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.

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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.

The Battle of Denmark Strait

Denmark Strait, North Atlantic, 24 May 1941.

Hood

H.M.S. Hood

In [H.M.S.] Prince of Wales, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen only a handful of men saw Hood’s end with their own eyes: the vast majority were below decks and to them the incredible news came on inter-com and by telephone, second hand. Some simply did not believe it. Prinz Eugen’s executive officer, Commander Stoos, on duty in the lower command post, hearing his captain’s voice announcing the news, said quietly, ‘Some poor fellow up there has gone off his head.’ In Bismarck’s after transmitting station Leading Seaman Eich heard Commander Schneider’s joyous shout, ‘She’s blowing up,’ and would remember the long drawn out ‘uuup’ for the rest of his life. In the after director tower Mullenheim-Rechberg heard it too, and despite orders to stick to the two [British] cruisers, couldn’t resist swinging round to see for himself. The smoke was clearing to show Hood with a broken back, in two pieces, bow and stern pointing towards the sky. As he watched, he saw the two forward turrets of Hood suddenly spit out a final salvo: it was an accident, the circuits must have been closed at the moment she was struck, but to her enemies it seemed like a last defiant and courageous gesture.

Now Prince of Wales, turning to port to obey Holland’s orders, had to go hard a-starboard to avoid the wreckage ahead, and Jasper*, through Prinz Eugen’s main rangefinder, saw on the far side of Prince of Wales a weird thing – the whole forward section of Hood, rearing up from the water like the spire of a cathedral, towering above the upper deck of Prince of Wales, as she steamed by. Inside this foresection were several hundred men, trapped topsy-turvey in the darkness of shell-room and magazine. Then Prince of Wales passed, both parts of Hood slid quickly beneath the waves, taking with them more than 1,400 men, leaving only a wreath of smoke on the surface. ‘Poor devils, poor devils!’ said Jasper aloud, echoing the thoughts of those around him; for as sailors they had just proved what sailors do not care to prove, that no ship, not even Hood, is unsinkable, and that went for Bismarck and Prinz Eugen too.
‘Pursuit, the chase and sinking of the Bismarck’, Ludovic Kennedy. Wm. Collins Sons & Co Ltd, 1974.

*Lieut-Commander Paulus Jasper, First Artillery Officer, Prinz Eugen

R.M.S. Olympic

White Star Line postcard of RMS Olympic.

Olympic and Titanic were the White Star reply to the [Cunard] Lusitania and Mauretania, but designed for more economical operation. Speed was the minimum necessary to allow a sailing every three weeks, but gross tonnage was increased to 40 per cent more than the Cunard greyhounds…… Work on Olympic commenced on December 16th, 1908; on Titanic, March 31st, 1909.

Vintage postcard of Cunard's RMS Mauretania.

Cunard’s Mauretania

Olympic’s maiden departure was on June 14th, 1911….. Westbound on September 20th, she seriously damaged the cruiser [H.M.S.] Hawke in collision in Spithead and had to cancel her voyage. An ingenious theory that the collision was due to suction caused by passage of Olympic’s massive bulk through the water was accepted at the subsequent enquiry but dismissed on appeal……..

Following the most terrible disaster in marine annals [sinking of the Titanic], Olympic made five more voyages and was then ordered to Belfast for major alterations. She had been designed to remain afloat with two compartments flooded, but building a complete inner skin, constructing extra bulkheads and increasing the height of others raised the number to six. Additional lifeboats were fitted to provide room for everyone on board. Olympic returned to work with a revised tonnage of 46,350 and 300 fewer First Class berths. In October 1914 she took the mined battleship [H.M.S.] Audacious in tow, but the warship sank before reaching safety. The White Star liner was afterwards requisitioned for transport work. On May 12th, 1918, when approaching France she was attacked by U.103. The submarine fired a torpedo* which missed the heavily laden troopship, but had approached too closely for her own safety and Olympic sank her assailant by ramming……

Olympic took her first post-war sailing on July 21st, 1920. Reconditioning had included conversion of her furnaces to oil-firing. She passed into the combined Cunard-White Star fleet in 1934 and on May 16th [15th] of that year sank the Nantucket Lightship ……in thick fog. Profitable employment was lacking for Olympic under the new regime and Jarrow shipbreakers bought her the following year.
‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, C.R. Vernon Gibbs. Staples Press, London. 1952.

*Later accounts confirm the crew of U.103 were unable to fire their torpedo before Olympic attacked.

Maiden voyage

Titanic

The White Star liner R.M.S. Titanic sailed from Southampton on her maiden voyage 105 years ago today.

This painting, ‘Departure into History’, is by the renowned marine artist Colin Verity (1924 – 2011). It was reproduced on a postcard in 1998 by Marine Art Posters of Hull, England.