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Extracts & Articles | Sproat's Loch Fleet

Although the Company belonging to James Sproat was based in Liverpool, this famous family of ship owners were natives of Kirkcudbright, and the town was firmly their 'home port'. Amongst their many shipping interests were a fleet of sailing liners, all named after lochs in the South West of Scotland, which sailed all over the world. The TWO articles below give some detail of the ships, and of their journeys to New Zealand.

 

WHITE WINGS.
Fifty Years of Sail in the New Zealand Trade.
1850 to 1900.

by Henry Brett
1924.

 

THE LOCH LINERS.

In the New Zealand Trade - Seven Smart Ships.

Under charter to the New Zealand Shipping Co., a number of the smart ships of the famous Loch Line, owned by Messrs. D. and J. Sproat, of Liverpool, visited New Zealand ports, bringing immigrants and general cargo. The Loch ships were all well found, and for their size made the runs out and Home in less time than several ships of larger tonnage. The Loch ships chartered by the New Zealand Shipping Co. were the Loch Fleet, the Loch Urr, the Loch Dee, the Loch Fergus, the Loch Doon, the Loch Ken, the Loch Cree, and the Loch Trool.

The Loch Trool - Opens in a new browser window

The Loch Dee - click to enlarge (new window)

THE LOCH FLEET.

The Loch Fleet was a full-rigged iron ship of 713 tons, built at Glasgow in 1872. She began trading to New Zealand in 1877, and made her last voyage in 1886. This ship generally experienced unfavourable weather on the voyages out to New Zealand. She had a very rough time when bound for Auckland in 1878, and was carried out of her course, sailing about 20,000 miles. The ship on that voyage left Gravesend on August 16, and passed Deal on the 19th. Variable winds detained her in the Channel until the 23rd, when she took her final departure from the Lizard. Two months later Captain Robertson had a most anxious time on the run from the Cape to Tasmania. The first storm started on October 14, and continued with unabated fury for two days. On the 15th a tremendous sea broke over the ship, smashing the captain's gig and doing other damage. The weather continued violent, and on the 20th heavy squalls came down, with snow and hail, and the vessel lost a stunsail boom awl suffered other damage. The ship was driven before the wind, and travelled from 300 to 320 miles a day. Squally weather continued right along to the Leeuwin.

On November 6 the ship encountered another storm, which, said one of the passengers on arrival at Auckland, "will live in our memories for ever." The hurricane commenced at 4 p.m., reached its climax about midnight, and caused much damage to the ship. About 7 p.m. a tremendous sea struck the ship, and two hours later another wave, fully 40ft high, broke over the poop and washed the two men from the wheel. One man was carried the whole length of the ship. The other, coming in collision with one of the hatches, was severely knocked about, and sustained a nasty wound in the head. Fortunately the second mate, Mr. Montgomery, rushed to the wheel, otherwise the Loch Fleet might never have reached Auckland. The decks were completely filled with water, and the heavy seas broke the poop rails and carried everything movable overboard.

TO AUCKLAND

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Aug. 17, '77

Nov. 21, '78

Robertson

96

Sept 6

Dec. 20, '80

Clachie

105

July 9

Nov. 8, '82

Cochrane

122

TO LYTTLETON

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days
Aug 16 Nov. 24, '77 Robertson 100

TO DUNEDIN

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Aug. 29

Dec. 22, '79

Robertson

115
Land to land 102.

Sep. 1

Dec 14, '81

Clachrie

104

Nov. 1  (via Hamburg)

Feb. 28 '86

Jones

120


THE LOCH CREE - A HANDSOME CRAFT.

The Loch Cree (a sister ship to the Loch Fleet) was a vessel of 791 tons, built at Glasgow in 1874. She, like her sister, was a handsome vessel, and on all occasions made good passages. She was specially free in many of her outward runs from the usual gales often encountered. On the voyage out to Lyttelton in 1880 the Loch Cree was in charge of Captain John Jones, this being his first command. He reported that with the exception of two heavy blows the passage had been a pleasant one of 82 days from the Lizard, and 98 from port to port. When off Tasmania on March 5, a fierce gale was experienced with a heavy sea, during which big seas broke on board, but very little damage resulted. The day before making the land the vessel experienced a terrific storm of thunder and lightning. The mastheads and all the yard-arms were illuminated for a long time by electricity and presented a splendid spectacle.

