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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. S. S. Wahine     1913 - 1951


When the Union Steamship Company began operating two ships on a regular basis between Wellington and Lyttelton in October 1905, they utilised ships built for other services, most of which were nearing the end of their lives.  To complement the new main trunk railway service between Auckland and Wellington a bespoke vessel named the Maori was commissioned in 1907.  Over the next four years business on the route increased to such an extent that a second new ship was required, larger than the original, but just as fast and comfortable.  When the order was placed in November 1911, it was inevitable that the contract would be awarded to William Denny and Brothers of Dumbarton, who had built the Maori among many other fine ships for the Union Line.

The ship was to be named Wahine (meaning the wife), and since it would be partnering Maori, the name was considered very apt.  The new vessel was designed by Captain Coil McDonald, a former Union Line master who had been appointed Marine Superintendent by the company, and was responsible for three of the most successful of all Union Company's ships; the trans-Tasman liner Maunganui, the ill-fated Niagara, and then Wahine.

Actually McDonald and the Denny yard were at loggerheads for a while with regard to the design of Wahine, as the builders were famous for the narrow ships they produced, while Captain McDonald stated that Wahine had to be eighteen inches wider than they wanted to build her.  In the end Captain McDonald carried the day, and Wahine proved to be a very stable ship throughout her career.  Her dimensions were 375 feet by 52 feet and 25 feet, 6 inches draught.

At 4,436 gross tons, she was powered by eight Babcock & Wilcox 200 psi water tube boilers supplying 3 Parsons steam turbines driving her triple screws to give a speed of 21 knots.  During her trials, she achieved 21.23 knots at 532 rpm, which was above that stipulated in the contract.  The steam turbines were arranged with the centre one being high pressure, the port and starboard turbines each being low pressure with each low pressure shaft being fitted with a reversing turbine for going astern.  She had a bow rudder, carried 362 tons of coal and a complement of 110.

The improvements over the Maori included water tube boilers, which burned Australian coal well.  In addition, her open deck was enclosed to increase the number of passengers.  This gave her the possibility of carrying an extra 82 first and 178 second class passengers when needed.  The vessel initially had cabins for 592 passengers in two classes and a further 206 berths in open accommodation, she was licensed to carry 1,531 day passengers.  By 1947 the cabin accommodation had been increased to, but with shakedowns had been known to carry many more than this.

Berthed at Lyttelton
Left: in her earliest livery, with the tug Lyttelton in the foreground

1911     November 3     The Union Line announced that a contract had been signed with Dennys for a vessel 374 ft by 52 ft by 25.6 ft with eight boilers; trials to be 20.5 knots with one boiler off for 24 hours and 21 knots for 12 hours with all boilers going.  The contract price was £151,000 with delivery to be effected in seventeen months.

1912     May 9     The Union Line announced that the name of the new vessel was to be Wahine.

1912     November 25     Yard number 971 was launched by Miss Geraldine Mills, daughter of Sir James Mills from Denny's Dumbarton yard.

The finishing work in the fitting-out basin took a little longer than had been expected, but during her sea trials she touched 21.33 knots with all boilers going and there were beams of satisfaction both from the Company's engineers and her builders.

1913     April 9     Handed over the Union Steam Ship Company at a final cost of £156,967.

1913     May 15     Departed from Glasgow for New Zealand and on the way out called at Algiers, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, and Bunbury before arriving at Port Chalmers.  For her maiden voyage she was commanded by Captain S. Vint, who handed her over to Captain B. M. Aldwell shortly after her arrival at Port Chalmers.  There was nothing remarkable about this voyage; the vessel was not built for long distance running and this meant that coal supplies had to be conserved.  For the whole of her trip out she averaged 14.5 knots.

1913     June 29     Arrived at Port Chalmers. Over the next two weeks, she was prepared for service, then steamed to Lyttelton.

