John Grant and the Splendid


Jane Coates and John Cole married 17 February 1857. On 13 August 1861 their third son was born Robert Bell Cole, known later as Bob and referred to in the third person as RB. He was my Grandfather.

When Robert Bell Cole was seventeen years of age he emigrated to the Chatham Islands in New Zealand to work as a farm cadet for his second cousin, Thomas Ritchie, who had a large cattle run there. Robert was the only passenger aboard the 761 ton barque "Lurline" making a passage of 93 days to arrive in Christchurch on 2 August 1879. He worked for Ritchie for four years.

One day an American whaling ship, the "Splendid" called at the island for firewood and potatoes. She was shorthanded, some of the crew being in irons where they would remain until brought to trial for attempted mutiny on the high seas. He was given a carved whalebone walking stick by one of the detained men whose name was John Grant.

He described John Grant as being a Scot. and an old man. If Grant was 14 years old, say, when in Ireland, he would have been perhaps 40 when Robert met him in the Chathams and could well have looked much older as the result of what was no doubt a most rigorous life at sea.

RB arrived in the Chathams in 1879. When relating this story he referred to the Splendid as being a Yankee Whaler but according to Harry Morton in the book The Whale's Wake the ship was purchased in 1877 by Elder and Nicol of Dunedin. It also appears that the Splendid's logbooks are only available from 1843 to 1872. This raises a question as to where John Grant was destined in chains - America or New Zealand? I had always assumed America. It would be interesting to know his fate. I have written to the Chief Librarian of the Hoken Library, Dunedin University for possible information. No reply!

The Second Mate was a George Cook of Auckland who for many years wrote whaling stories for the Auckland Weekly News under the nom de plume of "Lonehander." RB corresponded with him and I have a letter of reply dated 4 July 1934 from 29 Aitken Terrace, Glenmore Kingsland in Auckland. He says - "The Jack Grant you mentioned was one of the whitest men I ever sailed with Bucko. I have a correspondent in Hobart who knew Bucko well and he has given me the latter part of the old-timer's career - He died at Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania." He mentions efforts to form an Historical Society in Auckland giving Mr A. B. Chappel, c/o the NZ Herald as the contact for information. He also said: "I knew Mr Ritchie by reputation only." He thanks RB for adding to his information. It is possible RB's letters have survived with Cook's papers in some archive in Auckland but so far I have been unable to find anything.

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