19 Nov 2014

Northland shipwreck finally identified

10:21 pm on 19 November 2014

A descendant of one of almost 500 Chinese men whose bodies were on a ship that sank off Northland over a century ago says it's incredible the wreckage has been found.

The SS Ventnor sank off the west coast of Northland in 1902, carrying the bodies of 499 men. It was on its way from Wellington to China to repatriate the bodies of the men who had been mining gold in Otago.

A wreck about 21km west of Hokianga was first located with an echo-sounder two years ago and today was officially revealed at that of the Ventnor. Some artefacts including a porthole, plate and bell were shown in public for the first time.

Listen to The Ventnor Documentary

The British ship was chartered in 1902 by the Cheong Sing Tong, a charity organisation led by Dunedin businessman Choie Sew Hoy.

Angela Sew Hoy, his great great granddaughter, said today it was incredible that the ship has been found over a century on.

"In Dunedin, Central Otago we've got family there, but of course it's only memorials - there's no bodies, there's no remains ... so this find is amazing. And today to be able to touch those artefacts, it gave me goosebumps to be honest - it's incredible."

The chairman of the Project Ventnor Group, John Albert, believed the find would strengthen bonds between communities.

"I actually think it's one of the most significant parts of our history because we're building a huge and strong tie with the Chinese. When you think about it, our country was started, built on the work of European, Maori and the Chinese."

Mr Albert said many of the bodies drifted ashore in their coffins after the wreck and were buried by local Maori.

The first Chinese gold miners arrived in New Zealand in 1866 and three years later there were more than 2000, mostly migrants from the area near Guangzhou.

The SS Ventnor sank in the Hokianga Heads in 1902.

The SS Ventnor sank in the Hokianga Heads in 1902. Photo: Auckland Library