Rough, unpredictable weather and a lengthy, often treacherous coastline meant many ship were wrecked in the early days of New Zealand’s history. Fortunately, such disasters are considerably less frequent today.
One point of the coastline that claimed more than its share of ships was the Timaru roadstead. From November 1865 until 1890, when an ambitious harbour works scheme was completed, the port was the graveyard for 28 ships.
Shipwreck recalls the disaster in setting a portion of a poem printed in the Timaru Herald on 23 May, 1882. The poem details the events and pays tribute to the bravery of all the sailors cnocerned. Shipwreck opens with a setting of a folk ballad, ‘John Smith A. B.’ (printed in The Bulletin Sydney 1904), which describes the loss of a life at sea and illustrates how such tragedy was accepted by the early sailors as part of the hazards of their occupation.
Shipwreck was composed in May to July 1990, revised in May 1997 for the City of Dunedin Choir (musical director Judy Bellingham), orchestrated in May to June 2006 for the Canterbury Philharmonia (musical director Mark Hodgkinson) with funding from The Canterbury Community Trust.