On the afternoon of Monday 17 June 1918 the Wimmera departed Sydney on what was destined to be her final West to East crossing of the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. Her master, Herbert James Graham Kell, was paid a visit earlier that day by the District Naval Officer, Captain Frederick Brownlow, whose duty it was to deliver to him a secret trade route warning regarding his voyage to Auckland. Lieutenant Commander Charles Henry Coggins, the Chief Boarding Officer at Sydney, also delivered to Kell a copy of an Admiralty book of instructions and addenda.

Amongst other things, the route warning provided by Brownlow directed that masters of vessels en route to New Zealand should “Leave Sydney at right angles to the Coast and keep outside the 130 Fathom line wherever possible on any Coast”, and for those proceeding to Auckland and ports on the East Coast to “Keep to Northward of Three King Island and keep outside the 130 Fathom line and not to approach within 30 miles of Great Barrier Island except in daylight and then keep close watch for Floating Mines”.

It was not the first time the Wimmera’s master has received such warnings. Since the discovery of mines and the announcement of the visit of the German raider Wolf to Australian and New Zealand waters, two earlier warnings had been issued, one in October 1917 and another in January 1918. Both of these warnings indicated the presence of a minefield off North Cape.

Notwithstanding official orders, it was common knowledge by June 1918 that minefields existed at North Cape and at Cape Farewell, for not only had Nerger written an account (albeit censored) of his activities, the experiences of some of the Wolf’s former prisoners had already been described in the Australian and New Zealand press.

Although not indicative of a casual concern on the likelihood of danger, their presence was also noted in a letter only recently posted by the Wimmera’s master to Thomas Murdoch, an acquaintance in Hobart, and which would be subsequently reported, stating in part that…

“We seem to have had a goodly supply of mines put down round this coast, but I do not seem to have lost any sleep through them, maybe I will get an early rise one of these days.”

1918 ‘LETTER FROM CAPTAIN.’, World (Hobart, Tas. : 1918 – 1924), 1 July, p. 6. ,
viewed 20 Mar 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187532869

Auckland June 1918

At 2.50 a.m. on the morning of Saturday 22 June 1918 the steamer arrived in Auckland after her 1230 mile-voyage from Sydney and anchored in the stream. At 7 a.m. her captain had her berthed at Queen’s Wharf to land her passengers and put out her cargo.

The Wimmera’s arrival in Auckland was reported in the New Zealand Herald on the following Monday.



The Huddart-Parker steamer Wimmera, which arrived from Sydney on Saturday, had a rough voyage across the Tasman Sea. The wind, which had been blowing strong from the westward when the vessel left Sydney on Monday afternoon, increased to a gale the following day. The sea was very heavy, and continued so until the North Cape had been rounded, though, as the wind was behind her, the steamer was not delayed. The waves curling up astern constantly broke over the quarter, and kept the decks flooded fore and aft. On Friday morning an exceptionally heavy sea broke on board, and, rushing forward, smashed in the saloon door, flooding the saloon and cabins in the alleyways near the companionway. The fore deck was flooded all the time, the water, finding its way into the alleyways and the crew’s quarters. After rounding the North Cape the sea became smoother under the land, and the trip down the coast was made under more favourable conditions.

New Zealand Herald, Volume LV, Issue 16884, 24 June 1918, Page 4

Her saloon passengers on that last voyage across from Sydney, and who no doubt were to later call themselves lucky, were Misses Brierley, Staughton, Campbell, Melson, Piddock, Shepherd, BcBeath, Collingwood, Morton, London, Hampton, McAlley, Williamson, Mesdames Parker, Grant and two children, Brisbane and three children, Hecker, Heath, Aitchison, Spence and child, Burrows and two children, McFarlane, Yardley and three children, Williamson, Burns. Messrs. Maitland, Krause, Parker, Proudfoot, Thorburn, Salisbury, Holland, Gunnyon, Regan, Barry, Burrows (2), Jeffries, Mitchell, Cumming, Farmer, Yardley, Jones, Harrington, and McIndoe.

Stepping ashore that Saturday morning, her newly arrived passengers would have found the New Zealand city recovering from the effects of the same gale and wild weather that they themselves had experienced during their crossing. Across the city and its suburbs numerous trees had been uprooted, buildings had been unroofed; chimneys, fences and hoardings had been blown down. Across the north of the Island roads had become blocked and telegraph wires had been brought down. A number of vessels had broken from their moorings resulting in several groundings and damage.

If not returning to their own homes or staying with relatives or friends, the new arrivals may have found lodgings in a number of hotels in the city including the Grand, the Star Hotel, the Central and the Royal.

The Royal Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand
Royal Hotel. Auckland N.Z.
Postcard. Author’s Collection.
Mary Pickford - star of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
[Mary Pickford – star of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm]
Publicity Photograph. Author’s Collection.

Entertainment was available at a number of the city’s theatres and playhouses. Numerous films were showing. The actress Mary Pickford was appearing in the film “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” which was screening for the first time that same evening in the Tivoli Theatre.  The Princess Theatre was showing the ‘seven-reel Metro super-picture’ “The Call of Her People” starring Ethel Barrymore, and the Lyric Theatre was screening the premier production of the National Film Corporation’s “Empty Pockets”.

His Majesty’s Theatre was presenting a revue by The Royal Strollers and the programme of the Opera House on Wellesley Street included a variety of acts amongst which was the vaudeville couple Jones and Raines. Anyone wishing to see their act would have to be quick for the Fuller Company was soon to despatch the couple to Australia where they were to support one of the Company’s shows. In fact the couple were destined to depart Auckland on the Wimmera’s immediate return to Sydney.

© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021