Passenger deaths and injuries

Several passengers died and others injured whilst aboard the Wimmera. Ironically the first two fatalities were of a publican and a clergyman. Brief accounts of each fatality and injury, in chronological order, are provided below:

Charles Siddells (July 1907)

In July 1907, a number of supporters of the New Zealand champion rower, William Webb, joined the Wimmera in Wellington for Sydney in support of their countryman’s efforts in a sculling match against the (Australian) champion rower Towns. Amongst these passengers were several residents of Wanganui including Charles Siddells, the former licensee of the local Federal Hotel. Siddells was also a well-known figure in the Wellington district, had previously kept the Waverley Hotel near Napier and had been involved with horse racing both as an owner and as trainer. He was also a prominent supporter of Webb whose forthcoming race he was planning to witness.

Siddell's Federal Hotel
Siddell’s Federal Hotel.
Detail from Postcard. Author’s Collection.

Although Siddells was reportedly unwell at the outset of the journey, it was later evident that the man was suffering “from the effects of alcohol.” No doubt of concern to his other passengers and the crew, he tried to jump overboard from the vessel on two occasions. He was also under the illusion that he had been poisoned and that someone was attempting to murder him. Despite being taken to his berth, he tried to escape through a porthole in the lavatory. The alarm was raised and he had succeeded in getting out as far as his waist and was fast disappearing when the ship’s officers burst the lavatory door open just in time to catch him by the legs. He was held tight while captain was informed of the predicament and who then ordered the engines to be put full speed astern. The vessel was stopped and a boat swung out on its davits in readiness should he drop into the sea. A crowd of passengers gathered at the ship’s side to watch the rescue attempts and witnessed the lowering of a line that eventually hauled him on board.

Unfortunately, Charles Siddells’ condition worsened and he died early on the morning of Tuesday 30 July as the Wimmera was approaching Sydney Heads. A report of the Coroner’s inquest into his death was later published:

“DEATH ON A STEAMER.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 6 August 1907: 5. Web. 9 Jun 2020 <>

Within two months of Siddells’ death, on Saturday 21 September 1907, the Wimmera was entering Port Phillip Heads at the end of her voyage from Hobart and New Zealand ports when she signalled that a saloon passenger had died.

Reverend James Howie (September 1907)

The Reverend James Morrison Howie, M.A. had joined the Wimmera in Dunedin where he had been staying with one of his married daughters, Mrs J. Dalmores McDonald. The 79-year old was on his way home to Adelaide. Captain Wylie had noted the Reverend’s arrival aboard ship and concerned about his advanced age had advised him not to travel alone. Although he had been unwell during his New Zealand stay the gentleman remarked to the captain that he “felt equal to making the voyage…”

Until Friday evening, 20th September it appeared that his health had improved, and he cheerfully spoke with the bedroom steward when he retired that night. However, when the steward made his morning call on Saturday he found that the clergyman was dead, having apparently died peacefully in his berth during the night from natural causes.

He had suffered the death, in April, of a married daughter, Mrs Charlott Louisa Reeves, and on the 31st May his wife of 53 years, Louisa Lucy Howie, had passed away. Nevertheless he left a family of six living children and a number of grandchildren.

Benjamin Tallents (July 1908)

Within a year yet another death of a passenger occurred on board. Prior to the Wimmera’s arrival in Auckland from Sydney on the morning of the 26th July 1908, a steerage passenger by the name of Benjamin Tallents, died. The 54-year old, who was draper from Auckland had been ill when he boarded the vessel, and was being nursed by wife during the voyage. An inquest was held into his death.



THE Huddart-Parker steamer Wimmera arrived at Auckland yesterday from Sydney with her flags flying at half-mast, as an indication that a death had occurred during the passage. When the ship was boarded, the demise of one of the steerage passengers, named Benjamin Tallents, draper, of Federal-street, Auckland, was announced. Deceased, [who] was 54 years of age, had been taken on board ill, and was nursed  throughout the voyage by his wife. He grew gradually worse, and expired yesterday morning as the vessel was coming down the coast. An inquest will be held.

The Wimmera had a rough trip across. One day out from Sydney a strong southwesterly wind and heavy beam seas were met with. These continued for some time. The high seas that were running gave the passengers a rather unpleasant time while they lasted. One or two of the deck cabins were smashed in, and one of the companion ladders on the upper deck was carried away. The passenger list included Mr. J. C. Williamson’s pantomime company, and several members of the companv had an unenviable experience. Mrs. Gilbert, wife of Mr. Bert Gilbert, was in her cabin when it was smashed in, and was drenched with water, but not hurt.

