Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Watching out for sharks in the Waitemata, 1864

This piece from the NZ Herald, 16 January 1864, fascinated me on more than one level.  First, yes, it is about public reaction to sharks in what is usually presumed to be the safe waters of Auckland's Waitemata Harbour. Long-time students of Auckland's history know this assumption of security from predation to be a fallacy -- shark sightings in both harbours have a long history in European times. Then, there is the reference to the cattle importing from Australia (Sydney, to be precise) and an unpleasant inkling of the fate of those beasts on their journey across the Tasman. The public baths at Official Bay intrigue me as well -- where were they, I wonder? What happened to them? Questions awaiting future answers. As well, this piece is not so much about sharks, as it is a description of the geographic divisions of the haves (east of the city) and the have-nots (west of the city), something which has only truly blurred since the 1980s.

Since a constant succesion of vessels with cargoes of cattle has been laid on from Sydney to Auckland, the navigation between those two ports can, it is said, be undertaken without chart or compass; all that is required being that a look out with a rather sensitive nose shall be placed at the bows. Sharks, too of the real Sydney kind, a most voracious and ferocious one, have been induced to immigrate to New Zealand waters, the aforesaid cattle ships providing them with a luxurious and plentiful commissariat on the way.

When once here there is little doubt but that they will find sufficient inducements in the unsuspecting confidence of our Auckland bathers, to remain and settle amongst us. One indeed of the more enterprising among them actually ventured on a prospecting trip into Freeman's Bay, and at high-tide passing under the bridge at the Freeman's Bay road, snapped down a dead cat with much gusto to the great consternation of a small boy swimming paper boats alongside.

In Official Bay a large area is being enclosed for bathing purposes, mainly by private subscriptions, and the Provincial Government have afforded every assistance in carrying out the work, and in promises to do the same should it be found advisable to extend the area enclosed. Is nothing to be done for the inhabitants of the west side of the city? Cannot the Provincial Government afford them every assistance in securing a bathing place free from the danger of becoming a bon bouche for some gourmand of a shark? We have no doubt but that if the inhabitants of this district would stir themselves in the matter, the Provincial Government would assist them to the same extent as it has done or may do on the other side of the city. 

It is not pleasant to be debarred from the luxury of a saltwater swim -- the excitement occasioned by the risk of a shark intruding on felonious purpose intent rather more than counterbalances the enjoyment of a bath, where one draws one's legs in tremulously every two minutes to assure oneself that they are still one's own property.


  1. You'll have to come see our soon to be opened exhibition 'Kai to Pie'. Information about the 1844 Remuera feast wih 9000 sharks :-)


  2. I'm wondering what species of shark made up that 9000, which seems like a lot. (The Southern Cross reported those figures, so they are contemporary.)

  3. I'll try and find out :-) ... It is a lot!

  4. The sharks were Rig sharks :-)

  5. Have I told you lately how good you are, and especially for this blog, Sandy? You are. Cheers for the info! (Curiosity satisfied -- for now). :-)

  6. LOLZ shux :P that's what bloggin' is all about..share and share alike! I love mixin' with brains that appreciate what i do! You've got a great blog.

  7. Cheers, Sandy. Coming from you, that means a lot. I always appreciate your contributions here. :-)