The Wairarapa Shipwrecks – Times Age

“Captain” Mark Pacey – Wairarapa archivist and author of The Lost Shipwrecks of Wairarapa. PHOTO / PROVIDED

Castaway! Enthusiastic response inspires the book

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
[email protected]

What started as a distraction during the lockdown has propelled Masterton historian Mark Pacey to celebrity status – which, in turn, inspired his latest book.

Pacey, Wairarapa Archivist, author and longtime boating enthusiast, completed The Lost Wrecks of Wairarapa – A History of the Region’s Maritime Disasters, Stretching from Akitio to Palliser Bay.

The book, published by Pacey’s Gosson Publishing, contains 78 stories spanning 160 years: from Victorian barquentines that sank in treacherous Palliser Bay, to fishing trawlers stranded in the sands of Castlepoint.

Like many accounts of shipwrecks through the ages, the book features colorful characters: two men arrested in a case of mistaken identity, a captain pilloried in the press like a “despicable dirty dog” , a crew member who jumped off the ship for breakfast, and even an on-board kitten (you’ll have to read to the end to see if he survives).

It also features New Zealand’s third worst maritime disaster – a ship that sank near the Great Barrier Island called the SS Wairarapa.

“I couldn’t not include that one!” Pacey said.

The Lost Wrecks of Wairarapa, Pacey’s fifth book, began life as a series of articles he researched and wrote for the Wairarapa Times-Age during its lockdown last year.

To help “keep [his] watch out for things, ”Pacey wrote a trilogy of articles, featuring the wrecks of the Addenda, Opua and SS Ripple – which sparked rapturous excitement from audiences.

At the request of The Times-Age, he wrote a fourth article on the subject of the shipwreck – and eventually became a regular feature of the newspaper, writing 50 articles in 18 months.

Readers couldn’t get enough, Pacey was quickly bombarded with enthusiastic requests for an “entire book” – and the rest, as they say, is history.

“People would stop me on the street, asking if I was going to do a book,” he said.

“We asked a man to call the archives who had the wrong number and he asked me if I was the guy who wrote the shipwreck stories – and could I please make a delivered ?

“Honestly, once this first trilogy was over, I had planned to move on. But there is something so alluring about shipwrecks – people loved the stories and wanted to read more.

“I received so many positive reviews that a book seemed like the right thing to do.”

Pacey, who grew up “by the sea” in Hawke’s Bay, has been fascinated by maritime history since he was a child.

His obsession with shipwrecks was sparked when his father brought home a copy of The Discovery of the Titanic by Dr. Robert Ballard – the US Navy officer and oceanographer who discovered the wreck of the infamous RMS Titanic in 1985. .

“I was about eight years old – the book was way past my age, but I devoured it.

“After that, I asked for a shipwreck book every year for Christmas!

“I loved Ballard’s writing style. I was like ‘I want to do what this guy is doing.’ “

After leaving school, Pacey worked as a furniture maker – but decided to change direction in the early 2000s, after the rise in cheap imports “killed New Zealand’s industry”.

Pacey decided to follow his passion and embarked on history and defense studies at Massey University – and within three months of graduating, got a job at the Wairarapa Archives.

The archives, he said, played a vital role in finding his book – containing a treasure trove of newspaper articles and countless photographs.

“We’re so used to looking for information on Google these days, but there are some real gems out there that can’t be digitized.

“I was fortunate to have fantastic support from my archive colleagues during my research. “

The lost wrecks of Wairarapa are also a treasure trove of fascinating stories: for example, 37 of the wrecks presented took place in Palliser Bay, which in the early days of New Zealand sailing terrified even experienced sailors.

“It was a horrible place – it was not well mapped and there were a lot of partially submerged rocks.

“One of the captains wrote that he was ‘trapped in the jaws of Palliser Bay’. He really had a bad reputation.

Some stories, Pacey said, were “hard to write”: like the Ripple, which sank off the coast and was never found; and the yacht Pacific Padnag, which sank in heavy waves near Castlepoint, killing four of the five “good friends” on board.

“The only one who survived wasn’t really a boater – he just went out on a trip with his friends on their yacht.

“Some stories are very sad, especially when a family doesn’t get closure. It shows how dangerous the seas can be.

Some others were more entertaining, like the story of two men who escaped from a stranded ship at Castlepoint – only to be stopped on their way home.

“These guys managed to get him off the beach and get on a bus. Then the police stopped the bus and they were dragged away.

“They were mistaken for two prisoners who had escaped from Wellington earlier in the day. But these were just two innocent people trying to get home after a shipwreck!

Besides Dr Ballard and the Wairarapa audience, Pacey also credits his book to his parents.

His passionate boating father, he said, nurtured his love of the sea, and childhood photos of his mother from the trawler Jenco III, which ran aground at Castlepoint in 1962, inspired one of his first articles. on Times-Age.

“I’ll have to send him a copy of the book then!”

“Daddy is dead now – but I think he would be very proud.”

The Lost Wairarapa Wrecks will be available for purchase in January 2022. Go to to order a copy.

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