Figure head from the wrecked HMS Orpheus...........! by Roy  Massicks

Currently unavailable for purchase

Available to buy on…

Figure head from the wrecked HMS Orpheus...........! by 


THE WRECK OF H.M.S. “ORPHEUS” is New Zealand’s worst ship wreck as far as loss of life is concerned.

H.M.S. “Orpheus,” a 21-gun steam-corvette, manned by a crew of 256 officers and men, was totally wrecked on the Manukau bar on the 7th February, 1863, when bound to Onehunga from Sydney to take up duty on the New Zealand Station.

The pilot-station at the heads showed the signal to take the bar, and the “Orpheus” came in under steam and sail before a good westerly breeze. The ship was carrying all plain sail, and her starboard foretopmast studding. sail was set. She was drawing 21 feet. She struck heavily on the western end of the middle bank, which afterwards was proved to have shifted three-quarters of a mile from where it was laid down on Drury’s chart; the navigation officers of the “Orpheus,” however, had also the “Niger” navigator’s sailing-directions. The pilot-station watcher, seeing the ship running into danger, semaphored to her to stand more out to sea, but the warning signal was observed too late.

The ship struck twice, and the engines were ordered full speed astern, but the screw did not work; the way the ship had on sent her firmly into the sand.

The topsails were lowered, and the other sails were clewed up. Great seas were now breaking over the ship, and, after one boat had with difficulty got clear, the crew all took to the yards and rigging. The steamer “Wonga Wonga,” bound south from Onehunga, went to the rescue, and approached the wreck as closely as she could. Some of the bluejackets, sliding down the foretopmast-stay, jumped into the sea and were picked up; others who attempted it were drowned.

The one boat which got clear took the news to the pilot-station, but it was night before the tragic story reached H.M.S. “Harrier,” lying at Onehunga, twenty miles away, and by that time all was over.

The rollers breaking on the bar burst continually over the hull and lower masts. The yards and shrouds were thick with sailors despairingly looking for rescue. About 6 o’clock in the evening Commodore Burnett, who was in the mizzen-rigging, hailed the men, asked them to pray to God, and said he would be the last to leave the ship.

The mainmast was the first to go over the side. As it was falling the men clinging to the yards and rigging gave three heart-rending farewell cheers, which were answered by the men on the other masts, and next moment the gallant sailors were vainly struggling for their lives. The foremast soon followed, and then the mizzenmast gave way and crashed into the surf. The mizzentop fell on Commodore Burnett and partly stunned him, and he was drowned.

Out of the crew of 256 all told, only sixty-nine (including eight officers) were saved.

Panasonic, LUMIX – GH2 at 22mm, 14×140 lens, 1/5, f/6, iso 640, manual.
From a single RAW image.


  • Roy  Massicks
    Roy Massicksabout 1 year ago

  • WildestArt
    WildestArtabout 1 year ago

    LOVE the vivid color!

  • Thank you so much – the figurehead was washed up three days after the wreck !

    – Roy Massicks

  • kalaryder
    kalaryderabout 1 year ago

    What a tragic story. This is a fine capture Roy

  • Many thanks Kala – if has a fascinating history ! The figurehead was washed up three days after the wreck !

    – Roy Massicks

  • myraj
    myrajabout 1 year ago

    Fantastic light on this great capture Roy. Interesting reading also.

  • Thank you for your kind comments Myra – I do appreciate the favourite.

    – Roy Massicks

  • AndreaEL
    AndreaELabout 1 year ago

    Amazing history Roy… and excellent image..

  • Thank you kindly Andrea – I had an interesting day at the museum ! Pleased you enjoyed the history.

    – Roy Massicks

  • lynn carter
    lynn carterabout 1 year ago

    amazing isn’t she xx

  • Thank you very much Lynn – it is the greatest loss of life of any wreck in New Zealand.

    – Roy Massicks

  • Rita Blom
    Rita Blomabout 1 year ago

    Beautiful Figure head and what a Story. I read it with great interest and it kept me wrapped up to the end. So many gallant men, a tragic tale Roy.

  • Yes Rita, it is a tragic story ! Thank you for your lovely comments and it’s unbelievable that an American consulting company wrote a report in the mid 1980’s saying that the Port of Auckland should move to the Manukau Harbour. Can you imaging modern container ships trying to cross the treacherous Manuka Bar ? They must have had shares in a salvage company…….!

    – Roy Massicks

  • artisandelimage
    artisandelimageabout 1 year ago

  • Thank you so much Francis.

    – Roy Massicks

  • paintingsheep
    paintingsheepabout 1 year ago

    Very beautiful find and presentation!!

  • Many thanks Gena for the favourite – so pleased you like it !

    – Roy Massicks

  • Colin Metcalf
    Colin Metcalfabout 1 year ago

    What a great work of art but what a tragic story.

  • Yes Colin, it was tragic ! ( read my answer to Rita’s comment ) Thank you for your great comments and favourite.

    – Roy Massicks

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10%off for joining

the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.