1913     July 18     Left Port Chalmers for Lyttelton.

1913     July 19     Commenced her first overnight voyage to Wellington.  The vessel provided cabin accommodation for 404 first class passengers and 188 in second class and was highly praised by all those who travelled on her.  On the same day the Maori withdrew from the inter-Island service in order to undergo her annual overhaul and for repairs to her bow rudder, which had been out of action since July 3rd.  For the next three months the service was operated with the Wahine and the "old faithful" Mararoa.

1913     July 20     Arrived at Wellington where she was given a rousing reception and during the afternoon between 300 and 400 guests of the Company were given a demonstration cruise around the harbour.  Captain Aldwell had already proved himself competent in handling turbine steamers with bow rudders, and when he transferred from the Maori to the Wahine he handled the new vessel with perfect confidence.  A local newspaper reported:

The weather was brilliant and during the afternoon tea was provided on deck and a string band made its contributions. Later many couples indulged in dancing on one of the spacious after-decks which had been prepared for the purpose.  The guests included the Governor, Lord Liverpool, and the Prime Minister, Mr W. Massey, other members of parliament, representatives of local bodies and prominent shipping officials.

1913     August 9     She covered the distance from wharf to wharf in 8 hours 42 minutes, averaging 19.3 knots with only six of her eight boilers in use.

1913     August 16     She left Lyttelton at 11.11 pm. and arrived at Wellington at 7.51 a.m. on the following morning, having averaged 20.1 knots for 8 hours 40 minutes.

1913     October 24     Maori sailed for Wellington and the Wahine for Lyttelton.  At last the Company had two vessels that could match one another and run to a timetable that might be the envy of any railway department.  Both vessels could make good connections with the railway expresses both in the North and South Islands and could ensure that mail posted in Wellington by 5 or 6 p.m. any evening except Saturday could be delivered in Christchurch on the following morning, and vice versa.  But this happy state of affairs lasted for only a week because of a water-front strike that threatened the economy of the country.

1913     November 1     The strike ran to a rather familiar pattern: first the waterside workers came out, and then the various maritime unions in sympathy.  Every effort was made to keep the Wellington-Lyttelton ferry service going, and at the start railway-men handled the mail, which was taken ashore by Union Company shore staff.  There was great jubilation amongst the seamen when the crew of the Wahine gave notice, but for a while the Maori's men remained loyal.

1913     November 5     The inter-colonial liner Maunganui acted as ferry steamer from Wellington to Lyttelton in place of the Wahine.

1913     December 20     The strike was called off and normal services were resumed.

1914     Mr E. E. Low was appointed second engineer, becoming chief engineer the following year.  He stayed with the vessel during her War service, being appointed to the rank of Royal Navy Engineer Commander in 1916 and remained with the vessel until his retirement in 1937.

1914     October 25     The New Zealand Shipping Company's passenger liner Ruahine, which had left Wellington the day before, sprung a leak and was in danger of foundering.  The first message had been received at 7.45 a.m. and three more were transmitted during the next hour indicating that the vessel was developing a bad list and requesting the help of a rescue steamer.  The local manager of the New Zealand Shipping Company immediately conferred with the Wellington manager of the Union Company, who had no hesitation in making arrangements to despatch the Wahine, which had arrived in port at her usual time of 7 a.m.  By the time this decision was made it was 9 a.m. and most of the crew had gone to their homes.

However, by telephone and other means most of her seamen were rounded up while any vacancies were filled with competent shore staff.  Captain Aldwell was on leave and his place had been taken temporarily by Captain A. M. Edwin - a man who was destined to make history with the Wahine at a later date.  She ultimately got away at 10 a.m. at which time the Ruahine was reported to be 194 miles South and 47 miles East of Cape Palliser.

