Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Shipwreck of the Pilot-part 1.

Allan Hughan saw the new decade arrive on board his schooner 'Pilot' as he sailed around New Caledonia and surrounding islands, no doubt on the lookout for business opportunities. On January 30, 1870, the Pilot arrived in Sydney, having sailed from New Caledonia with her cargo of 60 tons of pearl shells.
The very next day the Sydney Morning Herald carried news concerning the dramatic departure of the Pilot from Noumea. The captain of the schooner 'Sarah Pile', Captain Yuill, had been sentenced in Noumea to 13 months imprisonment for his role in helping a French convict escape the Island. In turn, Captain Yuill had himself escaped,using the old "fake body in the gaol cell" trick- a ploy that was not discovered until his captors took in his next meal and discovered him gone. By this time he had reached the harbour and stowed himself away on a vessel heading for Sydney. The authorities frantically searched all vessels lying at Noumea, including the Pilot. The captain of the Pilot reported in Sydney that the police had turned their cargo "topsy-turvey" as they tried to track Yuill down, but despite all of their efforts the Captain reached Sydney - and safety- on Saturday January 29. The only vessel from New Caledonia to arrive on that day was the schooner 'Colonist', and then the 'Pilot' the following day. A reward of five hundred pounds was offered by the French authorities for the recapture of Captain Yiull, but it is not known whether the plucky Captain was ever spied by the irate Frenchmen again. He would have had to have kept a very low profile upon his arrival in Sydney, as docked in the Harbour was the French war steamer 'Marceau', ready to set sail for New Caledonia.
Allan Hughan must have seen an opportunity to make money from operating a trade route between the east coast of Australia and New Caledonia, as on several occasions he sailed to the Islands with produce to trade.
On March 4, 1870, passengers to arrive at New Caledonia per ‘Pilot’ from Wollongong included Mr. Hughan, Miss Hughan, Mr Thompson, Mr Piper( this information taken from a Googlebook result which was a ‘no preview available’, giving an incomplete reference.)Patrick O'Reilly's book also makes reference to this trip, stating that when the Pilot left Wollongong for Noumea, Allan Hughan was the captain, and that his wife and daughter Ruth were also on board. He also notes that the Pilot was carrying 100 tons of charcoal and 45 sheep.
Once back in New Caledonia, Allan again sailed to Lifou with cargo including pigs and 10 tons of rice. She then made a delivery to Bourail, the second largest settlement in New Caledonia.

The Sydney Morning Herald of April 5, 1870, reported:
"Clearance: Pilot, schooner, 83 tons, Captain Hughan, for New Caledonia, via Wollongong. Passengers- Mrs. Hughan, Miss Hughan and one in the steerage."

The 'Brisbane Courier' allows us to follow the Hughans' movements with a little more precision: On July 11, 1870, the Pilot was reported as having arrived at Gladstone, Queensland, from New Caledonia. A small article followed a few days later:
"The Pilot, schooner, from New Caledonia, has come for a small cargo of cattle and sheep.The most notable fact connected with her arrival is that she came through the Capricorn Group; and Captain Hughes( sic: should read 'Hughan')who is also the owner of the Pilot,describes the passage as safe and easily practicable under ordinary conditions of weather.
That this should be generally known is important to the success of the cattle trade from this port, for hitherto the Capricorn Group has been the bugbear of our cattle-ship navigators.Rather than venture through this dreaded group,vessel ls have been detained here, at times, for days and weeks. Captain Hughes intends to return through the same passage, and as he has been the first to demonstrate its practicability , we wish him every success." -Brisbane Courier, Friday July 22, 1870.
In hindsight, it is almost as though these confident words of Allan Hughan's turned the attention of the 'Powers That Be' in his direction, because this journey that he was so optimistically preparing for was to be the Pilot's last.

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