This is the first of a couple of layouts I plan to do with the Fairy Queen wreck as the subject. I would very much like to do a layout about the Lifesaving Rockets, having bought the very interesting booklet The Lifesaving Rockets of Timaru, by D J Batchelor from the South Canterbury Museum on my visit there earlier this month.
While we cant yet prove that William McClellan was on board the Fairy Queen, it seems quite possible. We have not yet found an alternative arrival for him, and according to his Intention to Marry form he had been here approximately 3 years in January 1877 so the timing seems good. It was from the research of Guy Grimmett that I learned that apparently he was taken in by John Lennie. Perhaps John Lennie was in Timaru on the night of the wreck and was one of the many witnesses to the disaster.
The photo in the layout comes from the South Canterbury museum and one could assume the 9 men lined up are the crew- there are 2 in that line who bear the dark beard we now know William sported.
(From the Timaru Herald, Aug. 29.) It is with deep regret we have to record a series of shipping disasters which happened at Timaru on Wednesday last ; three vessels having been driven ashore during a strong south-easterly gale, and one of the number totally wrecked. Luckily no lives were lost, the seamen — eighteen in all — being safely rescued, some being saved by the rocket apparatus, others by the assistance of a number of willing hands on shore. The vessels in the roadstead at the time of the catastrophe were four in number — tho brigs Silver Lining and Fairy Queen, the three-masted schooner Duke of Edinburgh, and the ketch "Wanderer. The Fairy Queen, brig, 214 tons, Spence, master, was owned by Messrs Nipper and See, commission agents, Melbourne and Sydney, and was one of the finest vessels of the kind with the exception perhaps of the Prospero, that has ever -visited this port. She was an Aberdeen clipper, nearly new, and was well found in every respect. She arrived in the roadstead on Aug. 12 from Newcastle, with a cargo of 345 tons of coal, consigned for Mr Henry Green, the whole of which with the exception of twenty tons had been discharged before Saturday last, and these remaining tons would have been out and the vessel away, we are informed, by Sunday. or Monday at the latest had coal bags been procurable. The gale commenced during Tuesday night, and blew steadily till Wednesday morning without having any great effect upon the sea. Towards noon, however, the wind and rain increased, and such heavy breakers rolled in shorewards that fears were entertained for the safety of the vessels riding at anchor. All four ships were pitching heavily, and the two smaller vessels were shipping seas occasionally, but it was apparent that if their cables were in good order there was no likelihood of their coming ashore, as the anchors were holding securely.
The sea continued to increase in fury till about; twenty minutes after one, when the gun at the flagstaff, where Capt. Mills, the harbour master, was keeping a sharp look-out, announced that something was wrong. It was then seen that the brig Fairy Queen had parted her cable, and was drifting in towards the reefs off Sea View Villa.
The signal had the effect of attracting a large number of persons to the beach. In addition to the rocket-apparatus being placed in readiness to be conveyed to any place it might be needed, the lifeboat crew were ordered to be ready for action, though it was pretty plain that their services would not be required. After the parting of the Fairy Queen's cable another anchor was dropped from the brig, which fortunately held on fast, but not before she had drifted a good cable's length towards the shore, leaving only about a length or so between her and the reef. Apprehensions were still felt for the safety of the vessel, not only by those on shore but also by those on the vessel, for soon after 2 p.m. signals were hoisted stating that the one cable had parted, and the second would in all probability do likewise.
