On the waterfront: The Wear’s last tall ship lost

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The distinction of building the Wear’s last tall ship belongs to William Pickersgill and Sons of Southwick, where such vessels remained a speciality during the early 1890s.

Named Margarita, the 172-foot-long barquentine was launched by Mrs Holdsworth Davis of Sunderland on June 14, 1893.

This ship was said to be a fine three-masted vessel of 527 gross tons, constructed from steel. She had been built for SC and FH Chambers of Liverpool and was in fact the only vessel built by Pickersgills that year.

She left the Wear in ballast on July 8 for her maiden voyage to East Bute Dock, Cardiff.

Margarita eventually entered the fleet of JJ Craig Ltd of Auckland, New Zealand, being renamed Constance Craig in 1905 as part of a company scheme to change vessel names to those of family members.

Constance Craig regularly traded between New Zealand and Australia, carrying timber and coal.

In 1906, she was aquired by a Mr EJ Chrisp, a Captain J Kennedy and others of Gisborne in north-eastern New Zealand for use in the Gisborne - Newcastle (NSW) coal trade.

About this time, her rig was altered to that of a barque.

In 1907, concerns were raised for the safety of the vessel her crew after leaving Gisborne on July 15 for Hokianga to load timber for Sydney. Before departure, a new set of sails had been supplied to replace those damaged in an earlier storm.

Although sighted within ten miles of Hokianga Heads two weeks later, the grey painted barque was being driven seaward in a gale. A ship’s boat bearing the name Constance Craig was later washed ashore at Taiharurn Island and reported to the Collector of Customs.

Despite this, authorities remained confident that the ship was safe and that the boat had probably been washed overboard.

However, by mid-August it was feared that the ship and all hands had been lost. More wreckage had been washed up at Great Barrier Island to the north of New Zealand’s North Island. Convincing evidence of the ship’s demise came when broken timbers were pieced together to reveal the name Constance Craig on one side and Margarita on the other.

Although it was hoped that those on board might have managed to reach safety on a remote island, nothing was ever found and the master Captain Finlay Morrison (a native of Scotland) and his crew of 14 were posted as missing, presumed drowned.

A nautical enquiry held on November 4 added little to the facts, the Court being of the opinion that Constance Craig had been lost at sea but had been seaworthy and well-founded on leaving port.