Steamer 'City of Dunedin'- Mysterious Sinking 

Cook Strait, New Zealand

May 20, 1865

(site last updated November, 2003)



The Ship

The Mystery

The Crew and Passengers

Information Needed

Contact Us

Other Shipwrecks



On May 20, 1865 the paddle steamer 'City of Dunedin' under Capt. James Parker Boyd, sailed Wellington, for Nelson and Hokitika, and was never heard of afterwards. Wreckage was found from Sinclair Head to Island Bay,  at Pencarrow Head, and on the beaches at Palliser Bay. No survivors or bodies were ever found. 

The sinking of the 'City of Dunedin' has been the subject of much speculation by different authors over the years. Many of the details appear to have been lost or forgotten over time. I first became aware of this story as part of Boyd family history research  I was conducting from Canada. The descendants of the captain, James Parker Boyd, still live in  Australia today . With valuable assistance from these relatives, from archivists at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Otago Museum,  Otago Settlers Museum, Hocken Library, Port Chalmers Museum, and other New Zealand researchers also interested in this story, we have been able to piece together many of the facts around this event. In particular, with  online access to historic New Zealand newspapers through the Papers Past website (,  it has been possible to read first hand the accounts in the newspapers at the time of the sinking. Long hours of staring at old newspapers (both online and in archives) has revealed many interesting pieces of information, but many aspects about the sinking remain a mystery. Perhaps you can help. 

The Ship:

The 'City of Dunedin' was a schooner rigged paddle steamer of 463 tons gross and 327 tons net register that had been built at Dumbarton in 1863 by Archibald Denny and arrived in Dunedin in November 1863.  The steamer was owned by Messrs, John Jones and John Cargill of Dunedin. Her arrival sparked much interest according to the Daily Telegraph of Nov 24, 1863:

The City of Dunedin. – the arrival, about three o’clock yesterday afternoon, of this long looked for steamer, created considerable excitement in the city, and as soon as it was known that she had anchored alongside the New Jetty, she was visited by an almost incessant stream of visitors, including most of the leading citizens. The City of Dunedin is a paddle-steamer of about 330 tons register, clipper built, and drawn when loaded 71/2 feet water, when light 4 ft 3 in. Her extreme length is 167 ft, her breadth 22 ft, and her depth 17 ft. She is furnished with diagonal engines, each 50-horse power, and with every possible improvement in her machinery which modern science has invented. The salon and ladies’ room are very spacious and comfortable, and the furniture and decorations characterised by the best taste. There is a spar deck, beneath which at least 25 horses can be placed and there is also comfortable accommodation for 45 steerage passengers. The steamer is furnished with a telegraph which enables the man at the lookout to communicate with the engineer in the most direct and simple manner possible, and a patent windlass, which only requires half a turn round, and can be stopped instantaneously. She has evidently been fitted with every convenience and improvement extant.  (Wellington Independent, Dec 3, 1865 story from the Daily Telegraph, Nov 24, 1863)

The  City of Dunedin was one of two identical ships commissioned  by Jones and Cargill. The first ship built in 1862, and launched 13 November 1862, was originally named the 'City of Dunedin'. For unknown reasons it was not sent to NZ but instead was renamed Granite City and used  in the American Civil War as a Confederate blockade runner. Captured in the Bahama Islands on the 22 March 1863 she was purchased by the United States and assigned to the Western Gulf Blockading Squadron. She took part in the Sabine Pass Expedition and was subsequently captured by the Confederates at Calcasieu Pass on the 28 April 1864. Fitted out as a Confederate blockade runner again, the Granite City was driven ashore while being pursued by the steamer Penguin on 21 January 1865 where she quickly broke up on the beach.

