DEVON, steamer: When entering Wellington Harbour on the night of August 25, 1913, the steamer went ashore about 8.15 p.m. near the .lowlevel light at Pencarrow Head, in a very strong southerly wind and a thick, driving rain. The vessel stranded hard and fast on the rocks about 100 yards from the shore. A tremendous sea was running, and the Devon, being severely battered, soon became a total wreck. The weather at the time was dirty, and a blinding squall obscured the entrance to Wellington Harbour. Suddenly there was a sharp, rending sound. The ship’s engines were stopped and the steam in the boilers blown off. The water came into the stokehold and the seas broke over the deck aft. All hands were called on deck, and went forward, while rockets were fired to inform those on shore that the Devon was in distress. The lighthousekeeper discovered the vessel ten minutes after she struck, and communicated the news to Wellington. All the ship’s lights went out as soon as the engine-room was flooded, and the position of all on board was extremely uncomfortable. All night long the officers and crew kept their cold and weary vigil on the forward deck. They could hear the voices of their would-be rescuers, but life-saving operations were impossible.
Time after time during the night attempts were made to get a line ashore by means of a ship’s rocket, but on every occasion the line dropped helplessly into the sea a few yards from the shore. When dawn broke heavy seas were breaking relentlessly over the Devon’s stern and sweeping half way along the deck. The forepart of the vessel was
practically the only place of refuge. In the early hours of the morning a line was attached to a lifebuoy and thrown overboard, but it went astray. Another line was thrown overboard, and a third attempt was made, but with no better success. Volunteers to reach the lines were found in five persons standing on the rocks. These men struggled waist deep in water amidst the treacherous wash of the seas until at last they managed to secure one of the lines by means of a heaving line. With communication established, operations were rendered considerably easier. The lifeline was made fast to a high pinnacle of rock, well inshore, the other end being secured to the foretop of the Devon. A basket was shackled to the lifeline and hauling lines were attached. The first man, the quartermaster, was severely buffeted by the surf, but reached the shore safely. Thereafter the work of rescue went ahead with rapidity, at the rate of one every seven or eight minutes. Fortunately the Devon was gripped firmly by the rocks. If the steamer had swung around broadside on after stfiking all lives might have been lost.
At midday on August 26 the deck fittings did not show any great signs of damage. Some hours latev half the bottom of the Devon was knocked to pieces. The port side of the stern, the side more open to the heavy seas, quickly broke in pieces, and wreckage littered the beach in the vicinity.
On this, her last voyage, the Devon experienced tempestuous weather for the most part of the passage from Montreal. Captain Robertson was stricken with typhoid fever and was placed in hospital at Cape Town. The chief officer, Captain A. H. Caunce, assumed command of the vessel, and was in charge when she struck on the rocks at Pencarrow. The Devon arrived at Auckland on August 22, and, after discharging 500 tons of cargo, left on the 23rd for Wellington, Lyttelton and Dunedin.
The result of the Court of Inquiry was the suspension of Captain Caunce’s certificate for three months, and he was ordered to pay the costs of the inquiry. Captain Black, one of the assessors, dissented from the suspension, being of the opinion that the payment of costs would be sufficient penalty. The court found that the cause of the stranding was that way was not taken off the vessel to allow of her being handled expeditiously in narrow water; that the master mistook the lights, and that the Devon was navigated too closely to the Pencarrow side of the harbour entrance. Upon a rehearing of the inquiry the Supreme Court reversed the decision arrived at the Magisterial Inquiry, and found that the master mistook the
Falcon Shoal buoy light for the red sector of Somes Island light, and in such circumstances that he was not to blame for the disaster.
The Devon, No. 108,171, was a steel, single-screw steamer of 5,489 tons gross and 3,546 tons net register, built at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1897 by Messrs. Hawthorn, Leslie and Company, and her dimensions were: length 420 ft., beam 54 ft., depth 28.7 ft. She was owned by the Federal-HoulderShire Company. (See plate 69.)