Sunday, February 12, 2006

 

Family Commemorates 1905 Tuamotus Shipwreck

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PIDP
February 07, 2006


PAPEÉTE, Tahiti - Two great-granddaughters of a Scottish sea captain brought their families to Tahiti over the weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the shipwreck of the County of Roxburgh on the coral reef of the Tuamotu atoll of Takaroa.

Accompanied by their children, Linda Hutchinson and Barbara Seeley, who live in California, arrived in Tahiti Saturday and immediately flew to Takaroa in the northern Tuamotu Archipelago.

"It's a marvelous pretext to discover (French) Polynesia," Seeley said shortly after arriving in Tahiti. "We will have fun and celebrate this incredible history."

She said one of her children questioned her in 1994 about the wreck of the ship skippered by her great-grandfather, Captain James Leslie. Ms. Seeley said she turned to Robert Veccella of the Naval Archeology Research Group in Papeéte, who discovered the details of the wreckage.

The four-masted iron ship, or barque - County of Roxburgh - began what was to become its final voyage on December 18, 1905, heading from Caldera, Chile, to Melbourne, Australia.

The 20-year-old vessel built in Glasgow, Scotland, was caught in a cyclone nearly two months later as it sailed through the dangerous Tuamotu Archipelago. On February 8, 1906, her sails torn to shreds and Captain Leslie and his crew of 26 men were unable to avoid the massive waves that tossed the 2,209-ton, 285-foot long ship about in the storm.

The ship's 10 crewmembers decided to abandon the ship in a longboat, but the boat was sunk and everyone perished at sea.

Capt. Leslie remained aboard with his passengers as a wave estimated to have been 72 feet high, dropped the vessel on Takaroa's coral reef. But the stormy seas did not succeed in demolishing the ship, or sinking it. The captain and his passengers almost miraculously managed to survive.

The storm caused little damage to the County of Roxburgh, which remained almost intact on Takaroa's reef until a fire destroyed the wood-covered bridge in the 1970s. The remains of the ship still rest on the reef today.

"My son, who just got married, wanted to leave for (French) Polynesia on his honeymoon," Seeley said. "He pointed out to us that it (February 8, 2006) was the 100th anniversary of the shipwreck and we told ourselves it was the ideal moment to go see the ship. It is important for our family."

The family expedition will spend three days on Takaroa, then go to Bora Bora in the Leeward Islands before returning to Tahiti this week.

The County of Roxburgh was a merchant ship used in the Indian jute trade - sailing the Atlantic Ocean, through Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. The ship was built in 1885 by Barclay, Curle & Co. for R. & J. Craig of Glasgow.


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