Ship wrecked on the Antipodes

Written by Chrissy Wickes


In 1893 on 4th of September at 4:40 pm in thick mist the iron barque “Spirit of the Dawn” hit the reef on the south-western coast of the main Antipodes Island. This was the first recorded shipwreck on Antipodes.

The barque under Captain R.T Millington was carrying a cargo of rice from Rangoon in Burma to Talcahuano in Chile.

On hitting the reef it sank taking with it the Captain and four of the crew. The eleven survivors rowed to shore making a safe landing on the main island.

They created a shelter out of turfs beneath a cliff overhang which they lived in for 88 days.

“They lived on limpets, giant petrel chicks, mutton-birds, albatrosses, the roots of a plant that tasted like celery, and particularly on penguins and their eggs.” 1975, Warham & Johns.

Although they said they had searched they never located the castaway depot that was only four kilometres from their dwellings.

Neither did they encounter the nine sheep or the three cattle that were present on the island at the time.

On November 30th in 1893 they were rescued by the government steam ship “Hinemoa” under Captain Fairchild who was visiting as part of regular servicing of castaway depots and searching for castaways.

Box of mens boots from Antipodes castaway depot. Photo care of Te Papa Tongarewa

Box of mens boots from Antipodes castaway depot. Photo care of Te Papa Tongarewa

It is highly probable that either the Spirit of the Dawn or the later shipwreck of the Felix Faure in 1908 were responsible for the accidental introduction of mice to the Antipodes Island. It may also have been one of the many sealing gangs visiting the island during this time. This assumption is based on genetic research that links the unique haplotype of the mice on Antipodes with somewhere other than New Zealand (Russell 2012). These foreign vessels traveling the world carrying cargo of rice and other palatable food items were havens for rodents.

In 1894 Captain Fairchild in the Hinemoa undertook a trip around all the New Zealand subantarctic islands one of the objects of which was “to erect guides of fingerposts at as many suitable points as practicable” (Joyce, 1894: 1). A large number of fingerposts had been put in during a trip in 1888 (Dougall 1888:10; Reischek 1889: 382). The new posts may have been replacements but it is more likely they were intended to augment those already in place and reduce the risk of other castaways suffering the same plight as the Spirit of the Dawn crew who had been unable to find the depot. The work brought the total number to forty fingerposts across all the islands (Glasgow, 1895: 14).


The vivid account of the wreck was published in the local papers. Read more

Read more about these boots. Te Papa

Dr. John Warham & P. M. Johns (1975) The University of Canterbury Antipodes Island Expedieiton 1969, Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 5:2, 103-131.Read more

Egerton, R, Burgess, S, Petchey, P and Dingwall, Paul R., “The Auckland Islands Shipwreck Era” in In the Care of the Southern Ocean. An Archaeological Survey of the Auckland Islands. NZ Archaeological Association, Auckland, 2009.pp.123-190. Page reference for the information is p.179.

Glasgow, W.T., 1895. Letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Journals of the House of Representatives, A-1: 10-15.Dougall, William, 1888. Far South: Stewart Island, The Snares, Auckland, Campbell, Antipodes and Bounty Island. Invercargill: Southland Times.

Joyce, J.P., 1894. Auckland, Campbell, and Other Islands (Report on) and on their Seals and Seal-Rookeries. Report to Minister of Marine, 28 May, 1894, Invercargill. Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, H-25: 1-4.

Reischek, F.L.S., 1888. Notes on the islands to the south of New Zealand. Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, 21: 378-89.

Russell, James, C. 2012. Spatio-temporal patterns of introduced mice and invertebrates on Antipodes Island. Polar Biology, Springer. 35:1187–1195.