The Glenmark – Tragedy and a Fortune in Colonial Gold

“The tale of a shipwreck has for most readers a fascination unequalled by any other of the many forms of tragedy which from time to time sweep some unlucky band or section of humanity into eternity, and during last century [19th Century] shipping disasters were all too frequent around our rugged and then little-known coast. But these bygone tragedies on our shores have been chronicled, so that small room for speculation remains when the cold light of Marine Court inquiries have been shed on each recurring catastrophe. Far greater is the speculative interest in and the perennial curiosity regarding the undiscoverable end of the forty or fifty vessels which left our shores and were never heard of more.” [1]

The Clipper Glenmark

The 953 ton clipper Glenmark lay at anchor in the Port of Lyttelton in January 1872 awaiting a cargo of wool and a £80,000 fortune in colonial gold from the West Coast diggings to fill her hold. Since her maiden voyage in 1864, the Glenmark had made eight voyages to Lyttelton, bringing out immigrants and returning ‘home’ with the fruits of colonial labour.

Glenmark was “one of the fastest vessels then trading to our shores, having made her maiden voyage from Gravesend to Lyttelton in 83 days from port to port.” Built to order in an Aberdeen ship yard specially for the New Zealand trade, the 930 ton clipper sailed exclusively for Lyttelton. At 195 feet in length, 33 feet 5 inches in breath and 24 fleet 6 inches in depth, Glenmark was put under the command of Captain John Thomson “late of the ship Derwentwater, of London”. Christened by his wife, the vessel was launched on 2nd September 1864 and “glided gracefully into the water in the presence of a large concourse of spectators.”

The Glenmark offered roomy, white painted and well ventilated first and second class cabins, lit by “large ports eighteen inches square”. As was the custom of the time, the cabins were bare, the passengers having to provide their own bedding, chairs and carpets. There was a concert room with two pianos and a distilling apparatus ‘which gives off 400 gallons of water per day’. The ship’s owners boasted that the passengers’ food was cooked by steam power.

A Sensational Experience

Fast forward to 1936, Mrs. Jane Emily Thomson and Mrs. Sarah Susannah Spencer Kruse, two elderly friends living under the same roof in Papanui, Christchurch, recollect the maiden voyage to Lyttelton of the Glenmark: “— a voyage whose sensations and tragedies were to draw their families together in lifelong friendship.”

Mrs Thomson, at this time 81 years old, was the daughter of a Woolwich man, the late Mr. William Hiskens. With his wife and his four children, Hiskens had set sail for New Zealand by the newly-launched Glenmark on 30 October 1864. The Sun Star newspaper reported that of her many vivid memories of the voyage, one was outstanding — “that of the ship grounding on the sand off the coast of South Africa, and of hundreds of natives racing down the long, green slope to the beach, where they embarked in canoes, on rafts and on logs — anything that would carry them out to the tempting prize of a great ship lying apparently helpless, off the coast.”

“The tale of what followed is supplied by Mrs. Thomson’s brother, Mr. Herbert Hiskens, of Norfolk Island. ‘Among the Glenmark’s passengers were a young Gloucestershire man, named C. H. Morgan, and his wife, whose intention it was to go farming in New Zealand. Having previously been a warrant officer in the service of the East India Company, Mr. Morgan was a smart and capable man, whose knowledge of seamanship was respected by officers and crew alike. Of very different calibre was the Glenmark’s first captain. A weak, cantankerous individual, he seemed to know little about his job, and certainly he did not realise his responsibilities. With a spanking wind to take the ship south, he carried on until the coast of South Africa was in sight. When at last the vessel appeared to be sailing straight on to a long, sandy beach and his officers remonstrated with him, he refused to alter course. “At this stage, with confusion reigning aboard the Glenmark, Mr. Morgan’s natural leadership came to the fore, and he assumed control of the ship. Officers and crew readily obeyed his orders. The Glenmark was immediately put about, but as she came round she touched the sand. All her sails went slack, and there was panic among her passengers as the natives were seen paddling swiftly out from the shore. “The arms chest was broken open, and with Mr. Hiskens’ assistance Mr. Morgan handed out firearms and cutlasses to the crew and the men passengers. Stationed round the bulwarks, the ship’s defenders threatened to shoot any native approaching too closely. Fortunately the wind held fair, and eventually the Glenmark came off the sand uninjured. “That was the beginning of the friendship between the two families. “Mr. Morgan also distinguished himself on a wild night in the roaring forties, when the ship was running her easting down. A young seaman having fallen overboard from aloft [while in the act of reefing a bowline], it was Mr. Morgan who volunteered to take charge of the boat which, despite the tremendous sea running, searched unavailingly for the unfortunate youth.”

