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.

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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.

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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).

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The start of an era

DH.4A

“This machine is fitted with a special covered in saloon comfortably furnished, with sliding windows, and is used as a passenger machine by the Communication Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. It has also been in constant use between London and Paris for conveying Cabinet Ministers, &c., to and from the Peace Conference. This machine designed and built by The Aircraft Manufacturing Co. Ltd., [Air-Co] Hendon, London, N.W. 9.”
Postcard caption, 1919.

Described as a passenger carrying biplane for one pilot and two passengers – or 360 lbs of freight in a 47 cubic foot space, the 4A had been adapted from a WWI light bomber. The rear gunner’s position had been removed and a small cabin fitted, giving the plane a humped back look. When the conference concluded in mid-1919, some of these aircraft were sold to private companies and, on 25th August, one of them had the honour of opening “the world’s first daily aeroplane service for passengers and goods between London and Paris”.

Claustrophobia Airways.
The “comfortably furnished saloon” image was encouraged by the manufacturers and operators to give the impression of a luxury air taxi where an executive and his secretary could continue to work during their 2½ hour flight. The reality, of course, was a little different. You will have noticed a ladder on the side of the plane – but no door. That was on the top of the cabin. Air correspondent Harry Harper gives an eye witness account.

“I remember, quite clearly, seeing a couple of passengers, resigned but still somewhat apprehensive, being packed into one of these small aeroplanes like sardines in a tin. There seemed barely room for them to sit in the tiny cabin facing each other. And then when they had been tucked into their places, and seemed incapable of doing more than moving their heads slightly, a sort of metal lid was shut down with a clang and fastened into position above their heads. And so they flew to Paris. Not more than a few feet in front of them was the big engine, and the noise it made was so terrific, combined with the shriek of the propeller, that even if you put your head close to a fellow passenger’s ear, and shouted with all your might, it was doubtful whether he would hear you, and the best thing to do was to scribble a message on a piece of paper and pass it across the table.
‘The Romance of a Modern Airway’, Harry Harper, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1930.

The hatch was “unscrewed” by ground crew at their destination. I wonder if they knew the petrol tank was conveniently located between the cabin and the pilot? Or if they thought about what might happen to them in a crash landing?

The 4A deserves its place in aviation history but its career as a passenger carrier was mercifully short. Comparitively bigger aircraft, adapted from bigger bombers, replaced it. The aircraft in the picture, F5764, was sold to Handley Page Ltd in April 1921 and scrapped the following year.

 

Fortress Dover

Dover has ever, from Roman times, been a place of arms, and was, an old chronicler tells us the “lock and key of the whole kingdom.” That being so, it has always behoved us to make it one of the most strongly fortified places on our coasts. On either side of the deep and narrow valley in which the town lies, the great chalk downs and cliffs rise steeply and massively, and all are in military occupation. The morning drum-beat reverberates from the Western Heights to welcome the rising sun, and the Last Post from the Castle sounds the requiem of the departed day; and in between them the tootling and the fifing, the words of command, the gun-firing, and all the military alarms and excursions of a garrison-town help to convince even the most timid that we are being taken care of.

Dover Castle, Kent, England. Photo by W. H. Stamford of Dover.

Image from a vintage postcard. Original photo by W. H. Stamford.

Dover Castle, that “great fortress, reverend and worshipful,” sits regally on the lofty cliffs ….. It occupies a site of thirty-five acres within its ceinture of curtain-walls, studded at intervals with twenty-six defensible towers, of every size and shape. The chief entrance to the Castle precincts is by the great “Constable’s Tower,” also variously styled Fiennes, or Newgate Tower, to distinguish it from the Old Tower, formerly the principal entrance. Besides this imposing array there were, and there remain still, profoundly deep ditches outside the walls. In midst of all these outworks, rising bold and massive as the great keep of the Tower of London itself, is the Palace Tower, or Keep.

Off Dover

Painting “Off Dover” by W. Cannon in 1904. From a postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons posted 17 August 1905.

The most ancient and venerable object here – supposed to have been built A.D. 49 – is the Roman pharos, or light-house, one of two that once guided the ships of the Roman emperors into the haven that was situated where the Market-place of Dover now stands. The other, of which only the platform and one fragment of stone have been found was situated on the western heights.

