Launching 534.

Cigarette card image of the Cunard ship RMS Mauretania.In 1905 the Cunard Steam-Ship Company embarked on a three-ship weekly mail service by ordering Lusitania and Mauretania; a quarter century afterwards work began on the first instalment of a two-ship service.

A 4½-day crossing [of the Atlantic] had to be the target, but such an increase in speed entailed a ship nearly 60 per cent larger than [Bremen] the German record-breaker. The cost of such a vessel would be enormous, but it would be possible to ‘turn her round’ in a week so that she and a sister could do the work previously performed by three. The Cunard Company therefore decided to build one 4½-day ship to replace Mauretania, follow her up with a second, and then retire Berengaria and Aquitania. The keel of the first was laid on December 27th, 1930. No name was allocated and she was referred to by her works number, ‘534’.

Building of ‘534’ began at an unfortunate moment, for the early 1930’s brought one of the worst depressions shipping has ever known. The Cunard Company was compelled to conserve its financial resources and suspended construction on December 10th, 1931. After an interval the British Government offered to lend £3 million on very favourable terms to complete ‘534’ and a maximum of £5 million to build a consort, on condition that the Cunard should amalgamate with the White Star Line. There was no practical alternative to acceptance.

Queen Mary launchWork was resumed in April 1934 and the ship was launched on September 26th of that year. Many names, including Victoria, had been suggested, but the hull slid into the water as the Queen Mary.
‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, C.R. Vernon Gibbs. Staples Press, 1952. [Abridged].

“I am happy to name this ship ‘Queen Mary‘.” Having bestowed her own name on the great vessel, formerly known as “534,” Her Majesty the Queen launched the world’s largest liner on the Clyde on September 26th, 1934. A quarter of a million people in Messrs. John Brown & Co.’s shipyard watched the huge shape gather momentum, cleanly take the water, and send a white wave foaming over the opposite shore. The King (who is seen with the Queen acknowledging the cheers as Their Majesties approached the launching platform) described the liner – the first built for the combined Cunard-White Star Fleet – as “the stateliest ship now in being.”
Caption on a cigarette card (above) issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1935.

Queen Mary 30s-3

A company postcard from the 1930s.

Queen Mary 50s-2

A Cunard postcard after her service as a troop ship in WWII. White Star was dropped from the company name in 1947.

 

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The Italian fleet surrenders.

After the downfall and arrest of Benito Mussolini in July 1943, the Italian government surrendered to the Western Allies on September 3rd, although the armistice was kept secret until the 8th. The Italian Navy was instructed to surrender it’s fleet the following day. These extracts come from reports in ‘The Sphere’ on September 25th and October 2nd.

By the early morning of September 11, the best part of the warships of the Italian Navy had entered Valetta Harbour [Malta] to surrender, in response to Admiral Cunningham’s appeal to seek shelter in British waters. One force came from Spezia: another from Taranto. In all, by the 11th, there were four battleships, seven cruisers, and ten destroyers safe in harbour: other vessels followed later.

Italian fleet

The British Navy meets the Italian fleet. Artist’s impression by Montague Dawson.

It was after dawn that the British Navy came up with the Italian battlefleet from Taranto. It was steaming in line ahead with the battleship Andrea Doria in front and the battleship Giulio [Cesare] behind it: other ships were following. All were flying the Italian flag and a black flag to denote they were surrendering in accordance with Admiral Cunningham‘s instructions. They looked spick and span and were a really fine sight, with the crews of each ship standing to attention along the decks. [Oct 2]

[Later that day], a motor-launch pulled up alongside the landing-stage in Malta Harbour and, as a guard of honour formed by British sailors sprang smartly to attention, the Italian Admiral de Zara [sic] (Acting Commander-in-Chief) and other senior officers of the Italian Navy stepped ashore, to be greeted by Commodore Royar Dick, Chief of Staff to Admiral Cunningham, and Captain Rodderick Edwards, Chief of Staff, Malta.

Italian surrenderAfter shaking hands with the Commodore, the Italian Admiral was then invited to inspect the guard of honour: [here] he is seen passing through the two lines of British bluejackets with his hand raised in salute. Admiral de Zara then entered a motor-car with Commodore Dick and was driven to Admiral Cunningham’s office at Malta Naval Headquarters. The Italian Navy had surrendered exactly in accordance with the terms of the Armistice, and it was therefore decided that the Italian Admiral should be received ashore with the same ceremonial as if he were a foriegn Admiral paying an official visit in peacetime. [25 Sept]

In reality, of course, the logistics and loyalties involved in such a momentous event meant it didn’t unfold as neatly as this. An article published in the Times of Malta in 2014 gives a fascinating and more detailed account, and you can watch a contemporary British Pathé newsreel (3 m. 30 sec.) on Youtube.

