Thursday, 2 April 2015

Anthony Ormsby: An unfortunate tragedy that befell one of our ancestors.

Anthony Ormsby, 1858 ~ 1889

Written by David Bell

Born near Pirongia (previously Alexandra) 14 October, 1858, Anthony Ormsby, the sixth child of Robert and Pianika, died 16 March, 1889 aged 31 in a shipwreck off the coast of Apia, Western Samoa. At the time he was a trader stationed at Tutuila, American Samoa. His death certificate issued by the British Consulate in Western Samoa gives his death date as 16 March, 1889 and lists him as a trader of Tutuila visiting Apia.

His death came as a great shock to his family back in New Zealand who would not have learned of it immediately, communications not being as instant as today. A couple of letters to Apia from his father Robert give some insights into the situation.

Letter 1, dated April 1889:

Many thanks for your letter of 20th March received today informing me of the death of my poor son, Anthony. I was rather surprised to hear from McArthur an Co. a few days ago that he had been married for some time, as he never mentioned it to me or his brothers in his letters. Possibly you would be good enough to let me know if any legal marriage took place before I take any steps regarding his effects.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant, Robert Ormsby Senior.

Letter 2, dated 9 August, 1889 to the HBM Consul, Apia, Samoa: 


I received your letter of 20th March last about and replied the same day. Perhaps my answer did not reach you. Many thanks for your kind letter as it explained my poor son's reason for staying aboard the Lily. I had a letter from McArthur and Co. on 5 June last in which they stated that you had got what property he left and eighty or ninety pound in money. I know no-one in Apia. If you or McArthur's agent would kindly act as my representative in administering his estate I would feel greatly obliged. You will do me a great kindness if you will let me know as soon as possible about this matter.

I have the honour to be sir, your obedient servant,

Robert Ormsby Senior.

The Consulate obviously got onto it because an extensive list of all his effects was duly sent to Robert, a copy of which is included at the end of this article. It gives the impression that Anthony was doing well prior to his dreadful demise.

A brief report (author unknown) of the situation around Anthony's death:

On the 15th of March 1889 a hurricane started to gain force around Apia, Samoa. At this time there were several ships in the harbour: German, English, and American. Besides these were several smaller vessels which included the schooner , Lily, which belonged to Wm. McArthur and Co., traders from Tutuila, American Samoa. There were three Persons aboard the Lily, namely; the captain, the cook and Anthony Ormsby. The storm had come up very quickly and they stayed with the boat. However, overnight as the fury of the storm increased, the ships were in serious trouble and several were damaged and amongst all that chaos the Nispic, a German ship, lost control and scuttled the Lily with Anthony aboard. He and the cook lost their lives, the captain was saved. 

It would have been a sad day for Anthony's family. A court record for a land claim bought by a member of the Aumavae family was on behalf of the 'Ormsby heirs' stating that their father died in 1889 and he had married into the Aumavae family. The marriage took place about 1884 and two children were born of this union; a son who was named Anthony Aumavae and a second child.  Anthony's wife was born about 1860 at Leone on Tutuila Island, American Samoa.  
                                         End of report.

From Robert's letters and this short report we learn a few interesting facts about Anthony:

1. He must have been a bit more adventurous than his brothers, having left New Zealand and the family lands for the tropics of Samoa.

2. He was obviously an astute businessman.

3. He married a Samoan woman and had two children. Oddly, it came as a shock to his family back home. For some reason known only to him, he kept it quiet. The report states that there was 'more than one child' in this marriage but his father Robert's letter indicates shock that the rest of the family knew nothing about them until his death. This indicates that he had been married at least two or three years without informing those back home.

4. The event of his death was an unlucky accident; during the storm another ship smashed into the Lily and sunk it, otherwise he and the others on the Lily would have likely ridden out the storm and survived. Those schooners were sturdy craft designed to take a good battering at sea.

5. Judging from the list of all his effects and chattels, it appears he was doing very well as a trader. Being a son of Robert, this is not surprising. He would have been very literate and born with the drive to succeed. He would have had a good nose for business.

List of Anthony Ormsby's Properties and Personal Effects after his Decease, 16 March, 1889 in Samoa.

The list is extensive so I have included the preamble of R. T. Chatfield, the Administrator in the High Commissioner's Court of Western Samoa, and an abbreviated version of the list.

1) Chatfield's Preamble:

I, Robert Thomas Chatfield, make an oath and say as follows: I will faithfully administer the personal property of the deceased by paying his just debts and distribute the residue of his property according to the law. I will accept (or execute) an inventory and render the account of my administration whenever lawfully required.
The deceased died at Apia in Samoa on the 16th day of March, 1889. At the time of his death he had his fixed place of abode at Tutuila within the district of this court. The whole of his personal property does not amount in value to the sum of six thousand dollars to the best of my knowledge, information and belief.

