Did Angus and Duncan Matheson Build “The Spray”?
Brothers Angus and Duncan Matheson were shipbuilders and mariners who brought a ship load of Scottish settlers from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia to New Zealand in 1857 on their ship the Spray. It is often asserted that they built the ship themselves, but there is evidence that this is an incorrect assumption.
In the article “The Mathesons of Omaha” Alvin Smith wrote:
“Angus and Duncan built the Spray, a small vessel, a brigantine of 107 tons, and traded on the Atlantic coast of North America.”
It seems like a reasonable assertion that brothers Angus and Duncan Matheson built the ship they sailed to New Zealand. They were ship builders, and the area of Nova Scotia they were living in was known for its ship building trade. In fact most of the other ships involved in the Waipu migration were built there. It is written in “The Lion of Scotland” by Neil Robinson, on page 113:
“Surely one of the most remarkable voyages in the history of a sea-loving people, when it is considered that the Spray was no larger than an average coasting craft. She was built specially for the trip, and given a trial on the mail service between Halifax and Bermuda. She justified her owners’ confidence.”
This certainly implies the ship was built by the brothers especially for the journey to New Zealand. This fact is appears both in print and on the web in several different sources (including the souvenir programme of the centenary of the ship’s arrival in New Zealand).
However, this excerpt is from the book “Cape Breton Ships and Men” by John P. Parker (Master Mariner) written in 1967:
The brigantine Spray of 107 tons was the smallest of the vessels and fourth to sail with the followers of the Rev. Norman McLeod on their voyage to New Zealand. She had been built at Guysborough in 1851 and following some misadventure was purchased by John Ormiston of Gabarous in 1853. On March 7th, 1856, he sold the brigantine to Angus Matheson
of Baddeck who held half the shares, the remainder being owned by C. Stewart, Alex Stewart and Archibald Stewart, all of Big Harbour.
In Duncan Matheson’s obituary it is written:
In December 1956 he left America for this colony in the brigantine Spray, which he fitted up with passenger accommodation, arriving in 1857.
Although there are some conflicting stories on the history of the “Spray”, it seems likely that the brothers did not build the ship themselves, but purchased her in 1856 and refitted her to be suitable for the long journey to New Zealand.