There were no domestic radios in those years but it was amazing how quickly the news that the Wahine was engaged in a rescue mission had spread through the city and suburbs.  Wellingtonians became quite excited over the situation and there were many who talked about "our Wahine' and worked out their own estimates of her possible speed.  In the meantime she was in fact racing at full speed with all boilers going, with her master and crew fervently hoping that they would reach the Ruahine in time.  As it happened they need not have worried: what had promised to be an exciting drama of the ocean rather fizzled out when at 2 p.m. that day Captain Forbes of the Ruahine sent a wireless message to the effect that his ship was holding her own, and that although they appreciated the pending company of the Wahine it looked as if the Ruahine might get back to Wellington under her own power.  By 3.45 p.m. the Ruahine had sighted the Wahine, and at 5 p.m. the two vessels were proceeding in company at a speed approaching 13 knots.  Both arrived back at Wellington at 2.30 a.m.on the Monday, and when the missing members of the Wahine's crew picked up their newspapers that morning and read about what had been going on, they expressed their disappointment in no uncertain terms.

1915     July 15     The outbreak of war in Europe did not at first appear as though it would have any effect on domestic shipping in New Zealand.  However, the British Admiralty chartered the Wahine and on the 23rd of July she left Port Chalmers under the command of Captain A. M. Edwin to take up the role of Fleet Messenger.

Her bunker and water capacities had been designed for short journeys only and on this particular voyage she carried coal wherever it could be stacked.  After working the bunkers down, it became necessary to shift the coal from the holds, run it along the deck in coal baskets and dump it down the bunkers.  As consumption could be fairly rapid, careful organisation in the handling of coal was necessary and it was for this reason that only four of her eight boilers were used on the runs from Port Chalmers to Fremantle and Fremantle to Colombo.

1915     September 7     She arrived in Plymouth via Fremantle, Colombo, Aden, Port Said and Gibralter, she was then ordered to London where she was converted into a dispatch carrier in the Millwall Dock.

Her master, Captain Edwin, was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve and asked to remain in command while the rest of her merchant service personnel were re-appointed to the vessel as R.N. reservists.

1915     October 13     HMT Wahine left London for the Mediterranean and spent eight months involved in the Gallipoli Campaign, operating for eight months as a despatch boat between Malta and Mudros in Greece.  For this commission she was expected to run to this fairly strict timetable: leave Malta 6 a.m. on Thursday and arrive at Mudros at 6 a.m. the following Saturday. Leave Mudros on the same afternoon and arrive back at Malta on Tuesday.

The vessel created a huge amount of interest in Malta because of her habit of steaming at high speed in reverse through the many ships anchored in the Grand Harbour at Valletta, until there was enough space for her to turn around.  The reason for this was the bow rudder fitted to assist her when berthing at Lyttelton, but those not in the know were always amazed that the vessel did not hit any other ships as she careered backwards down the harbour.

1916     March 29     Arrived at Mudros with troops.

1916     May 28     Wahine returned to Britain and once again was sent to Millwall Dock but this time to be converted into a minelayer, with a capacity for 250 mines, for the Royal Navy.  D deck and part of C deck were stripped of their fittings.  Given the pendant number N.5A, she had been fitted with two 14 pounders and a pair of six pounder anti-aircraft guns.  The vessel was particularly suited to this work because of her high speed.

At this stage, the deck officers were replaced by naval personnel, but most of the engineers, including her chief, Engineer Commander E. E. Low R.N.R. (who served in the vessel for a total of twenty-three years), remained with her and so did some of the able seamen, who were by this time enlisted naval reservists.

1916     July 22     Until being paid off on the 21st of April 1919 she carried out 76 mine laying operations on the Dover barrage and was then based at Immingham, in the Heligoland Bight.  During this time, Wahine deposited 11,378 mines, a fact recorded on a plaque the vessel carried for the rest of her career.

Among the crew who had remained with the ship throughout the war period were Lieutenant Hesketh, second engineer, and Lieutenant Milne, third engineer.  Mr K. Chesney, the chief steward, was the only other officer to remain with the ship for the duration but a few members of her crew also managed to achieve this distinction.

1919     February 4     The board of directors of the Union Line considered a request from the British Admiralty to charter the vessel indefintely.

