Virginia plane

U S S West VirginiaI bought these two old snapshots from the same online trader although, oddly, they were offered for sale several months apart. They could have been taken on the same day by the same person but were not printed on the same photographic paper. They feature a seaplane, which I didn’t recognise, and the name ‘U.S.S. West Virginia’, which of course I did.

VirginiaPlane2sIn the period between World Wars, American battleships, and those of other navies, carried observation aircraft – ‘spotter planes’ – fitted with floats. Launched by catapult from the deck, they landed beside the ship when their mission was over and were retrieved by crane. This was skilled, dangerous work and easier said than done.

The original images were obviously personal snaps taken by one or more of the West Virginia’s crew, not the work of a Navy photographer, but after a quick rinse through software they scrubbed up looking like this

VirginiaPlane4

VirginiaPlane3

I’ll admit that U.S. Navy aircraft of the 1920s are not my strong point. In my defence, I can’t possibly know everything and that’s why we have search engines. I discovered two things
(1) there are more to sort through than you might imagine
(2) as all you aviation experts already know, this is a Vought OU-1 – standard equipment in the U.S. Navy for ten years from 1923 and an aircraft with a couple of notable firsts to its credit.

In 1924 it was the first plane to be catapulted off a battleship at night and, five years later, the first plane to dock with a dirigible (airship) in flight! “Why?”, I hear you ask. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum have several better quality images on their Flickr site and you can find a good photograph of USS Pennsylvania with two planes mounted aft on this well researched page about the short history of catapult aviation.

Two mysteries remain – the location of the photographs (if you can help with that, please leave a comment) and how did these personal souvenirs from an American battleship end up in New Zealand?

The West Virginia found fame later in life when she was sunk at Pearl Harbour, salvaged, rebuilt, and put back into the fight. She was in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_1941_Virginia

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Two men can be seen on the superstructure, upper center. The mast of the USS Tennessee is beyond the burning West Virginia.
USN/AP via rarehistoricalphotos

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Queen of the Sea

The cruise season is underway again in the southern hemisphere. Just thinking about this annual invasion of floating palaces made me nostalgic for the time (not so long ago) when cruise ships were much smaller and looked like ships, not multi-storied apartment blocks on a barge.

A brief search through the files came up with one example that was based at Southampton, England, and very popular in the 1960s and ’70s.

Reina del Mar (1955) from a postcard.

The Reina del Mar wasn’t even built for cruising but evolved into the trade. Launched in 1955 as a passenger/cargo vessel, she spent her first eight years sailing between Liverpool and the west coast of South America for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, at a loss. The route, like many others at the time, lost business to airlines and jet travel. The company reluctantly decided to withdraw her from service in 1963 and she was chartered for cruising by the Travel Savings Association, a partnership headed by South African millionaire Max Wilson. This episode deserves a page of its own and is well explained here.

The Reina’s new role called for an extensive refit.

Reina del Mar in 1964 with TSA logo on funnel. Card by J. Arthur Dixon.

1964. The Reina del Mar in TSA livery after her refit. Postcard by J. Arthur Dixon.

The cargo holds were converted to cabin space and the superstructure extended forward above them to form the Coral Lounge, claimed to be the biggest public room on any ship then afloat. The box-like structure between the bridge and the funnel was a cinema, perhaps not the best place to put it. Every movement of the ship could be felt at that height, making it difficult to concentrate on a movie when the Reina was “on a roll” (and not in a good way). The postcard above was sent from Gibraltar in 1964. The cryptic message on the back says –
“11.45 p.m. Monday Oct. 26
….as you can see we are on a Med. cruise. 1st stop Gibraltar at 2 p.m. 2nd stop Naples Thurs., Palermo Sat., Lisbon Nov 4th. The passage Friday very rough, alright now.”
Seems like the Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation on Friday (not a good movie night). It isn’t always like that.

Sadly, the TSA organisation collapsed a year later but not before Wilson had given the British cruise “industry” a much needed shake-up. One of his partners, the Union Castle Line, took over the Reina del Mar charter and she appeared in company colours soon afterwards.

The Union Castle cruise ship 'Reina del Mar' in Grand Harbour, Malta, c. 1971

Grand Harbour, Malta. 1971.

Union Castle eventually bought the Reina in 1973, just in time for an oil crises that saw fuel prices quadruple. This made the company’s only cruise ship uneconomic and she was scrapped in 1975 – at 20 years old. From that point on cruise ships would be built using the economy of scale to keep fares affordable. More passengers on more decks.

Mal de Mer

Cunard liner Caronia, Atlantic ocean, 1907.

Carmania_Caronia

When we were 300 miles to the southwestward of Ireland, we ran into a storm, and for a few hours the liner pitched and rolled.

