Steamer Newspaper Article

Treasure may remain from Shipwreck

By Mike Tod
Staff reporter, Hastings

On a dark and stormy night 105 years ago a steam ship went ashore about three kilometres south of Cape Kidnappers.

The Go Ahead was apparently carrying valuable cargo – a quantity of gold watches and jewellery which were said to be safely taken ashore but never seen again.

According to a 97 year old Clive man the treasure was buried.

Lindsay Gordon grew up on Clifton Station which fronted on to the beach where the Go Ahead steamer went ashore on May 20, 1887.

He said that as a boy his father used to tell him and friends of the night the ship went ashore.

His father said part of its cargo was valuable gold watches and jewellery. They were taken off the boat and buried and no one returned to get them. The land was rugged in those days.

Mr Gordon said he and friends used to camp around the area where the Go Ahead went ashore and search for treasure but never found it. But they did find human skeletons in the sand dunes, presumably those of Maori fishermen.

Boiler remains

The Go Ahead was 35.5m long, had a beam of 6.1 metres and a depth of 2.8m. It was powered by two 45hp engines and was owned by W.W. and C.J. Johnson, Wellington.

Mr Gordon said one of the ship’s boilers still remains at the area where it went ashore.

The Go Ahead’s captain was Samuel Plumley and the Herald-Tribune has obtained a copy of his story of the events that happened the day the ship sank.

Captain’s story
“We left Wellington on Wednesday evening.

“The weather was terribly thick and dirty, and continued so all along the coast, getting worse if possible as we went along. We sighted Cape Turnagain and Blackhead, but after that were never able to distinguish the land at all, everything being totally obscured by the thickness of the weather

“At about quarter to 2 o’clock on Friday morning we found ourselves in the breakers, no land being visible even at that time. The engines were at once put Full Speed Astern, but the vessel struck and remains fast.

“It was impossible to see the shore, but efforts were at once made to lower a boat, as the sea was breaking over the vessel, and it was feared she would break up.

“I had two narrow escapes, the first time a sea washed me clean overboard, but another one washed me back again and I caught hold of the rails. I had a hard fight, and I think if it had not been for the thoughts of those at home I should have given up, for I was nearly done.

“The vessel had a list to the land, which made it difficult for me to recover my footing, and I had to hang on with my hands while several seas swept over me. In the intervals I took fresh grasp, so to speak, and at last managed to put myself right. After that I was again swept off, but was caught and held by some of the crew.

“While we were lowering the boat it was pitch dark and there was nothing to be seen but the break under us and nothing to hear but the wind howling.

“While the boat was being lowered a terrific sea came, and everything was carried away, boats and davits and all, not a bit left. It was a dreadful time, and we were not very hopeful.

“We had to wait till daylight before we could attempt to lower the big boat as she was on the windward side of the ship and before the boat could be lowered she had to be got across the deck. This was accumplished [accomplished] ‘somehow’ I have no other way to tell how it was done and I do not believe anyone on board could describe how that boat was got off the davits and across the deck. The sea was breaking over all the time.

“However, we managed to lower it and all of us got into her except one man, a fireman named Gunning. He would not come in the boat as he was afraid she would not reach the shore, all of us who went in the boat got ashore safely, although with great difficulty, the fireman stayed on the ship till low water, when he started to swim to shore, but succumbed on the way and went down.

“We went across the hills and fortunatly [fortunately] fell in with a shepherd who piloted the whole party to the station which was reached at about 7 o’clock on Saturday morning, we were all treated with the greatest possible kindness, nothing being neglected that could be done.

“The vessel was a total wreck, lying in the breakers bottom upwards and practically all to pieces. We only escaped with our lives.

“The accident would not have happened had there been a light on the Kidnappers for although the storm was a terrific one if I could have known where the land was everything would have been right.”

The middle months of 1887 were not good for ships travelling to or from Napier.

On April 23 the steamer, Waitaki, was on a passage from Napier to Wellington and went ashore at Black Head, near Cape Palliser.

The ship was 50.23m long, had a beam of 6.7m and a depth of 3.1m. All the crew survived the grounding.

The Northumberland, which was an iron, full rigged ship, was totally wrecked after going aground on the Bay View Beach, Napier, on May 11. All crew and passengers of the ship were saved.

The ship was 24.6m long, had a beam of 5.3m and a depth of 2.2m.

The Boojum steamer was also wrecked on May 11 while it was involved in rescue operations at the wreck of the Northumberland. Four of the five crew died, including the captain.

The boat was 21.3m long, had a beam of 4m and depth of 1.8m.

Photo caption – The ship’s bell of the Go Ahead.

Photo caption – The compass of the Go Ahead. Both the bell and the compass are in the possession of the Gordon Family.

Original digital file

GordonM806 _GoAheadSteamer_0002a.jpg


“Go Ahead” passenger steamer was wrecked south of Cape Kidnappers in 1887. Michael Gordon, son of Michael Scott Campbell Gordon, has the bell, compass and lifebuoy from the steamer.

Date published

January 1992?

Format of the original

Newspaper article


Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune

Accession number


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