Captain Peter Theet -A profile.

by Anthony G. Flude. © 1999.


Captain PETER THEET first came to New Zealand in the year 1879, when he worked among the commercial sailing vessels of theCircular Saw Line of Auckland, owned by the firm of Henderson and Macfarlane. At that time, the fleet of barque's and brigantine's were busily engaged in transporting cargo's of timber and passengers to ports on the west coast of America, Australia and China.

In the year 1886, Captain Theet was given command of the sailing fleet, after Henderson & Macfarlane were forced to relinquished much of their overseas
trading to the growing number of steamships and the faster turn-around of cargo that they offered. The firm decided to concentrate their interests among the South Pacific Islands, trading in copra, pearl and shell.

Peter Theet was born on February 1st, 1853 in Fjelstrup, a small village in Northern Schleswig, then part of Germany. He was the son of a shoemaker, Johann Theet and his wife Anne. He had two brothers, who unfortunately died when they were 10 and 12 years old.  His older sister married and stayed in Fjelstrup until the German Army arrived when she and her family moved north to Denmark. Her younger sister, Marie, who had married a farmer, stayed behind.

To avoid being drafted into the German army, Peter Theet left home in 1873 to
begin his new life as a sailor. His military draft records at this time note him as 'missing' and nothing was heard from him until 1879 when he arrived in Auckland, New Zealand.

He married Emily Nobbs in 1887, who was born on Norfolk Island and a direct
descendant of the crew of the BOUNTY.  The family lived in Hobson Street, Auckland for many years, where they had four daughters, Emily, Lucia, Frances and Petrina.

The cruise of the three masted brigantineBUSTERbegan from the port of Auckland on the 19th September, 1886. There was stored cargo awaiting collection at the firms many Pacific Island trading posts, situated on the many small islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean.
Captain Theet was placed in command of the vessel.
The passengers aboard included Frederick Moss, George Dunnett and Mr. A. Andrews, a well known Auckland photographer and George Ellis, a trader, returning to his station on Manihiki.

Moss wrote of his experiences encountered during the journey, among them an incident involving the Captain's rescue of the shipwrecked crew of theDIANA who had been stranded on a desolate atoll for four months.

He related how theBuster reached Starbuck Atoll some two weeks later.  They found theDiana lying on a reef with her cargo of timber strewn along the shore while she gradually smashed to pieces in the pounding surf. Captain Theet decided that because of failing light it would be unwise to try to put a boat ashore. The Buster put out to sea again to await the dawn.

Starbuck was out of sight the next morning but the Captain was determined to try another rescue and the island was close by again by noon. The boatmen again braved the tumbling surf and managed to land on the far end of the island. At sunset the boat and crew had not returned and Captain Theet became very anxious for their safety.
Finally, out of the fading light came a hail; the boat drew alongside with the crew and castaways safely aboard.

Captain Theet was to later receive a handsome gold medal from the Swedish government in recognition of his services in rescuing the men from Starbuck.

The firm of Henderson & Macfarlane sold their last remaining steamer, the
S.S.TITUS, in the year 1896 to Burns, Philp & Company, when Captain Theet found new employment with the Pacific Islands Company of Sydney, Australia.

He was stationed on Baker's Island in 1899,  as their agent, where, together with a labour gang of natives and  basic mining equipment, they were collecting and storing sacks of guano phosphate, awaiting shipment by the company's steamer. Food  had run low and the Captain of the ARCHER was requested to divert there from Ocean Island with fresh supplies.
Later, when the rich guano deposits were discovered on Ocean Island in 1900, the company arranged for him to be transferred there with his labourers and equipment aboard the steamship S.S.Victoria.

On Ocean island, Captain Theet and George Cozens set about the task of planning and supervising the building of deep sea moorings and jetties so that larger ships could anchor and load the mined guano. By November, 1901, there were jetties on both sides of the island and tramlines were being laid from the inland mines to the coast.

In 1902 the Pacific Phosphate Company was established and Captain William MacFarlane was appointed as official Ocean Island HarbourMaster, while Captain Theet was appointed as the Ocean Island General Manager.
In a letter to his Australian directors, Albert Ellis wrote that he had made his decision to appoint Captain Theet to the position due to "his extensive knowledge of business life, his leadership qualities, the fact that he didn't drink, had a splendid physical condition and spoke fluent German to converse with that countries representatives, both on Nauru and Ocean Island."

Over the years, as wives joined their husbands on the island, when better living accommodation had been built, Peter Theet arranged to have a small Roman Catholic church built to cater for those wanting church services on Sunday's and conducted the evening services himself, even if the congregation was at times small.

During 1912, he reached sixty years of age and was given a party  by the Anglo-German staff and presented with a congratulatory scroll, wishing him many more years as Manager.  By the following year,1913, he had decided to retire. He headed back to Auckland and his family, his mining days over,  to forfill a longstanding committment to visit his own family in Kolding, Denmark.

Leaving Auckland aboard the steamer just before the first world war began,  his family in Denmark welcomed him and were most impressed with his seafaring tales and exploits among the South Pacific Islands and as Manager of Ocean Island.
They greatly admired his wide belt with its large gold buckle, bearing the impression of a small island, that he always wore and told friends of his generousity towards them all.

Returning to New Zealand, he later bought  land in Oratia, West Auckland, on which he built a small cottage and gradually cleared the area of ti-tree and gorse.  He planted several Norfolk pine tree seedlings , which he arranged to be brought back from Norfolk Island.
His wife, Emily, died in 1924, while Captain Peter Theet was to survive her until 1943, when he passed away at age 91 years of age.

See the article and link called "Ocean Island-a rocky land of hidden treasure " for further details on phosphate mining in the Pacific. PRESS "Back to main".