Annie Mellish, see larger image below.

A bit about Annie Mellish, who wasn’t lost at sea, and  spent a few months living on Macquarie Island eating penguin eggs and shooting sea tigers, although they ran out of tea, sugar and coffee.

From its discovery early in the 19th century, Macquarie Island was used by sealers, and once the seals started to run out, they turned to making oil from penguins. Although they’re still referred to as sealers, as penguiners sounds weird and people probably weren’t as keen on the idea of killing cute penguins for oil. Towards the end of the sealing period, the enterprise was owned by a New Zealand businessman, Joseph Hatch. Every year a team were sent to the island, spent a few months making oil and packing it into barrels, and then they returned to NZ. Except in 1890, it went wrong and the party were stuck were longer with dwindling food. Among that party were the manager, Henry Mellish, and his wife Annie, who did the cooking. Due to concerns at home, a steamer, the Kakanui, was sent to retrieves them from the island. As there was a storm approaching, Mr and Mrs Mellish declined to go aboard, preferring to wait for for Hatch’s ship to arrive. The other eight men on the island did go on board the Kakanui and that was the the last that was seen of them.

The first three news stories below give the background informat (as above), then a story about the safe arrovie of the Hatch’s ketch having retried Mrs & Mr Mellish. Then is the interesting bit, the inquiry into the loss of the steamer which gives some idea about life was about on the island during those months, particularly their diet.

And there were the sea-tigers, which were very large animals, next to the sperm whale, and which Mrs Mellish, so healthy and plucky did people living there become, was in the habit of going out and shooting.
Southland Times, 24 March 1891, p. 2

Then at the end, some possible personal information on Henry and Annie.


From circumstances that have come to our knowledge it seems reasonable to infer that at the present time a party on the Macquarie Islands are in want of food. In March last the ketch Awarua (Jacob Eckhoff, master) sailed from Invercargill for the Macquarie Islands, taking down seven men, two lads, and a woman, to be landed as a shore party in the employ of Mr Hatch, owner of the vessel, their duties being to get sea elephant oil and penguin oil. The names of the party are as follow:–
Henry Mellish and wife, C. Gamble, H. Couzens, A. Watson, G. Godfrey, W. Dow, H. Lewis, and tbe two lads W. Cowan and W. Ralph. Couzens and Dow are Dunedin men, and Lewis was a fisherman at Port Chalmers.

The Awarua called in at Stewart Island, and was detained there until the 9th April, arriving at the islands about the 20th of the month. She had on board a quantity of coal and six months’ provisions for the party taken down. During the trip, from the time the vessel left Invercargill, the extra people on board—the ten referred to—lived on this six months’ stock, and made a considerable inroad into it, as will be gathered from the fact that of the seven casks of beef shipped two were used on the vessel, leaving only five to be landed. The Awarua put her stuff ashore at the three depots, and sailed for Invercargill on the 2nd May, it being understood that she was to return in September at the expiration of the six months’ term for which the party had been engaged.

Mr Hatch, owner of the vessel, has been interviewed on the subject. His reply is, we believe, to the effect that a quantity of stores had been left on the island by a previous party, and that he had no anxiety about his people being short of food. He further intimated that he expected his vessel [the Gratitude] to sail for the island in a week or ten days from date. Becoming acquainted with the tenor of Mr Hatch’s reply, Mr Fraser then wired to one of the men brought away by the Awarua, and the answer received was in these words: “Fortnight’s stores for three men, and very bad at that.” This would mean that the provisions, if used in the ordinary way, must have been exhausted early in September, and, if this was the case, the party would have nothing to fall back on but rabbits (which are not easily taken by dogs down there), Maori hens, penguins, and blubber, unless in the event of a stray vessel calling in, which was hardly likely to happen. The provisions taken down did not include flour, it being thought that there would be a supply left from the previous party. What makes the case seem serious is that the people left on the island would not be likely to go on short allowance, as they expected the vessel again at the end of the six months.

Mr T. Smith, one of the men who returned by the Awarua, says that when the Awarua arrived there were supplies of food for three men for a fortnight. As for penguin eggs, the men could scarcely eat them, if starving. He thinks the men must be in great straits, unless the Hinemoa called on her last trip.
Evening Star, 12 December 1890, p. 2

(By telegraph.—Press Association.)
Bluff, this day.
The Government steamer Hinemoa arrived from the Macquarie Islands at half-past six p.m. yesterday. Captain Fairchild reports that the steamer Kakanui arrived there on the 2nd of January, and left again on the 3rd, taking away eight men from the island, and leaving Mr Mellish (the manager) and his wife. Two days after she left the Macquaries a fearful westerly gale was experienced there, and it is most probable that the Kakanui foundered in that gale.