As the seas rose, and the Caronia began “shoving her nose into it”, a few of the less hardy souls on the promenade-deck made for the lee rail and began quietly “feeding the fishes”. Among them were a man and his wife. The husband was affected only slightly by Nautical Nausea, but his wife was suffering from intense equilibristic disturbances. He was standing by, holding her hand, and doing everything that he could to lessen her misery with comforting remarks.

Along came a fellow-passenger, one of those hearty characters who believe that ocean travel is at its best in rough seas. It was his boast that he always did forty times around the deck before breakfast, and ate four square meals a day in every kind of weather. He had a nodding acquaintance with the couple at the rail, and, sizing up the situation as one that required a little pep talk, he roared, “Good morning. Good morning. Lovely weather, isn’t it? I’m sorry to see that your wife has such a weak stomach.”

This was too much for the husband, who roared back indignantly and proudly, “She hasn’t a weak stomach. She’s throwing farther than anybody else!”
‘Tramps and Ladies, My Early Years in Steamers’, Sir James Bisset and P.R. Stephensen, 1960.

Cruising Fiordland

The remote region of New Zealand’s South Island covered by the Fiordland National Park has been a tourist attraction since the 19th century. Then, as now, the most comfortable way of seeing it was by cruise ship, or steamer excursion as it was known then. The sounds were visited by many ships, especially in summer. S.s. Waikare was one of the most popular.

Milfor art

Mitre Peak. Of the many beautiful Sounds of New Zealand, Milford Sound is the most famous. It is situated on the west coast of the South Island, and the scenery found there equals any in the world. Many great mountains slope to its shores, one of the most important being Mitre Peak (6,000 feet high).
Postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons, c. 1911. Artist A. H. Fullwood.

Manawatu Standard, 28 November 1901.
SUMMER EXCURSION To The WEST COAST SOUNDS BY S.S. WAIKARE, LEAVING DUNEDIN on MONDAY 13th JANUARY, 1902. For Patterson’s Inlet, Halfmoon Bay (Stewart Island) thence via Preservation Inlet, Dusky Sound, Wet Jacket Arm, Breaksea and Doubtful Sounds, Crooked Arm, Hall’s Arm, Smith, Bradshaw, Thompson and George Sounds to MILFORD SOUND, Returning to Dunedin on 27th January. FARE: £15 and Upwards. For full particulars apply to offices of UNION STEAM SHIP COMPANY OF N.Z., Ltd.

Milford mono

New Zealand Herald 19 Jan 1909.
WEST COAST SOUNDS TRIP.
Dunedin, Monday. The Waikare left Port Chalmers on Saturday on her annual excursion to the West Coast Sounds. A large number of excursionists arrived during the afternoon by the Ulimaroa from Sydney, and joined the party, which included ladies and gentlemen from all parts of the Dominion. After visiting Preservation Inlet, the Waikare will call in at Dusky Sound, Wet Jacket Arm, Doubtful Sound, Bradshaw Sound, Hall’s Arm, Thomson, George, and Milford Sounds, and return via Stewart Island.

Milford_George

George Sound

Milford_WetJacket

Wet Jacket Arm

THE STEAMER WAIKARE.
TOTAL WRECK AT DUSKY SOUND.
PASSENGERS AND CREW ALL SAFE.
PROMPT RELIEF MEASURES.
(Per Press Association.)

DUNEDIN, Jan. 4, [1910]. The Union Steamship Company received word this evening that the s.s. Waikare had struck a rock in Dusky Sound at noon. The vessel is reported to be badly damaged, and the engine room and stokehold are full of water to the water’s level. She was beached on Stop Island, passengers and crew being safely landed on the beach of the mainland.
Arrangements are being made to despatch the s.s. Moura as early as possible to-morrow for the scene of the wreck.

A Triple Tragedy

Aboukir_vThe image at left comes from a postcard by Raphael Tuck and Sons, published around 1908, and features the British armoured cruiser H. M. S. Aboukir. She was launched in 1900 by Fairfields of Govan, Scotland and, on completion two years later, had a short career in the Mediterranean before being withdrawn from service and laid up in reserve in 1912. The rapid development of warships at the time had made her, and the rest of the “Cressy” class to which she belonged, practically obsolete.

She was recommisioned on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and sent on patrol with the 7th Cruiser Squadron to guard the eastern approaches to the English Channel. On the morning of 22nd September, she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-9 and when Cressy and Hogue closed to rescue survivors, they were dispatched in the same way. Three cruisers and over 1400 men were lost in less than an hour. You can find the crew list here. Writer Antoine Vanner gives a thorough description of the disaster on his blog.

Aboukir

This image by artist, Norman Wilkinson, was printed in ‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’ (1916). Captions in the book claim “one of the sailors described the last moment as follows: “The captain sings out an order just like on any ordinary occasion, ‘If any man wishes to leave the side of the ship he can do so, every man for himself,’ then we gave a cheer and in we went.”
and
“The horrors of modern warfare are illustrated by the notice issued after this disaster by the British Admiralty, which reads in part, ‘no act of humanity, whether to friend or foe, should lead to neglect of the proper precautions and dispositions of war, and no measure[s] can be taken to save life which prejudice the military situation.'”