The brig however, continued to hold firmly, and attention was directed to her till 3.15 p.m., when suddenly, to the surprise of all, it was seen that the three-masted schooner, Duke of Edinburgh, which had hitherto been behaving admirably, parted, and drifted towards the shore, passing dangerously close to the ketch Wanderer. When about a chain from the shore, at the point where the remains of the old breakwater lay, and where a rocky reef just out, the schooner's jibs were hauled up, and the vessel steered in a southerly direction, with the idea, everybody hoped and believed, of endeavouring to lay up to the wind and stand to sea. Not so, however, for the rest of the sails were seen to be clewed up, and the vessel steered towards the shore, and beached immediately in front of the Government Landing Service shed, where she swung round, her stem pointing towards the south. The rocket apparatus was at once placed in position but not used, as the vessel was so close in that a rope was thrown on board from the shore. The cradle was then set to work, and five of the seamen were taken off in a very short time, — only twenty minutes having elapsed from the time of the vessel breaking loose, to her virtual abandonment. The scene on the beach when the Duke was coming ashore was somewhat animated, a large number of the male inhabitants of the town having turned out as well as a few of the opposite ***, although it was raining in torrents the whole time. During the latter port of the afternoon the rain fell heavier, while the wind considerably diminished, the consequence being that the sea smoothened to such a degree that strong hopes were indulged in that the other three vessels would safely hold to their anchors. These hopes, however, were of very short duration, for no sooner did the darkness set in than both wind and sea sprung up stronger than ever. The whereabouts of the vessels, could only be ascertained by their lights, which could be seen at intervals as the vessels rose out of the trough of the sea. Very few believed that the crafts could long stand such weather, and in this they were right, for at about 7 o'clock the cry was raised that the Fairy Queen had broken loose. She was then seen to be drifting towards the beach in a northerly direction, and a blue light was burned on shore indicating a good position to strike the beach. Unfortunately she went too far to the northward, and struck on a rocky reef, about four chains above where the Duke of Edinburgh was lying, the sea rushing clean over her. A small fire was immediately lighted, and the apparatus fixed, by which a rope was dropped fairly between the vessels masts. Just after this a barrel of pitch was procured, and lighted on the rocks a little way up the cliffs. By this time a large number of persons assembled. The excitement now was at its highest. What with the fury of the wind and the blinding rain, the fierce hoarse moan of the breakers ashore, and the thought that possibly life might be sacrificed within a stone's throw of safety were sufficient elements to move the surging crowd collected on the sea beach ; the light from the tar barrels bringing out in strong relief to the pitchy darkness of the night ,every stick and rope of the doomed vessel, and lighting up the faces of the anxious sailors collected on the forecastle, was another element fanning the excitement, showing both the danger and the means of help. No time was lost in getting the cradle again to work, and one by one the seamen (nine in all) were conveyed to shore amid the cheers of the crowd, the mate and captain coming last. The journey to the shore must have been anything but a pleasant trip, for now and then a heavy sea would roll in momentarily hiding both man and basket. From the time the vessel broke away the the men were rescued very little over half an hour had elapsed. The crew were only just got off in time, for a few moments after the last had been pulled ashore an enormous roller struck the vessel and caused the mainmast to go by the board, at the same time forging the vessel (which had hitherto been lying head on) broadside on to the rocks, the deck canting towards the shore. The sea continued to drive her in, till, by means of the broken mast, which was attached to the vessel by the rigging, a person could, by watching his opportunity, get on board. At about ten minutes to eight o'clock it was observed that the after part of the vessel's bottom had been stove in, and her speedy breaking up seemed certain. Shortly after this the galley was observed to be on fire, and while everybody was conjecturing as to whether the remainder of the wreck was going to be burned, or whether the water constantly breaking over would extinguish the flames, a cry was raised that there was another vessel ashore. To rush away from the burning vessel and peer into the darkness, rendered all the more difficult; to see through by the drenching rain falling, was the work of a moment. The brig Fairy Queen continued on fire throughout the night, burning a hole in the deck, 1 a quantity of coal, and a portion of the rigging. The fire was partly extinguished early yesterday morning, and shortly afterwards the vessel, as she laid, was put up to auction .
Whilst at this point we have no absolute evidence to prove or disprove the story, family legend has William McClellan as a sailor on board the Fairy Queen on the night it wrecked in Caroline Bay Timaru. The story goes that John Lennie took William in after the wreck and gave him a home - a move that was to prove a turning point in our famiy history, as on the death of John Lennie 3 years later, William married his widow Elizabeth and together they bought up the Lennie children and the one son, William, that they had together