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This website is developed from the site originally conceived developed & maintained by Marcus Castell and associates. Opinions are those of the various authors of the articles, and are not those of the NZ National Maritime Museum unless specifically noted. Information in this site has been updated to 2002 and will be progressively updated as resources allow. More information on historic ships (etc) is contained in the MARITIME INDEX website

T. E. V.   Rangatira       1930 - 1967

Occasionally a vessel forges a place in the affections of her passengers and two of the Union Steam Ship Company's ships can claim that special distinction.  The Awatea was probably the most æstheticaly pleasing liner of her era and that story will be told in a forthcoming chapter.  The other ship to be much admired in her time was the inter-island express steamer Rangatira, commissioned in 1931 to replace the twenty four year old Maori.

With her elegant lines, extensive light Oak (dining saloon), Mahogany & Bird's Eye Maple (smoking room) panelling and highly polished Brass fittings, she epitomised the style of a bygone era, one that has sadly been replaced with acres of swirly carpet, shiny Teak-style bars and ceilings studded with dazzling pin-point down-lighters.

Rangatira was an innovative design for her time and spawned a number of siblings, not the least being her subsequent running mate Hinemoa.  With a 55 year career, the slightly smaller Taroona (above) was built for a partnership of the Union Steam Ship Company and the Huddart Parker line in 1935.  She served in the Melbourne to Hobart service until 1959 and her second career as the Greek cruise liner Hellas ended in a Turkish breaker's yard in 1990.

Her record for the fastest passage for the 175 mile (280 km) voyage from Wellington to Lyttelton remains unbroken.


Displacement: 6,152·07 tons.

Length: 419 feet.

Beam: 58 feet.

Draft: 17 feet and ½ an inch.


Six oil fired boilers generating steam at 400 pounds per square inch at a temperature of 725° Farenheit.

Two turbine driven alternators, each supplying 5,120 Kw. at 3,150 volts to two double-unit 6,500 horse-power electric motors at 220 revolutions per minute, directly coupled to the propeller shafts.

By switching the polarity of her motors she could change from 22 knots ahead to 17 knots astern in five minutes.

Maximum service speed: 23·9 knots.

Average service speed: 17½ knots.


600 first class passengers in single, double and four berth cabins.

170 second class berths.  A further 186 passengers could be accommodated in public rooms when necessary.

Crew: 112, giving a total maximum complement of 1,068. For day excursions to Picton, she was licensed to carry 2,300 deck passengers.

Dining Saloon

Smoking Room and Bar

Ship's Log

1930     September    The Union Steam Ship Company place an order for a vessel to replace the Maori. As a consequence of the Great Depression, her purchase price was only £500,000.

1930     April 16     Above: launched by Vickers Armstrong Ltd at Barrow-in-Furness.

1930     Above: the builder's model.

1931     April 16     A fire damaged passenger accommodation and delivery was delayed by a month.


1931     August     Above: in the Devonshire Floating Dock at Barrow-on-Furness and the subsequent sea trials.

1931     October 16     Under the command of Captain W. Martin (pictured below with his officers), at 8.15 am the first turbo electric powered vessel in the Southern hemisphere docked at Port Chalmers at the completion of her delivery voyage.

Richard Bennett was the ship's boilermaker from the time of her commissioning and came out from England aboard the vessel, meeting his wife to be at Lyttelton.  He spent the rest of his career until 1949 serving aboard her (including trooping duties during the war).

Left: berthed at Port Chalmers at the end of her delivery voyage.   Right: entering the dry dock.

1931     November 4     Maiden voyage from Lyttelton to Wellington, arriving at 7.00 am with 350 passengers at the wharf, which had been lengthened by 12 metres for her requirements.  She was commanded by Captain W. D. "Scotty" Cameron (above), the former master of the Wahine, who was to remain with her until 1936.

1932     March     Photographed (above) at Wellington.

1933     January 2     A day excursion from Wellington to Picton with 2,020 passengers (she was licensed to carry 2,300 day passengers).

1933     April     On Easter Monday the Rangatira created records for the trips to and from Wellington which have not been beaten.  On the journey from Wellington she maintained an average speed of 21.4 knots, and 22.6 knots on the return trip, doing the journey from wharf to wharf in two and one quarter hours.  The T.S.S. Wahine also undertook several excursions. Both these fine ships brought between 1,500 and 2,000 excursionists on each occasion.

1933     September 5    Entering Lyttelton, where she berthed astern, full ahead was ordered to stop the ship. A fault delayed the engine room telegraph and she ploughed into the 80 ton crane ship Rapaki, pushing her under the concrete pier.

1936     February 2     Under the command of Captain W. D. Cameron and with almost eight hundred people aboard, the Rangatira struck rocks near the entrance to Wellington Harbour in a Southerly storm almost as severe as that which capsized the Wahine in 1968.  Again, poor visibility was a factor, with a combination of rain and driving spray masking the coast.  However, because of the conditions, the ship was moving very slowly when she struck.


After 20 minutes stuck fast she was able to reverse off the rocks, then with nearly 10 metres of water in her bow, Cameron manoeuvred her way to the heads and proceeded stern first up the harbour with the assistance of two tugs.  Taking water through gaping holes in her bow, her propellers were half out of the water by the time she grounded next to the Clyde Quay wharf (above), and her forward lower passenger decks were awash.  There was no loss of life or even serious injury to any of the people on board.