Rough seas continued for a couple of days, and then moderated, and the remainder of the voyage was made in smooth water.

New Zealand Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 13812, 27 July 1908, Page 7

The results of the autopsy were later reported in the press:

The Inquest concerning the death of Benjamin Tallents was continued after we went to press yesterday. In the course of his evidence, Dr. Sharman, Health Officer, who made a post-mortem, stated that the condition of the liver indicated alcoholism. Death was due to syncope caused by rupture of a pulmonary vessel. Medical attention would not have availed. Charles Rowley, a forecabin steward on the Wimmera, deposed that when the deceased boarded the steamer, he bore the appearance of one who had been drinking. He was not supplied with much on the boat. He was very sea sick en route. The verdict was that the cause of death was syncope resulting from the rupture of an artery, and that the deceased came to his death in a natural way.

Auckland Star, Volume XXXIX, Issue 179, 28 July 1908


Mr F. Jackson (February 1911)

On the evening of the 4th of February 1911 the Wimmera was underway in the Tasman Sea between Sydney and Auckland. One of her passengers a man by the name of F. Jackson was seen by one of the stewards at about 11.30 pm. It was the last time he was seen and was reported missing at 8.00 am the following morning. Jackson, who was estimated to be about 25 to 30 years of age, and whose occupation was stated on the passenger list as a Printer, was presumed to have been lost overboard and drowned in the location of Latitude 45º 55′ S Longitude 147º 40′ E.[i]

Annie Crouch (September 1912)

Miss Crouch, of Salem. India, who, with the Rev. W. Huckett, of Madagascar, is visiting Auckland as a deputation from the London Missionary Society, had the misfortune to fall on the deck of the steamer Wimmera, and fractured her right elbow. Miss Crouch has been under the care of Dr. MacMaster, and is so far recovered that she will be able to take part in the annual public meeting of the London Missionary Society to be held in the Beresford-street Church this evening, as announced in our advertising columns.

New Zealand Herald, Volume XLIX, Issue 15106, 24 September 1912

James Dickson (May 1914)

On Sunday 24 May 1914 the Wimmera arrived in Sydney from Hobart under the command of Herbert James Graham Kell. Aboard the vessel was the body of 56-year old passenger James Dickson who had died at sea the previous day when the ship was off Northeast Tasmania.[ii] The Sydney man, an electrician, was reported to have had suffered from heart trouble for some years and felt unwell on the journey home. He expressed to the ship’s chief steward that his heart was bad and that he wished the ship would speed up so he could see his friends, in Sydney. An hour later the man was found in his cabin. He was pronounced dead by Dr. Cope who was a passenger aboard. A wireless message was sent to both relatives and to the Sydney water police. James Dickson was buried in the Baptist Section of the Field of Mars cemetery on Monday 25 May 1914. He left a wife, Agnes Mackie Dickson, a son, William and family, of 51 Mort Street, Balmain, and a sister, Mrs Norman McLennan and family, of Enfield.

William Harvey (March 1905)

Although their deaths did not occur on board the vessel, two elderly passengers, 93-year old William Henry Harvey and his wife, Augusta Ann Harvey, suffered badly from sea-sickness during a rough voyage from Sydney to Wellington. When they arrived at Wellington aboard the Wimmera on 15 March 1905 they were so ill that they had to be attended to by the health officer, Dr Pollen. Mr Harvey did not long survive the traumatic experience and died in Wellington on 20 March not being able to return home. Mrs Harvey never fully recovered from illness, which was suspected of being caused by drinking bad water, and passed away on 16 November 1905. The couple were long term residents and settlers of Pelorus Sound.

Tom Cross (January 1915)

Another death ashore but attributed to an accident aboard the Wimmera was that of Tom Cross:




As the result of an accident on board the steamer Wimmera, ten days ago, Bluff has lost one of its oldest identities in the person of Mr Tom Cross, at the age of 72 years. Ho slipped on a steam-pipe, injuring his knee and septic poisoning set in, death resulting last night. Mr Cross settled at Stewart Island in the ‘fifties, and traded in the  small schooner Flying Scud. This s craft achieved fame in rescuing the survivors of the ill-fated Grafton which was wrecked at the Auckland Islands in 1864. The survivors had been castaways for almost two years before several of them reached Stewart Island in a rudely-constructed raft boat, and Mr Cross at once went down in the Flying Scud—a perilous trip for any small craft. Among other vessels which he ran later was the well-known cutter Nautilus. The late Mr Cross was very active for his age, and up to the day of his accident he was a regular member of the Bluff Waterside Union. He was predeceased by his wife two years ago, and leaves a grown-up familv of seven sons and one daughter. One of the sons is a member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (artillery section) at present in Egypt.

