Midnight – Sailing Sunday

MIDNIGHT – Sailing Sunday

Today’s story comes to us from Ross Dawson and dovetails with the story earlier in the week on the launch – Midnight II. Both sparked by Ross’s visit to see Peter Chamberlin in this retirement village. I will let Ross tell the story ‘

“The Yacht “Midnight” 34 tons according to press reports of the period, was brought out from the UK and generally under the command of Charles Chamberlin snr., with newspaper advertisements and comments indicated Charles had a paid crew. On the other hand according to Brian & Jan Chamberlin’s family history,…”the cutter ‘Midnight’ appeared on the scene (1853), having been built to Charles’s order by Henry Nicol, a noted North Shore builder.”

There are many newspaper references during the unsettled times around 1865-70, that Charles made the vessel available as an armed cutter, manned by naval volunteers to patrol the Hauraki Gulf and beyond. On one occasion she ‘rescued’ Governor Sir George Grey from potential capture from his Kawau Island home. Another records Midnight arriving in Auckland 4.3.1865 from Tauranga bringing first news of the murder of Volkner near Opotiki.

Other shipping news was more prosaic…”Midnight arriving Auckland from Ponui with 9 bales of wool.

In 1870, the NZ Herald reported Midnight had a 16 day “stormy passage’ to Tonga, and later the death by drowning of her Captain Courthoys at Levuka. I understand Midnight was lost on this voyage, refer below.

Briefly (& anyone interested can find the full account in the Daily Southern Cross newspaper of 12.6.1871)…”the Midnight sailed from Levuka on Saturday last, on a pleasure trip to Mologai (sic) (Malogai Island)…the vessel was hove to outside the reef for the night, but due light winds and strong currents, drifted onto a shoal about 2.30am. Every attempt was made to get her clear. All anchors being lost. In the morning  a schooner was sighted and a boat was sent over the reef. Mr North, mate of the Midnight asked for a loan of a kedge, or to take a line to a shoal a short distance to windward. The boat returned to the schooner (America) and to the astonishment of those on Midnight, the America made sail and left all hands to their fate. The crew built a raft and with some assistance from a vessel from the island Midnight was abandoned and they made for Passage Island, eight miles away. They were rescued on Tuesday by the schooner Mary sent from Levuka in search of Midnight. It was assumed Midnight slipped off into deep water sometime on the Sunday night that the crew left the stranded vessel. (Story from Fiji Times May 20 1871)

As far as sorting who built Midnight…either in England or by Henry Nicol in Auckland, I have not come across any definitive information. But trawling through the Daily Southern Cross, one is amazed at the large number of ships of all sizes that traded out of Auckland, many locally built.

Henry Nicol who apparently came to Auckland from Scotland aged 23 was an amazingly prolific shipbuilder, initially from a yard on what is now the corner of Vulcan Lane & Queen Street and soon after from his yard in Mechanics Bay, hard up against the slope of the rising land toward Parnell (well before the extensive reclamation extending out toward the current waters edge).

The Daily Southern Cross of 1853 when the 97ton ‘clipper schooner’ “Waitemata” was launched, reported Nicol had built since 1849…647 tons of shipping,…Moa 281 tons;Hawkhead, 22 tons; Eliza, 55 tons;Julia Ann, 28 tons; Rose Ann, 39 tons; Favourite, 28tons; Te Tere, 27 tons; & Waitemata, 97 tons. Not to mention 5 half-decked boats from 10-18 tons!

Possibly Nicol produced the Midnight shortly after the above as the family booklet “Ponui & Beyond” by Brian & Jan Chamberlin states…”In 1853 the cutter Midnight appeared on the scene, having been built to Charle’s (Chamberlin) order by Henry Nicol.

This whole story has a slight personal note as my Gt Gt Grandfather Joshua Robinson, with a team of his carpenters worked for Henry Nicol, although my family record indicates that Joshua was employed by the well known trader William Smellie Graham on his various construction projects, including Nicol’s building of trading vessels for Graham. My Robinson history states…that ” Nicol built 43 vessels in the first 10 years, all work done by hand until 1856 when machinery was installed for sawing timber.”

Just to give a glimpse of Nicol’s work ethic….The DSC of 24.2.1854 tells us…”launch schooner 40tons, Tamatenaua. Cutter 30tons nearing completion. About to lay keel for schooner 112-120 tons”….all with saw and adze…the chips must have been flying!”


Harold Kidd Input – MIDNIGHT was built by Henry Niccol in 1863 according to the Register of British Ships No 57810. She replaced Charles Chamberlin’s VICTORIA.

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