The people on the Macquaries had plenty of rice, flour, and biscuits, and also eat the penguin’s eggs, and part of the birds. Mr Mellish refused to come away in the Kakanui, preferring to await the arrival of the Gratitude, ketch, from Invercargill.

A thorough search has been made of the Auckland, Snares, Solanders, Traps, and all outlying islands, but no trace of any sort has been found. The gale experienced at the Macquaries after the Kakanui left was so violent that casks of oil were blown along the beach and a hut blown down. Captain Fairchild fears that it is only too likely that the Kakanui experienced that gale and foundered, as when she left the Macquaries she was very deep, and had apparently a good stock of coals on board.
Auckland Star, 5 February 1891, p. 5

[Extract from: The Kakanui, Further Search To Be Made]
Mr Hatch’s party consisted of Mr and Mrs Mellish and eight men, and as soon as the Kakanui made the landing these eight men determined to return in her, saying that if they once reached New Zealand they would take good care they would never return to the Macquaries again, and they were accordingly taken on board and the Kakanui left as stated. Mr Mellish and his wife had refused to leave the island, and informed Captain Fairchild that they had endeavored to persuade the eight men also to await the arrival of the Gratitude, of the early departure of which vessel from Invercargill they had information by letters from Mr Hatch sent by the Kakanui. They had plenty of flour, rice, and biscuits, and were quite comfortable and happy. They had had no occasion to fear starvation, as, besides the provisions already mentioned, there were plenty of eggs and penguins to be got, and certain portions of the latter were capital eating. Mr Mellish had no anxiety in the matter of remaining on the island, where he had been for over a year, and was determined to await the arrival of the Gratitude and Mr Hatch as arranged. 
Evening Star, 6 February 1891, p. 2

Montage of portraits and ships involved in shipping tragedy in 1891
1) S.S. Kakanui, with Captain W. Best. 2) Mr Hatch’s ketch, Gratitude 3) Mrs Mellish 4) Mr Mellish, who remained on the island, the only surviviors of the party. 5) Captain J. Bramston. 6) Mr J. Hatch, owner. 7) Mr Thomas, Mate. 8) H. Donelly 9) A Griffiths 10) J. Winter 15) C. Olin, crew of the ketch Gratititude. 16) C. Hunt, engineer for erecting plant. 17) C. Pratt, 18, J.Dallas (headsman), 19 T) Te Au 20 T. Wyniott, Native whaleboat crew (of Colac) for rafting oil and stores to and from island. 11) Mr. D. Nickless 12) T. Bainnister, 13) H.A. Wenborn, 14) J.J. Guess, Tourists by the Gratitude.

Invercargill, March 18.
Mr Hatch’s ketch Gratitude arrived to-day from the Macquarie Islands, bringing Mr Mellish and his wife, who declined to leave the island by the Kakanui. The ketch had head winds and heavy gales to the islands, the passage occupying three weeks. After getting to work at floating off the oil she had the misfortune to lose the whaleboat, and the rest of the work was done with a dingey. Daring her stay at the islands she lost an anchor chain, and was blown to sea for 13 days. Although the work of shipping the oil was not completed, the wind being fair, a week ago, it was decided to start for New Zealand the passage from land to land being made in 72 hours. The crew and passengers return in excellent health, after an eight weeks’ trip. A visit was paid to the graves of 11 seamen lost in a wreck on the island 66 years ago, and an immense anchor with a built stock was found high up on the beach. The ring was 2ft 6in in diameter, and from point to point the flukes were 10ft 6in. No recent wreckage was seen, but a considerable quantity of coal rounded by the action of the sea was found on the beach. No one was left on the island this trip.

