HMS Orpheus memorial plaque

HMS <em>Orpheus</em> memorial plaque

The tragic story of the loss of the HMS Orpheus at the entrance to the Manukau Harbour on 7 February 1863 is well-known. As many as 189 men died in the shipwreck, New Zealand’s worst shipping disaster.

A marble memorial tablet to the victims was erected in the Mariners’ Church in Hobart (it was later moved to the Tasmanian Museum). A memorial tablet was also set up in the Chapel of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, London, in 1882. Perhaps surprisingly, no similar memorials were erected in New Zealand. However, on 20 November 1976, more than a century after the event, the NZ Historic Places Trust attached a small bronze memorial plaque to Paratutai Rock on the northern Manukau Heads, close to where the signal flagstaff had stood in 1863. This read: ‘On 7 February 1863 the steam / corvette HMS Orpheus was wrecked / entering the Manukau Harbour / Of the 259 officers and men / there were 70 known survivors.’

Some years later, the plaque was dislodged by vandals. It was retrieved by a park ranger and after a period in storage was placed in the Huia Settlers’ Museum, where it remains on display along with Orpheus memorabilia. A commemorative ceremony was held at Paratutai on the 150th anniversary of the disaster in 2013. At Cornwallis, not far away, several HMS Orpheus graves are marked.


  • 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, ‘Orpheus Sailors 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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