Recently the NZDF was contacted by a member of public concerned with the sad state of a historic Sailor’s Grave on the East Coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, in a location aptly named ‘Sailors Grave’. The Tauranga Unit of HMNZS NGAPONA (Naval Reserve) was tasked with completing outstanding maintenance of the Grave, which we were honoured to do.
With the aid of photos and internet research we built up a picture of what would be required. While a relatively straightforward task, there were special considerations. Namely, we would be working on a Grave and all due respect would need to be observed, and as the Grave is a protected historic site, everything must be left in the same order as we found it.
Image Right: (left to right) WOEWS Roger SHEEHAN , CPOMT(P) Paul BRENNAN (inside picket fence) and LT Garth MATHIESON.
The Grave is of AB William Sampson (22) of HMS Tortoise, and lies just off the beach in Te Karo Bay, 8km North of Tairua. In 1842 HMS Tortoise, a former East Indiaman of 960 tons was collecting Kauri Spars to be sent to England for ships masts, and a timber station had been set up in Te Karo Bay for that purpose.
Extracts from the Ship’s Log indicate on the 6th May 1842, boats were transferring
stores to the timber station and in the afternoon it was reported to the Ship the Jolly Boat had capsized in the surf, with the loss of stores, and a Sailor who had drowned.
An extract from the HMS Tortoise’s Books shows:
Deceased entered as Wm Sampson AB
Joined ship Hobart February 1842
Born Devonport, England
Martial Status Single
AB William Sampson was buried opposite the spot where he drowned. The Grave sits under a stand of Pohutukawa trees, and is believed to be the oldest known Sailor’s Grave in New Zealand. It is also the name of the Road that leads off SH25 to the Beach.
On Saturday April 14 LT Garth Mathieson RNZNVR, WOEWS Roger Sheehan, CPOMT(P) Paul Brennan and POMTO Graeme Frost left Tauranga for Te Karo Bay. On arrival, we did a quick check on the site to determine our plan of action. Over the weekend we carefully cleared the grave of debris, washed down the area and scrubbed the picket fence, sanded and repainted the posts and pickets.
Once the maintenance was completed we did a final check of the area, and headed back to Tauranga, with a sense of pride with a job well done.
All of us who undertook this tasking felt privileged and honoured to be involved. This Sailor lies thousands of miles from home. He was part of the Naval Family doing a job on active duty, and was killed in the course of those duties.
On May 6th 2012 it was 170 years since he died. Our Naval Reserve Unit will be looking to continue maintaining the site for years to come, and AB William Sampson is not forgotten.