If You Find Yourself Stranded on a New Zealand Island, Look for One of These

Lawrie M, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Lawrie M, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If Chuck Noland had found one of these little depots, the movie Cast Away (2000) would have been much less interesting.

From the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, shipwrecks were almost commonplace in the southern oceans near New Zealand. Despite dangerous waters and unpredictable weather, more and more traders were using the Great Circle shipping route between Australia and South Africa. The seas were violent, the water was cold, and the coastline was rocky—anyone who found themselves dumped unceremoniously into the ocean faced an almost certain death sentence.

One of the last straws was when a ship called the General Grant wrecked near New Zealand in 1866, killing nearly 70 people, including children. There were just 15 survivors, and five of them died on the desert island where they'd found shelter before rescuers arrived 17 months later.

In an attempt to stop similar tragedies, toward the end of the 19th century the New Zealand government installed depots on islands that shipwreck survivors were likely to come across, including the Auckland Islands, Campbell Island, the Snares Islands, and the Antipodes Islands. Some of the tiny sheds were just big enough to hold supplies, from food and water to wool "survivor suits" meant to provide warmth to drenched sailors. But others, like the one on Antipodes Island (pictured), were large enough for survivors to actually live in.

Sadly, it wasn't entirely uncommon for looters to stop by the islands to pick up a stash of free food and clothes, but woe to the unscrupulous sailors who did so—each shed was accompanied by a curse that read, "The curse of the widow and fatherless light upon the man that breaks open this box, whilst he has a ship at his back."

The supplies weren't limited to non-perishables stacked in a shed; the government actually released livestock to roam free on several islands, giving shipwreck survivors a source of fresh meat. For about 60 years, the depots were maintained by government steamer ships, which replenished supplies, released new livestock, cut firewood to leave in the huts, and checked for survivors. Plenty of castaways benefited from the depots, including 22 members of the Anjou, who survived for months after their shipwreck in 1905.

The steamers stopped maintaining the depots sometime in the late 1920s, after radio technology had advanced and that particular trade route fell out of popularity. Though they're no longer replenished, many of the castaway depots still stand today, including the one on Antipodes Island. (One of the oldest, built in 1880, is on Enderby Island.) Should you find yourself stranded in the area, shelter will be covered—but like Chuck, you'll still want to bring your volleyball for company.

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Poike/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Poike/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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The Long, Fascinating History of Chocolate

Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

Walk into just about any grocery or convenience store today and you're sure to find row upon row of chocolate in every imaginable form. While we have come to associate this sweet treat with companies like Hershey, chocolate has been a delicacy for centuries.

All chocolate comes from the cacao tree, which is native to the Americas, but is now grown around the world. Inside the tree’s fruits, or pods, you’ll find the cacao beans, which—once roasted and fermented—give chocolate its signature rich and complex flavor. While we don't know who first decided to turn cacao beans into chocolate, we certainly owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

In this episode of Food History, we're digging into the history of chocolate—from its origins to the chocolate-fueled feud between J.S. Fry & Sons and Cadbury and much, much more. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!