Not the normal actions of a Skipper

Have you heard of The Fiery Star?

Probably not but she sunk in our waters south of Cuvier Island off the Coromandel Coast with the loss of life of the Captain and 78 passengers and some crew in 1865.

The Fiery Star, previously named The Comet, was launched in New York in 1851 and was admired as a very well appointed and fast clipper which held several record passages. She beat the famous clipper Flying Dutchman in a race around Cape Horn to San Francisco in 1853. Her best days run was 350 miles in one day.

In 1863 she was purchased by a Liverpool company and renamed The Fiery Star and was mainly used on the Australian trade.

On her fateful voyage she left Moreton Bay Queensland on April 1 1865 with a cargo of wool and 63 passengers. A severe gale was encountered and when the clipper was 150 miles north west of the Chatham Islands fire was detected from the cargo of wool in the forward hold.

The captain altered course for Lyttleton but the wind changed and the gale continued while frantic efforts were being made to quell the fire.

On 20 April the captain made the decision to abandon the ship however two of the four lifeboats had been lost overboard during the storm. He decided to join the 86 in the two lifeboats (all except one of the passengers and some crew) hoping to make it to the Chatham Islands. The remaining crew were left on the burning clipper. Not too often does the captain take this action!

The adverse weather continued with some very rough seas. It was thought that on 3 May with the crew battling the fire sighted the Mercury and the Aldermen Islands from well out to sea.

Unfortunately another gale struck and took her further out to sea. However on 11 May the wind changed and The Fiery Star still burning with the wool fire in the hold was thought to be 25 miles from shore and at 10pm the lights of the barque Dauntless were sighted. The Dauntless dispatched a life raft after seeing rockets, blue lights and the firing of a cannon.

The captain of the Dauntless the next morning boarded the stricken Fiery Star, assessed the damage with the remaining 17 crew and it was decided to abandon the clipper after 20 days of fighting the fire. The position given was south of Cuvier Island latitude 37 degrees 5 min. longitude 175 degrees 42 East. The Fiery Star sank soon after.

A search of the Chatham Islands and neighbouring Pitt Island found no trace of the Captain and 78 on the liferafts.  With the adverse conditions prevailing at the time the search was later abandoned with the assumption all had perished with no trace.


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