Press, Volume LI, Issue 15190, 30 January 1915, Page 3

Unfortunately, the deaths of passengers Charles Siddells, the Reverend Howie, Benjamin Tallents, James Dickson, and the Harvey’s were not the only ones associated with the Wimmera.

Deaths of Waterside Workers

In 1910 the lives of two waterside workers were claimed as a result of industrial accidents. Both occurred in New Zealand and the first of these was at Lyttelton.

Alexander Morriss (March 1910)

On the afternoon of Saturday 12 March 1910, the Wimmera was taking on a cargo of wheat. A sling of sacks was being swung inboard when it struck the leg of 59-year old Alexander Morriss who was acting as hatchman at No. 1 cargo hatch. As a result of being struck Morris overbalanced and was thrown into the hold and, as he fell, the unfortunate man split his head on the coaming of the ‘tween decks. Despite being helped out immediately by his colleagues he died as he reached the wharf. Morriss was a native of Austria and a long-term resident of Lyttelton. He left his wife, Mary Ann, three sons and four daughters.

John Saunders (April 1910)

The second accident occurred less than a month later, on Monday 4 April in Auckland. At about 10 p.m. that night, Herbert Jones and John Saunders were employed working in the hold of the Wimmera as the vessel was being loaded with bags of sugar from one of the Colonial Sugar Company’s barges. As nine bags of sugar were being winched…the…hit the…and one of the bags dropped. From a height of 15 feet it fell and struck Jones, knocking him unconscious. The bag also struck 45-year old Saunders who, despite being conveyed to hospital for treatment, died on the night of April 8. His widow, Anna Maria Saunders, later sought compensation from Huddart Parker through the Arbitration Court and was awarded over £458.

Not only deaths but injuries were reported in the press.

Waterside worker injuries

John Jenkins (April 1905)

On Friday 28 April 1905 the Wimmera was alongside at Hobart. On the afternoon of that day two wharf labourers were in the process of lifting one of the fore-and-aft hatch-beams from the after hold when one man lost his balance and fell nearly 40 feet to the bottom of the hold. Although the man, John Jenkins, was not seriously injured he was nonetheless accompanied by the secretary of the wharf Labourer’s Union to hospital where he was kept under observation. Miraculously his injuries were only slight and he apparently suffered nothing more than a contused finger.

Thomas Roberts (June 1906)

The Evening Post (Wellington) reported on 4 June 1906 (page 6) that as the Wimmera was leaving port for Sydney the previous morning at 1.30am, a Thomas Roberts had endeavoured to clamber from the steamer to the wharf but had fallen into the harbour. He was rescued by local police constable F. Townsend.

George Cooms (January 1907)

The Auckland Star of 15 January 1907 (page 4) reported that:

“While the steamer Wimmera was discharging her cargo at the wharf yesterday, a labourer named George Cooms met with an accident. It appears that while a hook was being lowered into No. 3 hatch it caught between decks and dragged out an iron girder, used for covering the hatch. The girder fell to the bottom of the hold, striking Cooms on the back. Dr. Hardie Neil was summoned, and found that though there were no bones broken, Cooms had sustained several nasty bruises about his shoulders. He was taken to his home in the ambulance.”

A patient in bed
[A patient in bed]
Postcard. Author’s Collection.

Herbert Bensley (October 1908)

On Friday 16 October 1908 the vessel was laid up in Sydney undergoing Lloyd’s survey and an overhaul. A ship’s painter, Herbert Bensley, was in the process of “painting one of the bulkheads from a staging when without warning the plank broke and Bensley was thrown to the bottom of the hold.” As a result of his injuries he was admitted to the Prince Alfred Hospital. The accident left the man in a semi-conscious state with spinal injuries that ‘…subsequently caused paralysis and partial loss of the power to speak.’ Although the Union sought compensation for his family from Huddart Parker through the court, negligence by the company was not proved.


(Before Mr. Justice Pring and a jury of four.)


Bensley v Huddart, Parker, and Co. Proprietary, Limited.

