Topic: Warships in Tauranga Harbour (1864)

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In April of 1864 Tauranga Harbour was crowded with warships. They were the HMS Curacoa, Esk, Falcon, Harrier and Miranda. The Royal Navy was based in New South Wales in Australia as there was no base in New Zealand at the time although the Waikato flotilla, New Zealand's first de facto navy, was established from 1860. Warships also provided personnel for fighting on land (Royal Marines). Story researched and written by Debbie McCauley.

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On 21 April  1864 General Sir Duncan Cameron arrived in HMS Esk with his staff and on 26 April 600 sailors and Royal Marines were disembarked from HMS Harrier, Curacoa, Esk and Miranda along with 15 artillery pieces. It was no wonder that Ngāi Te Rangi chief Hori Ngatai (c1832-1912) said, ‘When we gazed on those sons of thunder, launched forward in their might, can you wonder that the cooked potatoes seemed to have lost their sweetness’ (as cited in Mair, 1937, p. 25).

HMS Curacoa (1854-1869) 

HMS Curacoa was a Tribune class wood screw frigate launched on 13 April 1854 from Pembroke Dockyard. She was named after the island Curaçao in the Caribbean Sea. At 192 feet long she could hold a crew of 300 men. The Curacoa had 31 guns on board.

HMS Curacoa (1854-1869)

The Curacoa served in the Mediterranean and Black Sea (Crimean War 1854-1855), was part of the Channel Squadron (1857-1859) and was then sent to the North America and West Indies Station (1859-1862). She sailed from Spithead, Hampshire, England, on 23 May 1863 and reached Sydney in mid-September where she became the flagship of the Australian Station after the sinking of the Orpheus in 1863. Her guns were reduced to 23.

She was despatched to New Zealand to provide British reinforcements to Auckland's Naval Brigade, arriving on 2 October 1863 bringing the Headquarters of the 12 Regiment and supplies etc including horses. She was involved with operations, including running and manning the 'Waikato Flotilla'.  Later she was sent to Tauranga with reinforcements. Her commander at the time was Commodore William Saltonstall Wiseman (1814-1874), Australian squadron.

In 1866 the Curacoa was sent back to Britain and in 1869 she was broken up, a process that was completed by 17 July 1869.

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HMS Eclipse (1854-1869) 

Arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, on 2 April 1863. In October 1863 towed the Avon from Australia, also escorted the Pioneer and towed gunboats of the 'Waikato Flotilla'. Contributed to a naval brigade at Gate Pa.


HMS Esk (1854-1870) 

HMS Esk was a Highflyer class corvette fully rigged 3 mast sailing ship launched on 12 June 1854 at J. Scott Russell & Co., Millwall on the River Thames. She was 192 feet long and carried 20 guns. She was in the Baltic during the Russian War (1854-1856) and was in the East Indies and China during the 2nd Anglo-Chinese War (1856-1861).

She served in the Mediterranean Station (1854-1856) and was in the Black Sea during the Crimean War. Esk was part of the East Indies Station participating in the Second Opium War at Canton (1856-1863).

She was sent to the Australian Station and then on to New Zealand where she arrived on 3 November 1863, taking part in the 'Thames Expedition'. From 22 May 1863 to 29 April 1864 she was commanded by Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton until he was killed during the Battle of Gate Pa. Captain John Proctor Luce then took over her command from Australia.

HMS Esk arrived at Tauranga on 21 April 1864 with General Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron along with his staff and reinforcements. Their headquarters were established at Te Papa.

Her armament in New Zealand comprised 1 x 110 pounder Armstrong gun and 18 x 40 pounder Armstrong guns.

She left the Australia Station, arriving back in Britain on 2 July 1867, and was broken up at Portsmouth in 1870.

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HMS Falcon (1854-1868)

HMS Falcon was launched at Pembroke Dockyard on 10 August 1854. She was a Cruizer class wooden screw, 160 feet long with 17 guns.

She was at the Baltic (1855-1856) during the Batlic War, and was in North America and the West Indies (1856-1857) and then the west coast of Africa (1859-1862).

From 1863-1866 she was commanded from Australia by Commander George Henry Parkin (1828-?). In 1863 she was refitted in Portsmouth.She arrived in Auckland on 25 March 1864.

On 29 April 1864 some of her crew took part in the attack on Gate Pā as part of the Naval Brigade.

