The wreck in 1866 of the ‘General Grant’ in the desolate sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands is one of the world’s great nautical mysteries, a story that still tantalises and thrills. When the ship was crushed in a cave beneath a sheer cliff face, a few crew members and a handful of passengers managed to escape in a lifeboat. For more than two years they lived a hand-to-mouth existence on a nearby island before they were rescued. This story is extraordinary in itself, but soon compelling legends spread that the ship had sunk with a fabulous hoard of gold from the Victoria goldfields. For almost 140 years, expeditions and bounty hunters have searched for the ship and her elusive cargo. In the relentless seas of the Auckland Islands, it has been a soul-destroying endeavour. Locating the vessel has been difficult enough; finding the gold has proved impossible.
In this book Madelene Ferguson Allen and Ken Scadden tell the full story of the voyage, the shipwreck, the plight of the castaways and the search for the gold. At this distance in time, separating the facts from the legends is difficult, but the authors have scrupulously researched the events of the shipwreck and examined every subsequent search for the gold. The story is more remarkable than fiction, a tale of heroes and cads, heartbreak and loss, hope and despair, hunger and greed. As it has bewitched so many in the past, so it will haunt you long after the last page is turned.
Madelene Ferguson Allen (1942-2003) was by training a geographer and by profession a teacher with 25 years’ experience in her native Canada. In her earlier acclaimed book, ‘Wake of the Invercauld’ (Exisle 1997, reprinted 2005), she tells the story of the wreck of the ‘Invercauld’ in the Auckland Islands in 1864, and the amazing survival of her great-grandfather, Robert Holding.
Ken Scadden is a historian and museum consultant. Formerly the Director of the Wellington City Museum and Curator of the Wellington Maritime Museum, he now runs his own consultancy, Heritage Advisory Services, from his home in Wellington.