The Tarawera eruption

(Hint: this post will make more sense if you’ve read the previous two).

The ridge known as Mount Tarawera in New Zealand’s North Island, that lies alongside a lake of the same name, is actually made up of three ancient volcanoes fused together. They were considered long dormant in the 19th century and certainly didn’t feature as a threat in local Maori tradition. But Tarawera was surrounded by an extensive and active geothermal field that drew tourists from all over the world.

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Painting by Charles Blomfield.

On the night of 10th June 1886 all three vents burst into life, ripping the top off the ridge and creating a deep rift that ran for its entire length. It continued down the southern end of the mountain and through Lake Rotomahana, site of the world famous Pink and White Terraces, which were never seen again. The shape of the landscape had been changed forever. Dust from the eruption spread right across the Bay of Plenty as far as East Cape but most of the hot ash and boulders were dumped in the immediate area.

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The shaded area shows the extent of ash deposits. The parallel lines indicate the geothermal corridor from Mount Ruapehu to White Island.

Small family settlements around the edge of Lake Tarawera were wiped out and Wairoa village was buried under three feet of mud and ash. Over 150 people died, although that can only be an estimate. The magnitude of the disaster can be understood best through photographs taken over the days that followed.

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Wairoa village, once a tourist base for trips to the Terraces. The humps in the ground forming a line at left are buried Maori huts (whare). The remains of buildings can be seen in the middle distance.

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McRae’s Rotomahana hotel at left (see last Tuesday’s post) and the Terrace hotel, right.

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The old mill in a desert of ash.

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The remains of a church.

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Moura, a small Maori settlement, used to stand here beside Lake Tarawera. Searchers found only waist deep mud.

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Part of the rift that split open Mount Tarawera.

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These huge craters were blasted out of Tarawera’s southern end. Lake Rotomahana and steam from new vents lie beyond. The landscape is covered in ash as far as the eye can see.

The land took decades to recover but curious tourists returned to the area within weeks of the eruption. The buried village is still a popular attraction.

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A Bath for the Gods

Continuing from Tuesday’s post, following J. A. Froude’s account of his adventures in the geothermal region of New Zealand’s North Island in 1885.

Leaving the White Terrace behind, the guides Kate and Mari led the group on a track past boiling pools where the “heat, noise and smell were alike intolerable”, and steaming cones of mud. “Suspicious bubbles of steam spurted out under our feet as we trod, and we were warned to be careful where we went.”

After lunch beside Lake Rotomahana, Mari ferried them accross the “weird and evil looking” hot lake in a leaky dugout canoe.

The Pink Terrace, the object of our voyage, opened out before us on the opposite shore. It was formed on the same lines as the other, save that it was narrower, and was flushed with pale-rose colour. Oxide of iron is said to be the cause….

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A painting of the Pink Terrace and Lake Rotomahana by Charles Blomfield. The White Terrace can be seen in the background on the other side of the lake. The height and shape of Mount Tarawera has been exaggerated and distorted. (Compare with the photograph at the bottom of the post).

The party landed at the terrace-foot “with no more misfortune than a light splashing”. Some intrepid tourists of the time felt their trip wouldn’t be complete without bathing in the terrace pools and Froude was keen to take the plunge.

To my great relief I found that a native youth was waiting with the towels, and that we were to be spared the ladies’ assistance. The youth took charge of us and led us up the shining stairs. The crystals were even more beautiful than those which we had seen, falling like clusters of rosy icicles, or hanging in festoons like creepers trailing from a rail. At the foot of each cascade the water lay in pools of ultra marine, their exquisite colour being due in part, I suppose, to the light of the sky refracted upwards from the bottom. In the deepest of these we were to bathe. The temperature was 94°F or 95°F. The water lay inviting in its crystal basin.

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Falling like clusters of rosy icicles.

The water was deep enough to swim in comfortably, though not over our heads. We lay on our backs and floated for ten minutes in exquisite enjoyment, and the alkali, or the flint, or the perfect purity of the element, seemed to saturate our systems. I for one, when I was dressed again, could have fancied myself back in the old days when I did not know that I had a body, and could run up hill as lightly as down.