Mr. L. Armstrong and Mr. W. W. Perry, instructed by Mr. E. R. Abigail, appeared for the plaintiff; and Mr. Broomfield, instructed by Messrs. J. R. Baxter Bruce and Co., for the defendant company. This was an action brought by Herbert Bensley, ship’s painter, against Huddart, Parker and Co. Proprietary, Limited, to recover compensation for injuries sustained by him, owing, as he alleged, to the negligence of the company or their servants. The case for the plaintiff was that on October 16, of last year, he, with several other men, was working in the hold of the defendant company’s steamer Wimmera, painting, and for the purpose of the work a plank platform was used, on which a carpenter had previously been working. As soon as the plaintiff stepped upon the plank It gave way at the centre, and he fell a distance of about 9ft, sustaining a spinal injury, which subsequently caused paralysis and partial loss of the power to speak. He had been unable to work since the accident, and owing to his injuries his earning power had been seriously limited. Plaintiff’’s case was based on various sections of the Employers Liability Act, and there was a count at common law affirming that the company was guilty of negligence in not providing a safe staging. Damages were laid at £1000.

Defendants denied the negligence charged against them or their servants, and traversed! the various counts framed under the Employers Liability Act. ‘

At the close of the plaintiff’s case he was nonsuited on the ground that there was no evidence to go to the jury of negligence on the part of the defendant company, or their servants.

His Honor said that, seeing that plaintiff had undoubtedly been very seriously and permanently injured, the company might see its way to make some concession to plaintiff in the way of compensation. i

Mr. Broomfield said he would convey his honor’s suggestion to the company.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954) Thursday 16 September 1909 p5

Harry Clarke (October 1910)

Whilst the Wimmera was alongside at Auckland on Monday 3 October 1910…

An accident befel a man named Harry Clarke, a wharf labourer, who resides in Sale-street, Freeman’s Bay, while engaged in loading operations. at the steamer Wimmera yesterday afternoon. A quantity of luggage was being lifted on board, and Clarke somehow got entangled in the net which is used for the purpose. He was carried off his feet and lifted about 30ft, when he fell, his arm being broken as a result, while he was also considerably bruised. He was conveyed to the hospital, where he is progressing very favourably.

The New Zealand Herald, Volume XLVII, Issue 14491, 4 October 1910

James Warner (March 1911)

A wharf labourer named James Warner, who lives in Alexandra-street, met with an accident on the Hobson-street Wharf yesterday morning. He was engaged unloading heavy steel rails from the steamer Wimmera, when a rail fell, and jammed his left foot between two other rails. Warner’s foot was badly hurt, and after being attended to by Dr. Parkes the sufferer was removed to his home.

New Zealand Herald, Volume XLVIII, Issue 14634, 21 March 1911, Page 4

Jeremiah Nixon (March 1912)

At the port of Lyttelton on the evening of Saturday 9 March 1912, a number of men were engaged in shifting coal from between decks to the lower deck of the Wimmera when,”by some means, a lump of coal fell out of one of the baskets and struck” worker Jeremiah Nixon on the head. “Dr. Newell was sent for and Nixon was taken to the Casualty Ward [of the local hospital]. On examination the doctor found that the man had cracked his skull, and he ordered his removal to the Christchurch Hospital.”

The Ashburton Guardian, Monday 11 March 1912, p6

Hugh McHaffie (December 1917)

The New Zealand Department of Marine Annual Report for 1917-18 recorded in its Return of Accidents to Waterside workers that on 18 December 1917 H. McHaffie fell down the hold and injured his shoulder whilst the Wimmera was alongside at Dunedin (Port Chalmers).

The injuries sustained by 55-year-old Hugh McHaffie, of Port Chalmers, necessitated his removal to hospital.

It wasn’t only waterside workers who were met with mishaps but also members of the ship’s company.

Death and injuries of crew members

Prior to her loss in 1918 one member of the Wimmera’s crew died during their period of service on the ship.

Albert Schliefenbaum (December 1908)

Hamburg-born 28-year old Albert Schliefenbaum, first signed on to the Wimmera in early 1905. According to the ship’s crew lists, he was variously employed as a (fireman), greaser, and as the ship’s donkeyman. On 4 December 1908 the Wimmera arrived at Sydney from Auckland before sailing to Newcastle the same day for coaling. Schliefenbaum did not return to Sydney aboard the Wimmera. According to the ship’s log entry, dated 5/12/08 at Dyke Wharf, Newcastle:

“A. Schliefenbaum, donkeyman, while working in the engine room on Saturday morning at 10 am on 5th Inst, he was seized with heat apoplexy.

