The Loch Long memorial

 

 

The loss of the wool clipper 'Loch Long' on the Chatham Islands in 1903 claimed the lives of my grandfather Capt. James Strachan, his brother Alexander (his first mate) and his brother-in-law John Geddie (ship's carpenter) as well as the rest of the crew. The plan to place a memorial to the ship and her crew on the Chatham Islands was conceived originally as an adjunct to a trip we were planning to New Zealand for our 25th wedding anniversary. The project, however, came to dominate our memories of the whole trip.

What really caught us totally unawares was the level of local knowledge on the Chatham Islands about the wreck of the Loch Long. We, on our side of the world, were equipped with little more than Basil Lubbock’s rather vague account of the wreck, and assumed that no more was known. On the Chathams, however, we learned differently.  Firstly, we were made aware of a much fuller account in the book ‘New Zealand Shipwrecks’ of the search a New Zealand government ship had made for the “Loch Long” – for which we were able to thank them at last – and secondly we were regaled with local word of mouth accounts of how she had struck the Blind Reef in fog, how someone’s father used to row out to the reef and moor to the tip of her sunken mast while fishing for blue cod, and how the ship’s bell was rumoured to be secreted in one individual’s shed!
Again we were unaware that, following our initial contact with the proprietor of the Hotel Chathams to secure accommodation on the islands (and during which contact we had explained the reason for our visit), he and George Hough, the self styled ‘keeper of the wreck graves’ had made considerable preparations for our visit. A large boulder had been placed on the beach at Kaingaroa to receive the plaque we were bringing from the UK, the local Maori preacher had been lined up to conduct a ceremony, accompanied by singing from the teacher and kids from Kaingaroa Primary school.
The unveiling ceremony took place the day after our arrival, and an emotional experience it was too. I had had to hurriedly write a speech the night before, having come quite unprepared for this level of formality.  We were then taken to Te Whakaru cemetery where the grave of one unidentified body that came ashore from the wreck was buried, the grave still marked by a whale's vertebra.

The Chatham Islands do feel as if they lie at the end of the world – extremely remote, extremely hospitable, very proud of their heritage. We were feted as descendants who had come to honour an ancestor – we in turn found the place somehow a fitting final resting place for men and ship who had spent their lives navigating the empty quarters of the world.

 
 
Photo gallery of the Chathams Trip - click for full size images.
The flying pencil Sign to the Chathams Hotel The choir After the ceremony Blind Reef Te Whakaru cemetery
 
 
 
 
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