When I spotted French Pass on a wall map at the Manders and mentioned to Campbell “I think the Amokura is sunk around here”, I was startled by Debi’s instant interest. “What do you know about the Amokura?” she asked. I said “Well my Great Granddad was the captain and I think it was sunk as a divers’ wreck”. She beamed at me and said “No it isn’t. I used to play on it as a kid. It’s at the bottom of my parents’ garden! We can take you to see it tomorrow!”
I couldn’t believe it! My grandmother Ruth Hosking (nee Martin), who’s passed now, used to tell me stories about living on the Amokura when she was a little girl. Here I was listening to Debi talking about playing on it as a wreck when she was a little girl. Grandma lived on it with her father Captain David Martin, her Mother, and two sisters Evelyn and Isabel. It was a coal hulk in the Wellington Harbour. She talked of happy childhood memories of being dressed in layers of white petticoats and taking the launch to school. The school children not believing that she could possibly live on a coal hulk because she was so clean. She would describe her amazing father and how he would climb way up the mast, to her a hundred feet high, then dive off. She would run backwards and forwards looking over the side to see where he would pop up, he would often swim right under the hull and appear after what seemed like an age. She said Father had wild red curls and had traded as a young man with the Moriori in the Chatham Islands. She said they always greeted him fondly like a brother because they too had red hair. Grandma would then dig out a lock of her own hair from her jewellery box. “See mine was strawberry blonde, Isabel’s was red and Evelyn’s was auburn. Can you picture us with him? Father with his deep flaming red Scottish curls and us 3 girls all with long red plats and white petticoats.”
Sadly the conversation always stopped mid stride and torment would cross Grandma’s face. She would drop her head and be silent. “Did I tell you mother died when I was 11? It was an awful thing. Everything changed. It’s my fault you know. Isabel and I were fighting and she got up to stop us…” In that moment Grandma was transported back to that terrible moment. Powerless scared and just an 11 year old girl who bitterly blames herself. She wouldn’t speak about it anymore.
Two years after my great Grandmother died Isabel died tragically. I won’t say anything more about that except I am so sad to have never met her.
When I was a wee babe of 12 weeks old Grandma’s older sister Evelyn took me in and I lived with her. I bonded with this real life fairy Godmother “Gama” who was willing at 67 to take in a sick newly weaned baby. She was in my life till I was 20 and I miss her every day. Evelyn was 18 when her mother passed away and spoke of it just once to me when I was about 10 years old. She said “You know those enamel bowls? They are very sharp when they are broken and that’s how it happened.” She said no more about it…ever. That sentence has always stuck with me as it brought up so many questions and didn’t explain anything to my then and still now, curious mind.
I was so excited at the prospect of seeing the Amokura and stepping into the past and somehow reconnecting to women I loved so much and are now gone from my life. I told Grandmas stories to my three children Bracken, Breeze and Reef after all. Their Great Great Grandfather was Captain David Martin with the wild red hair and they all know of my love for my Gama even though they never met. Bracken has a faint memory of Grandma on her 90th birthday Bracken was very concerned of the frail aged hand he found holding his plump 2 year old palm.
I was overwhelmed by the sight of the huge wreck laying ruined but peacefully in this serene light filled and sheltered bay. Memories and voices flooded in and I began to cry. I could see white petticoats as my kids raced towards an undiscovered treasure. As we got closer the Amokura’s immense size and grandeur seemed to rise up as if taking a deep breath. It felt like touching a living thing as I lay my hand on her for the first time, feeling her breath out. I was completely absorbed by her and felt a huge weight lift as I realised the family that lived aboard were all together again. I smiled as I silently introduced my family to her as they all happily played pirates, sword fighting and salvaged lumps of coal from deep within the hull. Images of Great Great Grandfather Captain David Martin flashed before my eyes as I watched my son Bracken with his wild hair proudly strut about the deck giving orders to the scurvy naves. Images of the rooms of the Amokura as Grandma would have seen them overlaid the ruins like transparencies as she guided me around her home.
The boys gathered oysters off the hull which we ate crumbed that evening. Paul salvaged a piece of wood for me to preserve and pass down. I watched Debi’s family and my own play together and befriend each other on common ground. The Amokura is as deeply entrenched in the childhoods of the Mander family as it is in mine. The Manders and the Sturrocks are entwined now, woven into the fabric of the history of that vessel of time, the Amokura.