The Subroan


The barque, "Subraon," arrived in Port Nicholson from Newcastle on the 5th of October 1848. The Subraon, a "tea clipper" of 510 tons commanded by Captain Mills was reputed to be one of the fastest ships on the Australian run,. The voyage from Newcastle took 14 days because of bad weather. The cargo of the Subraon was livestock, which was sold by public auction, by James Smith and Co. on 13 October 1848.

30 working Bullocks

26 fat Bullocks

18 heifers

20 cows

160 Maiden Ewes

120 Wethers

A few superior horses and Mares

The cabin passengers were Messrs. Swann and Brodsaik and their families.


From the 16th of October onwards Wellington experienced a large number of earthquakes. A number of people imagined that it would be safer on water than on land. So they stayed at night, on board vessels in the harbour. Captain Mills, of the Subraon gave a lot of assistance and his vessel was crowded every night by persons seeking refuge there from the impending danger. The people who stayed on board gave £70 to him as a testimony of their appreciation.


The Subraon weighed anchor on Thursday afternoon, 26th October for Sydney, in charge of Calder the pilot, having on board about 40 passengers including men, women and children. The wind at the time was blowing from the south. On nearing the entrance of the harbour, instead of making the outer passage which is almost invariably used by the different vessels frequenting the harbour, the pilot, although warned by Captain Mills that the vessel would not stay attempted to take her through the inner, or Chaffers passage. In tacking, the ship missed stays, the pilot attempted to wear her, but there not being sufficient room, the vessel struck on the rocks about 8 o'clock in the evening within one hundred yards of the shore, and about three quarters of a mile of the pilots house. Captain Mills immediately used every effort to save the lives of those under his care, and his coolness and presence of mind, and the excellent conduct of his officers and crew, inspired the passengers with confidence; preparations were made for landing the passengers, and although the wind was blowing fresh from the south and a heavy swell setting in, this was providentially effected without loss of life. The greater part of the passengers obtained shelter in the pilots house, while some preferred walking on to Wellington, where they arrived at 3 o'clock on the morning of the 27th October, 1848. At an early hour on the 27th several boats went off to the vessel to assist in saving the cargo and the property of the passengers. Captain Oliver of H.M.S. Fly dispatched his boats and a strong party of men to the vessel., and they were most actively employed the whole of the 27th under Captain Oliverís personal superintendence and that of his officers in rendering every assistance in saving the cargo.

There appeared not to be the slightest chance of saving the vessel, which was fast on the rocks; her rudder was washed away, she was down by the head and had made a considerable amount of water in the hold.

Letters of Tribute

The following was the first of two letter addressed to Captain Mills by the passengers of 'The Subraon as published in the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator.

Wellington, Zealand, Oct 29, 1848, Sir,-

As one of the passengers on board 'The Subraon' at the time of her being wrecked, I beg you will accept from me the expression of my sincere regret on your losing the command of so fine a vessel when in charge of the pilot ; but what I am most desirous to convey to you is the sense I entertain of your admirable conduct in the hour of trial and danger, it was impossible for any man to be more cool and self possessed than you were, when had the effect on preventing confusion and allaying all apprehension of safety in the minds of passengers, most of whom consisted of women and children: when every effort was made by you to save the ship, and it became hopeless, you're first thought and exclamation was the preservation of the women and children; that not a life was lost, and all were safely landed, I attribute it(under God's providence) to you, Sir-to your chief mate, and the exertion of your ships company-whose conduct throughout was most praiseworthy. With every good wish for your health and better fortune in your professional career, believe me, my dear sir,

Yours very faithfully

(Signed) W.P.Young. Captain H.M. 65th Regt.

Sale of Wreck

The wreck of the Subraon was sold on Monday 31st October, by Messrs. James Smith & Co for the sum of five hundred and fifteen pounds, but was apparently never salvaged. It was rediscovered in 1969 by Malcolm Blair and Jim Toulis at the southern end of Breaker Bay, 20 metres off the rocks in 2-3m of water on a sand and rock bottom with visibility of 5-10m. Little remains above the sand now but small artefacts can be found by digging. There are many brass pins, copper nails, pieces of sheathing and wood still in the vicinity and a variety of these have been found in recent years. Two cannon were recovered in the early 1970s and are now on display at the Maritime Museum, Wellington.

