The HMS Penguin lost five crew members south of Tawharanui Peninsula.
The story of a shipwreck off Tawharanui Regional Park has come to light in investigations being undertaken as part of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.
Auckland Council’s heritage unit was tasked with investigating historical sites to determine their values and how the land can be used.
Cultural heritage principal specialist Robert Brassey says he was intrigued by a story of French sailors drowning in the channel, north of Kawau Island, and studied the case further.
He discovered that the sailors were all British and that their craft was a cutter from the HMS Penguin, which capsized in a storm as they returned from surveying work south of Tawharanui, in November 1904.
Five men drowned and are buried at an unofficial site at Matatūahu Point, on the southern side of the peninsula.
Mr Brassey says the reason the bodies are not in an official graveyard is because they were washed ashore after the sinking and buried by locals.
An earlier sailor’s body is also buried there after the schooner Julia was wrecked off Tokatu Point in 1871.
However, a map marks the grave of possibly the same sailor in 1870 and the heritage unit cannot determine which is the correct year.
The land on the peninsula was also home to a Maori settlement pre-1880 before it was sold to European settlers.
The Ngāti Raupō hapū tribe, who occupied the land, buried leader Taiaho Porotaka at the site, but he was moved to Pakiri in 1876.
Two locals were also buried at the site in 1901 and 1910.
No markers remain for any of the graves.
The site will be notified in the Unitary Plan as heritage, which will mean no construction can take place on it.