Saturday, 11 July 2020


HMS Buffalo - a story with two sides

Most Mercury Bay residents know HMS Buffalo as a ship that transported people all over the world to begin new lives and create new communities. The ship ran aground in Whitianga on 28 July 1840. Her wreck is resting in the water just of Buffalo Beach, approximately 200m east of Whitianga Continuing Care. 

One very famous voyage of the Buffalo was in 1836 when she carried nearly 200 colonists from England to South Australia under the command of John Hindmarsh, who would go on to become the first governor of South Australia.

Although the Buffalo is celebrated in several places around the world, she is not popular in Canada.

Deke Richards is a documentary filmmaker based in Montreal, Canada. He is currently working on a documentary about the untold story of some Canadian prisoners who were transported on the Buffalo to Australia less than a year before the loss of the ship.

The prisoners, known as patriots in Canada, unsuccessfully fought against British colonial power in what is known as the "Upper Canada Rebellion."

In a passage from patriot Xavier Prieur’s book, "Notes of a Convict of 1838," there is a brief explanation of the prisoners' experience on the Buffalo. “It was about eleven o’clock on 27 September [1839], when, in the harbour of Quebec, we went alongside the transport vessel, the 'Buffalo.' It was a big three decker ship, equipped, I believe, with 15 or 20 guns of different sizes and mounting a crew of about 150 men.

“Our handcuffs were now put on again and we were immediately placed in the quarters which had been prepared for us and, good heavens! What a quarters they were! They were situated on the third deck and well below the waterline. There, quite exhausted, in the narrow, gloomy space which, for some months was to be the abode of our sufferings, our fetters were removed and the beds we were to occupy were distributed amongst us.”

The space the prisoners occupied was not particularly enjoyable and neither was their lack of fresh air. “Each of us enjoyed only the use of a space of about 50 cubic feet, in a place devoid of ventilation, where we passed both our days and our nights, except for the short and infrequent moments when we walked on the main deck," Prieur wrote.

When he contacted the Mercury Bay Museum, Deke Richards said that there were many Canadians who despised the Buffalo. Another patriot, Francois Lepailleur, wrote a book, "Land of a Thousand Sorrows," about his experiences as a prisoner in Australia. He referred to the Buffalo and the great pleasure he felt when he learned of her wrecking in Mercury Bay.

There truly are two sides to every story. HMS Buffalo, the ship resting approximately 200m east of Whitianga Continuing Care, is no exception.


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