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The bath over, we pursued our way. The marvel of the Terrace was still before us, reserved to the last. The crater at the White Terrace had been boiling; the steam rushing out from it had filled the air with cloud; and the scorching heat had kept us at a distance. Here the temperature was twenty degrees lower; there was still vapour hovering over the surface, but it was lighter and more transparent, and a soft breeze now and then blew it completely aside. We could stand on the brim and gaze as through an opening in the earth into an azure infinity beyond.

The hue of the water was something which I had never seen, and shall never again see on this side of eternity. ….. Here was a bath, if mortal flesh could have borne to dive into it! It was a bath for the gods and not for man.
Extracted from ‘Oceana’, J. A. Froude, Ed. Geoffrey Blainey. Methuen Haynes, 1985.

Froude was right – he would never see the sight again. One year after his visit, this landscape changed forever. More about that tomorrow.

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A Royal Wedding

York wedding225“The King’s second son, the Duke of York, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, youngest daughter of the Earl of Strathmore, were married at Westminster Abbey on April 26th, 1923. The bride drove with her father from [his home in] Bruton Street to the Abbey in a closed carriage, but on the return journey the crowds along Piccadilly and Constitution Hill, cheering and showering confetti, saw her radiant and smiling at her husband’s side. The two were acclaimed anew on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, where 123 guests attended the wedding breakfast.

The last act of Lady Elizabeth before her marriage was to lay her bridal bouquet [of roses] on the grave of the Unknown Warrior. The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Davidson, assisted by the Archbishop of York, Dr. Cosmo Lang. The bridegroom was attended by his brothers, [Edward] the Prince of Wales and Prince Henry“.
Text from cigarette cards printed in 1935 and 1937.

Photo by Swaine from a postcard. c. early 1920s.

Photo by Vandyk on a Beagles postcard.

Prince Albert, Duke of York, was called Bertie by family and close friends even after he became king in 1937 when he adopted another of his names – George (VI). Like his father, George V, before him he was second in line to the throne and didn’t expect to become king. His father’s older brother died in 1892 so he had almost ten years to train for the job before his coronation, but Albert was thrown in at the deep end at a month’s notice when his brother, Edward, abdicated.

Duke and Duchess of York with infant Princess Elizabeth, 1926.

Princess Elizabeth, the current Queen of England and Prince Harry’s grandmother, was born on 21st April 1926. This family photograph might have been taken at the time of her christening in May.

Travelling in style

All the media of the Western World seem to be obsessed with British royalty at the moment, thanks to a recent addition to the family and a “fairytale” wedding this weekend. Well Pastimpressions isn’t too proud to jump on that bandwagon while the wheels are rolling – so welcome to Royal Week.

Royal trains.
For ordinary journeys royal personages often travel in a saloon attached to one of the regular trains, but for all important journeys, special measures are taken.

Several railways have constructed special trains for the King [George V] and Queen [Mary], and these are really palaces on wheels. They include sleeping cars – with proper bedrooms, not sleeping berths; dining-cars, in which meals are served just as in a royal palace; saloons; and compartments for servants, attendants and others. The trains used by the West Coast and East Coast Railways are like this, and will carry a hundred or more people on some journeys.

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The king’s bedroom in a carriage of the Great Northern Railway.

The King's Day Saloon on the Royal Train (King George V).

The king’s day saloon.

Image from a 1935 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.At the starting and destination stations the platforms are covered with crimson carpet, and frequently they will be decorated. As a rule the chief officials and the Chairman of the railway will be there to receive the King or Queen, and some of them travel with the train. The engines and drivers are carefully selected, and generally the locomotives are decorated.

In many cases a pilot engine is sent in advance of the royal train. This engine travels by itself, about ten minutes in front, and after it has gone by all trains which are passed must stop, and no shunting work may be done or points moved until the royal train has gone by.

Each signalman has to see that everything is done properly, and to signal the royal train by a green flag in addition to the ordinary signals. Every level-crossing gate must be locked as soon as the “pilot” comes along, and men are placed at the principal points, and along the line wherever thought desirable. As a rule, a policeman is stationed on every bridge crossing the railway; and the stationmaster has to be on every platform passed.

