Lost along with his ship, the HMS Orpheus
Britain’s costliest day of the New Zealand Wars occurred far from the battlefield. Commodore William Farquharson Burnett was among those who died in the wreck of HMS Orpheus.
William Farquharson Burnett, Commodore of the Australian Station was aboard the HMS Orpheus, when it foundered on the bar of the Manukau Harbour on 7 February 1863.
Burnett entered the Royal Navy in June 1838, was promoted to Captain in 1854. He commanded HMS Tortoise, and served as Governor of Ascension Island from 1858 until 1861.
In July 1862 he was appointed Commodore of the Australian Station.
Burnett died, aged 46, in the wreck of HMS Orpheus at the entrance to Manukau Harbour, where out of a crew of 259 only 70 survived the disaster. The ship’s captain, Robert Heron Burton also died.
The tomb memorial was erected at the cost of the surviving officers and others who served under Commodore Burnett.
Men from the Orpheus interred at the Symonds Street Cemetery include:
Commodore William Farquharson Burnett, 1837-1863 Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, Knight of the Legion of Honour, Commodore commanding the Australian station,
William Joseph Taylor, Acting Second Master.
John Pascoe, Royal Navy Chief Boatswain. He had been buried about 2 miles to the north of the wreck, on Whatiopu Beach, and his body was exhumed for an inquest.
“The body was recognized by means of marks on the arm and one on the breast from a wound received in the Crimean War. His name was discovered on his trousers when his body was washed.”
"O weep then for the brave / the gallant firm and true / Who sleep beneath the wave / On the Bar of the Manukau". – from a poem (anonymous)