant-paymaster)
  61. C. Goldshmidt, captain's steward
  62. James Goodwin, Boy 1st class
  63. George Gordon, corporal, Royal Marines
  64. George F. Gossage (lent from the Miranda), assistant-engineer, 2d class
  65. Thomas Gould, private, Royal Marines
  66. George Gray, private, Royal Marines
  67. John Greenwood, private, Royal Marines
  68. Arthur Haggis, captain's coxswain
  69. James Hall, ordinary
  70. William Halson, ordinary
  71. William Hartfield, Boy 2nd class
  72. Rev. C.B. Hazlewood, chaplain and naval instructor
  73. James Healy, stoker
  74. John Heard, private, Royal Marines
  75. Charles Heath, gunner, Royal Marines
  76. John Hewitt,
  77. John Higham,
  78. Edward E. Hill, First lieutenant Royal Marine Artillery
  79. George Hill, leading seamen
  80. William Hillier, ordinary second-class
  81. Daniel Hines, ordinary
  82. William Hobbs, gunner, Royal Marines
  83. Augustus Holdgate, captain's cook
  84. David Horsfield, private, Royal Marines
  85. John Howard, corporal, Royal Marines
  86. Sidney Hoyle, private, Royal Marines
  87. William Hudson, gunner
  88. William F. Hunt, Boy 1st class
  89. John Hutchins, gunner's mate
  90. William H. Hutton,
  91. John Hyde, gunroom steward
  92. Arthur Jekyll, lieutenant
  93. William Jenkins, Boy 1st class
  94. Edward Jenner,
  95. Samuel Johnson, gunner, Royal Marines
  96. A.D. Johnston, assistant-paymaster
  97. Noah Jones, ordinary
  98. John Kave, gunner, Royal Marines
  99. Felix Kelley, stoker
  100. Thomas Kelly, leading seamen
  101. Frederick Kemp, leading stoker
  102. George King, gunner, Royal Marines
  103. John Kingston, Boy 1st class
  104. John Knowlden, Boy 2nd class
  105. Thomas Ladbroke, private, Royal Marines
  106. Thomas Lane, leading stoker
  107. David Lee, stoker
  108. Thomas Letheby, gunner, Royal Marines
  109. Thomas Littlefield, private, Royal Marines
  110. Edwin Lloyd, captains after guard
  111. Michael Mahoney, ropemaker
  112. Arthur R. Mallock, midshipmen
  113. Samuel…Mardon, musician
  114. George Mark,
  115. Harry Mark,
  116. John P. Masters, private, Royal Marines
  117. John H. Maud, stoker
  118. James M'Cloud,
  119. Edward J. Miller (lent from the Miranda), assistant-engineer, 2d class
  120. William Milliard, boatswain's mate
  121. George Mitchell, gunroom cook
  122. John Moore, stoker
  123. William T.F.W. Mudge lieutenant
  124. Jeremiah Murphy, Boy 1st class
  125. Henry N. Naylen, clerk
  126. Peter Newman, ordinary
  127. David Norris, caulker
  128. Joseph Northover,
  129. William J. Orchard, Boy 1st class
  130. Thomas Osborne, ship's corporal
  131. Peter Pafford, private, Royal Marines
  132. William Palmer, ordinary second-class
  133. Thomas Parke,
  134. John Pascoe, boatswain's mate
  135. John Pay, carpenter's crew
  136. Henry Pearin, private, Royal Marines
  137. Edwin Pelham,
  138. John Phillips, engineer's cook.
  139. John Plowman, captains after guard
  140. Robert Randall,
  141. George Redman, armourer
  142. Henry Redman, sick berth attendant
  143. Jos. J. Rockett,
  144. Charles E. Rowe, carpenter's crew
  145. William Rowland, ordinary
  146. Samuel Scutt, engineer's servant
  147. John Searle, Boy 1st class
  148. Henry Sheargold,
  149. William Sheppard, gunner's mate
  150. John Shorthouse, private, Royal Marines
  151. John Simmonds, Boy 1st class
  152. Thomas Smith, sailmaker's crew
  153. Samuel F. Spencer, ship's steward's-boy
  154. Edward Springer,
  155. Bradley Starkay, gunner, Royal Marines
  156. Francis Starrs, private, Royal Marines
  157. Samuel Stephens, chief engineer
  158. William Stephenson,
  159. Thomas Stoneham, wardroom cook
  160. William D. Strong, master
  161. William Swain, stoker
  162. William J. Taylor, second master
  163. Henry Thomas, carpenter's crew
  164. Isaiah Thompson, Boy 1st class
  165. Charles Theobald, Boy 1st class
  166. George Townsend ship's steward
  167. John J. Tozer, master's assistant
  168. William Tranter, sergeant, Royal Marines
  169. John Trautman, carpenter's mate
  170. George Trott, private, Royal Marines
  171. Thomas Tucker, private, Royal Marines
  172. Robert H. Veal, Boy 2nd class
  173. George H. Verner, midshipmen
  174. John H. Vickery, assistant-engineer, 1st class
  175. John Vince, gunner, Royal Marines
  176. George Vincent, caulker's mate
  177. Abraham Voice, coxswain launch
  178. George Warn quartermaster
  179. Edward M. Warner, Boy 1st class
  180. John Wealords, shipwright
  181. Henry Weatherstone, ordinary second-class
  182. Henry Welstead, ordinary second-class
  183. Charles Whetnam,
  184. Richard White, Boy 2nd class
  185. John Williams, private, Royal Marines
  186. Richard Williams, private, Royal Marines
  187. Joseph. W. Wilson; captain hold
  188. John Woodrow, tailor
  189. John Young,