Translated into plain language – in the event of this situation being repeated, commanders must put their own ships’ safety first and leave men in the water to their fate.

An Emigrant’s Tale

I was in my teens when we left Scotland. My father was ordered to take a long sea voyage, and New Zealand was chosen as our destination – the mild climate being a great attraction.

Off Valparaiso

We left Home in the sailing ship Ganges in July [1st], 1863, arriving in Auckland in October [12th], after a good voyage; no bad storms, and no serious illness. There were 12 first class passengers, and about 250 immigrants in the steerage. In those days the conditions of travelling first class were much below those of the third class now-a-days both in accommodation and in commissariat arrangements, there being very small cabins, and very hard bunks, with the most primitive means of lighting. There were no baths; the men and boys used to be hosed down in the early mornings when the decks were cleaned, but the women had to perform their ablutions in tiny basins with very little water.

We carried some crates of thin fowls on deck, which grew tougher and skinnier as the voyage progressed, as did also a few sheep. There were also preserved vegetables, potatoes which were very nasty, and butter, which, unlike the fowls, grew stronger and stronger as time went on. Curiously enough, plum pudding was the most successful dish in the menu. It appeared every Thursday, and was quite the event of the week. But we had a good captain, and our fellow-passengers were so congenial that everyone felt sorry when the voyage ended, and we had to separate and scatter.
A. H. Williams quoted in ‘Tales of Pioneer Women’, Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd., 1940.

The popular captain was Thomas Funnell and there were 22 passengers listed in the main cabin. One steerage passenger, William Kirkwood, had died of pulmonary tuberculosis in September, and one child was stillborn in August. That was certainly a “good voyage” by the standards of the day.

The ship’s second, and last, voyage to New Zealand in 1864/65 with Irish emigrants wasn’t so fortunate. Two crew lost overboard when they fell from the mast, two adult passenger deaths, and 54 children due to an outbreak of whooping cough. The newspaper report and captain’s log make grim reading.

The Evans Bay Slip

The Wellington Patent Slip at Evans Bay, near today’s international airport, was an important feature of the harbour’s industrial shoreline for a hundred years.

Patent slip vintage

This postcard from the early 1900s was printed, and presumably hand coloured, in Berlin and the colourist, never having seen the place, was overly generous with the blue ink. The area around the ship was, of course, dry land and not water.

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897, noted –
“The Patent Slip, owned by a private company, is situated in Evans Bay, about three miles by road and two-and-a-half miles by water from the Queen’s Wharf, and can take vessels up to 2,000 tons not exceeding 300 feet in length or having a greater draught forward than sixteen feet when about to be slipped. The ways are laid to a gradient of one in twenty-three, are 1,070 feet in length, and have a depth at high water of 32 feet at the outer end. The Slip Company own appliances for repairing both wooden and iron vessels, and have machine tools for effecting the smaller class of repairs to iron vessels, but large repairs have to be sent to the foundries in the City. The Company charges for vessels over 200 tons register 1s[hilling] per ton on the gross tonnage for the first day, and 6d. [sixpence] per ton per diem thereafter”.

Although the company was founded in 1871 preparation of the site, especially laying the rails under water at the outer end, took two years. The divers were sometimes swept off their feet in strong currents.

Patent slip Huia

Typical of small coastal steamers in the 19th century, the s.s. Huia (1878-1927) had a reputation for being difficult to steer in some conditions and went aground more than once. This photograph might have been taken at the Patent Slip in June 1907 after she stranded for 20 minutes on Long Point, Kapiti Island, on her regular run from Wanganui to Wellington. A leak was traced to a cracked plate on her port side.

In 1897, as the Cyclopedia explained, the Patent Slip “as a settlement” consisted of “a few cottages……occupied by the engineer in charge and some of the men who are employed” there. Eventually, the city suburbs spread out to engulf it and by mid 20th century coastal shipping had begun to die away under pressure from road, rail and air transport. In 1972 the slip – then under the control of the Harbour Board – didn’t have enough trade to stay in business and was closed. Now the site is preserved alongside Wellington’s most scenic route “around the bays” from the city to Miramar. Unfortunately, due to its low profile, many tourists probably drive past it without noticing.

The site of Wellington's Patent Slip, Evans Bay, (1871-1972).

The track of the original slipway is marked by wooden poles that feature panels explaining the site’s history. The huge cogged wheel at left was part of the steam driven winding gear that hauled vessels out of the water with chains. The chain locker below was 10 metres [about 30 feet] deep.

Patent slip_2

This second slipway, opened in 1922, lies alongside Wellington’s scenic “round the bays” drive.

Interesting trivia – One of the company directors in 1897 was Harold Beauchamp, father of New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield.