Surviving a shipwreck – the wreck of the Dundonald

Surviving a shipwreck – the wreck of the Dundonald

In my last post I touched on the shipwreck of the Dundonald on Disappointment Island in 1907, and the rescue of its survivors by the Hinemoa when she was taking scientists to the Auckland Islands.  The Auckland Islands were on a major shipping route, but the available charts were not always accurate, and several ships were wrecked there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The twelve Dundonald crew who survived spent eight months on the islands during a freezing sub-antarctic winter, eating what they could catch, and making shelter without any equipment.

Survivors of wreck of the barque "Dundonald". From the album: [1907 Sub-Antarctic Expedition]; circa 1908; North, W. November 1907, Auckland Islands. Page, Samuel. Te Papa
Survivors of wreck of the barque “Dundonald”. From the album: 1907 Sub-Antarctic Expedition. November 1907, Auckland Islands. Attributed to Samuel Page. Te Papa

Smashed on the cliffs

The Dundonald was sailing from Sydney to England with a cargo of wheat when she ran aground on the 6th of March, 1907.   Some survivors gave their story to the newspapers when they finally returned to the mainland.  These extracts from Charles Eyre’s account were published in the Auckland Star on 2 December 1907.

” The weather on the night of the 6th of March was very thick and heavy … Suddenly the land was seen right ahead.  We tried to wear the ship short round, but she would not stay, and went stern first into a crevice of the cliffs.  Orders were given to clear the lifeboats, but it was found to be useless, as there was a big sea, and rocks all around us … One tremendous sea washed clean over us, and although we managed to hang on, the next one washed us all away … I caught hold of one of the shrouds and climbed up (the mast)”.

The next day Eyre found that several other men had spent the night clinging to the mast.  Eventually they struggled to shore. “There were sixteen of us out of 28 that got ashore, which left twelve to be accounted for as drowned … we were all very much exhausted when we got ashore, being very hungry and cold … Later on we discovered there was no depot (of emergency supplies) on that island.  This was a great disappointment to  the mate … he sank rapidly and died the twelfth day after the wreck.”  The mate was an elderly man called Jabez Peters, from Glasgow.  Among those who died in the wreck were Captain Thorburn and his young son, and sailors from around the UK and Scandinavia.

Find out more about emergency depots for shipwrecked sailors in the Sub-Antarctic Islands

Staying alive

“The first day after getting ashore, we subsisted on raw mollymawk. … We managed to scrape through the winter all right by living on sea hawks, mollymawks, and seals … we did not know how to kill (the seals).  At first we used to whack them with a stick, but one of the fellows happened to hit one on the nose, and it rolled over, so after that we had no difficulty in dispatching them.”

Sea Lion on shore of Enderby Island. From the album: [1907 Sub-Antarctic Expedition]; circa 1908; North, W. November 1907, Auckland Islands. Page, Samuel. Te Papa
Sea Lion on shore of Enderby Island. From the album: 1907 Sub-Antarctic Expedition. November 1907. Attributed to Samuel Page. Te Papa
The men soon realised they would need some form of shelter to survive the snows of winter.  ” We then decided to dig holes in the ground, which we did with our hands.  Above the holes we built up sticks and put sods on top, forming huts about six feet long and four feet wide”.  One of their huts was used as a cook-house by the scientific expedition which eventually discovered and rescued the men.

Shipwrecked mariners camp, Disappointment Island. Auckland Islands seven miles distant in background. From the album: [1907 Sub-Antarctic Expedition]; circa 1908; North, W. November 1907, Auckland Islands. Page, Samuel. Te Papa

A desperate plan

“(We) knew the depot was on the other island, which was about six miles distant, but we did not know how to get across.  … In July three men built a boat of canvas and sticks. To do this we had to put pieces of our clothes and blankets and sew them together, and the task was all the harder as the ship’s sailmaker and carpenter were both drowned.”

The first boat made it to the main island, but the men couldn’t find the depot, and returned empty handed after several days of searching.  A second boat was smashed as it left shore.  “We build a third (boat) in October … we got to the large island, but as we reached the shore we struck a rock and the boat was smashed, sending us all into the water … the mishap put out a fire we had carried in the boat on a sod.  We had carried it in order to save matches, of which we had only two. These got wet, and even after drying them for three days we could not get a light.”  Without a fire, the men subsisted miserably on raw seal meat.

Frame of coracle used by shipwreck survivors to reach Relief Depot, Auckland Islands, where whaleboat was stored. From the album: [1907 Sub-Antarctic Expedition]; circa 1908; North, W. November 1907, Auckland Islands. Page, Samuel. Te Papa
Frame of coracle used by shipwreck survivors to reach Relief Depot, Auckland Islands, where whaleboat was stored. Charles Eyre is on the left, and another survivor, John Gratton, on the right of the boat. From the album: 1907 Sub-Antarctic Expedition. November 1907, Auckland Islands. Attributed to Samuel Page. Te Papa
The men walked fifteen miles across the island to locate the depot.  “There was a good boat at the depot, but no sails, so we cut up our clothes to make a sail … we had found clothes at the depot and exchanged them for what we were wearing, and we had also cut each others’ hair and beards, which over the seven months we were on the other island had grown so long that we looked like  a lot of ‘spring poets’.  As we got near our old camp our mates did not know us in our new ‘toggery’ and they thought we were sealers.”

The survivors then moved over to the main island and kept close watch for the Government steamer which called at the islands every six months. The small amount of biscuits and tinned meat they found in the depot was carefully rationed in the meantime – the butter, coffee, tea and sugar which should have been there had been stolen.