On 27 September 1869 she was sold to C. Marshall for breaking up at Plymouth.

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HMS Harrier (1854-1866)

HMS Harrier was launced on 13 May 1854 at Pembroke Dockyard in South Wales. She was a wooden screw sloop 160 feet  (48.7m) long by 32 feet (9.75m) wide and  had a draught of 11 feet (3.35m) and carried 17 32 pounder cannons. The cannon fired a cast-iron ball that weighed about 32 lbs. and was the standard Royal Navy cannon of this time. It could fire solid shot (a cannon ball), hollow shells filled with gunpowder or shrapnel or case shot (a cylindrical canister filled with small pellets) or grape shot (2 small cannon balls linked by a chain).

HMS Harrier (1854-1866)

HMS Harrier had both a steam engine (hence the single screw or propeller) and sails. Harrier's steam engine produced 360 horse power to give her a speed of 9 knots. She carried a crew of approximately 160 and had a coal capacity of 100 tons. The single funnel could be lowered to deck level so that the ship had the appearance of a sailing vessel.

She was in the Baltic (1854-1855)  during the Crimean War then North America and West Indies, then south-east coast of America.

She arrived in New Zealand in 1861 and was involved in all major actions of the New Zealand Wars. From 9 November 1863 to 30 April 1864 she was commanded by Commander Edward Hay before he died of wounds received during the Battle of Gate Pa.

She was broken up at Portsmouth which was completed by December 1866.

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HMS Miranda (1851-1869)

HMS Miranda was a wooden screw sloop launched on 18 March 1851 at Sheerness Dockyard. Her length was 196 feet and she carried 14 32-pounder (42cwt) carriage guns in a broadside arrangement. A further 68-pdr (87cwt) pivot gun was added in 1856. 

HMS Miranda (1851-1869)

From 1854-1855 she was in the White Sea and then the Black Sea then the Mediterranean from 1855-1857.

HMS Miranda was recommissioned at Sheerness on 4 October 1860 for the Australia Station. She left Plymouth on 1 December 1860 and arrived in Sydney on 11 April 1861, leaving for New Zealand on 18 April and arriving in Manuaku Harbour on 26 April 1861. From 29 August 1861 to 3 June 1865 she was captained from Australia by Captain Robert Jenkins. She transported troops and ammunition to Napier, Wellington and the Bay of Islands and embarked a detachment of the 70th Regiment to Otago in November 1861.

Originally built with fourteen 32-pounder (42cwt) carriage guns in a broadside arrangement, a further 68-pdr (87cwt) pivot gun was added in 1856.

She arrived in New Zealand on 26 April 1861 where she transported troops and supplies, providing officers and men for various Naval Brigades including the 'Thames Expedition' and action in the Waikato.

In 1863 she received on board the survivors from HMS Orpheus, which was wrecked on Manukau Bar. In November 1863 she took part in the Thame Exhibition with the first redoubt named Miranda.

HMS Miranda was first of the warships to arrive in Tauranga with Captain Jenkins being asked to institute a blockade as Tauranga was the route for the Kingites from the East Coast to the Waikato. Colonel Henry Harpur Greer and his troops were landed at Te Papa, near the mission station on Tauranga Harbour. Two redoubts were built: Monmouth Redoubt on the Taumata-Kahawai cliff on the Tauranga waterfront and Durham Redoubt.

She became a hospital ship to care for the wounded from the Royal Naval Brigade. Her carpenters also made coffins for the 10 officers and 25 seamen and marines killed at Gate Pa. A third of the Gate Pa casualties were from the Royal Naval Brigade and wounded were taken on board Miranda where surgeon Henry Slade cared for them.

"In the arrangement of the wounded, where economy of space was demanded, the worse cases of wounds were placed in swinging cots along the sides of the ship, so that each man had an open porthole near him, in the middle of the deck, hammocks were hung, in which less serious cases were placed" (The New Zealand Navy Squadron).

She returned to Sheerness to decommission on 3 June 1865 and on 2 December 1869 she was sold to C. Lewis for breaking up.

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Further information:

Early Naval Vessels of New Zealand (Wikipedia).

The Royal Navy at Tauranga (1981) by C. Vennell. In The Naval Review (Vol. 70 No. 2 April 1981) (p. 138-139).

The story of Gate Pā: April 29th 1864 (Originally published 1926) by Gilbert Mair.


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Warships in Tauranga Harbour (1864)