Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Wildfire mystery of the Hokianga, 1865

I took this photo of a gravestone in St Stephen's Cemetery, Judges Bay, in April 2006. Probably because I was taken with how different it looked from the usual grey blocks weathering with time. This looks just so crystal clear. Only this morning, when I looked at it again, did I realise how curious it really was.

The death recorded there that intrigued me was that of William Milner Tizard. A shipwreck at the Hokianga in 1863? (which is the date given on the stone) No -- the Wildfire was lost in a severe gale in March 1865. W. M. Tizard was indeed listed as the master of the schooner, wrecked 10 March, possibly somewhere near Waireia in the Hokianga Harbour. It had been built at Whangarei in 1862, and was 38 tons.

Trouble is -- William Milner Tizard appears to have outlived both his boat and his monument.

The Tizard family appear to have arrived in the course of two voyages to Auckland – 1854 on the Artemisia, and 1856 on the Ashmore. The father, William Henry Tizard, had three sons (as well as daughters): Henry William Rauson Tizard, Edward Fauconer Tizard, and William Milner Tizard. The brothers established a foundry at Mechanics Bay, employing a number of men, by 1856. (Southern Cross, 4 November 1856, p. 2) By 1858, they advertised that they were marine and general engineers, having worked at “Messrs George and Sir John Rennie’s, London". (Southern Cross, 21 September 1858, p. 4) That year, the brothers submitted a tender to the government for establishing an inter colonial steam boat service – this was declined. (Nelson Examiner, 23 June 1858, p. 3)

We are glad to see that our first Auckland-built steam boat has at last been fairly launched. She has not yet been brought into the neighbourhood of the wharf, and we must therefore defer saying anything more particular concerning her; but we hope in our next to be able to congratulate the spirited builders— Messrs. Tizard — on the addition which they have made to our steam fleet. (Southern Cross, 14 June 1859, p. 2)
Apparently, this Waitemata Steamer didn’t quite have the power the Provincial Council were looking for, and they pulled out of the contract.

At this point, the brothers turned to being mariners between 1860-1864. A schooner named Emma was owned jointly by brothers Edward F. and William M. Tizard, and had been destroyed at the Thames in October 1863 by order Captain Jenkins of the Miranda, lest she fell into the hands of rebellious Maori. (Southern Cross, 7 June 1865, p. 5) In 1863, William. M. Tizard was involved with a brickyard while living on the North Shore – in 1866, the year after the loss of the Wildfire, this yard was sold up (known as Tizard’s Point) and houses thereon up for rental. (Southern Cross, 18 July 1866)

The Wildfire left Auckland on 6 February with a ton of sugar, a cask of ale, 3 casks cider, a package of jewellery, a case of brandy, a case of drugs, 3 bags of flour, a case of slops, and 3 sundry packages. (Southern Cross, 7 February 1865, p. 4) Then, tragedy.

By the arrival of the S.S. Wonga Wonga yesterday morning, we learn that the schooner Wildfire has been wrecked on the coast, during her passage from Hokianga to this port. On the day previous to the sailing of the Wonga Wonga, a letter was sent on board to Captain Thompson, signed by Mr. Tizard (late master of the Wildfire) requesting him to report at Auckland the loss of the schooner Wildfire, at Wairua, near Wangarei Heads, during the recent heavy gale, and that all hands had been lost. The Wildfire sailed from Hokianga on Monday, the 6th instant, and was seen by the Kiwi off the North Cape during the heavy gales which prevailed on the 8th, 9th, and 10th. The Kiwi experienced the full force of the gales, and was almost driven, on shore. (Southern Cross, 27 March 1865, p. 4)

Somehow, wires may have become crossed. Tizard was alive, giving notes to the captain of the Wonga Wonga, yet he was presumed dead back in Auckland, although no bodies and not a lot of wreckage had been found. Death notices appeared.
In the schooner Wildfire (which sailed from Hokianga 6th March last, for Auckland, and is supposed to have foundered in the heavy gales immediately following), deeply regretted by Europeans and natives, William Milner Tizard, of Waima, Hokianga River, third son of the late William Henry Tizard, Esq , of the Audit Office, Somerset House, London, and grandson of the late Henry Hayes Tizard, Esq , of Weymouth. Dorset, England. (Southern Cross, 31 July 1865, p. 3, and repeated 31 August)
Meanwhile, more reports filtered in.

The schooner Kiwi, Captain Thompson, arrived in harbour yesterday morning from Hokianga … The cutter Maxwell was the only coasting vessel lying at Hokianga when she left. Also reporting the picking up of portions of the wreck of a cutter, and the galley of the lost schooner Wildfire. (Southern Cross, 1 August 1865, p. 4)
And then, William M. Tizard apparently returned from the dead.

Mr Tizard, formerly master of the cutter Wildfire, which was totally lost off Hokianga some months ago, returned to town yesterday in the cutter Maxwell, after a long and fruitless search for tidings of the lost vessel. (Southern Cross, 23 October 1865, p. 4)
No mention of "Hey, weren't you supposed to be dead? We put in a death notice for you!" Instead, he returned to the Hokianga on the Maxwell on 31 October 1865. (SC, 1 November) Nothing more is known about him.

By 1867, his brother Edward F. Tizard was working for the Customs Department.

Tizard Road in Birkenhead is said to be named after the family. From the Auckland Museum’s streets database:

“Tizard, Edward F., namesake. Edward F. Tizard was a decendent of the Huguenot family. The Huguenots had fled Provence to live in Plymouth. They were tea merchants increasing their profits by exchanging tea in the English Channel for French Brandy and smuggling it into the South Coast. Edward Tizard worked in the Custom's Office in Auckland, trading with the Hokianga district. He married Frances Brassey and lived on what became known as Tizard's Point, Birkenhead. Tizard appeared on the first Electoral Role for Birkenhead. Tizard moved to Thames where he worked as customs officer. His daughters, Hetty, Lucy and May, remained in Birkenhead with their grandmother where they later formed a small private school of six or seven Birkenhead children within the iron roof shanty behind their house.

Tizard, H., Captain, namesake. Captain H. Tizard was in charge of the small steamer, the Tui, during the 1870's.”
An update: it looks like that Captain H. Tizard may be the key. According to the Southern Cross:

We have not yet been able to obtain any further particulars with reference to the loss of the schooner Wildfire. We may state, however, that when she arrived at Hokianga Mr. Hayes Tizard, who took her down, left her there through ill health , and his brother Mr Wm. Milner Tizard then took charge and sailed as master. She had a crew of three sailors on board, but we are not aware if there were any passengers. (29 March 1865, p. 4)
So, it does look like William M. Tizard died in the stormy gales of March 1865. Hayes Tizard's ill-health saved his life.

If anyone can shed further light on this rather strange tale, I'd appreciate it.

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