In 1902 the ship Ventnor set out for China with the bones of 499 Chinese men who had died in New Zealand. The men were being returned home to the care of their families and ancestral villages. Most were old goldminers from the Otago / Greymouth area who had not been able to make enough money for their return passage home.
Under the auspices of a charitable association, the Cheong Sing Tong, community members pooled their money so that the remains of their countrymen could be returned home.
Tragically the men never made it. The Ventnor hit a rock off the Taranaki coast and eventually sank off the Hokianga Heads. This was a great catastrophe for the community, as it was believed the men’s spirits would not be at ease. Far from family and in a watery grave, there would be no-one to tend to their needs in the afterlife.
As soon as it got news of the sinking, the Cheong Sing Tong hired the steamer ‘Energy’ from Auckland to try and locate the wreck and possibly recover as many of the coffins as possible. This was not successful. Later it was rumoured that some of the bones had washed up and were buried by local iwi who lived along the coastline.