The Hydrabad was built by R. Duncan & Co of Port Glasgow, Scotland as a square-rigged three-masted iron ship of 1350 tons. It was built for the Bombay Iron Ship Company, and launched in May 1865. It was given the Official number 30642, and following its survey in June 1865, rated A1 at Lloyds.
The East India trade
For its maiden voyage, the Hydrabad departed Ireland for Calcutta and Bombay on 3 October 1865 under the command of Captain George James Harley. It arrived at Beypore on 5 January and continued on to Bombay on 29 January 1866. Hydrabad remained in Bombay until 28 April discharging and taking on cargo, before returning to Liverpool via St Helena, arriving on 24 August 1866. Two further voyages between Liverpool and Bombay were made under Captain Robert Baxter between 11 November 1866 – 19 August 1867, and 16 October 1867 and 17 July 1868.
Following its return to England in 1868, Hydrabad was sold to T. Stephens & Co and re-registered at London. Hydrabad next departed Liverpool for Melbourne under Captain Jones on 22 October 1868 arriving at Melbourne on 6 January, and Newcastle on 24 February 1869. After taking on a cargo of coal at Newcastle Hydrabad departed for Bombay 25 March, arriving 3 June 1869. While on route between Australia and India, Hydrabad sustained damage and as a consequence remained at Bombay for almost a year while repairs were being carried out, finally returning to Liverpool on 3 October 1870.
Captain Charles Holmwood was appointed master in December 1870, and the Hydrabad again departed Liverpool for India on its fifth voyage arriving at Bombay on 6 April 1871, and returning to London via Havre on 13 October 1871. A survey in London revised the register tonnage to 1349, and Hydrabad departed for Australia and India again on 2 December 1871.
Between 1872 and 1877 Hydrabad completed five more voyages between England and India under the command of Captain Holmwood. These were successful voyages, and mishaps were rare, the exceptions being an incident in January 1874 where the Hydrabad fouled the Chilean ship Genoa while entering the anchorage at St Helena, and in April 1877 when minor damage was caused as a result of a collision with the ship Ganges while passing through Garden Reach at Calcutta.
The final voyage
The eleventh voyage, which culminated in the loss of the Hydrabad on the Horowhenua coast, sailed from London on 17 November 1877. Before departing England for Australia Hydrabad called briefly at Plymouth, and arrived in Port Adelaide 84 days later on 15 February 1878.
Prior to the arrival of Hydrabad in Adelaide, the South Australian government had arranged to purchase surplus railway stock from the New Zealand government. The sale of this stock from Canterbury was a result of the upgrade of the lines to a 3' 6” gauge uniform standard in New Zealand, which had rendered the 5' 3” gauge stock surplus. The stock included 8 six wheeled locomotives, 1 four wheeled locomotive, 22 four wheel carriages, 2 brake vans, 4 horse boxes, 2 carriage trucks and 281 traffic trucks. The asking price was £50 000, but realising that there was no other market for its now redundant trains the New Zealand government accepted an offer for £26 000.
An offer to transport the railway stock to Adelaide for £6000 in the slightly larger 1727 ton Ellora owned by J Blyth of Melbourne was undercut by Captain Holmwood, and in March 1878 the Commissioner of Public Works for South Australia accepted his offer to transport the stock from either Dunedin or Lyttelton to Adelaide in the Hydrabad for £5000. The Hydrabad arrived at Lyttelton on 22 April 1878, and the Star reported as follows:
‘SHIP HYDRABAD FROM ADELAIDE.-This ship arrived yesterday morning: she is a handsome iron vessel, 13 years old, owned by Messrs Stephens and Son, London. Her tonnage is 1305, and everything about her is very roomy. The saloon is large and handsomely finished, all the appointments being very good indeed. She has come down in ballast, bringing only a little cargo. As has been previously stated, the Hydrabad has been chartered to load the broad gauge rolling stock for Adelaide. From her master, Captain Holmwood, we learn that she left Adelaide on April 5, and had light S.S.E. winds to April 12, when the vessel was off the south end of Tasmania.
