The Voyage of the Undine

The Voyage of the Undine painted by Captain Matthew Thomas Clayton , 1915. John Kinder Theological College.
The Voyage of the Undine painted by Captain Matthew Thomas Clayton, 1915. John Kinder Theological College.

What do you imagine when you hear the word Undine? A) An opera by E.T.A. Hoffman, b) A non-humanoid species in the television series Star Trek, c) A mythological creature in the same class as mermaids, d)The name of a vessel owned by Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, e) All of the above.

Trick question, of course.  Church historians will have recognized Selwyn’s ship, The Undine, while those adept at multiple choices will pick e), but it is from c) that the others derive.  Undines are elemental, liminal creatures associated with watery places. They generally appear as human women, but in a sinister twist, they lack souls.

Bishop Selwyn was not put off purchasing his vessel Undine by her pagan name, however.  Having completed his first degree in Mathematics, Selwyn learned to navigate navigation on the voyage to New Zealand in 1841, and after an initial ‘reconnaissance’ tour into the Pacific, he bought the Auckland -made Undine in 1847 for 320 pounds.  She was a small ship, a double-masted schooner with a displacement of 20 tons.

Given small size of the Undine, our admiration for Bishop Selwyn can only grow; he sailed her not only around New Zealand, but in 1849, to the Melanesian Islands. According to the Southern Cross Log, this was “a gallant adventure, to undertake a voyage of some 3,000 miles in so small a craft and in regions where hurricanes ware frequent, and amongst islands very inadequately charted.”  On this trip he brought back the “first fruits” of his mission, four young island men, to New Zealand, returning them home early the following year. We can only imagine what they made of both the voyages and their time at the Mission.

The Undine was sold later in 1850, and the funds returned for further mission work.  Perhaps Bishop Selwyn decided a larger vessel was required for his plans to be fulfilled, as another vessel was purchased in 1851, before the beginning of the Southern Cross dynasty.

You can read more about the Undine in:

About Melanesia: the ships of the mission 1849-1932 by A.E. Prebble, in the Main collection.

‘The Ships of the Mission’. The Southern Cross Log, July 1953. 

The original painting, The Voyage of the Undine, hangs in the Library. It was painted by Captain Matthew Thomas Clayton in 1915 as a companion piece to his depiction of Samuel Marsden landing at Ohio Bay. This painting is also displayed in the Library.

‘The Voyage of the Undine’. Church Gazette, October 1st 1918.


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