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.

Advertisements

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).

A Sea Change

The Cunard Steamship Company has announced the placing of an order with John Brown and Company Limited for a third ship for the Canadian trade. This is in addition to the two 20,000-ton liners the company ordered for the Canadian trade in December, 1951. One of these is expected to be launched next February and the other will be ready in 1955. They will have a speed of about 20 knots.
No details of the new vessel have been released, but it is expected to be similar to those under construction.
Wellington’s ‘Evening Post’, Saturday, 14 November 1953.

The three liners would emerge from the yard as Saxonia, Ivernia and Carinthia.

C_Saxonia

Saxonia, launched 17 February 1954.

Cunard passenger ship Ivernia. Launched Dec. 1954. Image from company postcard.

 Ivernia, launched 14 December 1954.

A message on the back of this card, written on 25th September 1962, reads “We reach Montreal tomorrow then 5 weeks in America to catch Canberra on 4th November at Los Angeles. Back in Auckland on 10th November”.

C_Carinthia

 Carinthia, launched 14 December 1955.

They would be followed by the Sylvania in 1956 but the writing was already on the wall for Atlantic liners or, in this case, in the newspaper. Farther down the same Evening Post column in 1953 was this –

The latest figures in the “air travel versus sea travel” feud show a marked increase in air travel to and from Britain. For the first time since the war the number of people entering Britain by sea during the first six months has dropped. But the number entering by air has gone up sharply, having jumped 20 per cent.
The exact figures published by the British Board of Trade at the end of last month show a fall of 43,000 in sea passengers to and from Britain while there is an increase of 143,000 in air passengers.

The four liners of the Saxonia class stayed with Cunard for roughly 11 years each before being sold to other companies for conversion to cruising.

Busy Brindisi

These old postcard images give us an impression of the busy port city of Brindisi, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, in the 1930s.

B_street

My only visit has been courtesy of Mr. Google and his magical street view but I’m fairly sure this shows Corso Roma on the left and Corso Umberto I on the right.

Image from a vintage postcard of Brindisi, Italy, c.1930s.

I haven’t been able to identify this passenger ship heading out of the harbour yet (suggestions welcome). The tall column that seems to be growing out of the bridge isn’t actually part of the superstructure but the gigantic Memorial to the Mariners in the background.

Monument to the Mariners, Brindisi, Italy. Image from a 1930s postcard.

You don’t have to understand Italian to know that this is the National Monument to Italian sailors who died in World War One and that it was opened on 4th November 1933. Shaped like a ship’s rudder and standing over 50 metres tall, it’s an impressive example of fascist era architecture and has become Brindisi’s most recognisable landmark.

Brindisi harbour in the 1930s. Image from a postcard.

Three visiting submarines, presumably from the Italian Royal Navy, draw a crowd of onlookers. We can’t tell from the photograph if the boats are open to the public.

B_conte rosso

Tucked away in what seems like a quieter corner of the harbour is the passenger ship Conte Rosso (the Red Count) decked out in flags like the other ship in the picture, perhaps for some special occasion. On the skyline behind is the column marking the end of ancient Rome’s Appian Way from Rome to Brindisi.

The Conte Rosso was built in 1922 for the North Atlantic run to New York and, later, from Italy to South America. By the time this image was made, she was probably on the Far Eastern route to Bombay and Shanghai. While serving as a troopship in World War Two she was torpedoed by the British submarine Upholder on 24th May 1941 and sank with the loss of 1300 lives.

Breakfast is served

What did you have for breakfast on this eleventh day of May? Cereal, tea and toast? Coffee to go? Nothing at all?

P & O crest on a Tourist Class menu, 1933.

On the morning of 11th May 1933, as the s.s. ‘Mongolia’ steamed up the English Channel on the last leg of a voyage from Australia, tourist class passengers would have found this menu card on their breakfast tables.

Tourist class breakfast menu from s.s. Mongolia, 1933.If you’ve ever been to sea as a fare-paying passenger, you’ll know that shipboard meals are different. They’re made for people with time to actually sit down to eat, relax and be waited on; who don’t have to rush out to work or wash the dishes. Not normal. The variety and volume of food available is not what you’d expect at home, either. If we ate like that every day the obesity epidemic would be ten times worse than it is.

But this list, modest by modern cruise ship standards, shows us how tastes have changed in eighty-five years. Would any of these be your first choice at breakfast, especially if the dining room was moving around a bit? Kippered herrings – popular in Victorian and Edwardian days and allegedly making a comeback, but not on my plate at 8 a.m. Grilled calf’s liver – not at any time. Creamed potatoes – for breakfast?

Tea, toast and marmalade would be a safe bet in most sea conditions, or try the Golden Syrup. A blast from the past and still available. Liquid sugar – it even makes porridge edible. Spread it on two slices of toast, feed them to a lethargic child and he’ll be bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day.

P & O passenger cargo ship. Image from a company postcard.

