The Lake Tarawera Ghost Canoe

EnolaGaia

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#3
The Ghost Canoe story was previously cited (and the 1966 documentation cited) in this earlier thread:

'Pink and White Terraces' - Lake Rotomahana, New Zealand
https://forums.forteana.org/index.p...ke-rotomahana-new-zealand.62708/#post-1684565

That thread has now been annotated to advise of this new thread's initiation.

There are a couple of possibly relevant notes from the 1966 account at:

https://teara.govt.nz/en/1966/tarawera-phantom-canoe

... that aren't mentioned in the link above.

First, there is this concluding paragraph:

A second tourist boat on the lake that morning also reported having sighted the ghost canoe, and one of the passengers on board, Josiah Martin, actually sketched his impression of the spectacle. Unfortunately, it is not known what became of this drawing, or whether it is still in existence.
Second, there is this note:

For further details of “The Phantom Canoe” see the files of Otago Daily Times, June 1886. These give the best account of the incident. Ed.)
 

EnolaGaia

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Following up on the 1886 newspaper advice, I discovered the following article online. It's a transcription from the Otago Daily Times, Issue 7592, 18 June 1886.

THE PHANTOM CANOE.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE APPARITION.

Mr G. L. Sise, who has just returned to Dunedin-from the Hot Springs District, was one of the.party of tourists who encountered the " phantom canoe " on Lake Tarawera shortly before the eruption, and, in view of the many extraordinary stories that have found publicity, it may be just as well to give an unvarnished account of the apparition. Stripped of its adornments—adornments not supplied by the narrator—the tale told by Mr Sise is something as follows-—His party, composed of six Europeans and nine Maoris, started from Wairoa in a canoe at about 8 o'clock one fine morning to cross the lake to the terraces. When a little more than half way across another canoe emerged from the shore some distance to the northward, and kept a parallel course with them until a headland shut it from view. The strange craft might have been half a mile or so distant, or possibly more, it is not easy to judge distance upon the water. Mr Sise thinks that about nine persons were counted in the " Phantom Canoe " not thirteen, and, as to their being "naked warriors " the craft was by no means near enough to ascertain whether they were clothed or not, and their was absolutely nothing en evidence to show that they were warriors. They might have been apple-women or nurse-girls. No warrior chief with feathers or anything else in his head-gear was seen brandishing his spear in the prow of the boat, but three of the figures did rise to a standing posture after a while. Doubtless their reason for doing so was that they were tired of sitting down. The canoe was sufficiently close for Mr Sise to see the flash of the paddles, of which there were three on the side nearest him. She was certainly heading in the direction of the old Maori burial place at Mount Tarawera, and the Natives in the tourists' boat whistled and shouted to the ghostly, paddlers but received no answer. Their supernatural character was not, however, known to the Europeans at this time. It was only after landing that Mr Sise and his companions learned that they had been watching the movements of spirits as ghostly as Vanderdecker's crew, and spirits, too, with a fine muscular development, as was evidenced by their style of paddling. Had Mr Sise known at the time that the canoe and the rowers were things of the air — false creations -- he would very probably have been alarmed. As he didn't know, he and his companions were as cool as when they emerged from their morning tub. But the natives were not and thereby probably hangs the tale.

Things were going very badly with the unfortunate Maoris about this time—some eight or nine days before the eruption. Lake Tarawera was rising and falling as it had never risen and fallen before within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, or his earliest ancestor. Typhoid fever had been about, and thirteen of the unlucky Natives had died within seven weeks. Moreover, among the deceased was an old add venerated chief whom they had of course kept above ground in a state of putrescence, and over whose remains they had been holding a great tangi. They had an old woman too amongst them at Wairoa—au infernal character, skilled in the black art—by whose machinations the defunct chief had been called to his account. They had also among them a tohunga, or professional prophet, who had served his apprenticeship to the business and had been sent for specially to curse the witch who had killed the chief. He was a vigorous and proficient curser, and great results were expected from his efforts. In view of all these disturbing elements it is not surprising that Mr Sise and his companions found the poor Maoris at Wairoa greatly excited. Between present troubles and portents of greater troubles to come they were in a state of abject superstitious terror, and were prepared for anything marvellous from a mermaid to a banshee The boat in which they were traversing the lake was the boat of the dead and decaying chief, and on board was on ancient harridan who crooned dismally during the passage. This naturally did not improve matters, and the consequence was that by the time the terraces were reached they had arrived at the conclusion that the end of the world was at hand, and turned to the pakehas with the cheerful announcement " We all die to-day."

The only really peculiar feature about the incident according to Mr Sise's account is that the canoe seen was of a singular shape, raised at either end higher than usual, and it is asserted by both Europeans and Maoris that there is no such canoe on the lake. This is, undoubtedly odd; to say the least of it, and Mr Sise is inclined to the belief that it was a

"got up arrangement"—a "put up job"—on the part of the tohanga, who was painfully aware that it was about time he did something for a living, and needed some unusual accessories to produce anything like a satisfactory effect upon the Maori public. An ethereal canoe, manned by phantoms is a very impressive apparition if viewed with due reverence, and in fact it should be part of the stock-in-trade of any properly regulated prophetic establishment. It is possible, therefore, that Mr Sise's surmise is correct. Whether correct or not, the bald facts in his narrative are as stated above.
SOURCE: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18860618.2.27

Text of this article transcribed and offered for non-commercial use as prescribed by Creative Commons license at:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/nz/legalcode
 
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