Otago Witness, 19 March 1891, p. 18


The Kakanui Inquiry
Mrs Mellish stated that she did not object to the provisions she got on the island. None of the party were ever short of provisions, although they had to do without tea, coffee, and sugar. She heard her husband say that the Kakanui was too deep, and she could see from the shore with the glasses that she was too deep. She did not want to go off in her. After the vessel left, a terrible gale of wind came on, such as witness had never before experienced. There was nothing wrong with the flour on the island, and she never ate any of the biscuits.
Southland Times, 9 April 1891, p. 2


I have been manager at the Macquarie Islands for various people for the last sixteen years, and daring the last four years have managed for Mr Hatch. Have lived on the island most of the time, but have nine visits to Invercargill. I had been down there for just about twelve months when I came away last time. The eight men of the shore party went with me in March, 1890. They left the island on the 3rd of January, in the Kakanui. They had been killing sea elephants and doing other work. We were not so successful as we would have been if we had had more casks and gear. We were not so badly off for provisions. We had plenty of biscuits. At the end, when the men left, we had four barrels of biscuit–it might be there was about 2cwt in each cask–and half a barrel of flour. We had no meat then. We took with us four casks of beef, holding about 2 1/2cwt each. They gave out when we had been three or four months on the island. We then had penguin eggs, rabbits, Maori hens, and elephants’ tongues. The rabbits were very plentiful, and we killed lots of them for the skins. The ship brought us about 10cwt of them. They are better rabbits than the Southland ones–fatter and larger, being bred from French rabbits. There were also wild ducks, and we had sufficient powder and shot. There are no goats. I had some once, but had to shoot them as a nuisance for they used to drive the elephants away. We get eggs from the 1st of September to the end of March, and bury them so as to have them all the year round. Then there are lots of mutton birds all the year round–there are three sorts, and one of these we reckon good eating, jest as good as the mutton birds you get at Stewart Island. We like it better than salt beef. There is no fish excepting a few small ones round the rock. There is plenty of fool on the island at all times if people’s stomachs are not too delicate to take it. Some of the men could not take it, and others could. All could eat the rabbits and the eggs. I think the elephant’s tongue is grand–something like a bullock’s tongue only a little oily. It is not such a bad place to live in after all, so long as you get the regular provisions you sign for. We had no tea for four months and a fortnight before the men left. The sugar ran short before the tea and the coffee ran out about the same time. There is plenty of water, but no fuel unless what is taken there. We make fires with blubber. No liquor is kept on the island. I took down 50?b of tobacco, but it ran out with the other things. The men got short of boots and clothing. I take down a chest of clothing and boots and sell them to the men as they want them. The principal things we were short of, that the men signed for, were tea, sugar, coffee, and meat. The meat there was substitutes for, but none for the others. We used to make a drink by smashing up split peas with a hammer and making pea water.
North Otago Times, 11 April 1891, p. 4

The Loss of the Kakanui.
The inquiry into the loss of the steamer Kakanui was resumed in the Resident Magistrate’s Court, Dunedin, on Tuesday, before Mr Carew, R.M., and Captain Orkney, nautical assessor. The following extracts are made from the O.D. Times’ report:–

Annie Mellish: The Gratitude was blown off the island for a week, leaving the shore party of five people. I boarded the five men and fed them on the food I got from the Hinemoa. The food that the Hinemoa left consisted of 21b butter, some tea, sugar, two tins of condensed milk, and two tins of jam. We had flour on the island. We had no biscuits from the Hinemoa, but she left a leg of mutton and seven or eight loaves of bread. The Hinemoa arrived four days before the Gratitude. All the biscuits that Mr Hatch ate were biscuits landed from the Gratitude, and were put in the oven and dried by me. If Mr Hatch had stated that he ate biscuits that had been left on the island he had told a falsehood. I do the correspondence for my husband. I wrote the letter sent by the Awarua to Mr Hatch. My husband dictated it.
Southland Times, 16 April 1891, p. 2


I couldn’t find any definite personal information on Annie or Henry Charles. There is an article on the Parks & Wildlife website (PDF), but that has no more than is in the news stories.

Small photo.

This might be them:
Otago Witness, 11 April 1889
Otago Witness, 11 April 1889

This might be her:
New Zealand Herald, 20 June 1928
New Zealand Herald, 20 June 1928

This might be him:
New Zealand Herald, Volume 80, Issue 24524, 5 March 1943
New Zealand Herald, 5 March 1943.

Or it might not be. (The three events here all seem to be for the same couple (Mansford Town, where the married couple resided is in the Dunedin area) and the only children born to a Anne & Henry Mellish are Louisa Elizabeth b.1895 & William Henry b.1912. But there might have been another Henry Mellish, sealer,  from New Zealand, married to an Annie, at the same time.)

Montage image, key and photo at top of post cut from larger document “Montage of portraits and ships involved in shipping tragedy in 1891” at State Library of Victoria

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