It was discovered that she had suffered extensive damage and she subsequently spent eighty-eight days in the floating dock at Wellington.

1936     June29     Resumed service on the inter-island run.

Departing from Wellington Harbour in a Southerly gale.

1938     April    Whilst berthing at Wellington in a bad gale when it was necessary to drop an anchor to stop the vessel being blown around, but unfortunately in the process the moorings of H.M.S Achilles, berthed at Clyde Quay, became fouled by it, and the ship smashed into the warship's bow.  Little damage was done and, apart from a few red faces, the incident was soon brushed aside as a sorry mishap.


1938     June     Above: in the Jubilee Floating Dock at Wellington.

1939    September    Above: at Auckland having a gun fitted at her stern.

1939 - 1945     Occasional troopship service in the Pacific during WW2.  On an unspecified occasion it was reported that a torpedo had been fired at the Rangatira off Pencarrow Head and had passed close behind the ship's stern. Possibly the attack was foiled, because the Rangatira was running late, and was travelling faster than normal, to make up lost time.  Below: at Wellington in her war time livery.

1940     November 11     A Section of the 8th Infantry Brigade Group of the 2nd New Zealand Army Expeditionar Force (48 Officers and 852 Ordinary Ranks) embarked at Auckland for Fiji on the Rangatira and the Monowai, they arrived at Lautoka on the 14th of November.

1940     November 19     A further section of the 8th Infantry Brigade Group (54 Officers and 766 ORs) embarked at Auckland for Fiji on the Rangatira and the Monowai, they arrived at Suva on the 22nd of November.

1940    December 29    With Captain George B. Morgan in command the vessel ran into a fog bank while following the mineswept channel and went aground at Pigeon Bay, near the entrance to Lyttleton Harbour.  All of the 750 passengers were put into the lifeboats and later rescued by a coastal freighter, the 3067 ton Waimarino, which was in the area at the time.  Rangatira remained fast for ten hours before getting free under her own power, with the assistance of a tug and a steamer.  She was subsequently sent to Port Chalmers for docking and repairs.

1941     May 26     The second section of the 1st Relief for the 8th Infantry Brigade Group, of the 2nd New Zealand Army Expeditionary Force (33 Officers and 883 ORs) embarked on the Rangatira and the Monowai at Auckland for Fiji.

1942     January 2     A Section of the B Force Expansion of the 2nd New Zealand Army Expeditionary Force (85 Officers and 1668 Ordinary Ranks) embarked on the Rangatira and the Matua for Lautoka, and on the Monowai for Suva. The group arrived at destinations on the 6th of January.

1942     January 10     B Section of B Force Extension of the 2nd New Zealand Army Expeditionary Force (83 Officers and 1459 Ordinary Ranks) embarked at Auckland on Wahine, Monowai, Rangatira and Port Montreal for Fiji, arriving there on the 14th of January.


Aground off Pigeon Bay, Banks Peninsula

1946     The passenger accommodation was altered to one class only.  There was very little work involved as the differences between first and second class were minor.  It did, however, make a difference to some passengers who for years afterwards always boarded by the A (the old first-class) gangway rather than the B, no matter where they were berthed on the ship.  Having a porter lug a bag the length of the ship was a small price to pay for avoiding any suggestion of lack of social status.

1948    April 13    Above: a pair of First Class passenger tickets for a voyage departing from Lyttelton at 7 p.m. The fare was £1, 4 shillings and 9 pence.

1950    January    Above: departing from Wellington.

1951    April 5    The ship's crew walked off at Lyttelton during a waterfront strike. However the officers and and engineers kept the service running.

1953     After 130 voyages to Lyttelton in the year and with the advent of the new Maori, the Rangatira was placed in reserve, relieving the Lyttleton steamers during their annual refits and the Tamahine on the Picton service during the busy Summer seasons.

1959    "I can recall a trip South when, at about 1 a.m., we hit an exceptionally big wave which did a lot of damage. It ripped off an anchor and the steel winch-house that the wharfies used to sit in, dented the fore part of the promenade deck and part of the bridge was smashed. It really was a nasty crash and one you never forget. A hatch cover was broken allowing water to enter the crews' quarters. The stewards were accommodated a deck below the seamen and it was like a West Coast waterfall as the water poured into their cabins."

1959    December 25    Commissioned to relieve the Tamahine in the Picton service, the Rangatira ran ashore in inside the Tory Channel early in the morning of Christmas day. She remained aground for over 24 hours, but damage was superficial. The photograph below shows the following day at Picton with the Maori, which had come to collect her passengers.

1965     December 14     Final sailing after over 3,500 crossings. Withdrawn and laid up at Wellington.

1967     September     Sold to John Manners & Company

1967     October 25     Left Evans Bay, Wellington towed by the tug Fuji Maru bound for Hong Kong.

1967     November 27     Handed over to Fortune & Co. and scrapped.



Rangatira and Southern Cross at Wellington

Berthing at Wellington

Above: Detail from the painting by Jack Ephraim Hobbs, 1911-1979.
(Wellington Maritime Museum, New Zealand).

Above: Model of the vessel at the Otago Museum, Dunedin. Below: another model at the Canterbury Museum.


Thanks to Scott Bennett, Matthew Smith, the Vickers Archive at the Dock Museum, Barrow-on-Furness and Marcus Castell

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