Sworn at Malaulu this twenty third day of April, one thousand eight hundred and eighty nine, before me...H. de Coelligan.

2) The Abbreviated List of Personal Effects sent to Robert Ormsby Senior on the SS Wainui:

3 gold and silver watches, 1 gold Albert Guard, gold-faced studs(one set), a magnifying glass, carpenter rulers, forceps, mathematical instruments, a set of draftsmen, chess set, a revolver and case, a rife, and a violin. There was probably more but these are the main items of interest which show that he was a pretty educated fellow. One's personal effects often indicate one's personality and lifestyle. From this small list it appears Anthony was prosperous (the expensive watches for example), educated and with some good skills (the technical instruments and chess set), a musician (his violin), and perhaps a hunter (the two guns). All of these would have been valuable items for the time. There was also an extensive and detailed list of all his clothing. I have also simplified this for the sake of this article. It is doubtful all these items would have been shipped home on the Wainui. It's more likely they went to his Samoan family.

Numerous shirts of all kinds, 2 black serge suits, several hats (LDS trim straw, Crimean and Panama), Merino wool singlets, several quilts, chemises and work boxes, blankets, sheets, tweed trousers, and 110 Llama, whatever these are. I doubt it would be the South American animal from the Andes. Also included in the list is the interesting item of a 'dismantled' cutter (small boat) lying on the beach at Matautu which was sold to McArthur and Co. for $75 on 2 April 1889.  This craft was obviously previously owned by Anthony. Other items and possessions sold after his decease were a saddle and bridle ($11), a thermometer (50 cents), a store with land at Pago Pago, and land at Leone for $650 and $550 respectively.

The list of his clothing also gave the value of each item listed. For the sake of curiosity I have added all these up - along with those items that were sold - to get an idea of his economic standing. This total is by no means accurate as I'm sure many things were not included. For example there is no value put to those items sent home on the Wainui, so we can only guess at their worth. However, we are certainly indebted to Mr Chatfield and others for the detailed lists they left us which provide good insights into what little we know of Anthony's life which by all accounts was a very interesting one ~ right up to its tragic end.
His final worth by my best estimation counting his clothing, properties and the effects shipped home on the SS Wainui came to around $2047.00 (U.S. dollars being American Samoa) which was a tidy sum in those days.


The following is a further report from the N.Z. Herald in 1889.

New Zealand Herald, Volume XXVI, Issue 9344, 22 April 1889, Page 13

TERRIBLE DISASTER AT SAMOA. ALL THE AMERICAN AND GERMAN VESSELS LOST. An appalling catastrophe has occurred at Apia, the sorrowful tidings of which were brought by the R.M.S. Mariposa, which arrived in port at an early hour on the 30th March. We give a complete and graphic account of the terrible disaster. During a furious gale on the morning of the 16th March, the American warships Trenton, Vandalia, and Nipsic, and the German warships, Eber, Adler, and Olga, while lying at anchor at Apia were driven ashore and wrecked. A large number of small merchant craft was also lost. The total loss of life is estimated at 150..... THE SCHOONER LILY RUN DOWN. The schooner Lily, belonging to Messrs; McArthur and Co, was one of those which was totally lost. She was riding in comparative security at her anchorage, under the lee side of the eastern reef, when the U.S.S. Nipsic, drifting helplessly before the hurricane, came into collision with her, cutting her in two. Captain Douglas, the English and American pilot, was on board at the time, also Mr. Ormsby, trader for William McArthur and Co., and the schooner's cook. All were of course hurled into the water when the Nipsic struck her. Douglas managed to swim to the Olga, which was also close by, and, after great exertion succeeded in getting on board. Ormsby also reached the side of the Olga, where a rope was thrown to him, but he seemed too weak to take advantage of it, and was carried past and soon lost sight of. The cook was never seen after he was precipitated into the water. AN AUCKLANDER DROWNED. The trader referred to, Mr. John (sic) Ormsby, (this was Anthony Ormsby) was a native of this province, being a Maori half-caste, from Alexandra, Waikato. He had been some four or five years at the Islands, and was in the employ of Messrs. McArthur and Co., managing a trading station for them at Leone, on the Island of Tutuila. He was about 30 years of age, and unmarried, and was well known and esteemed in Apia. He has relations at Alexandra, and a brother of his is at present resident at Otorohanga, where he keeps a store and public house in conjunction with a Mr. J. Hettet. 

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