Loading of the cargo at the Lyttelton wharf was started on 1 May and completed by 20 June, taking just over seven weeks. There was insufficient space for three of the locomotives but it was anticipated that these could be delivered separately.
The wreck event
The Hydrabad departed Lyttelton on Saturday 22 June, and passed through Cook Strait on 23 June, the wind being reported as a moderate westerly.
As the vessel continued through Cook Strait the weather deteriorated, and by mid morning on Monday 24 June Holmwood was forced to reduce the rig to storm canvas only. With the weather closed in and the vessel being pounded by heavy seas, Holmwood mistook his position, and thinking himself to be 35 miles off shore brought the ship around to a SSW course. By afternoon the wind had risen further to a strong gale, tearing away the lower main topsail, and fore-topmast staysail. Unable to set any sails the Hydrabad was allowed to drift with the expectation that it would eventually find shelter in the lee of Kapiti Island. The true predicament of the Hydrabad was realised by 7.30pm when the Omarupapaku light was seen. Holmwood tried to work the vessel away from the shore, and when that was unsuccessful he dropped the anchors in an attempt to hold their position. Owing to the force of the wind and current the chains parted almost instantly, and as a last resort Holmwood ordered the Hydrabad around to bring the vessel stem onto the beach and prevent a broadside strike. The Hydrabad grounded on the sandbanks with jarring force a number of times before coming to a halt in an upright position at approximately 10.30pm.
Residents of Hokio were soon alerted to the presence of the stricken vessel, by the sound of rockets from the Hydrabad at 3am. A boat was put ashore the next morning and messengers were sent to Hokio. The Hastwell, Macara & Co coach travelling along the beach encountered the Hydrabad at 8am and reported the vessel to be sitting 50 metres off the beach apparently uninjured.
Attempts at salvage
Reports of the wreck were printed in the newspapers, with updates published on an almost daily basis:
‘The wreck of the Hydrabad lies about thirteen miles from Otaki, fourteen from Foxton, and about two miles from Horowhenua Creek. The vessel lies stern on the beach, standing almost upright, with the boats and everything on deck in usual order, nothing apparently being disturbed on deck. The fore and mizzen masts stand uninjured, with the tatters of the sails that were blown away still flapping about the yards. The main top-gallant mast hangs besides the top mast, having broken off with the concussion when the ship struck. Apparently the ship is as safe as if riding at anchor, and the boat which the sailors use in communicating between the shore and the vessel is the only thing belonging to the ship which can be seen on the beach...
The captain says that while the wind remains as it is now nothing whatever can be done, but as soon as there is a favourable change, if it comes off the land, he will put an anchor out astern to prevent her being driven further in. In the meantime he thinks that the vessel cannot take any harm unless some extraordinarily severe weather sets in, as she is iron, and strongly built, while she rests on a bed of fine soft sand.’
A meeting was held between Captain Holmwood and representatives of the insurance underwriters, Lloyds of London, and it was decided that the hull was sound and the vessel could be recovered provided conditions did not deteriorate, and advertisements were placed for contractors to tender for the recovery operation. As the vessel and the cargo were insured separately the Adelaide Underwriters Association sent their representative, Mr Gibbons to assess the state of the cargo, and he also returned a favourable verdict.
The tender for the salvage was awarded to Captain Ross of Auckland who began work on 13 August. The plan was to discharge the cargo onto the beach so as to lighten the vessel sufficiently that it could be floated off. The steamer Jane Douglas was dispatched to bring up heavy anchors from Wellington.
The steamer Glenelg arrived from Sydney to assist with the salvage and transport of cargo with lighters in tow. A wire rope link was set up between the Hydrabad and the shore, and cargo was transhipped on lighters unloaded on to the beach and from there teams of horses or bullocks transported the cargo to the wharf at Foxton. The ketch Forest Queen was towed to the wreck site by Glenelg to assist with the discharge of cargo from the Hydrabad in October, and a month later Glenelg arrived with the brigantine Isabella.