A notice on the back of the menu says “The Galley and Pantries will be open for Inspection by Passengers at 11.00 a.m. to-day. All those wishing to visit same please assemble in Forward Dining Saloon at that hour.”

Also – “Passengers are kindly requested to have as much baggage as possible packed by 5.00 p.m. to-day, in order that it may be stowed on deck, and thereby facilitate disembarkation.” The ‘Mongolia’ was due to arrive at Dover at 10.30 p.m. – hardly a convenient time – although this was “only approximate ….. subject to weather conditions, also strength & direction of tidal streams.”

‘Mongolia’ had a comparitively long career. Entering P & O service as a new passenger/cargo ship in 1922, she was transferred to the subsidiary New Zealand Shipping Company in 1938 and became the s.s. ‘Rimutaka’. Then she was the ‘Europa’ of Incres Shipping (Italy) in 1950, followed by ‘Nassau’ (’51 – ’61) and ‘Acapulco’ (’61 – ’63) before being broken up in January 1965.

A Wahine postscript

The Wahine that sank in Wellington harbour on 10th April 1968 (see last post) was the second Lyttelton ferry to carry that name for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. The first was a steam ship of 4,436 tons built by Wm. Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton, Scotland in 1913.

s.s. Wahine, 1913

After a distinguished and colourful career that spanned two world wars she, too, met her end by hitting a reef – although this was not a glancing blow. She made a proper job of it.

In 1951 she had been pressed into service as a troopship once more and was transporting New Zealand soldiers to the Korean War. After her last refuelling stop at Darwin, Australia, she was steaming north for Kure, Japan, on 15th August when she ran up on a reef at Masela Island in the Arafura Sea.

Everyone on board was safely transferred to an oil tanker but the old Wahine made a forlorn sight, perched clear of the water, for many years afterwards.

The Wahine Storm

The storm which led to the drama of 10 April 1968 was born far to the north of New Zealand as a tropical depression. Eventually, on the morning of 10 April, it was to give rise in and around Wellington Harbour to the most severe weather conditions that have ever been instrumentally recorded in New Zealand.

….at about 0610 hours, …. t.e.v. Wahine, …. after an overnight voyage from Lyttelton was entering Wellington Harbour. The wind from SSW had a velocity of about 50 knots. As Pencarrow Head was abeam, or nearly abeam, her radar installation ceased to operate. Shortly thereafter the vessel, which to this point was on a correct course, suddenly sheered to port. At this time the wind, still from SSW, increased greatly, the sea was in a state of great turbulence, visibility was reduced to zero, and Wahine was unresponsive to her helm and became virtually out of control. Her master sought to regain control by use of helm and engines for the next 28 minutes but was unsuccessful. At about 0641 hours the starboard quarter of the vessel struck, or was flung upon, the southern extremity of Barrett Reef where the vessel grounded, and then, and shortly thereafter from further contact with the reef, suffered severe damage to her hull under water whereby sea water entered certain parts of the ship. Upon impact her starboard motor failed, followed within a few minutes by the port motor, whereupon Wahine was without propulsive power.

Wellington harbour, Point Dorset middle distance, Breaker Bay Road foreground.

Wellington Harbour. Follow the ship’s course on this diagram map in a separate window.

Wahine came off the reef, both anchors were dropped, and she dragged her anchors into the eastern entrance to Chaffers Passage, and thence along and close to the western shore north of Point Dorset with her head to the violence of wind and sea. At about 1315 hours the vessel, in the vicinity of Steeple Rock Light, and under the influence of a prematurely outgoing tidal flow, swung with her port side to the wind, and a list to starboard, which had already appeared, increased.

Wahine list

Short, Jack, active 1977. Ship Wahine sinking in Wellington Harbour – Photograph taken by Jack Short. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: PAColl-7796-85. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23198846

The order then being given at about 1320 hours to abandon ship all persons aboard left the vessel alive, but of those 734 persons 51 lost their lives thereafter.

Wahine rescue

Policeman Ray Ruane holding a young survivor of the Wahine shipwreck. Ref: EP/1968/1574/26a-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22508739

The list increased rapidly from the time abandonment was ordered and at some time after 1400 hours (this time not being precisely fixed) Wahine sank to the seabed, coming to rest upon her starboard side, …. and became a total loss. The top of the front of her bridge was distant 805 feet from Steeple Rock Light….

Wahine aerial

Aerial view of Wahine shipwreck with Seatoun in background. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1571/25-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23053881

Above text extracted from the Court of Enquiry report, November 1968.

The Wahine, 8,948 gross tons, was a roll-on, roll-off ferry built by Fairfields of Govan, Scotland, for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. She was less than two years old at the time of her loss. The wreck was cut up where it lay over the next five years.
The Wellington-Lyttelton ferry service ended in 1976.

Read survivor stories in their own words.

W_reef

The inbound Wellington-Picton ferry Kaitaki passing Barrett Reef, February 2009.