On the voyage out to Auckland in 1881 the Loch Cree encountered one terrific gale. It occurred on September 2, during which Captain Jones found it necessary to heave-to for twelve hours. Heavy seas broke on board over the forward part of the vessel, carrying away the stanchions of the fo'castle, starting the head rail of the topgallant fo'castle and figurehead, and causing other serious damage.

On August 10 the vessel was in company with the ship Wairoa, and at the same time a dozen other ships, mostly bound for Australia and New Zealand, were in sight. The Wairoa was bound for Wellington and arrived there on September 24. Considering that the Loch Cree had to sail further north it was a very even race. The Wairoa sailed from Gravesend on June 25 and the Loch Cree on the following day.

The passages made by the Loch Cree were:- 

TO AUCKLAND

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Feb. 27

June 11, '79

Black

104

Feb. 10

May 16, '80

Black

96

Dec. 31

Apr. 25, 81

Black

114

TO LYTTLETON

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

 

Jan. 8, '82

Black

93

TO PORT CHALMERS

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Nov. 20, '76

Feb. 21, '77

Black

92

Sep. 13

Dec. 18, '82

Black

96

 

THE LOCH URR.

The Loch Urr was a fine roomy iron barque of 716 tons, built at Glasgow in 1870 by Paterson, McCullum, and Co. Captain S. Murdock was given command when the barque was launched, and remained in that position until 1881, when he was relieved by his brother, Captain J. Murdock. Nothing of an out of the way kind happened on any of the outward runs of the Loch Urr to New Zealand.

The Loch Urr, prior to her arrival at Auckland in 1874, had made three trips to Sydney, two of which were fast passages of 83 and 86 days. On the run out to Auckland in 1874 she did remarkably well until off the Crozet Islands, where owing to a succession of light breezes from the eastward very little headway was made for a week. On reaching the Three Kings on September 7 heavy fogs delayed her progress, the vessel being hove-to for twenty-four hours, and when off the Poor Knights a heavy gale was encountered, again delaying her progress.

On the voyage out to Auckland in 1881the Loch Urr left London on August 19 and on the 23rd encountered a heavy gale which continued until September 2, when she got clear of the Lizard. Off the North Cape of New Zealand on December 13 the vessel was in company with the May Queen bound for Tauranga with some of Vesey Stewart's settlers. The two vessels sailed from Gravesend within twelve hours of each other.

The Loch Urr had a delightful passage out in 1877, fine weather all the way. Her external appearance was then altered, the barque having a white topside instead of black.

With the exception of a heavy southeasterly gale off the Three Kings, which lasted for three days, the barque had another remarkably fine passage in 1880.

On the run out in 1882, after crossing the Equator, a heavy south-easterly gale was experienced and continued for six days-from September 18 to 24-thence fine weather to the North Cape.

The Loch Urr's passages to New Zealand were:- 

To Auckland

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

June 7

Sep. 11, '74

S Murdoch

96

 

Jan. 20, '77

S Murdoch

95

Oct. 25, '79

Feb. 4, '80

S Murdoch

102

Sep. 25, '80

Jan. 14, '81

S Murdoch

112

Aug. 23

Dec. 15, '81

J Murdoch

115

 

 

 

Land to Land 99

July 26

Nov. 8, '82

J Murdoch

105

To Lyttleton

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

April 16

July 17, '87

J Murdoch

102


THE LOCH KEN.

ASTRAY IN HAURAKI GULF.
AGROUND OFF THAMES.

The Loch Ken, a fine little barque of 590 tons, built in 1869, made some very excellent runs for so small a vessel. On one occasion in 1882 she ran out to Lyttelton in 77 days from the Lizard and 80 days port to port. The barque was not so fortunate on the voyage to Auckland in 1883. She left London on the 7th February, but was compelled to anchor at the Downs until the 16th. She had moderate winds to the Equator, which was crossed on the 24th March, and the Cape rounded on the 60th day out. Tasmania was passed on May 17, and thence to the Three Kings very dirty weather and two exceptionally heavy S.F. gales were met with. Not-withstanding the barque reached Auckland 99 days out from Gravesend.

