Pugwash was a bustling harbour and its abundant lumber enabled many shipbuilders to prosper. Cyrus Eaton had two well-known ancestors that were shipbuilders. Levy Eaton’s brother, Stephen Eaton, was Cyrus Eaton’s grandfather, so Levy was Cyrus’ great uncle of his father’s side. Another ship builder, Donald McKay, was great uncle to Cyrus on his mother’s side. Levy was born in Nova Scotia and migrated to New Zealand while Donald McKay was born in Shelburne and migrated to Boston.
The "George Henderson"was built in Pugwash by Levi Woodworth Eaton who was a shipbuilder and merchant in the town. This 171-ton Briganteen was the last ship he built in Nova Scotia. Because he believed the best days of shipbuilding were coming to an end, he decided to journey to New Zealand with his family. There is no passenger or crew list of those who set sail. John James was the ship captain, and George Eaton, Levi’s son, was the chief mate. John James married Levy’s daughter.
Levi W. Eaton was a landowner in Pugwash. He bought Lot #36 in 1847 for 60 pounds. and in 1849 bought lot # 114 on the corner of Durham and Russell Streets for 30 pounds. This lot was referred to at the “Baptist Meeting House Lot” but was not officially turned over to the church until 1853. Levi Eaton was a trustee of the church. In 1978 lot #114 was still the site of the Pugwash Baptist Church. In addition to being a shipbuilder, he was a surveyor of lumber, a highway surveyor, a poundkeeper, and owned a lumber business that benefited from the overseas demand for lumber. Levi built a home near the Pugwash Lighthouse point. In 1849 Levi built a brigantine, and in 1850, he built a barque. In 1851, it was recorded that Levi Eaton’s firm built six of twelve ships that were sold in Pugwash Harbour. He built three barques, a brig, a briganteen, and a schooner, which he kept. The names of these ships are noted in James Smith’s The History of Pugwash. In 1858 he built a schooner.
The journey Levy Eaton and his family embarked on took over four months. Imagine the close quarters, the stormy seas, and the basic foods. The ship set sail from Pugwash on December 4, 1859. For the next nine days they suffered storms as they headed south.
Malcomb McLean, a passenger, wrote a letter to his brother Peter of the Gulf Shore. “We had fine weather until four in the evening. The wind set in from the northeast, that with sleat of snow, blowing very heavy the bridge begun to pitch and roll. We soon had a guise sean below children crying mothers moaning passenger seciking and heaving pots and pans rolling and kicking. There was a crow bar left in the hold commenced its pranks, broke the leg of my chair, and nearly killed one of my young ones.”
The George Henderson remained in Cape Town for twenty days and sailed on February 28, 1860. Twenty-eight new passengers boarded from Cape Town while three passengers from Pugwash chose to stay in South Africa. They arrived in Sydney a little over a month later on April 4, 1860. Most of the passengers elected to stay in Australia, many going to the goldfields while others chose to farm. There is a record of those that arrived in Sydney. However, the entire Eaton family continued to New Zealand. Levy Eaton thrived and became an auctioneer. By 1888, Levy was reported to have twenty grandchildren.
The George Henderson did not thrive. After making several trips to either Australia or England with various cargoes, the lovely brigantine was wrecked at Henui Beach, New Plymouth, during a gale on August 16, 1860. At the time, severe tensions existed between the settlers and the Maori Indians. Settlers took shelter in a fort, and the George Henderson was hired to transport food and goods to them.
While the Henderson, captained by John James, was trying to deliver the cargo, a fierce storm battered the ship. Miraculously, the captain skillfully maneuvered the ship into Henui Beach, New Plymouth, but he could not make safe anchorage. He managed to save all aboard who were safely unloaded. Soldiers rescued all the cargo and transported it to the fort. One man stayed aboard because he was ill. A friend accompanied by his dog left the fort planning to take food to his sick shipmate. Instead, the next day the dog, severely injured, limped back to the fort. The soldiers set out on a search party, only to find the man murdered by the Maori. The crew with the exception of the Eaton family returned to Sydney on a different ship.
The ship, unable to be repaired and unable to be sailed, sank due to its grievous damage.
Over a hundred years later, the ship rose from its watery grave. Another storm disturbed its resting place, and the ship appeared, its ribs still identifiable. Less than a week later,
it disappeared beneath the surface.
A photograph of the ghostly George Henderson appeared in a New Zealand paper. The North Cumberland Historical Society has a copy of that photograph. The historical society also has a file with various details about the George Henderson as well as death certificates and birth certificates of some of Levy Eaton’s descendents. A painting from New Zealand shows the George Henderson in the background of a painting featuring a different ship.