L Alcmene 1851

L Alcmene 1851

L’ALCMENE, French corvette: When bound from Tasmania to Whangaroa, where she was to load kauri spars, the corvette was totally wrecked between Hokianga and Kaipara on June 3, 1851. Twelve members of the crew were drowned. The commander of the warship, Captain the Comte Harcourt, lost his reckoning, and, finding himself caught in a bight which he could not weather, decided to beach his ship. Heavy seas pounded in on the shore, and the beaching of the corvette resulted in tragedy, ten members of her crew being drowned and a number of others seriously injured.

Even when they reached the shore the Frenchmen had no idea of their whereabouts, and as they did not know how long it would be before they were rescued, they immediately set about building some rough huts out of timber from the wreck. A quantity of supplies was also salvaged from the wreck, so that the castaways were in no immediate danger of starving. When a temporary camp had been established, a party was instructed to go in quest of help. Plodding along the seashore, the party came to the north head and then followed the course of the river until they came in sight of the village of Okaro, which was on the far side of a tidal creek, and housed about 100 Maoris. The day on which the castaways arrived in the village was a Saturday, and as the next day was “Ra Tapu”, or the “sacred day”, the Maoris were not willing to take any immediate steps to organise a rescue party. They suggested, however, that a messenger should be despatched on horseback to the scene of the wreck, with a letter, and this course was agreed to. Early on the Monday morning a relief party set- out from the village. Two days later the shipwrecked sailors and their Maori rescuers returned to the village, the injured men and the one woman being carried on stretchers. From the village the Frenchmen were conveyed to Auckland in boats and canoes, and were taken charge of by the Government. Later, the Maoris received fitting acknowledgement for all they had done for the sailors from the French Government.

The captain of the l’Alcmene chartered the American ship Alexander to convey the survivors to Tahiti and then to France. The Alexander left Auckland on August 1, 1851, with 192 survivors of the corvette.

The 1’Alcmene was a three-masted vessel, mounting 36 guns. Heavy seas and high tides on the west coast beaches of the North Island for several days, early in 1934, laid bare part of the wreck of the l’Alcmene at Bayley’s Gorge, the site of the wreck.

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