1919     March 13     Handed back to her owners by the Admiralty.

1919     December 20     Departed for Wellington after being refitted by her builders under the supervision of her former master, Captain A. M. Edwin.

1920     February 12     Arrived at Port Chalmers.

1920     February 17     Resumed her regular inter-island service.

1920     October     Captain W. D. Cameron replaced Captain A. M. Edwin in the command of the vessel.

1922     A maritime strike caused the vessel to be withdrawn from service.

1923     July     Captain Basil Irwin relieved Captain W. D. Cameron in the command of the vessel.

1924     May 15 - December 13     Wahine was still a coal burner at a time when more and more ships were burning oil, she was converted at Port Chalmers to oil firing by the company's staff.  As a coal burner Wahine required three greasers, 18 firemen, 12 trimmers and two crew attendants, but when re-commissioned as an oil burner, her engine-room and Stoke hold complement was three greasers, six oil burners and one wiper; a reduction of 25 men and two boilers.

1924     December 24     The main advantage was the improved performance and Wahine was soon to demonstrate this.  After a late departure from Lyttelton on a daylight trip on Christmas Eve, she completed the run to Wellington in 8 hours 21 minutes, wharf to wharf, the average speed from heads to heads being 20.83 knots.  Wahine's supporters had waited 17 years for Maori's record to be broken.

1931     November     Returned from an overhaul near the end of the month and Captain Basil Irwin took permanent command of the vessel.

1936     June 5     When the Rangatira was in dock for repairs, the Wahine had the only serious mishap in her long inter-island career when she hit Pipitea Wharf head-on.  The resulting damage was a 6.09m long hole in her bow.

On the Friday, when Wellington was experiencing a very thick fog - something quite unusual for this port, the vessel, slowly following her usual course before swinging round to berth stern first at the terminal, collided with the end of Pipitea Wharf.  So severe was the impact that it was shortly after mid-day before the bows of the ship could be released, with the help of Acetylene cutters.  Before this, however, the passengers and their luggage had to be landed over the bow of the vessel under the greatest of difficulties.  A subsequent Court of Inquiry found that the master Captain B. B. Irwin had committed an error of judgement, but returned the captain's certificate unendorsed.


The Union Company had hastily recommissioned the Maori when the Rangatira had run aground.  With the Rangatira still being repaired the Company found itself without either of its inter-island ferries serviceable.  By fortunate coincidence the Marama, pensioned off from the trans-Pacific run, had been laid up in Wellington.  She was put back to work, running in conjunction with the Maori.

1936     August 18     After 35 days in the floating dock for repairs, she returned to service.

Richard Joseph Bennett (Right) relieved on the Wahine during World War II when she carried troops around the Pacific Islands.

Dick Bennett recounted the story that while aboard the Wahine, a Japanese Submarine was chasing them off New Calendonia so the Americans sent a destroyer, which dropped a number of depth-charges.  Some of these went off so close, he reckoned the depth charges nearly sunk the Wahine with each explosion lifting her about 6 feet out of the water.  They had a saying that when the Japanese used to come over, the British and the Americans got their guns out, when the British used to come over, the Japanese got their guns out, but when the Americans came over, everyone got their guns out!  Although Richard's seaman records only indicate one voyage on the Wahine, it is known that he served aboard her several times at short notice without changing his crew certificates.

1940     June 22 - 29     For the week following the sinking of the Niagra after striking a mine, the Wahine was ordered by the NZ government to make daylight sailings only.  Lifeboat drills were required for passengers before the vessel left port.

1941    November    Entered war service as a troopship in the South Pacific zone, commencing with a trooping voyage to Fiji.

1941     November 25     Departed Wellington at 10.00 pm.

1941     November 27     Departed Auckland at 4.30 pm.

1941     November 27     Departed Auckland at 4.30 pm.

1941     December 1     Departed Lautoka at 7.18 am.

1941     December 1     Departed Suva at 7.39 pm.

1941     December 5     Departed Auckland at 4.30 pm.

1941     December 9     Departed Lautoka at 6.27 am.

1941     December 23     A draft of officers and ordinary ranks of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force embarked at Auckland for Fiji.

