Kapiti mistaken for Stephens Island

By Roger Childs

The Pleione was on its eleventh trip from London to Wellington and with just 84 days at sea this was the quickest. But two days out of Wellington, Captain Cuthbert mistook Kapiti Island for the northern-most island in the Marlborough Sounds. It was not the first time the error had been made, as both islands are on the same latitude. 

With hurricane force winds blowing, the cargo ship with six passengers, was driven onto Waikanae Beach about 3 kilometres north of the river mouth. According to The Evening Post of 17 March 1888 it was one of the worst gales ever experienced in this district for sometime ….  It was the seventh ship to run aground at Waikanae within a few years.

All saved except for a seaman

Three lifeboats were lowered, but unfortunately one capsized in the raging surf and an elderly sailor was drowned. The captain was injured and one passenger, a Mrs Poster, was described as being in a critical state. The Evening Post reported that The Waikanae Natives and Europeans are rendering what assistance they can (with) offers of provisions … Crew and passengers were looked after at the Field Accommodation House even though a train was available to take them to Wellington. 

The following day a special steam train carrying about 150 people came out from Wellington to see the stricken Pleione. The ship and cargo were valued at £35,000 and it was thought that at the time of the beaching, the ship would have to be abandoned. In the short term, Customs officials and police kept an eye on the vessel and its cargo to prevent the possibility of smuggling and looting.

 However, after four months the Pleione was refloated and towed to Wellington. Then in 1889 the cargo was unloaded at Dunedin. It later returned to Wellington to pick up freight for a return voyage to England. In a fierce southerly it struggled to get through the heads and called for a pilot. Tragically, the pilot vessel capsized and the pilot and two crewmen were drowned.

The ship would go on to make nine more journeys to and from New Zealand.

Connections: Pleione, Arrowsmiths, Fields, Hodgkins

One of the Pleione passengers who was looked after at the Field Accommodation House was a Mrs Arrowsmith. She was extremely appreciation of the assistance provided by the Henry and Hannah Field, and consequently named her daughter, born in 1889, Doris Field Arrowsmith. Doris later became a nurse and served in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service in World War One.

Hannah Field was the daughter of Tom and Hanake Wilson — Tom was the original Waikanae River ferryman and postmaster, and Hanake’s Maori family owned land at the mouth of the river. The Wilson family farmed 1000 acres in the area and after Tom’s death in 1878 Henry and Hannah Field took over the property.

Henry Field had been a surveyor before moving to Waikanae in 1878 and taking up farming. In 1896 Field won the Otaki parliamentary seat as a Liberal candidate, but died shortly after his re-election 3 years later. His brother William Hugh Field subsequently won the seat in a by-election. 

There is an important link between the Fields and the artistic Hodgkins family from Dunedin, as William had married Isabel Hodgkins in 1893. Isabel was the sister of arguably New Zealand most famous female painter, Frances Hodgkins. 

As many readers know, here in Waikanae at the Mahara Gallery there is the prospect of housing the Field Collection of 44 paintings — 24 of them by Frances Hodgkins — provided the gallery is upgraded.

(Sourced from Papers Past, various websites, and thanks to Kay Brown and Karen Mills for assistance in writing this article.)