Commodore William Farquharson Burnett

Commodore of the Australian Station

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)

  • <p>Photograph of the tomb of the late Commodore Burnett in Auckland. The tomb was sent to landfill when the Newton motorway was developed, 1863. <em>Higginson Montagu, Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira, PH-ALB-510-p4-n6.</em></p>
  • <p>Memorial Wall near the grave of Hobson in the Anglican section of the Symonds Street Cemetery. This was errected in 1969, the panels inscribed with the names of those belived to have been removed during the motorway construction process. These were cremated and buried under the panels.</p>
  • <p>Detail of the memorial wall in the Anglican section showing the name of Commodore William Farquharson Burnett. His original headstone read: Sacred to the memory of WILLIAM FARQUHARSON BURNETT, Commodore of H.S.M. Orpheus, Commanding Offocer Australian Naval Station, Commodore Royal Navy. Drowned 7th February, 1863. Aged 46 years.</p>

Aerial photo location

Where is the grave?

Commodore Burnett is remembered in the Anglican Memorial. Site number 4 in the Hobson Walk Trail Guide.