A film “The Lost Voyage of 499” was screened for the first time on Maori Television on Monday 17th November, at 9:30pm. The film is a documentary about the story of the steamship SS Ventnor, which, in 1902, sank off Hokianga, North Island, with the remains of 499 Chinese gold miners on board.
The following is extracted from the Timeline of the NZ Chinese Community Facebook page (written by a relative of Choie Sew Hoy, whose remains were aboard the SS Ventnor):
Synopsis (written by the Natural History NZ – the film makers)
The S.S. Ventnor leaves Wellington bound for Hong Kong on October 26th 1902, on a mission to return the bodies of 499 Chinese miners to their place of birth in Guangdong, China. According to ancient Chinese tradition, a soul cannot rest in peace far from home.
Tragically, the ship sinks ten miles off the coast of the Hokianga Harbour. Most of the crew make it to shore but the steamship’s cargo goes down with the ship, which has never officially been located.
‘The Lost Voyage of 499’ follows Duncan Sew Hoy, the great grandson of Choie Sew Hoy, one of the first and greatest Chinese pioneers in New Zealand whose remains were aboard the lost ship.
Duncan and his son Peter explore Choie’s legacy in Dunedin and discover the history behind the voyage of the S.S. Ventnor before travelling to Hokianga. There, along with other Chinese descendants of the 499, they meet people of the Te Roroa and Te Rarawa tribes, whose ancestors took it upon themselves to become guardians of the souls of the 499 and bury remains that washed ashore on their own sacred land.
Finally, Duncan and Peter make the ancestral journey back to China, as they seek to complete the circle and lay to rest the spirit of Choie Sew Hoy.
For a contemporary newspaper cutting, click here.
Coverage in Otago Times (as Duncan Sew Hoy comes from Dunedin, in Otago): http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/323308/quest-lost-ancestor (this article shows several relevant photos)
NZ Herald (Fri Nov 14, 2014) carried the same Otago Times article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11358466
Discovery of the wreck of SS Ventnor announced
On November 19, 2014, the Ventnor Project Group announced that the wreck of SS Ventor had been found in 150m of water 21km offshore west of Hokianga harbour:
TVNZ report with a video of the wreck. They also report that an invitation to pay respects to their pioneering countrymen has been extended to Chinese dignitaries, including President Xi Jinping. The wreck has now been gazetted by Heritage NZ, meaning no more items may be removed from it without permission. http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/revealed-sunken-112-year-old-gold-mining-wreck-499-bodies-aboard-6140106.
For a map of the approximate location of the wreck: click here.
Article on the History of Chinese people in New Zealand:
For an article on the History of Chinese people in New Zealand, which includes a summary of the context of the SS Ventnor and its cargo, click here.
– Duncan France