Another Pathetic Happening

“Mrs. Kruse, who is a daughter of the late Mr. Morgan, remembers, having heard from her youth of another pathetic happening of the Glenmark’s first voyage. As the vessel was about to sail from London docks, a woman passenger came aboard with two small children, a girl and a boy. On their examination by the ship’s doctor it was discovered that both the children were already in the early stages of scarlet fever, and they were promptly sent ashore with their mother. “The woman was in despair. She had been provided by her husband, who was already in New Zealand, with her bare passage money, and no more. This having been paid over, she was completely without funds. “Departing for the city, she returned in less than an hour, and explained that she had left her children with her sister, who would bring them out to New Zealand by a later ship. “Some time afterwards the woman confessed that she had abandoned the children in the streets of London. As the voyage proceeded the horror of what she had done began to prey on her mind. How could she face her husband? At last, one day when the ship was nearing New Zealand, the half-demented creature suddenly climbed the bulwarks and threw herself into the sea. Mrs. Thomson, who was standing near by at the time, actually saw a fellow passenger [the second officer made a grasp for there and caught hold of her clothes, and was nearly drawn overboard with her, but was hauled up by the passengers] seize the woman’s shawl, but the brooch which was holding it carried away, and the woman went overboard. A lifebuoy thrown out actually bumped against her, but the drowning woman made no attempt to save herself.” [2]

Lyttelton in the 1870s had come a long way from the frontier port that greeted the pioneers from the first four ships in the 1850s. [3]
The Glenmark arrived at Lyttelton on 21 January 1865. [4] In the ship’s journal, next to the name of 24 year old Catherine Barrett, the following is written in pencil:

“The children had whooping cough & were turned out of the ship at Gravesend Mrs Barrett elected to leave them with friends and go herself. If the children do not follow her £8.10 will re repayable at Canterbury. It should not be paid until advised from here that it will not be used.”

The Glenmark sailed from Lyttelton for the return journey to London in April with a cargo of 2,276 bales of wool and 22 bales of sheepskins to the value of £47,488. The ship arrived back at Plymouth in July 1865.

On the 30th April, at latitude 51 S longitude 174 W in the Southern Ocean, the ship was struck by a large piece of drift ice and had several treenails started in her bow. [5] That was the first and last journey the Glenmark made under the command of Captain John Thomson. He retired from the sea for eight years, returning in 1874 as chief officer of the Crusader which also sailed with immigrants for Lyttelton.

Twenty-one years in the London and Tasmanian Trade

Lieutenant Richard Wrankworth of the Royal Naval Reserve took over the command of the Glenmark for her second voyage to Lyttelton on 16 September 1865. He’d been “known favourably for twenty-one years in the London and Tasmanian trade.” [6] Born in Cape Town and the son of a gentleman, Wrankmore had been in the merchant navy for all of his working life. He’d married a merchant’s daughter in 1839, fathered three daughters, and been awarded his Master’s certificate in 1851. The same year Glenmark made her maiden voyage he’d been promoted to Lieutenant. Seven more trips to Lyttelton were made by Wrankworth and his crew in Glenmark, many notable for the speed or the events that occurred on the journey.

The passage from Gravesend would begin with the Glenmark discharged from the pilot at Plymouth. She would sail past Maderia, cross the Equator, pass Trinidad and the Meridian of Greenwich, round the Cape of Good Hope, make for Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, round the Snares south of New Zealand, come up the east coast, sight Banks Peninsula and arrive at Lyttelton,  brought up opposite Stoddart’s Point.