The Mystery:

The 'City of Dunedin' left Wellington about five o’clock on Saturday evening, May 20, 1865 bound for  Nelson and Hokitika. (Nelson Examiner June 1, 1865).  Aboard were Captain James Parker Boyd 24 crew, and at least 22 passengers . Weather was variously reported as calm or running a strong swell from the SE.  Miss McNamarama of Terawhiti , near where the steamer is commonly thought to have sunk, may have been the last person to see the steamer. She reported that later on the same day, "when she  was a mile from home at Terawhiti and just before dark, she saw a steamer close in on the rocks and looking as if it was going round and round and would not steer. The sailors were pulling the sails up and down and appeared to be in confusion. On reaching the station she asked her mother to come and see but her mother was busy and did not go" (source: Otago Witness pg. 9, Sept 9, 1865). Wreckage was first found on May 21 at the Pilot's Station. The first search conducted was on May 27th from Wellington. All of the wreckage reported in the weeks immediately following the sinking  was found east of Sinclair Head to Island Bay and Pencarrow, and in Palliser Bay. The ship’s figurehead was found on the beach in Palliser Bay which provided the final proof that the 'City of Dunedin' had met her fate. No survivors were located and no bodies were ever recovered. While it is commonly speculated that the 'City of Dunedin' was lost near Karori or Tom's Rock off Terawhiti, the wreck has, to this day, never been located.  The pattern of wreckage could suggest that the steamer sank much closer to Wellington harbour - perhaps she ran into problems and was returning to Wellington when disaster struck. You be the judge. 

The Crew and Passengers: 

Following the sinking of the 'City of Dunedin' a Wreck Fund was established  to assist the families of the crew of the steamer. An account of one of the meetings of the Wreck Fund reported in the Otago Witness, June 24, 1865 (pg. 16) contained a listing of the crew. While the exact number of passengers is still not known a partial passenger listing was compiled using a number of sources.


Captain James Parker Boyd   

James Parker Boyd born in Ayr, Scotland in 1825. At the time of the sinking he was survived by his wife (Jessie) and two children. They remained in NZ after his death and then moved to Australia. James' brother Thomas was a captain sailing between Greenock and New Zealand/Australia.  A third brother Charles was a ships engineer. All three were photographed together in Dunedin, NZ in 1863 or 1864. James Parker Boyd had previously served as second officer on the Barque Breadalbein in 1847, as Chief Mate on the Barque Georgiana in 1852, and as Captain of the steamer Geelong from 1860 to Dec 1863 when he became Captain of the City of Dunedin. 









Crew Passengers*
Captain  James Parker Boyd  Mr McCarthy or MacCartney
Mate George McWilliam Mr Cole or Coll
Second Mate Neil Nataal Mr Barron
Engineer D. MacDonald Miss Baxter
Second Engineer Robert Douglas Mr Vallance Bishop
Fireman W. Anderson Mr Johnson
Fireman Ephraim Burns Mr McLaren
Fireman Hugh Graham Mr John Beswick 
Trimmer John Harper Mr J. Rump
Trimmer Ronald Macintyre Dr. Joseph Levy 
Trimmer Alexander Macdonald Rev Mr Michael Driscoll
Carpenter Alexander Campbell Mrs Radley
Seaman Nicholas Cowbray Mrs Briggs
Seaman Joe _____ Mr D. Moukay
Seaman John Garrett H. Dawson
Seaman Alexander Willis J. Bartell
Seaman Alexander Gibson Mr & Mrs Moody
Seaman Daniel Lamont Mrs McLaren
Seaman George Johnston J. McLean
Steward John King  J. Rowe
Steward Neil McInnes R. Crawford
Steward Thomas Wilson Mr. Francis John Morris
Cook Thomas _____  Mr. Robert Henry
Cook Richard Hoskins
Stewardess Miss Mackay

  * sources for passenger list:  The Evening Post June 3, 1865. The New Zealand Herald  June 15, 1865. The Otago Witness of June 10 and June 17, 1865, and Otago Daily Times, June 3, 1865.

Loss of the Steamer City of Dunedin 

   'Tis winter, and the daily chilly breeze
Sweeps by with fitful moan,
It battles with fast rising seas,
Whilst trembling forests groan;
The angry send o'er dark'ning skies
Flits on in weird-like form,
Proclaiming, as it onward flies,
The advent of a storm.