While the salvage of cargo from Hydrabad continued, another vessel, the 780 ton City of Auckland on route from London to Napier went ashore 22 kilometres south at Otaki after mistaking Kapiti Island for Stephens Island in poor visibility.
First salvage attempt (December 1878)
The discharge of cargo continued until the Hydrabad was ready to launch on 20 December. About 300-400 tons of cargo had been left on board as ballast and an anchor was laid out to kedge the vessel off the beach while simultaneously being towed by Glenelg. By 27 December the Hydrabad had been moved further out to sea but the salvage had to be temporarily abandoned when the weather again deteriorated. By the time the weather had abated and Glenelg was able to return, the Hydrabad had been driven back onto the beach and was in a worse position than before.
Second salvage attempt (January 1879)
By January 1879 Hydrabad was ready for launching but a strong westerly at high tide forced operations to be postponed. Further deterioration in the weather saw the Forest Queen driven ashore a mile south of the Hydrabad in a NW gale while under tow from the Glenelg when the towline parted and the second line was fouled in the Glenelg's propeller. Concerns that the storm would shift the Hydrabad broadside onto the beach further jeopardising the salvage effort proved unfounded, and between 20 and 27 January the Hydrabad was successfully hauled 584 feet off the beach and was afloat by 29 January. Forest Queen was likewise kedged off the beach on the Saturday, and for a brief while things were looking positive.
Glenelg return to Foxton to take on more coal but found herself trapped in the river when the river deteriorated again making the Manawatu River bar unmanageable. The topsail schooner Pelican stranded on the north spit while attempting a crossing on 2 February, so it was decided not to risk another crossing until the weather improved. The smaller steamer Jane Douglas was able to make it across the bar the next day and reported 7.6 feet of water over the bar, so it was decided to take the Glenelg across the next day.
Meanwhile things were not well on board the Hydrabad. In order to stabilise the vessel and prevent it being driven back onto the beach 800 tons of water had been pumped into the hold. The weather made communication with the shore impossible, and supplies of food and water on board the vessel were running low. Glenelg arrived on 6 February but was unable to work on account of the heavy NW gale. After the weather cleared it was found that on account of the recent straining Hydrabad had sprung a leak which could not be brought under control with the pumps on board.
It was decided to unload the remaining cargo onto the beach and try again. Unfortunately for Captain Ross it seems his salvage crew did not share his optimism, and in light of them not having received payment for their services thus far, they decided to take Ross hostage until such time as they received their outstanding wages. Captain Holmwood rode into Foxton on Wednesday and returned with Captain Gibbons and Police Constable Purcell the following day to reassert the law. They found Ross holed up in a railway carriage none too impressed with his ordeal. He was accompanied back to Foxton and from there proceeded in a coach to Wellington and did not return. Glenelg returned to Wellington departing for Adelaide on 24 February.
Over the next few days the line holding Hydrabad in place was dropped and the vessel drifted inshore. A new pump and donkey boiler was delivered by the Jane Douglas which brought the leak under control, although it was unable to empty the last 8 feet 6 inches of water due to the sand and debris in the bottom of the hold.
In Wellington the inquiry into the wreck event was held before CC Graham Esq. JP, Dr Diver JP, Capt Roberts nautical assessor, and Capt Fraser nautical assessor in March 1879. The assessors held that the wreck was attributed to the gale and the parting of cable, and were of opinion that Captain Holmwood had done everything in his power to save the ship. Holmwood's certificate was returned and no charges brought against him.
Work continued at the wreck site to discharge the cargo on to the beach, and the schooner Laurel arrived along side the vessel to take on board cargo to go direct to Wellington. By 13 June all that remained on board the Hydrabad were seven carriage frames and 19 pairs of wheels. The bulk of the cargo was still being taken overland to Foxton and the paddle steamer Samson was employed between June and August transporting cargo from Hartley's wharf at Foxton to the Matilda which was anchored near Kapiti Island.
On 22 August 1879 Hydrabad was put up for auction at Bethune and Hunters in Wellington and purchased by Bernard Holmwood (brother of the captain) and another partner for £50. Disagreement over the method of salvage saw Hydrabad at auction again in September, and purchased by a Mr W Kelty of Otago.
