Origins of a disciple
- Here is a short poetry and prose account of the strange ancestry one of our Auckland disciples has. I call the poem : "At Manukau Bar".
'When it rained we ran
Shrieking in fun at the deluge,
Shirts and skirts and your hair
Streaming in the wind.
I looked shrink wrapped in my
Sodden cotton shirt, you
Dishevelled and pink.
Then the sun came out.
The squall crossed the harbour
Tore up the sea with whitecaps, twisters.
I remembered the 189 sailors
Who drowned there that night
The wooden barque grounded on a reef
And splintering like dried bones.
1863 it was.
They crossed 7,000 miles of ocean
Only to founder and perish
A cannon shot from shore.
Wrapped in bladderwrack and kelp
They came ashore all week
Gumbooted, ghoulish-white and
Face down as though penitent
Their lips mouthing the gray sand.
Living and dying, hope and terror
Seem so deeply intertwined
That every kind of certainty can fail.
Yet I relish this moment
The flare of light after rain
The perfume everywhere of marigolds
The heart's long reach of feeling
The unburdening calm of this sky.'
Human beings always blame others when things go wrong. In 1863, attempting passage over perilous shoals into the Manukau harbor, the HMS Orpheus hit a sandbar and broke apart in the heavy seas -189 soldiers and sailors lost their lives. Capt. Burton would have blamed the maritime charts if he had not drowned; the lighthouse signalman blamed an admiral who reacted too late; the Naval enquiry board, not wanting to accept the Navy's culpability, blamed the signalman; the local Maori people blamed a white settler who the day before felled a nearby `tapu' (sacred) puriri tree, thus incurring Nature's retribution.
Standing on this beach I sometimes imagine that night, those mainly 12 18 year old boy soldiers, military reinforcements for the Maori Land Wars of that time, scores of them in their bright red uniforms clinging to the dismasted rigging, sobbing for their girls, their mothers and their lives in that pitiless sea.
They washed ashore in ones and threes and were finally buried en masse somewhere near where we were standing this morning, looking out into the curly headed deep of the Manukau bar. Now only seabirds roam or nest in this lonely unvisited place. I sat on a dune today to think of that long ago night, writing these few lines of remembrance.
Interestingly, one of our Auckland disciple's predecessors was on the Orpheus. He and a friend swam across two miles of ocean and landed intact on the southern side of the Manukau Harbor. The local Maoris found them and kept them in a large cage, feeding them regular meals. It was supposed by the captives they were being fattened for consumption some tribes were cannibals at that time but a week later a Christian missionary arrived and our relieved captives were handed over. They gave false names, decided to start new lives and not rejoin the navy, and so were presumed in all official accounts to have perished at sea. So only 187 sailors and soldiers actually died in the wreck of the Orpheus. Out of that strange history our disciple came into this world a lovely sad entanglement indeed.