Kaipara Harbour claims a sailor

MATTHEW GRAY
Last updated 07:28 05/02/2013

A fisherman gutting a large shark caught on the Kaipara reeled back in horror when part of a human torso spilled out on to the deck of his boat.

Police called in to examine the grisly find back on dry land in Helensville identified the big lump of flesh as part of a man's chest.

Constable Watt went one step further and claimed it was a piece of John Maxwell - a sailor missing for several days after the boat he was travelling in was caught in the midst of a storm.

The year was 1892 and the story quickly made newspaper headlines.

But police realised they'd got the wrong man when John's brother, Buckland-based gumdigger James Maxwell, asked to see the remains and quickly pointed out the absence of a distinctive tattoo.

So whose body had the shark dined on?

A number of ships were wrecked on the Kaipara that same year and a number of possibilities were put forward.

But no positive identification was ever made.

John, eldest son of Margaret and William Maxwell from Franklin Rd in Ponsonby, was never found.

The 32-year-old was one of seven men crewing the cutter Scotch Lass when it was struck by a strong westerly gale en route from Buckland to Shelly Beach on October 18.

The boat partially overturned and its panicked occupants clung to whatever they could, hoping it would not roll over completely and sink.

The vessel miraculously righted itself and there were congratulations all round until the men noticed John was not among them.

A scan of the rough sea around them revealed no sign of their shipmate who was presumed to be drowned.

John's family included his details on a headstone over a family grave at Waikumete Cemetery in his memory.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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