1941     December 26     Departed Suva at 4.42 pm.

1942     January 2     Departed Auckland at 10.30 pm.

1942     January 6     Departed Suva at 3.48 pm.

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 at 6.30 pm., Monowai, Rangatira and Port Montreal for Fiji, arriving there on the 14th of January.

1942     January 14     Departed Suva at 5.53 pm.

1942     January 18     Departed Auckland at 8.32 am.

1942     January 19     Arrived at Wellington.

1942     May 11     Departed Wellington at 0.15 am.

1942     May 13     Departed Auckland at 7.00 am.

1942     May 17     Departed Suva at 4.55 pm.

1942     May 21     Departed Auckland at 8.20 pm.

1942     May 26     Departed Suva at 6.19 am.

1942     May 30     Departed Auckland at 6.30 pm.

1942     June 3     Departed Lyttelton at 0.30 am.

1942     June 3     Arrived at Wellington.

1942    June 27     Above Departing from Wellington at 2.35 pm. carrying Japanese diplomatic personnel and non-combatant enemy aliens for Sydney and onward carriage to Japan.  She carried the word 'Protected' on her flank with the Union flag plus other agreed hull and house top markings.

1942     July 2     Departed Sydney at 3.13 pm.

1942     July 7     Departed Auckland at 1.19 pm.

1942     July 10     Departed Wellington.

1942     July 10     Departed Lyttelton.

1942     July 11     Arrived at Wellington.

1942     September     Made a voyage to Sydney and over the next six months visited the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island and Fiji, with two further trips to Sydney in November and December 1943.  Between these voyages Wahine maintained the express ferry service, making her a very busy ship.

1942     September 19     Departed Wellington at 8.10 pm.

1942     September 22     Departed Auckland at 5.00 pm.

1942     September 26     Departed Port Vila at 5.40 pm.

1942     September 27     Arrived at Espirtu.

1942     September 28     Departed Santos at 4.52 pm.

1942     October 1     Departed Noumea at 4.00 pm.

1942     October 2     Departed Nepui at 4.56 pm.

1942     October 3     Departed Noumea at 5.11 pm.

1942     October 7     A Section of N Force of the 2nd New Zealand Army Expeditionary Force (32 Officers and 709 Ordinary Ranks) embarked at Auckland on the Wahine and the Monowai for Norfolk Island, departed at 1.30 pm.

1942     October 10     Departed Kingston (Norfolk Island) at 0.28 pm.

1942     October 12     B Section of N Force of the 2nd New Zealand Army Expeditionary Force (30 Officers and 693 Ordinary Ranks) embarked on the Wahine and the Monowai at Auckland departing at 4.00 pm. for Norfolk Island, arriving there on 14 October.

1942     October 15     Departed Kingston (Norfolk Island) at 3.52 pm.

1942     October 17     Departed Auckland at 4.09 pm.

1942     October 19     Arrived at Wellington.

1943     February 15     Departed Lyttelton at 8.20 pm.

1943     February 17     The First Section of T Force of the 2nd New Zealand Army Expeditionary Force (110 Officers and 644 Ordinary Ranks) embarked at Wellington on the Wahine and the Monowai for Tonga.

1943     February 18     Departed Wellington at 7.25 am.

1943     February 23     Departed Nukualofa at 10.37 am.

1943     February 24     Departed Suva at 7.00 pm.

1943     March 2     The Second Section of T Force of the 2nd New Zealand Army Expeditionary Force (37 Officers and 738 Ordinary Ranks) embarked on the Wahine and the Monowai at Lyttelton for Tonga.

1943     March 3     Departed Lyttelton at 6.00 am.

1943     March 8     The New Zealand Army's 34th Battalion embarked on the Monowai and the Wahine for New Caledonia from Tonga; it was replaced at Tonga by the 6th Battalion of the Canterbury Regiment. The 34th Battalion disembarked at Noumea on the 13th of March.