Charles and the others were finally rescued when the Hinemoa arrived on 16 November.  Before they left the islands, they retrieved the first mate’s body from Disappointment Island and buried him at the small cemetery at Port Ross, alongside other shipwrecked mariners.  The ceremony was attended by all the survivors, the crew of the Hinemoa, and the members of the scientific expedition.

Read Eyre’s full account of the wreck

See maps and more information about shipwrecks in the Auckland Islands


  1. Heather and Margaret,

    John Grattan was my great grand father. Theresa was my grandmother. She spoke to me about her dad a lot. I found where he was based as a firefighter when he moved to Dublin I met her brother at her funeral 30 years ago but there must be an extended family I knew nothing about. We must work out what this is.

  2. I think I lost my last text so I will repeat it sorry for this i think my grandfather John grattan real name is Michael that’s why they used the nickname Mickey. And I was told that my uncle used his fathers name not his own name. And I got my uncles birth certificate and he did use a different name than what’s on the certificate. I would be very pleased and appreciate any come back on this any information would help. Was he fron wicklow or Derry blessings xx

    1. His name was john.. his nickname was mickey because he was Irish…. that is all

    2. I think John Grattan was my great great grandfather, or uncle, perhaps. Further down the line was Theresa Grattan, my grandmother, who married Leo Kenny. They lived in Dublin before moving to London circa. 1960. So, we could be related……..

  3. Hello would like to contact Norman Wheeler/Martin Turner re John grattan believe related to John

    1. Wo are you? John was my grandad….

  4. My grandfather was on that ship throught he died , his name was John grattan, this is amazing. I have the book was past to me by my uncle.


  6. Would like to connect with any descendants of Jan Putze.

  7. Hi this is a message for Tobey A Oliphant, I think we are cousins as my father Kenneth Osborne putze was your mother’s (Diane) brother.

  8. I believe Karl Knudsen is my wife’s true grandfather, he evidently was married to her great grandmother. Do you know who Karl Knudsen married in New Zealand and when he died?

    1. Hi, Our grandmother always told us that Karl Knudsen was our great great grandfather. He was married to Milly Martha. However I can not find any official records for him in New Zealand. I wounded if his real name was Charles as my great great grandmother in berried in Dunedin with Charles Knudsen. Any information you have on Karl Knudsen would be greatly appreciated.

  9. My grandfather was a survivor of the Dundonald the story of his survival is talked about in my family, his daughter Phyllis Grattan is still alive and lives outside London

  10. Hi

    My Great Uncle was Daniel McLaughlin the second mate who survived. I think Daniel died about 1970. Rembered v fondly

  11. My great-grandfather John Grattan (nicknamed “Mickey” in the book) was also a survivor of the Dundonald. (Back Row, 3rd from left). I have not heard the recording is it available online?

  12. Hi there,

    I am a guide down in the Sub Antarctic’s and I would love to listen to your great grandfathers audio.
    What a special piece of history you have.
    Thanks in advance

    Gus Anning

  13. If anyone is interested, my great grandfather (Albert Roberts) was the last living survivor of the Dundonald shipwreck, and recorded a brief audiobook in the 1970s about the experience. I would also be keen on knowing which of the people in the photograph he is.

    1. Thanks Pascarn! I’ve let the curators know there’s an audio recording from your grandfather. I’m afraid I don’t know which man he is I the photographs, though …

    2. My great great grand father was one of the survivors. Christchurch museum has a photo of the survivors and names them all in the order of the photo. Also the bout made from drift wood and seal skin is also on display.

    3. Author

      Hi Carla, thanks very much for this information – I’ll get in touch with Canterbury Museum so we can add the names to our records too.

    4. Hi Pasc, great-granddad is 2nd from the right in the middle row in the photograph of the survivors in front of the flagstaff at the top of this page 🙂

  14. My dad was on the Dundonald he only talked about it one time. He is in the picture. I am sure as he was not using his own name as he he was in the British Navy an jumped ship in Shanghai China Feb 1905 and probably did not want to use his own name. They talk about a Irish seaman so it was probably him. Wish I knew more

  15. the name on the death certificate was spelt John Putze.
    On other records it is spelt Puhohe. Name has been turned into english.

    1. thanks Aileen, I’ll add this to our database – Anita

  16. My grandfather in law was a survivor of the wreck Dundonald. He just about threw away the match that saved them. Read the book as it is very interesting.

    1. Author

      Thanks Aileen – what was your grandfather’s name?

    2. Your grandfather-in-law, that you are referring to that survived the Dundonald shipwreck, is actually my great-grandfather. I’d be really keen if anyone knows which one he is in the photograph above.

    3. My Husband’s Grandfather is Jan (John) Putze. He is in the front row on the far left. In the book he was described as a short strong Russian. I have been trying to research the family which has been tricky. The Invercargill museum has a good number of items as they arrived there after their rescue. There is a biscuit tin that has all their names punched into it. The maritime museum in Bluff also has info.

    4. My great grandfather was John Putze, his daughter was Doris Maisie Janet Putze my mothers mom. My mother was Diane Isabel Janet Putze,
      I have a copy of Doris’s birth certificate. would like to figure out how we are related

  17. What an amazing story of endurance! Thank you very much for publishing it, I want to read Charles Eyre’s full account of it now. Also wondering if Charles was any relation to Australian explorer John Eyre?

  18. As horrible as it was for these men, they never quit and eventually made it. Thanks for sharing this story and great writing.

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