The Loch Ken loaded at Auckland and sailed for London on the 19th July. An astounding mishap occurred a few hours after leaving port. The barque was under the command of Captain Wilson, who was familiar with the port. The pilot took her outside of Rangitoto Reef, and a course was shaped for Cape Colville. The following day the Thames steamer Rotomahana (Captain Farqubar) brought up the barque's chief officer, who reported that the vessel was on the mud at the head of the Thames Gulf, and that he had come up to town to see about getting her off. When the Rotomahana returned to the Thames on the 21st those on board, Mr. Williamson (chief officer of the barque), Mr. Clayton (Lloyd's agent), and Captain H. F. Anderson (representing the insurance companies), were rather surprised to find the barque riding safely at anchor off Tararu.

The story of the Loch Ken's skipper (Captain Wilson) was an astounding one. At two o'clock in the afternoon of the day he left port he was off Kawan. He then ordered the course to be E.N.E. to take the ship out through the channel between Cape Colville and the Great Barrier. That night the weather was thick, and at 8.20 p.m. the ship ran aground at the mouth of the Piako River, about six miles off Grahamstown. The captain explained his position by saying that he mistook Waiheke for Channel Island, off Colville, and said that when he had passed it he bore away south. The explanation is incomprehensible. Waiheke is no more like Channel Island than Queen Street is like a blind alley. What he probably said was that he mistook Gannet Island, off the end of Waiheke, for Channel Island. That would be quite understandable. As the night was thick he would probably not be able to see the Coromandel coast, and naturally, thinking himself outside the peninsula, he would head off south.

Anyhow the mishap had a tame conclusion. After the chief officer left the Loch Ken to come up to town by the Rotomahana for help the Thames harbourmaster (Captain Bayldon) went aboard, and the wind coming out of the south he was able to drive her off the mud into deep water, and eventually he came to an anchor off Tararu. No damage was done, the barque sailed away from the gulf without coming to town for a survey, and made a very good passage Home of 83 days. The old hands said her grounding "must have scraped some of the barnacles off."

Captain Gibbons, now harbourmaster at Onehunga, was one of the crew of the Loch Ken when Captain Farquhar went to her assistance in the Rotomahana, a steamer that Captain Gibbons afterwards commanded for a number of years.

The passages made by the Loch Ken outwards were:- 

To Auckland

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Feb. 16

May 27, '83

Wilson

107

To Wellington

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Mar. 1

June 4, '79

Cummins

95

Dec. 1

Mar. 7, '84

Wilson

96

To Lyttleton

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Dec. 2

Feb. 20, '82

Wilson

80


Another amazing error in the gulf was the escapade of the Italian ship Eurasia, which brought a cargo of tiles to Auckland from Marseilles in the year war broke out. She lay in the harbour for a very long time, hut no outward cargo offered. At last she got a charter from Monte Video to load wheat, and left Auckland in ballast. She was towed out on the morning of February 4, 1915, and when the tug dropped her she went off with a fresh westerly behind her. The last seen of her was the same afternoon, when with most of her sails set, she was howling along for Cape Colville. It was thought she was not heading quite high enough to clear Colville, but no one dreamt for a moment that this indicated anything wrong.

The next heard of the big foreigner was a message from Thames to say that she was aground on the mud, about six miles from the township. The master came up to Auckland by the Thames boat and arranged for the Auckland Harbour Board to send down the tug Te Awhina. This was done, and after about three-quarters of an hour's work the ship slid off the mud and was towed to Auckland.

A survey of her hull was made, and it was found that she had not sustained the slightest damage, the ground on the top end of the Gulf being all soft mud. Being a foreign ship and being undamaged the New Zealand authorities had no authority to order an inquiry. The captain's explanation of the ship finding herself in such a queer position was that his compasses were defective. He said he steered N.N.E., and did not discover until too late that he was too far to the south.

THE LOCH FERGUS.