Passages would take between 83 to 109 days, land to land.  On arrival the ship would be greeted by the health officer. The Glenmark would carry over 400 passengers, including families like Studholme and Le Cren, as well as single Irish women under the protection of the ship’s Matron.

On Glenmark’s seventh trip to Lyttelton – and Wrankmore’s sixth – the ship’s doctor McShane (late of the 58th Regiment) died suddenly on the morning of 10 October 1870 from paralysis of the brain. He had been soothed in the last hours of his life by the ministrations of Glenmark’s steward Deschappelles. A Frenchman, Deschappelles also possessed the talents that many of his countrymen were famous for. He was a fine cook and could turn his hand to bread and pastry to the delight of the passengers, assisted in his efforts by his ‘excellent wife’.

Amy Gordon nee Jones
Marion Louisa Jones. [7]
A Lovely Girl in Character and Looks

By 1871 the Glenmark crew had been joined by 29 year old William Robert Gordon as First Officer. Gordon was from a notable landed Scottish family from the Campbelton Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and the only son in a family of five sisters. During his layovers in Lyttelton, Gordon made the acquaintance of Marian Louisa Jones, the eldest daughter of Welshman Charles Jones and his wife Eliza Speakman.

Charles Jones had been born in 1819 – a month before Queen Victoria – in Plas-Ty (Black Hall) Montgomery, Wales. He was said to be the last male in a long line of former Welsh Kings descended in direct line from the rulers in the dim ages of history. He had witnessed the first train run in England and had ‘served articles to the law’ but gave it up to go farming.

In 1856 he emigrated with his family to Tasmania, Australia. The family moved to New Zealand in 1863 and settled in Opawa making their home in Heathcote Lodge. Charles’ hobby was as a poultry fancier, he was also an ardent Churchman. [8]

His daughter Marian had been born in South Cerney, Gloucestershire in 1849 and was just 14 when she arrived in New Zealand. William Gordan and Marian married on 8 January 1872 at St Mark’s Church in Opawa. Her sister Amelia attended as bridesmaid. Also in attendance was Isabel Robinson (Isabella Marian Grace May Robinson) and Frederick Banks, a merchant, who married later in the year. To Isabella, Marian (whom she called Amy) “was a lovely girl in character and looks” and her husband William Gordon “was equally nice”.

On 1st February 1872, with a large cargo of colonial produce, crew and passengers numbering 50 on board, including the newly wed Mrs Gordon, Glenmark departed Lyttelton for the return journey home. She was under the command of Captain Wrankmore, Lieut. R.N.R., who was “deservedly respected by all who sailed with him or with whom he came in contact.” When the Glenmark would have be 154 days out, no tidings of her arrival in England had been received. [9] “No sign of our friend Wrankmore yet; surely there must be something wrong with her,” wrote Captain Gourlay commander of the Natal Queen on 30th May 1872 to Cobb & Sawtell in Lyttelton. The barque Natal Queen and the ship Robert Henderson had left Lyttelton in the company of Glenmark. Natal Queen had arrived in London after a rough passage of 110 days, all vessels making long passages at that time. “I had very bad weather off the Falkland Islands, and I hear a vessel, which was off there about the same time, had to put in there in a sinking state. I hope it was not the Glenmark.” [10]

The ship Sir Humphrey Davie had sailed from Sydney for England on 19th January and had encountered a cyclone off the south coast of New Zealand on 6th February – six days after the Glenmark had sailed. The cyclone had lasted for 48 hours and had forced the Captain of the Sir Humphrey Davie to run before the wind in order to save the ship.

On the second day of the storm the ship passed enormous quantities of wreck – apparently that of a large vessel – but had been unable to heave to in order to examine it. The ship continued on to Valparaiso in Chile where Captain Davie put in for the necessary repairs. It was possibly the Sir Humphrey Davie that Captain Gourlay of the Natal Queen’s was referring to in his letter as the vessel in a “sinking state”.