Dr Beeston was sent for and on arrival, ordered his removal to hospital at once, which was done. At 4 PM same day he expired while in Hospital. …”

He was buried the following day in Sandgate cemetery, Newcastle.

‘Hospital. Newcastle. N.S. Wales.’
Detail from Postcard. Author’s Collection.

Chief Officer Richard Bracken (August 1911)

On 24 August 1911 the Wimmera was berthed at Glasgow Wharf, Napier. As cargo was being loaded at about midday a case fell, hit and broke the leg of the ship’s Chief Officer, Richard Bracken. Although he was attended to and had his fracture set he was unable to continue his duties. He remained in New Zealand and returned to Sydney as a saloon passenger on the Wimmera in October 1911.

2nd Grade Steward R. Smith (August 1912)

On Tuesday the 20th of August 1912, the Wimmera was alongside at Auckland prior to her departure South when one of the ship’s stewards, 19-year-old R. Smith of Sydney, met with a sudden accident.

A painful accident befel a steward named Smith on board the steamer Wimmera yesterday afternoon. It appears that while walking along the deck during loading operations, he was struck by an empty sling swinging inboard, and was knocked overboard into the hold of the scow Portland, which was Iying alongside the vessel at the time. he fell a distance of about 16ft, and struck the bottom of the hold with great force. Smith was picked up in a semi-conscious condition. A doctor was summoned, when it was found that although not seriously injured, Smith was considerably bruised and cut about the face and body.

New Zealand Herald, Volume XLIX, Issue 15077, 21 August 1912

Smith returned to Sydney aboard the Wimmera on 6 September and continued to serve on the ship to New Zealand for another three voyages.

Trimmer P. Crosby (May 1913)

On 7 May 1913, during which the Wimmera sailed from Lyttelton to Wellington, P. Crosby, a trimmer aboard the vessel was knocked down by a sea which result in him suffering a broken arm. He later received a payment of 12 19s 0d in compensation.

Fireman Godfrey Amment (December 1913)

In Hobart in December 1913, 36-year-old Godfrey Amment, one of the Wimmera’s firemen…

“…was admitted to the General Hospital yesterday evening, suffering from injuries received through being knocked down by a runaway horse. Amment was endeavoring to stop the animal, which was careering along Argyle-street, near Liverpool street, and was thrown down heavily. He was conveyed to the General Hospital, where, upon examination being made, it was found that his left leg was broken just above the knee. Amment also sustained cuts about the head and face.”

The Mercury, Saturday 27 December 1913, page 4


Beside cases of mal-de-mer, passengers and crew also suffered on their voyages either from accident or from pre-existing conditions.

In May 1913 whilst on passage between Auckland and Sydney it was the Wimmera’s captain that was deemed to require medical advice if not attention. A doctor was not on board, however, the recently fitted Marconi wireless system was brought into action to contact another vessel, in this case the U.S.S. Co’s Maheno, for advice. The Maheno had cleared Sydney on Wednesday 14th May and headed straight into an easterly gale and heavy seas.

The message was received that Captain Entwistle was not well and some particulars of his symptoms were relayed. Doctor Scott of Tasmania, a passenger on the Maheno, was consulted and he provided a prescription for the Captain to be relayed back to the Wimmera by the Maheno’s wireless operator. The immediacy of the Captain’s recovery is not known, however recover he did. Unfortunately, a Mrs Cleal of Auckland, a passenger on that same voyage on the Maheno, did not survive the voyage and died during the passage.

The wireless consultation was, at that time, an unusual occurrence and the event was not only reported in local newspapers but also in the London Daily Mail, The Wireless World and in the medical journal The American Practitioner.


An unusual use was made of the wireless installation of the steamers Maheno and Wimmera during recent heavy weather in the Tasman Sea. The Maheno was proceeding to Auckland, and the Wimmera was going in the opposite direction. A message was sent from the Wimmera asking the Maheno if there was a doctor on board, and as Dr. Scott, a passenger from Tasmania, was travelling on the Maheno, a reply was sent accordingly.

Then the instruments began to work, and there came to the Maheno news that Captain Entwistle was not well, and some particulars of his symptoms. Dr. Scott supplied the Maheno’s operator with a prescription which was despatched to the invisible Wimmera.

[i] Register of Deceased Passengers

[ii] Register of Deceased Passengers

© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021