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A Royal engine at Portsmouth on the return of the King and Queen from their Coronation Tour in India [1912]. The ship in the background is P&O’s Medina which acted as the Royal Yacht for the tour.

Some people think that when the King travels he does not pay his fare. No doubt most of our railways would be very pleased to convey him on those terms; but in actual practice the usual rates for special trains and the fares of all on board are paid.
‘The Wonder Book of Railways’, Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd., c.1924.

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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

Wearin’ the green

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Bunches of Shamrock appearing on the flower-sellers’ baskets on March 17th are reminders that this is the festival of Ireland’s Patron Saint, the day when good Irishmen will be “wearin’ the green” in many lands. Baskets of shamrock are sent on St. Patrick’s Day by Princess Mary to be distributed to the Irish Guards quartered at the great military centre of Aldershot. Our photograph shows the Countess of Cavan presenting the shamrock to the Officers of the Irish Guards.

St.Pats_2The Irish Guards quartered at Wellington Barracks, London, also receive their St. Patrick’s Day gift of shamrock from Princess Mary. Our photograph shows General Sir Alexander Godley [right] presenting the shamrock on behalf of Princess Mary to the Officers of the Irish Guards. He afterwards placed a wreath of shamrock on the Guard’s Memorial, London, in memory of the Irish Guards who fell in the War.
‘Homeland Events’ series of cigarette cards by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1927.

The Irish Guards can be distinguished from other Guards regiments by their tunic buttons which are arranged in groups of four.

Trouble with Trams 2

RUNAWAY CAR ON THE BROOKLYN LINE.
WILD PLUNGE OVER A BANK.
A PASSENGER KILLED.
FIVE OTHER PERSONS INJURED.

Brooklyn, in this case, is a suburb of Wellington, New Zealand, not New York. The Evening Post report of 4th May 1907 continues….

A “roaring noise”, a rumbling, and finally a tremor of the earth made householders near the tramway line on the Brooklyn heights fear that an earthquake had visited them last evening, at about half-past five. The cause of the disturbance was a large electric car, of the new palace pattern, which left the rails while it was whirling down at terrific speed and plunged over a bank.

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There were only four passengers, including one woman, Mrs. Eliza Bell, wife of Mr. Thomas Bell, a sheep-farmer of Murchison [South Island]. She was crushed under the frame. Her husband and the other passengers were cut and bruised, but were not seriously injured. Mr. Bell was taken on a stretcher to a neighbouring house, and received attention from Dr. Hogg, pending his removal later on to a private hospital. The other passengers dispersed, and were soon lost from view. The motorman, John Rea, and the conductor, Arthur D. Perkins, were dazed by knocks on their heads, and were taken home soon after the accident.

After rounding a curve….[the tram] swept along a straight strip for some distance, and then forsook the metalled way. The outside wheels scoured out a deep groove in the ballast for a dozen yards, and then the rear bogie was left behind. At this moment the car must have been turning on its side, on the slope of a bank, and after skidding about ten yards, the body was jolted from the front bogie, and the whole of the car body was pitched on its side, with the bottom towards the rails. Fragments of the lower woodwork were left along the hillside as the vehicle plunged over the earth.

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A distracted driver, experienced but unfamiliar with that particular route, incorrect settings on a complicated triple braking system, damp rails on a steep incline, all combined to produce this result. It could have been worse. The Brooklyn line had a single track with sidings to allow trams to pass. Unable to stop and back up to the nearest siding, John Rea’s runaway was hurtling towards an “up” tram with forty people on board when it jumped the track. An inquest a week later, when the crew had recovered from their concussion, returned a verdict of accidental death on Eliza Bell.

The photographer here was Joseph “Zak” Zachariah (1867-1965), a man with the instincts of a photojournalist before the word was invented – “Things would happen at eight o’clock in the morning, and “Zak” would have the photographic record of it staring at you from his window before noon.”

Brooklyn Road has been widened and the corners modified but, for those of you who know Wellington, I think this spot is opposite where the Renouf Tennis Centre stands today.