All sea-gulls now, with rapid baste,
Their brine-washed pinions ply,
And swiftly o'er the wat'ry waste
Their course they shoreward bie,
There was a ship--a noble ship,
A ship of gallant mien-
Which oft had made a coasting trip.
propelled by wind and steam.

The time has come -she must away;
The pondrous wheels move round:
She sails on this eventful day-
For nelson she is bound.
But now the storm hath broken forth
In its terrible force,
To stay her on her course.

Dark night succeeds the parting day-
The trembling steamer quakes,
As o'ver her drives the dashing spray,
Hissing like angry snakes.
The tortured vessel rolls;
While o'er her shrieks the whirring breeze
Like moans from doomed souls.

Each wheel alternate spins in air,
And next is buried deep;
The engine scare the strain can bear-
None in that ship dare sleep;
Yet still she nobly struggles on,
Till with tremendous crash,
Proclaiming something now has gone-
A paddle goes to smash!

No longer can the engines strive-
the sea its effort mocks;
Fast doth the fated vessel drive
Towards adamantine rocks.
"Quick, loose the sails!" the captain cries.
Alas! of what avail;
To ribbons in the gale.

Assaulted by the angry deep.
What can men do or say/
the treach'rous waves exultant leap
To claim their waiting prey
Cape Terawiti's rocks appear
Amid the boiling foam;
And souls are going home!

Home to the God who gave them breath,
They're speeding on their way;
Their bodies sleep the sleep of death
Until the final day;
For not a soul is left to tell
The horror-striking tale
Of all that on that night befel
In that terrific gale.

Some portions of the wreck that float
Are washed upon the shore,
And, in dumb silence, they denote
The vessel is no more.
"In midst of life we are in death."
So let us humbly pray,
When God doth take our vital breath,
We may not fear the day.

Christchurch, June 6th, 1865
spelling as is  

(source: Wellington Independent,  pg. 5, June 8, 1865)

Information Needed:

We continue to search for information particularly the following -  new  information on the possible location of the wreck, names of known passengers or crew that we have missed, photos of the steamer, her crew and passengers, copies of logs from voyages of the steamer, and any reports or accounts of the original searches for the wreck. 

Specific items wanted - photos, plans or drawings of either the City of Dunedin or her sister ship the Granite City. Information on the passengers or crew or location of the wreck. Contact information for descendants of passengers and crew.

Contact Us:

If you have any information related to this sinking please contact us at

Other Shipwrecks:

Old on-line newspapers contain fascinating accounts and glimpses into times long past. While researching the City of Dunedin  I have come across references to other shipwrecks and tried to keep track of this information in case it may of  help to other researchers. I have noted the information below and where it can be found. I hope this helps you with your research. The link to the on-line Papers Past website is


Ship Summary Newspaper source

Reported total loss of Brig Adieu (Cpt Anderson formerly of the Brig Susan) at Valparaiso

Otago Witness Nov 11, 1865

ss Airedale

Message in a bottle from SS Airedale Sept 26, 1865

West Coast Times Oct 19, 1865


p. 17 - report from Wellington Independent of wreck of the schooner Esther of Nelson at the Manawatu River on Feb 12, 1866.

Otago Witness Feb 24, 1866 pg 7

Fiery Star

information about the sinking of the Fiery Star

North Otago Times June 1, 1865


p. 18 - loss of Barque Fleetwood (Captain Bell) of Dassen Island approx June 20

Otago Witness Sept 9, 1865 - p. 18

Fly (cutter)

loss of the cutter Fly , Captain Zall, at Riverton 

Wellington Independent April 28, 1863 pg3


account of enquiry into the wreck of the barque Gazehound March 13, 1865 at Oamaru, William Andrew master

North Otago Times March 23, 1865


 Arrived from London, Dec 28, 1858. List of passengers.

 Otago Witness, Jan 1 1859, p.5

ss Golden Eagle

Message in a bottle: "Jan 23, 1865 - we are sinking, the pumps won't work, in lat 35, long 19.30, captain John Roberts..."