Third salvage attempt (February 1879)
In January 1879 a heavy portable steam engine was delivered to the Hydrabad by the steamer Jane Douglas. Towards the end of February another attempt was made to float the hull, which like the previous efforts proved unsuccessful.
Insurance companies and lawsuits
Perhaps understandably the South Australian Government was somewhat underwhelmed when the salvaged cargo finally arrived in Australia. Many of the locomotives and iron railway components had been submerged in seawater numerous times, both as a result of the vessel sinking and having the hold pumped with seawater to stabilise it while attempting recovery. Other components had been dragged through the sand dunes by bullock teams before being loaded onto vessels at Foxton and its unlikely that any of it arrived in Australia in the same condition as it had left Lyttelton over two years earlier. As was common in shipping, the South Australian Government had taken four separate insurance policies on the cargo of the Hydrabad and it now intended to recover some of that loss. An initial total claim was of £25 000 was reported in newspapers, but the government ultimately settled for £7000. For his part Captain Holmwood lodged a claim with the Mercantile Marine Insurance Company of South Australia for £3315 to cover his personal expenses in the salvage effort.
Fourth salvage attempt (February 1881)
On 30 October 1880 the Wanganui Chronicle reported a further attempt at salvage. Progress of sorts was reported by the end of December with the Hydrabad turned halfway around and facing in a NW direction. By mid January 1881 it was again reported optimistically that it was hoped to have the Hydrabad off on the next spring tide of 1 February. The steamer Stormbird had laid out a large anchor attached to 120 fathoms of steel hawser cable which would be used to kedge the Hydrabad off the beach and once afloat it would be towed to Wellington. Like the others this attempt was also unsuccessful.
Some might say mercifully, the fate of the Hydrabad was finally sealed on 22 February 1881. The vessel was gutted by fire at 2.00am in the morning, and all the launching gear on board at the time was destroyed and the hull plates were warped and buckled by the intense heat. John Ella, the able seaman in charge, gave a statement that there were five men living on board at the time, who had been engaged by Kelty and had been cutting firewood on board with a circular saw. In the middle of the night men sleeping in the forecastle had been awakened by smoke, and they unsuccessfully attempted to put out the fire with buckets and a pump but were eventually forced to abandon the vessel. Ella speculated that the fire may have started from a spark falling amongst drift firewood stacked next to the engine. Kelty gave up his attempt at salvage and the Hydrabad was again put up for auction in August 1881, this time with no reserve.
Never give up
The hull was purchased by Joseph Birchley for £5 on 3 August 1881, and by the end of October he was reported to have recovered £200 worth of gear before on-selling to a Mr Liddle of Foxton for £2. Liddle's success, or otherwise, went unreported in the newspapers.
The Hydrabad continued to sporadically excite the interests of salvors. In February 1884 the Manawatu Times reported the wreck had been purchased by an Auckland based group who intended to break it up and cart it away for scrap, and later that year in August Captain Fraser of the Jane Douglas reported a man salvaging the deck house from the wreck. The following year a portable engine and winch was delivered to Foxton for use on the Hydrabad, but while being lifted by the wharf crane the chain parted and the engine crashed onto the wharf and busted.
In May 1937 two Palmerston North men proposed to cut up the Hydrabad for scrap. They secured permission from the Marine Department to do so, and even volunteered to donate part of the proceeds to the Waitarere Domain Board for the provision of public facilities on the beach. But by this time the Hydrabad had become such a landmark to locals that its proposed removal created a public outcry and the wreck remained untouched.
The Hydrabad was also used as a boundary marker between Muaupoko and Ngati Raukawa. A totara tohu pole known as Nga-Manu was located a little further south of the wreck site and originally marked this boundary. After this disappeared the Hydrabad provided a clearly visible and practical substitute, which served a dual purpose in also marking the location of nearby toheroa beds. The beach was known to Maori as Okatia in reference to the tipua totara which originated in the Puketoi ranges and carved out the Manawatu River before finally coming to rest on the Manawatu Coast.