1943     March 9     Departed Nukualofa at 6.00 pm.

1943     March 10     Departed Suva 6.00 pm.

1943     March 14     Departed Noumea 6.00 am.

1943     March 18     Departed Auckland at noon.

1943     March 21     Departed Nukualofa at 5.00 pm.

1943     March 27     Departed Auckland at 9.00 am.

1943     March 29     Departed Norfolk Island at 7.33 pm.

1943     March 31     Departed Noumea at 4.51 pm.

1943     April 2     Departed Norfolk Island at 11.34 am.

1943     April 5     Departed Auckland at 9.04 am.

1943     April 7     Departed Norfolk Island at 7.11 pm.

1943     April 9     Departed Noumea at 4.30 pm.

1943     April 11     Departed Norfolk Island at 11.20 am.

1943     April 13     Departed Noumea at 3.05 pm.

1943     April 17     Arrived at Wellington at 6.00 am.

1943     November 4     Departed Wellington.

1943     November 9     Departed Sydney.

1943     December 1     Departed Wellington.

1943     December 5     Departed Sydney.

1943     December 8     Departed Norfolk Island.

1943     December 10     Departed Auckland.

1942     December 19     The only untoward incident in her war career occurred inside Wellington Harbour, when Wahine rammed and sank the mine sweeping trawler South Sea, fortunately without any loss of life.

The collision involving the Wahine was one of the strangest because it took place in broad daylight on Wellington harbour during wartime.  The Wahine was no stranger to Wellington Harbour, having been the mainstay of the Wellington-Lyttelton run since 1913.  Her master, Captain Alexander Howie, knew the port equally well.  The South Sea (312 tons) commanded by Temporary Lieutenant Peter Bradley, was the former steam trawler Ferriby, built in England in 1912.  Requisitioned by the Navy as an anti-submarine mine sweeping trawler, she was on patrol duty inside the harbour at the time of her loss.

The weather was fine with good visibility as the Wahine pulled away from Fryatt Quay at 08:24 hours on Saturday the 19th of December 1942 and put on a good turn of speed.  Six minutes later, just abreast of Point Jerningham, Howie became worried that the minesweeper, heading in from her picket line off Somes Island, looked as though she might be on a collision course.  Bradley had seen the ferry but overestimated his own speed and thought that he had time to clear her safely.  At 08:31 Howie altered course to Starboard and sounded the whistle.  Another minute later, with the South Sea now moving at about 6 knots and sheering slightly to Port, he put Wahine's engines full astern.  This had cut the speed to about 8 knots by the time that she sliced into the small minesweeper two minutes later; the impact was still considerable, however, throwing two men off the stern of the South Sea and into the water and knocking unconscious the warship's helmsman.  The ferry had struck the minesweeper just aft of the bridge, opening a big hole in her Starboard side.

Rescue craft appeared on the scene within minutes.  The scow The Portland plucked the two ratings from the water and the remainder were able to step across to other craft without too much difficulty.  The tug Toia and the minesweeper HMNZS Rata, their pumps working furiously, tried to keep the South Sea afloat long enough to tow her to shallow water but to no avail; HMNZS South Sea sank off Point Halswell at 09:20 in about 24 metres of water.  The Wahine, after careful examination, continued her voyage.  Too important to take off the vital ferry run, she had to put up with her damaged bow until mid-January 1943 when she could be patched up at Lyttelton.

Although they considered salvaging the old minesweeper, the Navy settled for the easier and cheaper alternative of stripping the wreck of its vital fittings.  Between January and March 1943, they removed her guns, depth charges, radio gear and other valuable items of equipment.  They then lowered an old depth charge and blasted away the higher parts of the South Sea's superstructure to minimise the danger to shipping.  She still rests there today, safely out of the way of the keels of modern shipping, but surprisingly intact.