This was another handsome barque of 845 tons, built at Glasgow by Henderson in 1875. She, like the other Lochs, brought out many of our early settlers between 1876 and 1887.

On her first voyage to Auckland, in 1876, she made the run from Gravesend to the Line in 31 days. She passed the meridian of the Cape on August 7, Tasmania on August 28, and sighted the Three Kings on September 4. She averaged 245 miles a day across the Southern Ocean.

Her passages to New Zealand were:- 

To Auckland

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

June 4

Sep. 6, '76

Cann

94

Aug. 6

Dec. 4, '83

Jones

120

To Wellington

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Dec. 5

Mar. 2, '79

Cann

87

To Port Chalmers

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

May 1

July 29, '81

Cumming

89

Sep. 19, '83

Jan. 1, '84

Jones

104

To Nelson

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

 

Feb 18, '87

Clachrie

89

THE LOCH DOON.

The Loch Doon, an iron ship of 786 tons, made only three voyages to New Zealand, and on two of these exceptionally stormy weather was met with. She was one of the fastest sailers of the fleet owned by D. and J. Sproat. She came first to Auckland in 1880. Leaving Gravesend on April 22, she passed the Downs on the following day, and took her final departure from the Lizard on the 27th. She crossed the Equator on May 16, making a splendid run of 19 days to the Equator. The meridian of the Cape was passed on June 15, Cape Leeuwin on July 4, and Tasmania on July 11, only 74 days from the Lizard. On July 10 the ship encountered a terrific gale from the west, and a fearful mountainous sea, which by the force of the gale was driven into a complete mass of spindrift, and at times almost burying the ship while she was scudding before it. The storm lasted in full fury for fifteen hours. Captain Cummings stated he had been at sea over thirty-one years but that this gale eclipsed any he had ever seen.

The following year, 1881, the ship was brought to Auckland by Captain Mainland. Leaving Gravesend on March 15, the Loch Doon was delayed by calms and light winds for several days in the Channel, and light variable winds continued until crossing the Equator on April 21, 36 days out. On May 28, when running before a hard westerly gale with a high topping sea, a tremendous wave broke over the ship, completely filling her decks fore and aft. Some time later it was discovered that an apprentice boy of 16 who had been on watch below was missing; he had evidently been washed overboard. The Loch Doon made the Three Kings on June 14, 54 days from the Equator and 86 from the Channel. On May 14 the ship Waitangi, bound for Otago, was in company. This vessel sailed from Gravesend a few hours after the Loch Doon, and arrived at Port Chalmers on June 13, 82 days land to land.

Captain Robert Mainland was subsequently transferred to the Loch Trool, and made a voyage to Dunedin and Wellington in 1902. He was for many years the commodore skipper of D. and R. Sproat's fleet, and held an interest in the company. When a boy Captain Mainland sailed in the Orkney coasting vessels. On obtaining a master's certificate he entered the employ of James Sproat and Co. as master of the Loch Doon, holding this command until 1884, when he was transferred to the Loch Trool, a position he held until his death, which occurred when taking the ship Home from Bunbury, West Australia, on January 4, 1906. Captain Mainland made some remarkable passages to Melbourne and other Australian ports. He was a member of the Mercantile Marine Service Association from 1879, and was well known and highly respected in Liverpool shipping circles. Mr. S. Mainland, a son of Captain Mainland, who sailed with his father for several years in the Loch Trool, left the ship in 1905 and settled in Auckland. He is now residing at Stanley Bay, Devonport.

The Loch Doon's passages to New Zealand were:- 

To Auckland

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Apr. 23

July 28, '80

Cummings

96

Mar. 15 

June 17, '81

Mainland

94

To Wellington

Sailed
Arrived
Captain
Days

Mar. 31

July 6, '82

Mainland

97


Several other Loch vessels made one or two voyages to New Zealand. The Loch Esk, a large ship of 1641 tons, owned by J. and R. Wilson, arrived at Dunedin on the 10th January, 1882, having made the run in 82 days, port to port, or 77 land to land.