Old Whaling Days

Friday Flashback to 1983.

In my post about Wellington’s friendly whale (9th July), I mentioned that New Zealand’s last shore whaling station closed as recently as 1964. This is how it looked nineteen years later.

Whaling station 1 web

It sits in Fisherman’s Bay, Arapawa* Island, Marlborough Sounds, on the edge of Tory Channel. East Head and the exit to Cook Strait are in the background. If you travel from Picton to Wellington on the ferry today you’ll see what’s left of it from the port side.

The station was established in the 1920s by Joe Perano, a local fisherman who decided to go after something bigger, and the business continued with his sons in charge after Joe’s death in 1951.

Whaling station 2-2

It was a calm summer’s day when I visited but the corrugated iron cladding creaked and banged with every puff of wind that wafted in from the Strait. It has been removed in the years since then, leaving only the skeleton of the processing factory. The Department of Conservation took responsibility for the site in 2010.

Whaling station 4-2

A rusting harpoon head that should have been in a museum was just lying on the floor among the rubble. The Peranos are credited with introducing the explosive harpoon to New Zealand, followed by an electric version. I don’t know which this was – it had a hollow core – but it looked brutal.

The island has a long association with shore whaling. An easy walk back down a dusty track from here brings you to the neighbouring bay, Te Awaiti, where John Guard and Joseph (George) Toms established the first shore station in the country in 1827.

Te Awaiti 2-2

Guard moved to Port Underwood about three years later, leaving Toms – “a noted disciplinarian” – to rule over the unruly in the small settlement. He was known by several names during his life, a fact that has spawned numerous confusing and confused web pages.

Toms family grave 1-3

The fenced grave site at Te Awaiti for George Toms, son Joseph and his wife Harriet.

You can rent self-catering accommodation on the island, where the Perano family once had a farm, but be aware the only way in or out is by boat (or helicopter if your budget stretches that far) and there are no shops. Bring you own food supplies.

* Arapawa Island has been known officially by the more phonetically correct spelling of Arapaoa since 2014. Most of the web sites I’ve seen haven’t caught up with that yet.

The Wreck of the Yankee

“Were you here when the Yankee went on the reef?”
“Oh, yes,” Powell shook his head sadly.

The battered hull of the famous round-the-world yacht still remains as a prominent landmark just beyond the harbour at Avarua.

Yankee wreck 1

The Yankee was a steel hulled German pilot vessel, taken over as a prize of war, and acquired by Irving Johnson and his wife who took young people as working, paying crew on voyages around the world and their adventures appeared frequently in National Geographic and the sparkling, white-sailed Yankee was the dream ship of all the adventurous young who wanted to explore far away places.

“The Yankee under the Johnsons was immaculate. White dacron sails, white hull, varnished woodwork and gleaming brass. She was a picture.

“One day [in 1964] a large sailing ship came into view and as usual everyone started to speculate on what ship it might be because even then a ship of 117 tons and 97 feet was a rare sight and at first it was thought that the ship was the Yankee but as it came closer we could see the hull was grey and when it went to its engines after dropping sails the diesels belched black smoke.

“When the small boats were put over and came in, they were dirty with broken gunwales and with water sloshing around the bottom. There was no way that Irving Johnson could be on board and later the word drifted around that it was the Yankee all right but the boat had been sold to Windjammer Cruises and was being run out of Miami. It was as ratty as it could be.

Yankee wreck 3“At first the trades were from the east and then gradually started to swing slowly to the north with the wind getting stronger. By this time the Yankee was snubbing to her anchor and rolling badly and I thought it was time the skipper got away….but the crew had picked up a batch of local girls and there was a marathon party going on board. I said to my wife, ‘The Yankee is going ashore tonight.’

“When I woke up the next morning at the first light in the sky and I could feel the wind I told my wife, ‘The Yankee has gone on the reef.’ And I called our daughter who was a photographer at the time and told her to get her camera and go down to the beach because undoubtedly the Yankee was on the rocks and she could take news pictures which would be very valuable. And she did and they were.”

Yankee wreck 4BW

“A bit later I took my bicycle and rode down to the main road and there she was.”
Powell heaved a heavy sigh and shook his head again, “I wanted to cry.”

Condensed from ‘How to Get Lost and Found in the Cook Islands‘ by John W. McDermott, Waikiki Publishing Company, Inc. 1979.
Images from 1981.

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, whose luck got worse with time, finally went bankrupt in 2007. Founder, Michael Burke, died of pneumonia at 89 in 2013. According to this Wikipedia page, the remains of the Yankee were cut up and removed in 1995.

