HMS Orpheus graves

HMS <em>Orpheus</em> graves

When HMS Orpheus was wrecked on the Manukau bar on 7 February 1863 as many as 189 men lost their lives. Many of the drowned men were buried in unmarked graves where they were washed ashore. An exception was made for three unknown sailors, who were buried near Cornwallis Beach in 1863. Their graves were carefully marked, possibly by members of the Kilgour family (local settler John Kilgour was later also buried at the site).

After some decades of obscurity, the graves were ‘rediscovered’ in the 1970s. On 3 March 1974 naval chaplain Father Cronin rededicated them and unveiled a bronze commemorative plaque at the site. This reads: ‘This plaque marks the graves / of three unknown sailors of / the Queen who lost their lives / when H.M.S. Orpheus foundered / at the Manukau entrance on / February 7th 1863 / Unknown friends who recovered / the bodies from the sea below / laid them to rest in this quiet place.’

There are several other marked Orpheus graves elsewhere. Chaplain Reverend Charles B. Haslewood was buried in the graveyard of St Peter’s Anglican Church, Onehunga. Commodore W.F. Burnett, Chief Boatswain’s Mate John Pascoe and Acting Second Master William Joseph Taylor were buried in the Symonds Street cemetery in Auckland. Burnett’s grave was obliterated during motorway construction work in the 1960s, but he and the other two sailors are listed on the memorial wall in the cemetery. Commodore Burnett’s name is also included on a memorial plaque in St Paul’s Anglican Church, Symonds Street.


  • Thayer Fairburn, The Orpheus Disaster, Whakatane, 1987, pp. 177, 187-9
  • T.B. Byrne, Wing of the Manukau, Auckland, 1991, pp. 279-81
  • ‘Site Marked’, Western Leader, 6 May 2005, p. 3
  • ‘Plaque Found’, Western Leader, 16 June 2005, p. 3
  • Matthew Gray, ‘Who Are They?’ Western Leader, 15 October 2009, p. 5
  • Matthew Gray, ‘Orpheus Survivors Taken in by Cornwallis Pioneer’, Western Leader, 9 February 2010, p. 5
  • Orpheus Sailors Launched into Eternity”’, Herald on Sunday, 3 February 2013
  • Bruce Harvey, ‘Orpheus Commemoration Event’, West Auckland Historical Society Newsletter, no. 349, March-April 2013, pp. 2-3
  • ‘Cornwallis Remembrance Gathering’, West Auckland Historical Society Newsletter, no. 349, March-April 2013, p. 4.

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