On arrival in England, after hearing that the Glenmark sailed on 1st February from Lyttelton, Captain Davie became convinced that the wreak they had passed six days later was that of the Glenmark. This information had been conveyed to Mr Stoddart of Diamond Harbour by Mrs Gordon, mother of the Glenmark’s chief mate, William Robert Gordon. [11]

By February of 1873, one year after the Glenmark had sailed from Lyttelton laden with gold, all hope was gone. The obituary notices for Captain Wrankmore; Noel Saunders, the 23 year old Second Mate from Bewdley in Worcestershire; Mr and Mrs William Gordon and Dr. Dry the surgeon, along with 19 year old Albert Smith from Rye in Sussex; 21 year old Samuel Tomkins from Paddington and other crew, began appearing in papers at home and in the colonies. The ship had supposedly foundered in a hurricane on the 6th February, one week after sailing from Lyttelton. [12]

In an enclosed Gordon family plot in St Cuthbert’s Old Churchyard, Kirkcudbright, Scotland, stands a white marble cross known as “The Wedding Gift”. It has been restored by local monumental masons, Douglas Swan and Sons, the oldest established family business still trading in the ancient burgh of Kirkcudbright. The inscription reads:

To the Dear Memory of
William and Louisa,
A Mother and Sisters’

Image: Douglas Swan and Sons [13]

  1. ‘Posted Missing. Auckland Star, Volume LX, Issue 40, 16 February 1929, Page 1.
  2. Shipping. Press, Volume VII, Issue 697, 23 January 1865, Page 3
  3. Lyttelton. Ref: 1/2-070307-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  4. TRAGEDY AT SEA. Auckland Star, Volume LXVII, Issue 287, 3 December 1936, Page 19.
  5. Shipping Intelligence. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume XXIV, Issue 53, 4 May 1865, Page 2 and LONDON CORRESPONDENCE. The Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Ireland), Friday, July 21, 1865; Issue 33120.
  6. Page 3 Advertisements Column 1. Press, Volume VIII, Issue 955, 29 November 1865, Page 3. The Dundee Courier & Argus (Dundee, Scotland), Monday, September 11, 1865; Issue 3774. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II. Page 1 Advertisements Column. Wellington Independent, Volume XXI, Issue 2482, 19 February 1867, Page 1.
  7. Lawrence, Charles L, fl 1867-1879 :Amy Gordon (nee Jones). Ref: PA2-1459. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  8. Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XLV, 2 August 1910, Page 6, and Colonist, Volume LIV, Issue 13493, 13 August 1912, Page 4.
  9. Press, Volume XX, Issue 2887, 2 August 1872, Page 2.
  10. Wellington Independent, Volume XXVIII, Issue 3568, 5 August 1872, Page 2.
  11. Fearful cyclone of February 6. Press, Volume XX, Issue 2979, 19 November 1872, Page 2.
  12. Grey River Argus, Volume XII, Issue 1412, 8 February 1873, Page 2.
  13. Douglas Swan and Sons, Monumental Sculptures, Kirkcudbright, Scotland.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Congratulations Wendy on your excellent research. You have brought to life the family stories told by my 2nd great grandmother. Esther and Samuel Wilson were on the maiden voyage (1864) of the Glenmark. Those stories about Catherine Barrett and the near tragic grounding in SA are true, and were passed down to my Grandfather. Well done and keep up the wonderful work.


  2. Nancy Davies says:

    Glenmark story very interesting. C H Morgan was my great-grandfather.


  3. JOHN ADAMSON says:

    I have a purse that originally contained gold sovereigns that was given to Captain Richard Wrankmore when he was in command of SV Derwentwater in 1853, in thanks from the passengers. Its been in our family for over a 100 years. I have been trying to find out what connection Captain Wrankmore was to our family.
    John Adamson


  4. Alexander Moore says:

    Hello Wendy,
    Thank you for this fascinating article. I came across it by searching for Glenmark, which is also the name of a former sheep run in Hurunui District. As its owner was both successful and entrepreneurial, I can’t help wondering how deeply involved he was in the ordering, specification and perhaps financing of this ship. However so far I have found no records which show his involvement.
    Best regards


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