Generally, Waitarere Beach also formed part of the west coast stage coach route between Wellington and Wanganui which operated from the 1840s until completion of the Wellington Manawatu railway line in 1886. After passing Waitarere the stage coach route veered inland to cross the Manawatu River at Cooks Landing at Foxton.
The Hydrabad wreck site is of social significance to Waitarere Beach. Hydrabad Drive and Holmwood Park both derive their names from the Hydrabad, and numerous local businesses draw their names from the Hydrabad or a more generic shipwreck theme.
The social significance of the shipwreck has also been shown through events in the local community. The centenary of the 1878 wreck event prompted considerable public interest in the Hydrabad. A Hydrabad Centennial Sub-committee was formed in July 1977. In an article about the Hydrabad and the newly formed committee, the Evening Post noted that the wreck was slowly being buried beneath the dunes due to the accretion of sand along the Waitarere coast.
In September the sub-committee wrote to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) requesting that a memorial plaque acknowledging the historic significance of the Hydrabad be erected to mark the centenary, and this proposal was endorsed by the NZHPT Council. It was also noted that as of 24 June 1978 the site would be afforded protection under the Historic Places Act 1975 as an archaeological site.
The NZHPT plaque was duly mounted on a concrete plinth erected by the Horowhenua County Council and unveiled on 24 June 1978. The centennial ceremony was attended by several hundred people and the Levin Chronicle published a 24 page Hydrabad Commemorative Issue, and the Waitarere Beach Post Office marked the occasion with a Hydrabad date stamp. Also in 1978 a comprehensive history of the wreck was published, authored by Ian Church, and a half hour documentary produced by local researcher Rex Bowater.
As predicted by members of the Centennial sub-committee, sand continued to build up around the Hydrabad and slowly bury the wreck. In August 1994 the Waitarere Beach Progressive and Ratepayers Association wrote to NZHPT seeking advice on how best to preserve the site. Three options were considered: to preserve the site in-situ; to remove a portion of the hull for off site preservation, or to allow the site to be buried. Due to considerations of cost and site integrity NZHPT advised its preference for the third option.
Local opinion over what to do about the Hydrabad remained divided. In July 1995 a proposal to remove a section of the bow for conservation treatment which could then be encased in fibreglass and mounted at the surf club was put forward by the Waitarere Beach Progressive and Ratepayers Association. A stakeholder meeting was held on 6 September 1995, which resulted in the Maritime Archaeological Association being invited to assess the site and advise on its stability and on the condition of the metal hull. The investigation, which included the creation of a site plan and removal of cores to determine the soundness of the metal, was carried out on 3-4 May 1997 under NZHPT archaeological authority 1996/119. The report concluded that the hull had very little sound metal remaining, and what did remain was largely made up of corrosion products. The report recommended in-situ preservation with marker posts erected at the site to indicate its position, and noted that a moulded replica of the bow could be erected alongside the monument without compromising the integrity of the wreck site. Following the investigation the sand was replaced and site was returned to its former state.
The Hydrabad was built by R. Duncan & Co of Port Glasgow, Scotland as a square-rigged three-masted iron ship of 1350 tons. Dimensions when built were length 224 feet; beam 37.2 feet; depth 23.2 feet (length 69.95 metres; beam 11.34 metres; depth 7.07 metres). The hull, constructed of Lowmoor iron was painted with a white band running along the ports, and red below the waterline. The Hydrabad was built as a cargo carrier and had two spacious holds separated by a cemented bulkhead. Another prominent feature of the vessel was the figurehead depicting a Hindu warrior adorned with a turban, sash, sword and white robes.
During the wreck event the Hydrabad was driven into the shallows and wedged into the sand, but still remained surrounded by the sea. The wreck was then subject to at least four salvage attempts on the hull, one of which was successful in refloating the vessel for a short period, and these attempts completely altered the location and orientation of the Hydrabad on the beach. The present location therefore is most likely to be the vessel’s location in February 1881 when it was abandoned following the fire. The Hydrabad was still completely surrounded by the sea at this time and its present location in the dunes above MHWS (Mean High Water Springs) is a result of coastal accretion over the past 130 years.