 

 

 

The ties that bind

Another Friday Flashback

Here’s an old maritime tradition you don’t see anymore – coloured streamers from ship to shore when a passenger liner is about to leave her berth.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

They’re supposed to have originated as a symbol of ties to family and friends, gathered on the dock to wave goodbye, and the breaking of them as the ship pulled away on its journey to distant lands. A poignant reminder of past times when some of those passengers were emigrants and would never return.

In later years, cruise ships adopted the practice to add to the carnival atmosphere at the start of a cruise but a combination of factors has put a stop to it in the past decade or two – the demise of ocean liners, restricted port access to non-passengers for security reasons, and environmental concerns. Now you can attract a nasty fine for throwing streamers and the rolls appear in museum collections.

The ship pictured here in more carefree days is the R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle (Union-Castle Line) leaving Capetown, South Africa, in the early 1970s. The “Eddie” had her maiden voyage seventy years ago. A you can see, that was in the era before rivets went out of style.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

Three conveniently placed dock workers complete the composition as the Edinburgh Castle backs away from her berth.

RMS Edinburgh Castle departing Cape Town, South Africa, in 1971

The white ship in the background is P+O’s Orsova.

Ed_Capetown harbour

Capetown harbour filtered through the window of a Cessna light aircraft. The “Eddie’s” red funnel can be seen at the dock below. The ship is berthed port side to the dock instead of the more usual starboard.

The R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle was scrapped in 1976.

An Emigrant’s Tale (#2)

Sailing ship Hesperus from a postcard.

My father, John Grubb, a ship-builder by trade, came to New Zealand in 1847, and after spending about a year in Wellington, went to Lyttelton under agreement with the Canterbury Association to build a jetty and make other arrangements for the arrival of the first settlers.

During this time my mother and three children lived in Dundee, until arrangements were made for them to join Father and come to New Zealand in the Charlotte Jane, one of the four ships chartered by the Canterbury Association to bring the first settlers to Lyttelton.

Before the ships sailed, Lord Lyttelton, the president of the Association gave the passengers a farewell luncheon at Gravesend, where four marquees were erected, one for each ship. During the voyage Mr. J. E. Fitzgerald, who was in charge of the expedition, edited two papers, The Cockroach and Sea Pie; he also composed the Night Watch Song of the Charlotte Jane, of which the first verse ran as follows:-

” ‘Tis the first watch of the night, brothers,
And the strong wind rides the deep,
And the cold stars shining bright, brothers,
Their mystic courses keep.
Whilst our ship her path is cleaving
The flashing waters through,
Here’s a health to the land we’re leaving
And the land we’re going to.”

Mrs T. V. Whitmore, Canterbury Pilgrims’ Association. Reproduced in ‘Tales of Pioneer Women’. 1940.

Wellington whales

Matariki, the southern right whale that’s been entertaining the population of Wellington for the past week and making headlines around the world, is lucky to be living in the 21st century and not the 19th or 20th. Back in the early 1840s, when the fledgling settlement pinned its economic hopes on becoming the port of choice for the whaling industry, he or she would have met with a very different reception.

MA_I083039_TePapa_View-of-a-part-of-the_small

Wellington in September 1841 drawn by Charles Heaphy, “draftsman” to the New Zealand Company.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. Saturday 30th July 1842.

During the past week, more than one of the cetacea have entered our harbour. They were mostly considered by those who saw them, to be young, or small species of the common or black whale. In one case a female followed by her cub were distinctly made out. The appearance of these strangers in Port Nicholson is by no means a common occurance, and all the spare hands and boats went in pursuit, but hitherto without success.

With the knowledge that most of the species of true cetacea frequenting the South Seas are by no means satisfactorily determined by systematic naturalists, we feel as strong a desire to see a specimen, for the sake of science, as the practical whaler can for the oil. The crania and imperfect skeletons of many of the larger cetacea are to be met with on the coast, and although the crania are in themselves of high prize to the comparitive anatomist, it yet does not, as we have distinctly repeatedly shewn, enable him to distinguish species.

The living specimens now in the bay, are said to have had no appearance of protuberance or fin on the back, and consequently must belong to that species possessing the elongated baleen, but all measurements which are simply comparitive, however they may differ, will not determine species – without the number of vertebrae composing the spinal column were at the same time given.

MA_I080883_TePapa_Distant-view-of-Port_small

Port Nicholson as British settlers found it in 1840. They could never have imagined a time when a right whale would be allowed to roam their harbour unmolested – and stay long enough to start its own Facebook page.

The last shore-based whaling station in New Zealand closed as recently as 1964.

(Images from the Te Papa collection).