NEXT Saturday, extended family members of Richard Joel Paltridge will gather at the Domain Road Cemetery to dedicate a new memorial stone for the maritime captain who died in Whakatane in 1921.
As far as the family are aware this is the first time the site of Captain Paltridge’s burial has been marked with a permanent stone.
The captain was notable for having appeared as a witness to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster, the sinking of the HMS Orpheus at the Manukau Heads in 1863.
His story has been provided to Eastern Bay Life by Peter Clarke, who stumbled across it while researching his own ancestor, Richard’s wife, Miriama Potiki.
A Manukau woman, Miriama had children from three relationships. She had a child from an earlier relationship with Brigade Major Joseph Greenwood and two children to Peter’s great great grandfather, Soloman Clarke. After her marriage to Soloman ended she went on to marry Richard and extend her family further.
“Via Ancestry research I found two people researching the same lady, Miriama, but via different family connections,” Peter says. “One was researching Greenwood’s, one Paltridge, and I was researching Clarke.
“We connected our trees, corrected any errors and found all three family connections. Over recent years, we located Miriama’s burial site, restored her grave site, which is on the Manukau Heads, and met up as a diverse but connected family.”
Peter and his wife later attempted to find Richard’s grave.
“My wife and I drove to Whakatane on holiday and tramped the cemetery looking for a grave stone. There was none for Richard, nor his son-in-law Duncan Dawson who died in Whakatane some years after Richard.
“I had some funds left over from Miriama’s grave upgrade, so polled the wider family, who contributed to the new stone, and a function to follow. As far as I am aware the site has never been marked with a stone.
“No one alive can ever remember a marker on the site, and as Richard is the start of the Paltridge line in New Zealand, we felt it was important to right the wrong.”
To Peter’s knowledge no family members live in Whakatane, though he cannot be sure.
“The three families that connect via his wife are all over the world; the United States, the Britain, Australia and so on. All are following the day, as they did for Miriama, via Facebook and by email.”
The dedication of Richard’s new gravestone will begin at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Domain Road, Whakatane on July 13 at 12 noon.
Lunch will be held at 12.30pm followed by a powhiri at the Domain Road Cemetery gates at 1.15pm. The dedication will be given by Mike Paltridge and the Reverend Kylie Provan. Return to the church afterward to share photos and afternoon tea.
PETER Clarke says a very useful tool for genealogy researchers is placing a small stainless steel plate at a gravesite.
“I did this for Miriama, as we will for Richard, and within a month we had a contact from a Clarke line I had not had a lot of luck finding previously.
“For family researchers visiting cemeteries it a great tool and we even got a mention from the Franklin Historic Society and a Facebook site called Graves in Time, pointing out that we had blended the ‘old with the new’.”
Shipwreck witness remembered
RICHARD Joel Paltridge was born in London on December 11, 1831 to parents Joel and Mary Ann Paltridge, and baptised at All Souls Church in central London.
Not a lot is known about Richard’s earlier years, but his maritime service began in England. In November 1853, he is listed as a patient at the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital in Greenwich, having been transferred from the ship Anemone, where he was listed as “unwell”.
Sometime between 1853 and 1858, Richard made his way to New Zealand. Records would indicate he was 22 or 23 years old.
No details of his travel to New Zealand have been found, to date, but it was not uncommon for sailors to be contracted for single voyages, with the expectation they would pick up another berth at the disembarkation point quite quickly.
Perhaps Richard liked what he saw of the young New Zealand and decided to stay, or, the chance of a job as harbour master at Port Waikato was sufficient reason for him to stay. In any event, he made New Zealand his home, and stayed with his maritime career for the rest of his working life.
For a period, Richard owned and operated the sailing ship Matilda, one of many small ships that plied the coastal waters of New Zealand, dispersing cargo and passengers in the many small ports in the North Island and from time to time, crossing Cook Strait to drop cargo in the South Island.
Richard took on duties as an assistant signalman at the Manukau Heads Lighthouse and Signal Station, and having married Miriama Potiki, the family settled there in a house adjacent to the lighthouse. The couple had six children while at the lighthouse.
Richard also retained a small financial interest in his ship, the Matilda.
Records indicate that Richard stayed at Manukau Heads for the rest of his working career, first as an assistant signalman, then in charge as the signalman, and customs officer.
Although very isolated, the lighthouse was well serviced by small vessels, so the growing family would have used Onehunga as their nearest town, and no doubt frequently crossed the Manukau Harbour.
In 1894, Richard hosted the then Governor General of New Zealand, Lord Glasgow, at the signal station.
The entrance to the Manukau Harbour was through the Manukau Heads, infamous for having two major sand bars, and depending on conditions at the time, the signal station would raise flags to indicate which crossing to use.
Even with the correct signal flags flying, it was a difficult harbour to enter, and on at least two occasions, Richard appeared before the court, to provide evidence about ships foundering and lives being lost at the heads. One such enquiry that Richard attended was held for the Cambodia, which sank in 1867.
The most famous of these wrecks, however, was the loss of HMS Orpheus, which, for the British was the costliest day of the New Zealand Wars, though it occurred far from the battlefield.
On February 7, 1863, the 1706-ton steam corvette was bringing stores from Sydney.
Minor errors and bad luck caused the disaster. Instead of rounding North Cape to reach Waitemata Harbour, Commodore William Burnett decided to berth at Onehunga in the Manukau Harbour to save time. Unfortunately, he carried outdated charts and the channel through the bar had moved. Although lookouts on shore signalled a warning when they realised the ship was off course, the Orpheus missed the message.
After striking the bar, the vessel was pounded by waves and only one small boat got away. As the ship sank into the sand, the men climbed the rigging. The masts eventually collapsed, throwing the crew into the sea. Rescuers arrived too late to prevent a catastrophe.
Of the 259 naval officers, seamen and Royal Marines aboard, 189 died. In terms of lives lost, it remains New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster.
The sinking thrust Richard into the limelight, as a would-be rescuer and expert witness at the inquiry.
Richard appeared at the Royal Commission of Inquiry, one of three formal inquiries into the sinking, giving evidence as an expert mariner and signalman.
The transcript of the commission shows that Richard was off duty and in Onehunga at the time of the wreck.
He rushed to the jetty at Onehunga, co-opted his old ship, Matilda, and joined the rescue effort. Sadly, his efforts were in vain, and he recovered just one body. Richard lost his wife, Miriama, when she died at the lighthouse in 1888, aged 50.
He remained at his post at the Heads until 1905, when records indicate he was living in Auckland with his son Frederick, and was listed as a retired settler.
Between 1914 and 1919, he was living with daughter Miriam and son-in-law Duncan Dawson in Whakatane, and died on July 15, 1921, at age 90.