Because of wartime need for security and the fact that a court of inquiry had no jurisdiction over a naval vessel, there was no formal marine court of inquiry.  The Navy did hold its own inquiry in December 1942.  It found that Bradley had erred in not taking any bearings of the Wahine and that he had not acted in accordance with articles 22 and 23 of the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.  Howie might have avoided the collision by turning to Port rather than Starboard (i.e.  by turning towards the minesweeper), but this would have been against the regulations and all the instincts of seamanship, since the Union Company master did not know that the warship captain had not realised that a collision was impending.  The Union Company later presented the Navy with a bill for almost £5000.

The wreck was relocated in 1974 by Ian Francis and artefacts from this vessel can be found at "Kelly Tarlton's Museum of Shipwrecks" in Paihia. An account of a dive on the South Sea can be found at this link, which opens in a new window.

1945     October 15     The inter-island ferry was chartered to repatriate RNZAF personnel from the Pacific Islands, making three return trips.  On the second of these trips, leaving Bougainville on 15 October 1945, a captured Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero-Sen 22 Japanese fighter aircraft, was carried as deck cargo under the supervision of Warrant Officer C Calcinai.  The aircraft was still painted in its white surrender markings, but the propeller and tailplane were removed for the trip.

1944     February 26     Departed Wellington.

1944     March 1     Departed Sydney.

1944     March 5     Arrived at Wellington.

1945     March 1     Departed Wellington.

1945     March 5     Departed Sydney.

1945     October 20     Arrived at Auckland, from where transport by barge was arranged to the RNZAF station at Hobsonville for the fighter.

Wahine went back on the ferry service from then on and in 1946 was refitted, during which her accommodation was altered to carry 550 passengers in one class only.  Less than a year later Wahine was relegated to being relief ship when the new Hinemoa arrived in February 1947, but her period of idleness was to be very brief.

1947     January 19     The Huddart Parker liner Wanganella ran aground on Barretts Reef (later to claim the second Wahine) at the entrance to Wellington Harbour, incurring damage that put her out of action for over a year.  A replacement was urgently needed for the service between New Zealand and Australia and Wahine was the only ship available.

1947     February 11     Wahine left Wellington on her first passenger voyage to Sydney, remaining on the Tasman service until July 1947 when she was needed on the Lyttelton ferry service again.

No records were attempted as the Company had decided that the vessel was to be run at an economical speed and this she did most efficiently and was able to run to a set schedule which surprised many of her passengers as she was then thirty-four years old.  It certainly spoke well for her engineering staff that such efficiency was maintained.  On the 12th of September 1947 Wahine went back on the Tasman route again, making a total of sixteen return trips in 1947, and a further ten in 1948, carrying more than 7,000 trans-Tasman passengers in all.

1948     February     After arriving in Sydney on a Tuesday, she went to Mort's Dock for an overhaul, including fitting a new outer casing to the forward funnel.  On the Saturday, the ship was ready to return to service and take her scheduled departure.

An account of the fitting of the new forward funnel fitted appeared in an Australian magazine:

The hard-pressed Union Steam Ship Co.'s Wahine, at present the only passenger vessel maintaining the service between Australia and New Zealand, must occasionally be stopped for repairs, however urgently her services may be required.  By careful organisation by all concerned, delay is reduced to the absolute minimum.  A recent example occurred in Sydney during February.  Entering dry dock at noon on the Tuesday, the Wahine was scraped, painted, repairs were made to the rudder, her forward funnel was unshipped and a new one fitted in its place by midday on the Thursday.  On the Saturday she was ready for her normal sailing again.

About a month previously the new funnel began to take shape at H. Storey Engineering Company's yard at Erskine Street, Sydney.  Measurements had been taken on a previous trip of the inner funnel, the upper half of which had also to be renewed; a similar replacement was required for the outer funnel casing and for the foundation plate and bars.  Storeys made the funnel casing and Cockatoo Dock the foundation plate.  The Dock with their big crane, the Titan, did all the lifting.  The funnel casing, 36 feet long and 19 feet in diameter, was fabricated in Storey's yard from rolled 13/16 inch plate.  The 9-foot long plates were rolled to curvature and tack-welded in position on circular jigs. Supported on rollers, the funnel, as it took shape, could easily be turned by hand to allow all welding to be done in the down-hand position.