While a considerable amount of material has been salvaged from the Hydrabad over the years, there are relatively limited number of fittings and artefacts which have been reported. The Levin Chronicle of 23 June 1978 noted that ornate carved teak panels were recovered from the walls of the saloon or Captain's cabin with one set retained by local residents, and another identical set in Manukau.
Another well known relic of the Hydrabad was the figurehead, which was erected in the front garden of a private residence on Avenue Road in Foxton from September 1896 until some time in 1933, when it was reportedly chopped up for firewood.
The hull of the Hydrabad is representative of nineteenth century technological advances in shipping. The use of iron in ship construction allowed for increased carrying capacity, as this allowed for greater strength in the hull with a corresponding reduction in the bulk associated with wooden ship design. For its time the Hydrabad was a large vessel, and this may to some extent explain the effort expended in the salvage operation.
Shipwreck sites such as the Hydrabad can be described as nationally rare site types. Of approximately 3000 wrecked or abandoned vessels documented around New Zealand’s coast, some 1500 occurred in the nineteenth century or earlier. Relatively few have been physically located or recorded in the New Zealand Archaeological Association site recording scheme. Only five vessels have been registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. These are the Victory (No. 5712), Edwin Fox (No. 7450), Tararua (No. 7785), Alexandra (No. 9520) and Tasmanian Maid (No. 9521).
The Hydrabad was recorded in the NZ Archaeological Association site recording scheme as S25/58 by NZHPT archaeologist Brian Sheppard in 1987, although its position had previously been noted in earlier archaeological surveys of the adjacent Waitarere State Forest by David and Glenis Nevin.
The Wreck Book describes the Hydrabad as it was in the mid 1990s:
‘Surrounded by water at high tide and the hulk is dry at low tide … There are a few of the plates missing and most of the beams and frames are still in place. The lower part of one broken mast lies beside the hull pointing out to sea.’
The Marine Archaeology Association of New Zealand (MAANZ) investigation in 1997 showed that the hull was at this time largely comprised of corrosion products and retained only a limited amount of sound metal, indicating that conservation treatment, if undertaken, was likely to be expensive and lengthy with only a marginal chance of success.
The site today covers an area approximately 70 x 10 metres with the remains of the foremast extending westwards towards the sea for several metres. Remaining fabric consists of the iron frames and hull plates, with fittings and any wooden elements having disappeared long ago. Visible until recent times was the bow, deck beams, forward hatch and upper plates on the starboard side.
Presently little is visible above the dunes with the exception of the tips of a few frames on the starboard side. In December 2010 new interpretative signs were installed by the Horowhenua District Council at the surf club alongside the 1978 NZHPT memorial, and a prominent marker was erected adjacent to the site.
Constructed at R. Duncan & Co., Port Glasgow
Re surveyed and registered at London
Sustains damage on route between Australia and India and is repaired at Bombay (length re-measured to 229.5 ft)
Re surveyed at London (register tonnage changed to 1349)
Re surveyed at Liverpool (tonnage given as 1401 gross tons, 1349 net registered tons)
Wrecked at Waitarere Beach, first salvage attempt
Second and third salvage attempts
Fourth salvage attempt, vessel hull warped when gutted by fire
Installation of marker at the site of the Wreck
Public NZAA Number
21st February 2011
Report Written By
Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)
Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives
Return of Wreck 1878 H12:30
C Ingram, New Zealand shipwrecks: over 200 years of disasters at sea. [8th edition rev. and updated by Diggle, L, Diggle E. and K. Gordon 2007] Hachette Livre, Auckland, 2007 
S. Locker-Lampson and I. Francis. The Wreck Book. Rediscovered New Zealand Shipwrecks. Halycon Press, Auckland, 1994.
A. Bradfield, Forgotten Days. Palmerston North 1956
I. Church, The Wreck of the Hydrabad. Dunmore Press, Palmerston North 1978
B. Macmorran, In View of Kapiti. Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1977
F. Simcox, Otaki. The Town and District. AH & AW Reed, Wellington 1952
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.