MURITAI, steamer: Just before daybreak on May 27, 1908, the steamer struck on West Chicken Island, one of the Hen and Chickens Group. The steamer quickly went to pieces, but the passengers and crew landed safely. The Muritai was bound from Russell to Auckland, and should have passed the Hen and Chickens, a rocky cluster of islands opposite Marsden Point, the entrance to Whangarei Harbour, at about 3 a.m. The weather was thick, and the fact that the Muritai struck about 4 a.m. showed that the captain had been feeling his way slowly in the thick haze which enveloped the coast. The wreck of the steamer seemed to have been a comfortable one for the passengers and crew. All they had to do when the vessel struck the rocks was to walk down a ladder at the bow of the steamer, land on the rocks, and wait until daylight, when they were conveyed in boats to a sandy beach. That the wreck did not occur where loss of life would have been inevitable was due to the action of the man at the wheel.
The Muritai left Russell at 9 p.m. and headed out through the Bay of Islands, the master, Captain Charles Hopkins, being then on the bridge. Up till midnight the night was clear and the sea fairly calm. The weather became thick after midnight, and the coast lines were lost in a dense, murky haze, so that it was impossible to see any great distance either on the land or seaward side. There was a fairly heavy swell, but there was no reason to anticipate any danger. At 4 a.m. the second officer called the captain and informed him of the bad state of the weather. Just as the captain was being called the man at the wheel suddenly saw a great bluff appearing through the haze, dead ahead, and he at once brought the wheel hard round. A second later the Muritai struck the rocks. Had the vessel got up against the bluff there would have been no landing place at her bows, and it would have been a case of taking to the boats with the utmost speed before the ship slipped into deep water, with the risk of-the heavy swell sending the boats on to the rocks, and perhaps leaving but few survivors. When daylight came the shipwrecked party saw how narrowly they had escaped disaster. In the whole vicinity there was no other spot where a landing would have been attended without great danger. The Muritai had run in between two rocks being almost wedged in that position. The boats were at once swung out and the passengers quickly embarked. A search for a more suitable place to land was made, and some distance around the “Big Chicken” a sandy beach was discovered, and everyone was conveyed there in the boat. The chief officer’s boat was despatched at 9 a.m. to make the mainland. The steamer Coromandel appeared at 4.30 p.m. and took the boat’s complement on board. The passengers and crew were transferred to the steamer Kanieri at Marsden Point and taken to Auckland. The boat in which the chief officer carried tidings of the wreck had a remarkable record, having been in the wrecks of the Gairloch, Kia Ora and the Muritai.
The Court of Inquiry found that the second officer disobeyed the express orders of the captain and first officer, and was guilty of culpable negligence. The captain erred only in not being on deck at Tutukaka Point. The master and second officer were ordered to pay the costs of the inquiry, amounting to Â£58 15s.
The Muritai, No. 89,319, was an iron, screw steamer of 225 tons gross and 134 tons net register, built at Paisley, Scotland, in 1884, and her dimensions were: length 125 ft., beam 22.1 ft., depth 8.5 ft. Her engines were of 45 h.p. The steamer was formerly named Bellinger, and was purchased by the Northern Steamship Company in 1897, after she had traded for some years on the Australian coast.