To allow for final adjustment when being fitted in position, the base angle of the casing was loosely bolted in position, ready for final welding when correctly seated.  When completed, Storeys shipped the funnel weighing 9 tons across to the Sutherland Dock, Cockatoo Island, ready for lifting.

But early on the Tuesday morning while the Wahine was still at the Union Company's wharf, the old casing which had been in the ship since she was built and badly corroded, was almost burnt adrift, small sections and the stays being left to hold it in position.  Before entering the dock the Wahine was brought under the big crane and the old casings removed.  When the ship pulled out of the dock after painting, the new funnel was already slung, nicely adjusted to the angle of the rake.  It was a mere half-hour's work to lift the funnel and lower it neatly over the inner casing and into position.  The task was made easy by the operation of the distance pieces for separating the two casings.  The curved shape allowed the outer casing to slide easily over them without assistance except by guys from the deck.  Being fastened at their upper ends only, the distance pieces easily adjust themselves to expansion and contraction.

The whole operation as described above was undoubtedly a splendid piece of work, but perfectionists thought that the new funnel did not conform to the angle of the rake as well as the former one.

1949     January     Finally replaced by the Hinemoa and became the relief steamer.  This meant that she spent ten months of the year at anchor in Wellington Harbour.

1951     April to July     During the New Zealand waterfront strike she was used as a barracks at Wellington for the Air Force personnel who replaced the striking dock workers.

1951     July     Chartered by the Government of New Zealand to carry the K-Force contingent of the Royal New Zealand Army Service Corp troops to Korea.  At that time the war in Korea was still raging.  The United States forces were augmented by personnel from all three British services, and New Zealand took part in this effort.

1951     August 2     After minor alterations had been effected she departed from Wellington under the command of Captain F. D. Johnson, carrying 577 troops and a crew of 80.  Following a call at Cairns, she proceeded to Darwin where she refuelled, leaving there on the 14th of August.

1951     August 15     At 05:40 a.m. the Wahine ran hard aground on the Masela Island Reef off Cape Palsu in the Arafura Sea, being held as far aft as the engine room.  In response to a distress call, all aboard were rescued by the Standard Vacuum Oil's tanker Stanvac Karachi and returned to Darwin.  From there the men were flown in relays to their destination but it was a sad end for a vessel that had given thirty-eight years of magnificent service.  Salvage attempts were unsuccessful and the vessel was abandoned as a total loss.

However, as the vessel was carrying a number of 25 Pounder artillery guns for 16th Forward Regiment and in view of the unrest then prevailing in nearby Indonesia, steps were taken by the army to remove the breech blocks from the guns on board.  Masters of company vessels passing through that area for many years thereafter reported Wahine was still "high and dry" on Masela Island.

The Wahine's chief officer at the time of the accident was F. J. Agnew, who subsequently distinguished himself as master of some of the Union Line's largest ships.  The second officer was R. E. Pugh-Williams, who was to become the master of the Maori (1953), the chief engineer was W. B. Gandell.  At the subsequent marine enquiry Captain Johnson and his officers were exonerated from all blame and their certificates were returned to them.

Captain Johnson had first taken command of the Wahine in November 1944 and had remained a relieving master in the inter-island service right up to the time that he took command of her on what was to be her last voyage and it was a very dejected skipper that arrived back in Wellington about ten days after the wreck.

Three months later it was announced that he had died, suddenly, at the age of fifty-two, it was said that he had never got over the shock of losing his ship, even although he had been proved blameless.  It was a tragic ending to a promising career.


Thanks to Scott Bennett for much of the research, Steven McLachlan (specialist in Maritime Covers) for many of the images and Marcus Castell (specialist in Maritime Books) for bringing it all together.

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