Sunday, 6 July 2014

June Meeting - Hannibal Marks by Vivien Edwards

Hannibal Marks
Image courtesy of John Marks
At the Mission Cemetery in Tauranga lies Hannibal Marks, harbourmaster and pilot at Tauranga from 1874-1879 who drowned in Tauranga Harbour on 16 August 1879 along with his son, also named Hannibal. The BOP Times story is that Marks went to help two young men racing yachts singlehanded in foul weather. One yacht hit the pilot boat and damaged its rudder, resulting in losing control of the vessel. A sudden squall hitting the sail capsized it. Marks’ other son Pascoe and his brother-in-law survived.

It was the final tragedy in a life coloured with both triumphs and disappointments. Marks arrived in New Zealand in 1841 when the ship Regina was wrecked at New Plymouth. He married Mary Jane Vercoe. Not all their 12 children survived.

Marks honed his seafaring skills in coastal traders on the North Island’s west coast. At Manukau he was mate and coxswain on the Government cutter Maori, which provided a ferry service between Onehunga and Waiuku, but arguments over the vessel’s maintenance led to dismissal due to ‘insolence and insubordination.’ His time as first pilot in Manukau Harbour was cut short after a few months. The Provincial Government delayed deciding how much to spend on buoys and beacons and a pilot boat, and there were expectations a small boat could safely escort ships over Manukau bar.

However, Marks seamanship skills were recognised, and his career highlight was as commander of the gunboats Caroline and Sandfly. During the Maori war he delivered despatches between the British men o’ war ships and Governor Grey; embarked and disembarked troops and marines and enforced naval blockades in the Firth of Thames, then at Tauranga. He was highly praised by Sir George Grey and newspapers of the day, but just before the Battle of Gate Pa while transporting soldiers and marines to Tauranga Marks had a fatal accident on board the Sandfly. A William Todman rolled off his baggage and fell through the decklight on to the engine. He was buried on Mercury Island.

Marks’ gunboat career ended after the Australian explorer Francis Cadell, in charge of steam service on the Waikato River, asserted his authority over Mark’s crew and eventually dismissed Marks. A Commission of Inquiry later found Marks should not have lost his command, but by then the Government had sold the Sandfly.

There were 41 signatures of recommendation attached to Marks’ application to become harbourmaster and pilot at Tauranga. The Rowena was already operating between Auckland and Tauranga, and during Marks’ time the Staffa started a service to Opotiki. A steam service was started up to Katikati (some time after Vesey Stewarts’ first settlers arrived), and Union Steamship Company ships from down south began calling. With a large number of small vessels also using the port, Tauranga Wharf had to be extended and Victoria Wharf was built. After the Nellie hit Astrolabe Reef it was wrecked on Motiti Island. The Taranaki was wrecked on Karewa Island and the Taupo ran aground on Stoney Point Reef. There were several drownings in the harbour.

The grave of Hannibal Marks
Photo courtesy of Viven Edwards

Marks was criticised several times by E.M. Edgcumbe, chairman of the Town Board and BOP Times editor, for laziness in staking the harbour and rivers. Edgcumbe challenged Marks’ competence in supplying Sir John Coode, who inspected the harbour, with data he required and there were issues over buoy placement after the Taupo ran aground. Following accusations of procrastination and persistent idleness, Marks’ son Pascoe physically assaulted Edgcumbe on Tauranga Wharf.

After the drowning, Marks’ funeral was held in the Tauranga Hotel. The BOP Times reported the cortege as very large, including nearly all the town’s residents. Pallbearers wore full Masonic regalia and Marks’ Masonic apron draped his coffin. Marks’ son Hannibal’s body was recovered two weeks later.

Many thanks to Vivien Edwards who gave this talk at our June meeting.

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