William Waller was the longest serving master of the Wimmera.
He was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand on 23 February 1854, the son of Charles and Emma Waller who had arrived in New Plymouth from London, via Auckland, aboard the ship Joseph Fletcher only two years earlier.
By May 1894 he was master of the Union S.S. Co’s Te Anau and later commanded the Rotomahana and the Flora. By September 1897 he was employed by Huddart Parker and in command of the Company’s SS Anglian and later the Elingamite, the Westralia, Zealandia and Victoria.
Although his first command of the Wimmera was a brief six days – from 15 April 1905 to 20 Apr 1905 – his later commands, beginning in February 1908 saw him remain as her master until March 1913 with only six short breaks during that period when he was relieved by several other captains of Huddart Parker’s fleet.
In 1911, at which time Captain Waller was master of the Wimmera, he was interviewed by a member of the press and the interview was published in the Poverty Bay Herald of 8 November 1911, Page 8:
CAPTAIN W. WALLER.
Captain Waller is senior commander in the Huddart-Parker Proprietary’s Dominion-trading passenger fleet. These yellow-funnelled liners combine with solid safety solid comfort, and they are commanded by solid men — men whose experience fit them to master difficulties as varied and unforeseen as the changeful moods of the restless ocean.
It is said that a mother once asked Captain Waller’s advice in respect to her son, who was intent on going to Sea. Captain Waller is the kind of man who would address a tramp kindly, let alone a lady. The lady, in her extremity, wanted to know the best mode of dealing with the juvenile sailor, for subsequent events proved that the boy was a born sailor. “Let him go to sea,” was Captain Waller’s unhesitating advice. “But he wants to go in a sailing ship,” continued the anxious mother of the incipient captain. “All the better.” said Captain Waller kindly but firmly. “But he’ll get drowned,” exclaimed the disappointed mother. “Well, let him get drowned,” rejoined Captain Waller, who, then explained to the lady that her son was as likely to be run over by a tramcar as to be drowned at sea. Fighting the possibility of disaster developed the man. Captain Waller is a sailor who loves the sea. He has been master of steamers for 20 years, and he says that if he had to start life again, he would again go to sea. The sea has its difficulties and dangers, but what profession is exempt from those drawbacks? A man can only rise to the top of his profession, whatever it maybe, and no profession is greater than that of the sea. So thoroughly did he believe in the sea that he was training his two boys with a view to their choosing it as their profession. Captain Waller is a New Zealander, and believes that. New Zealand will yet produce a seafaring class worthy of their British ancestors of the sea. He was born in New .Plymouth, and, curiously enough, he was wrecked off that port on July 12th, 1888, when he was chief officer on the old Hawea. But he is no mere steam sailor, for when he embraced the profession in the early 70’s it was on the then common sailing ship, and in that fascinating and intricate branch of the craft he gained experience in the intercolonial, China, and Home trades. One of his most pleasant memories of the sea was a voyage in the old frigate-built ship Holmdale, where there was discipline, but good times. Having grounded himself in his profession, Captain Waller in 1881 left the sailing ships, in which he believes a man develops self-reliance and resourcefulness. He joined the Union Co.’s steamer Te Anau, and subsequently he commanded nine of that company’s vessels, including the then crack passenger steamers Rotomahana, Wakatipu, and Te Anau. Captain Waller commanded the Flora when Lord Glasgow opened the Glasgow wharf in Napier, the Flora being the first vessel to go alongside on the day the wharf was declared open for traffic. When leaving Wellington to proceed to Napier on that occasion a slight collision took place between the Flora and the Wakatipu, and the general opinion at that time, it will be remembered, was that the brilliant young New Zealander commanding the Flora was harshly treated in connection therewith. He (Captain Waller) was suspended, and although the inquiry into the circumstances connected with the collision resulted in his being exonerated from any blame, he nevertheless had to seek scope for his activity elsewhere. The man who is master of his profession never suffers from lack of employment. So it was with Captain Waller. The Huddart Parker Company immediately engaged him, employing him as chief officer until the first vacancy occurred for master, when he was forthwith promoted to command, and as a commander in the yellow-funnel fleet he has had a long and honorable career. Captain Waller is extremely reticent about the mishap which meant so much for him ; in fact, he is a reticent man in all matters concerning himself, but he is not the type of man that nurses grievances. If you ask him if he did not regard himself as harshly treated over the collision that was not his fault, he will try to convince you that he was not so harshly dealt with. And if you persist he will tell you that the Flora- Wakatipu collision occurred shortly after the loss of the Wairarapa, and that the apparent harshness in his case was no doubt merely the working out of a determination to avoid the possibility of such a disaster as that on the Great Barrier recurring. Captain Waller is still in the Huddart-Parker service as master of the Wimmera, and he says he never regrets joining that service—he has had no occasion to do so. And he never regrets his adopting the sea as a profession. He has faith in the sea. He believes there are good openings at sea for New Zealand boys—sons of a country surrounded by water, and one that must always command a large steamboat trade. Hours of work and salaries are much improved since he went to sea. It is as yesterday to him that the officer was on duty all day and stood watch and watch at night — no four hours on and eight hours off for officers those days. The captain expressed surprise that so few colonials (comparatively) seek their living upon the sea. With the exception of those superintending the running of machinery, it seemed to him as though they shrank from the wholesome discipline of ship life. He did not believe New Zealanders would continue so deaf to the call of the sea, for it called a man to do men’s work, and made them, capable of doing it. To feel oneself equal to the call of responsibility was no mean reward for expended effort. Commenting upon the rapid disappearance of the sailing ship, (and nowhere was decline of sail more evident than on the New Zealand coast), he expressed himself as pleased to see that the Union Company had a training ship, the Dartford, On which the future officers received a thorough grounding in the essentials of seamanship. “Every sailor should have served on a sailing ship,” he said. “The steamship has her propelling power within herself, but the sailing ship has to depend upon the proper use of an elemental power — the changeful winds— and in learning to use that power the sailor learns the lessons of seamanship, not least of which is that of unceasing watchfulness.” The benefits were not to the officer alone. The deck hand on a sailing ship was a sailor. Along with his resource and alertness; he learned a trade, for to become what was known as a good marline-spike sailor, a man had to acquire skill in the use of tools, and probably no greater variety of duties existed anywhere than on board ship. Captain Waller has great faith in the sea. To him its sunshine far exceeds its shadows. He might be regarded as painting the sea in too glowing colors, but that would only be by a person who could not imagine or know a greater glow than the firelight. But one matter you must not mistake. If from reading this you think Captain Waller is other than a man of modest disposition and demeanor, then he is herein misrepresented. He is inclined to be of a retiring disposition ; is a widely-read man, but disinclined to talk on matters that in any way refer to himself. In fact, he was difficult to interview for that reason.
William Waller was the master of the Wimmera when he retired from service with Huddart Parker in March 1913 in order to take up the position of harbour master at New Plymouth.
Feature image: Extract from Papers Past “CAPTAIN WALLER, OF THE S.S. WIMMERA,” Evening Star, 31 October 1911, p3
© Ralph L. Sanderson 2009-2018