Wellington Independent Oct 3, 1865

ss Great Britain 

Passenger list for steamship Great Britain (Liverpool to Melbourne) Dec 1863 including the All England Eleven cricket team

 Otago Witness Dec 5,   1863 

John Bullock (schooner)

Account of wreck at Hokitika

West Coast Times Sept 30, 1865

John Ormerod

Foundered in a squall from Adelaide to Melbourne.

Wellington Independent Nov 9, 1861- p. 5


Ketch Julia of Lyttelton which left for Patea some time ago and had never been heard of. Timbers including part of her stern with her name painted on it turned up on the beach at Rangitikei  nothing else found

Wellington Independent Oct 10, 1865 - p. 5

Kate Williams

p. 2 - loss of Kate Williams (schooner)

North Otago Times May 18, 1865


p. 9 - lengthy account, from Montreal Gazette, of the sole survivor, Amos Marcier, of the sinking of the schooner Leader in Dec 1864

Otago Witness Sept 15, 1865 - p. 9

Mount Alexander



Lady of the Lake

p. 2 - account of the wreck of the schooner Mount Alexander and the stranding of the Lady of the Lake (as reported by the West Coast Times),

p. 17 - lengthy account of court proceedings associated with the seizure of the p.s. Lady of the Lake (Captain Thomas Zealand)

Otago Witness Sept 23, 1865  - p. 23 & 17

Lady Franklyn, Mary Van Every, Blue Bell

p. 2 - reports the following ships wrecked at Hokititka – Lady Franklyn, Mary Van Every, Blue Bell

North Otago Times Aug 10, 1865

Lord Worsley

Wreck of the Lord Worsley capt Bowden near Blind Bay Sept 1. List of passengers

Wellington Independent Sept 18, 1862, and Sept 30,1862 p. 2

Midas (schooner)

Wrecked off Castle Point 

West Coast Times Sept 30, 1865

Montezuma, Oak, Sir Francis Drake, Rosella, Titania, New Zealand, Alexandria

Refers to numerous wrecks at Hokitika  - names Montezuma, Oak, Sir Francis Drake, Rosella, Titania and steamship New Zealand. Also p. 14 contains accounts of the wrecks of the ss. New Zealand (Captain Anderson) at Hokitika, and s.s. Alexandria at the White Cliffs.

Otago Witness Sept 2, 1865 - p. 8 & 14


Account of total destruction of the Danish ship en route from Copenhagen to Port Louis, Mauritius on Nov 22. Crew rescued by the Trenton

Wellington Independent April 6, 1865


Detailed account of loss of the Orpheus off Manakau including list of crew members

Wellington Independent  Mar 10, 1863 p. 8

 Rosella (schooner)

Wrecked at Hokitika River

West Coast Times July 26, 1865

Samson (steam tug)

Account of wreck at Hokitika

West Coast Times Sept 30, 1865


Arrival from Glasgow on Dec 2. List of passengers

Otago Witness Dec 10, 1859, p. 4

Shenandoah, CSS


p. 7 - info on the Shenandoah (former Sea King) and the trial of her Captain Corbett in England.


Lengthy account of Confederate war steamer Shenandoah at Melbourne


p. 2 - reference to Shenandoah in vicinity of Otago Heads


p. 2 - reference to raider Shenandoah

Otago Witness Feb 24, 1866 p. 7




North Otago Times March 23, 1865



North Otago Times April 13, 1865


North Otago Times May 18, 1865

Star of the South

Reports wreck of SS  Star of the South

Wellington Independent Jan 2, 1866 - p. 6


Reference to total loss of the Sylph, stranded on bar at Hokitika

North Otago Times April 6, 1865

ss Titania

Report of inquiry into wreck of SS Titania  on July 19, 1865 at Hokitika – master Joseph Hughes

West Coast Times July 26, 1865
Tubal Cain

Loss of Tubal Cain off Cape Otway on Aug 24 – capt Clark, crew list.

Wellington Independent Sept 18, 1862


William Miskin

p. 2 - report of loss of schooner Wildfire and stranding of the steamer William Miskin with suspension of her captain Joshua Edmondson Driver

North Otago Times April 13, 1865


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