The Derry Castle

It was a stormy night in March 1887. The iron barque, Derry Castle was on its way from Geelong, Australia, to England. It was making its way through the dangerous subantarctic waters around the Auckland Islands, when it hit submerged rocks off Enderby Island. In minutes, the ship disintegrated and sank. Most of the twenty-three crew members didn't stand a chance, and drowned or were battered to death on rocks. Only eight men made it to shore alive.

Enderby Island was chilly and desolate. Luckily for the wreck's survivors, the New Zealand government had placed castaway depots on various islands in the area. The Derry Castle sailors must have been overjoyed to find the depot at Sandy Bay. They built rough shelters for themselves around it. And on the edge of a windswept cliff overlooking the sea, they laid to rest those of their fellow crew members who had been washed up on shore. They marked the grave site with the ship's figurehead.

We can only imagine how hard life was for them in the harsh subantarctic. What relief they must have felt when, after four months, they were rescued by a government steamer scouting for shipwreck survivors.

After they left, the grave for the dead Derry Castle sailors was maintained by the government for many years. Then, it sank gradually into the ground. During the second world war, the ship's figurehead was dug up by coast watchers stationed on the islands. Along with other relics of the wreck, it was brought to New Zealand and put in the Canterbury Museum. A tombstone was put in its place at the gravesite.

This was just one of at least eight ships wrecked on the Auckland Islands many decades ago. Today, however, the islands are no longer feared. They are in fact treasured. They have been declared a nature reserve, and are inhabited by albatrosses, penguins, petrels, prions and cormorants.

More information

Some of the following publications may be found on the Discovery Centre bookshelves, or in Te Aka Matua Library and Information Centre on Level 4. Photographs of Te Papa collection items may be ordered from Images, on Level 4.

  • Allen, M F. (1997). Wake of the Invercauld: shipwrecked in the sub- Antarctic: a great-granddaughter's pilgrimage. Auckland: Exisle Publishing.
  • Fraser, C. (1986). Beyond the Roaring Forties: New Zealand's subAntarctic islands. Wellington: Government Print.
  • Thompson, Paul. (1996). Postcards from the Edge. NZ Journal of Photography 25.


Wreck of the Derry Castle showing figurehead
by David Alexander, De Maus De Maus Collection
Courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
Neg. no: G38208
| | | |