Another powerful vessel, a ship of 1382 tons, built at Glasgow, and owned by W. and R. Wilson, was the Loch Linnhe. She made a remarkable passage to Port Chalmers, under Captain Pittenreigh, in 1882. She left London on the 14th November, and did not, owing to adverse weather, clear Ushant until the 28th. The Line was crossed on the 21st December, the Cape rounded on the 14th January, Tasmania on the 7th February. and the Snares on the 10th of February. Two days later she anchored at Port Chalmers, having made the run in 74 days from Ushant. The Loch Linnhe also made one voyage, to Auckland, arriving there in command of Captain Vaughan on April 15, 1885. The passage occupied 96 days port to port.

The Loch Bredan in 1886 arrived at Wellington on January 11, under Captain Cumming, 108 days from the docks. She was at Port Chalmers in 1899 (Captain Williams), arriving on the 23rd June, 103 days' passage.

The Loch Bredan in 1882 sailed from Glasgow for Sydney, and after discharging liner cargo proceeded to Lyttelton and loaded wool and wheat. She made a good run Home, and called at Queenstown for orders, with Captain Cumming in command. The ship proceeded to London, and made another trip to Sydney; thence she came over to Auckland and loaded general cargo for London. At this time Captain J. T. Rolls, well known as commander for a number of years of the Union Company's Niagara, was chief officer of the ship. Mr. John Gumming, now in business at Te Aroha, was an apprentice on the Loch Bredan when she arrived at Aukland.

The Loch Awe, which made the record passage to Auckland, is dealt with in a separate article; also the Lochnagar, which made many voyages to the Dominion.

Another small vessel of 248 tons was the Lochlee, which was built at Inverness in 1865 for Mr. J. B. Stevenson, shipping agent at Auckland. When completed she sailed for Melbourne. I have no record of her visiting Auckland, but she arrived at Wellington on the 12th May, 1871, after a lengthy passage of 131 days.
The "Lochs" of James Sproat.

The following is an extract from "Last of the Windjammers", published in the 1920's.

Amongst the smartest little ships in the Colonial trade must be numbered the "Lochs" of James Sproat.

From the beginning of the seventies to the end of the eighties these little 700 and 800-ton ships and barques made rapid passages out to Australia and New Zealand with their cabin accommodation always fully engaged. Indeed there is many an Australian and many a New Zealander who will remember his passage in one of these tiny "Lochs" with pleasure.

The "Lochs" of James Sproat must not be confused with those of Aitken Lilburn nor yet with J. & R. Wilson's, though all three fleets were in the Colonial trade.

James Sproat's name ship was the tiny Loch Ken, launched at Port Glasgow from Hill's yard in 1869. This iron barque showed extraordinary speed for her tonnage - she only registered 590 tons.

In 1882 she made the splendid run of 77 days from the Lizard to Lyttelton. Her best homeward passage was in 1888. She left Auckland on July 19, got ashore on the mud at the head of Thames Gulf through Captain Wilson mistaking Gannet Island for Channel Island during a dark night, came off without damage and made the run home in 83 days. Her crew always said that the drag through the mud had cleaned her bottom and given it a good polish, thus giving her a chance for in the early days of iron ships the homeward passage was usually spoilt by a foul bottom.

The second of the Liverpool "Lochs" was the Loch Dee, 700 tons. After making six voyages in the New Zealand trade, this little barque left Lyttelton, homeward bound, under Captain Black on March 8, 1883, and was never heard of again.

The next ship was the Loch Urr, some 16 tons bigger than the Loch Dee. This vessel was commanded by S. Murdoch until 1881, when his brother, J. Murdoch, took over. Her first three voyages were to Sydney, the best outward passage being 83 days. Then she was put on the Auckland run.

In August, 1893, she left the Tyne for Valparaiso, coal laden, but never arrived, being posted missing.

The Loch Doon of 786 tons, built by Hamilton of Port Glasgow in 1872, is generally considered to have been the fastest of the "Lochs."