Many generations have tinkered and repaired the Roman pharos, whose original tufa blocks and courses of red tiles still defy the elements and the ravages of mischievous hands, while the casing of flint and pebbles set in concrete, added some two centuries ago, long since began to decay. The Roman windows were altered by Gundulf [William the Conqueror’s architect], and the upper story would seem to be the work of Sir Thomas Erpingham, the Constable of Dover Castle in the reign of Henry the Fifth, for his sculptured shield of arms appears on it.
Extracts from ‘The Kentish Coast’, Charles G. Harper, Chapman & Hall Ltd. 1914.

The Road to Damascus

Given the evidence of the past eighty years, and especially this past week, it’s difficult to imagine the Middle East has ever known peace. Yet when these words were written in 1926, Beirut and Damascus were recommended to well-heeled tourists looking for an exotic travel experience.

M_BeirutBeirut …. [is a] busy port and a flourishing Syrian town. The visitor sees evidence of this in the fine harbour, the shipping, the commercial buildings and busy streets. But the East is ever present in the native portions of the population with the varied costumes and dwellings. Beirut has its good hotels, fine buildings and a stately Government House from the roof of which one gets a glorious view of the Mountains of Lebanon and the beautiful surroundings to the town.

M_desertThe Lebanon Mountains and plains between provide scenery of remarkable beauty. Contrasting indeed is that apparently trackless waste, the Syrian Desert. Hot, dry and desolate, at times there is practically no vegitation, while after rain, the desert becomes an almost impassable quagmire. On occasions bands of Bedouin horsemen spring seemingly from nowhere, friendly or otherwise, to disappear as quickly as they came. Camel caravans set out to cross this uninviting area, but for the 600-mile journey to Bagdad the motor transport is preferable to the traveller. The cars start from Beirut, additional passengers being picked up at Damascus.

M_olivesThe ancient capital of Syria is set in delightful surroundings, the minarets and domes rising above the white-terraced roofs completing a picture of impressive beauty. Entering Damascus, most of the streets are narrow and ill-kept, while the houses are in a state of dilapidation. But there are many places of interest; the magnificent Great Mosque, the Mosque of the Whirling Dervishes and numerous others. The bazaars also are particularly attractive. Damascus has of course much association with Biblical history. The traveller can pass along the famous ‘Street called Straight’ and can view the window said to be the one from which St. Paul was let down in a basket, also the houses reputed to have been those of Ananias and Naaman the Leper.

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‘Around the Mediterranean’ cigarette card series, Major Drapkin & Co., makers of the famous ‘Greys’ cigarettes. 1926.

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.

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

A Parisian Boulevard

This hand-coloured postcard image of the Boulevard Montmartre in winter is very evocative of time and place. It was probably made between 1906 and 1913 but, unfortunately, there is no record of publisher or photographer so I can’t give well deserved credit where it’s due.

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A message on the back adds to the time capsule effect. It’s number 2 in a series of cards posted together as a letter so we have no beginning, no end, no idea who wrote it or to whom. What we do know is that he was a soldier and it was a remarkably upbeat, chatty letter in the circumstances.

“…. to Mick a few weeks ago and he was also quite well. We are now in billets, having come out of the trenches about a week ago and having a good time. We are having showery weather at present and it is pretty muddy but it isn’t very cold yet. I didn’t know that Mrs Hynes had moved up to…..”

It’s like turning the dial on a time machine radio. A fragment of conversation drifts in from the Great War and then fades out again as we search for the station we’re trying to find.

Out of Action

Today’s image comes from a WWI postcard.

Image from WWI postcard of captured German Pfalz DIII aircraft.

The original is a very dark sepia with almost no detail in the shadows so although this isn’t perfect, it’s an improvement, believe me. It shows a group of British military personnel gathered round what is left of a German aircraft. I think we can see a mixture of army and Royal Flying Corps uniforms there.

The wreck on the trailer used to be a Pfalz DIII, probably a DIIIa which dates the photograph to sometime between November 1917 – when the type was introduced – and the end of the war twelve months later. The shape of the cross on the fuselage suggests it might have been prior to April 1918. Two R.F.C. men are standing in front of the aircraft’s number which makes it difficult to be any more specific.

Although over a thousand of both variants were made, no originals have survived. There are only two replicas to show what the DIII would have looked like in one piece. This is one of them.

A replica Pfalz D.III German WWI fighter aircraft.

ca_flight2

It was made in 1965 for the movie ‘The Blue Max’ so, at 53 years old, it’s edging towards veteran status.