Another Letter of Tribute

Wellington 3rd November 1848.

To Captain Mills, Commander of the Barque Subraon, We the undersigned passengers of the Barque Subraon, beg to offer you our most grateful acknowledgments for your conduct on the occasion of the wreck of that vessel, on the evening of the 26th inst., When under charge of the pilot.

To the presence of mind and intrepidity, to the calm courage, and the exercise of those qualities which distinguish a British sailor, displayed by you and those under your command on that trying occasion, we mainly attribute, under God's providence, the preservation of our lives and those of our families, and our deliverance from the imminent danger to which we were exposed.

Begging you will accept our best wishes for your future prosperity.

We remain,

Your grateful and obedient servants,

(Signed) W. Fitzherbert Robert Park, for family S.Willson Mary Hartley Emma Hartley Mrs Walden J. Walden Jabez Dunn, for wife and family, Samuel Robinson Lewis Brodyiak Richard Beamish H.P.Young, Captain H.M.'s 65th Regiment William Spinks Mary Spinks F.M.Spinks S.E.Spinks J Hill John Brown, for self and family William Smith, and family John Harvey J.T. Hansard M.D. and family

Lieutenant Governor's Investigation

On the 8th of November 1848 the Colonial Secretary's Office published the following report of the investigation into the mishap.

Wellington, 6th November, 1848.

His Excellency The Lieutenant Governor, under the advise of the Executive Counsel, and pleased to direct the publication of the following extract, relative to the recent loss of the Barque Subraon, from a report drawn up by a Board appointed to enquire into the causes of that unfortunate occurrence.

By His Excellency's Command, Alfred Domett, Colonial Secretary. Wellington Nov 3rd, 1848.

Sir,- In compliance with the directions of His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, contained in your letters of the 28th, ult,. and this day's date, requesting a Board to assemble and enquire into the conduct of the Pilot on the occasion of the wreck of the Subraon, while proceeding to sea under his charge-we beg to enclose, for the information of His Excellency, the evidence of the Pilot, Master, and Chief Mate (of the late Barque Subraon) taken in before us. Having carefully investigated, and duly considered all the circumstances of the case, we would submit the following opinions, viz.:-

1st,-That the Pilot should not have attempted to proceed to sea by Chaffers' passage (while the other was open to him and a safe anchorage under his lee) under any but the most pressing occasion, which, in our opinion did not exist.

2nd.-That having attempted this passage, he should have kept more on the weather side, or nearer to Barret's reef, and to have allowed a greater distance for the vessel to have veered or anchored in the event of missing stays, to the neglect of which the loss of the vessel may be mainly attributed to.

3rdly,- That having placed the vessel in a perilous position , he seems to have lost all presence of mind, so utterly essential to a Pilot in extreme cases of danger, thereby rendering himself totally unfit to use his exertions for the safety of the vessel.

Lastly,- We think it justice to state that after the vessel was wrecked, the Pilot gave every assistance in landing the passengers, and afforded them the accommodation of his house until they could return to Wellington.

We have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient servants, Chas. Sharp, Harbour Master. William S Luke, Master H.M.S. Fly. W.B.Rhodes, Merchant.


To the Honorable. Colonial Secretary.

Colonial Secretary's Office, Wellington, 6th November, 1848

His Excellency The Lieutenant Governor has been pleased to direct it to be notified that Mr James Calder has been removed from the appointment which he lately held as Pilot for this Port, and that, in consequence, applications will be received at this office until Friday, the 1st December next, from persons desirous of offering themselves as candidates for the vacancy.

The following regulations relative to the office have been established, but are subject to any modification which may be determined upon by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.

The Pilot's remuneration will for the present be One Hundred Pounds, per annum, and one-fifth of all Pilotage received.  A residence will be provided for him by the Government as well as a boat with a complete crew.

Applicants will be required to undergo an examination as to their qualification by a Board to be constituted for that purpose.

It will be optional with Masters of vessels to take a Pilot either on entering or leaving the Port.

The Pilotage will for the present be Three Shillings per foot, and is to be paid to the Harbour Master.

By His Excellency's Command Alfred Dommett Colonial Secretary.