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.

Midnight II

THE LAUNCH MIDNIGHT II AND THE CHAMBERLIIN FAMILY OF PONUI ISLAND
I received an email last week from Ross Dawson, a passionate woody fan, Ross resides in Kawakawa Bay and let me know that he had just visited Peter Chamberlin in a retirement home and he kindly gave permission for Ross to take a few copies of photos in his family photo album. Peter’s son David now manages the family farm at Motunau (the South end of Ponui Island).
The launch – Midnight lI according to notes in Peter Chamberlin’s photo album, was a petrol powered launch built for Peter’s father Fred (son of Charles jnr) by Lanes in 1928 and was sold to Ian Chamberlin in 1950, when Fred took delivery of the Colin Wild built diesel launch – Motunau. WW would love to learn more about Midnight II and what became of her.This weekend I will share the story of – Midnight, the Chamberlin’s yacht.
Before we finish today – Ross has a hobby horse he would like to exercise 🙂 I’ll let Ross tell the story

“I want to comment on, what seems to be a common theme whereby Aucklanders from the earliest colonial times right up to the present day, seem to think that privately-owned Gulf islands are a legitimate place to wander at will, help one’s self to whatever is lying around, and to depart leaving behind much more than one’s footprints! The old newspaper articles surprised me that petty theft, and not so petty theft was perhaps as common in 1800’s as it is today.

The first items I noticed, up to about 1900, were advertisements promising rewards for “information leading to the prosecution of persons who had stolen large quantities of standing and cut wood”…probably tea tree I am guessing. ( Auckland used huge quantities of firewood for domestic heating & cooking in colonial times) 

From about 1900 for perhaps 30 years, the adverts changed to dire threats of prosecution for dastardly scow operators helping themselves to beach shingle. (Ted Ashby’s book “Phantom Fleet” gives a good explanation of illegal shingle extraction) 

Other newspaper public notices refer to other problems of shooting of pigs and farm stock. It seems the Chamberlin families might have been justified in having jaundiced views about their mainland neighbours, and it is surprising that they have managed to maintain a reputation of being gracious hosts to visitors and willing helpers to boatees in need of rescue.

Even today, they deserve better from the wider Auckland public. As a long time yachtsman myself, often anchoring in Ponui’s many bays, I am sometimes horrified by the casual way boating people feel it okay to roam over the island, sometimes even with their dogs. Some even think it okay to browse around the farm buildings…do they actually think Ponui is public estate?

And while I am on a rant, where do all the plastic bait bags littering the beaches come from…not accidental discharges from Auckland storm water drains! A great stain on the reputation of the majority of well behaved boating community. My heart goes out to the Island owners who also pay eye-watering land rates to a City Council that does very little by way of public services which we take for granted on the mainland.”

Update ex Ross Dawson – he meant to add – “No criticism intended”