In 1880 under Captain Cummings, bound for Auckland, she was only 74 days from the Lizard to the meridian of the South Cape, Tasmania. Leaving Gravesend on April 22, she took her departure from the Lizard on the 27th and crossed the Equator on May 16, only 19 days out. The meridian of the Cape was passed on June 15 and that of the Leeuwin on July 4. On July 10 the ship was scudding for 15 hours before the severest westerly gale in Captain Cummings' experience, but the force of the wind kept the sea down, the whole surface being lashed into spindrift, which flew over the Loch Doon in sheets. However, the little clipper came through it unscathed and finally made the beautiful harbour of Auckland on July 28.

Her next voyage she was commanded by Captain Robert Mainland, who was afterwards the commodore of the Line in Loch Trool. Leaving Gravesend on March 15, the Loch Doon experienced nothing but light airs and calms all the way to the Line, being 36 days instead of 19. After this, however, time was made up and Captain Mainland made the Three Kings on June 14, only 54 days from the Equator.

The N.Z.S.Co.'s Waitangi had left the Thames a few hours behind Loch Doon being bound for Otago. On May 14 the two ships were in company. Finally Waitangi arrived at Port Chalmers on June 13 and the Loch Doon at Auckland on June 17.

The Loch Doon was ship-rigged, and so were Sproat's next two vessels, the Loch Fleet and Loch Cree.

Loch Fleet, which was in the New Zealand trade from 1877 to 1886, was noted for the rough weather which seemed to follow her everywhere. The Loch Cree on the other hand was generally lucky with her winds.

In 1885 the Loch Cree, when homeward bound from Wellington in 440 N., 27++ W., overhauled a dismasted ship. This was the Northbrook, which had left San Francisco on January 19 for Falmouth and had been badly dismasted in a blow off the Horn. Like all jury rigged ships, the Northbrook was very short of rope, and the Loch Cree sent her some in a rather novel way. She sailed right ahead of the lame duck, then made the end of a coil fast to a grating and payed it away over the stern. The Northbrook caught the grating as it came by with chain hooks, and hoicking it aboard, hove the rope in on her winch.

The only other of Sproat's "Lochs" which was under 1000 tons was the Loch Bredan, launched by Dobie in 1882. Under Captain J. T. Rolls she usually went out to Sydney, then crossed to New Zealand and loaded home from either Lyttelton or Auckland.

The flagship of Sproat's fleet was the 1400-ton Loch Trool, a big barque, which was built more for carrying than speed. In March, 1908, Loch Trool was the only sailing ship to load wool in New Zealand for the London market. She loaded at Lyttelton, and it was not until 1921 that once more sailing ships were seen loading the wool clip in New Zealand ports, but in that year the big French five-masted France and the New Zealand owned Rewa ex Alice A. Leigh, both loaded at Wellington and Lyttleton for U.K. or Continent, whilst the Finn Pampa and French Vercingetorix took in cargoes at Timaru and Wellington.

In 1910 Loch Trool was coming home in ballast from Para to Cardiff, when she ran into H.M.S. Britannia near Brow Head. The "Loch" lost her bowsprit and had her bow plates stove in, but the two men-of-war, Britannia and Hibernia, and later the Government tug Stormcock, succeeded in getting her in to Queenstown.

Captain Mainland, the commodore of Sproat's fleet, died at sea in Loch Trool in 1906.

James Sproat bought two very fine ships, the Elmhurst which he renamed Loch Garve, and the Bactria which he renamed Loch Finlas. The Loch Finlas was wrecked with loss of life on rocks near Foster's Island, Tasmania. It was a case of sheer carelessness. Whilst sailing along the coast the vessel was set inshore by the tide without anyone aboard noticing the danger.

Loch Garve and Loch Trool were both sold in 1910, the former going to Genoa and the latter to Para, Brazil, to be turned into a hulk. The Loch Cree also went to Genoa and became the Giovanna B, whilst the little Loch Ken was re-rigged by the Italians as a three-mast schooner under the name of Orsolina. By 1914 Orsolina out of the Register, but Giovanna had become Casta qua.

Loch Doon was sold to the Norwegians, who renamed her Birger. She went ashore in April, 1902, and was condemned. Loch Fleet became the Portuguese Bertha, but only lasted a year or two after being sold at the end of nineteenth century. The Loch Bredan has been missing since September, 1903.