Damage to the ship and her cargo was more often than not sustained through severe weather and sea conditions than by close encounters with other vessels.
The effects of the weather on shipping was often reported in the press. Amongst others the following recorded incidents provide clear example of the forces of nature:
Following a voyage from Hobart to Wellington in October 1907, Captain Wyllie reported to the Company, and which was recorded in the Casualties Book that on 15 October…
“During a heavy S.W. gale and high sea, ship lurching & rolling heavily, a heavy sea broke on board and struck stack of fruit on No. 4 hatch, carried away all the lashing and washed almost the whole stack overboard, at the same time breaking away No. 4 gangway, part of the standing rail, and three deck seats, two of which went overboard. Gale continued next day when a tremendous sea broke on board, and struck the fruit stacked on No. 2 Hatch, broke away all lashings and, landed fruit on the port side of the deck on top of some sheep which were penned there.”
Upon the ship’s arrival in Wellington it was also discovered that two panes of stained glass in the Social Hall Dome had also been broken as a result of the excessively bad weather.
A ROUGH VOYAGE.
THE WIMMERA IN A GALE.
The Wimmera, on her voyage from Sydney to Auckland, had an extraordinarily rough passage, and those on board had a terrible time. After leaving Sydney Heads, the vessel met with a treacherous sea, which buffeted her continuously till Thursday night. Then she ran into the full force of the gale, which raged till after daylight on Saturday.
Heavy seas struck the Wimmera with tremendous force from time to time, but she proved a splendid sea boat. One of the companion ladders and some of the gear were swept away. The forecastle passengers had a very unenviable experience, being cooped up below for nearly the whole of the voyage.
The spectacle during the height of the storm is described by a passenger as one of sublime grandeur. As far as eye could see the ocean was one great sweeping mass of foam, and waves running mountains high and threatening time and time again to fall over and swamp the vessel like a cockleshell. The tremendous speed at which the surge, was racing by was something to wonder at, and occasionally great green rollers would sweep across the fore-part of the laboring ship.
The storm was succeeded by heavy rolling seas and thick weather, it being impossible all Saturday and Sunday to get more than a brief glimpse beyond the ship itself, and it was late on Sunday before the North Cape was sighted. The Three Kings were not seen at all, and as the late afterpoon came and still not a sight of the coast, there was con- siderable anxiety on board. Soundings were frequently taken, and it was just at dusk that the bluff of North Cape came in view.
Soon after a heavy sea broke suddenly on board, flooding the saloon and sweeping the decks. Several passengers on the after-deck were flung against the bulwarks. There was some panic and confusion, and then a yell ‘went up “Man Overboard!” The vessel was stopped, and though there was little hope of saving anyone in that awful sea, lifebuoys were thrown over board, and the lights of the buoys floated away in the darkness. The side of the boat as it was swung loose in the davits was stove in. The passengers who had raised the cry stated they distinctly saw a man go overboard, but the roll was called, and no one was found to be missing. The possibility is that the object they saw was a deck-chair.
Shortly after 2 o’clock on Monday the vessel arrived, just twenty-four hours late. The passengers were loud in their praises of the kindness and consideration of officers and stewardesses, and of the excellent manner in which the ship was handled.
Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XXXV, Issue 11222, 11 March 1908, Page 4
A July 1908 crossing of the Tasman also provided passengers with a memorable voyage. Among those who boarded the Wimmera in Sydney bound for Auckland that month were members of J.C. Williamson’s company who included English comedian Bert Gilbert.
On the ship’s arrival in Auckland, the experience was reported in the press. Bert Gilbert’s personal experience received particular mention.
WIMMERA’S ROUGH PASSAGE
DEATH OF A PASSENGER.
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, was 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 company 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
Following that voyage, the following comments were entered in the Company’s ‘Casualties Book’:
‘This steamer is having a run of bad luck in frequently meeting heavy adverse gales, & damaging her deck fittings…”
Captain Waller, in reporting the incident that prompted this remark, from Auckland, on 25th July, stated:
“Between 5 p.m. & midnight on 22nd July 1908, when from 50 to 100 miles East of Sydney Heads, bad weather was encountered, and the following damage was done: – starboard deck cabin door burst in & fittings smashed : steam pipe casing abreast No. 3 hatch torn from bolts : brass grating from saloon dome unshipped & rolled overboard during the heavy rolling of the ship : a number of cases ?-? stowed on well deck, smashed by heavy seas falling on board : several other minor damages to deck fittings.”
June 1911 – The experience of The Sheffield Choir
In June 1911, the Wimmera endured cyclonic conditions on her passage from Sydney to Auckland. On board at this time were members of the Sheffield Choir. Such were the harrowing conditions that were experienced the vessel was nicknamed the “Swimmera” and the tale recorded, as follows, in Sir Henry Coward’s memoirs of the Choir’s world tour:
A STORM AT SEA.
And now for the voyage so full of disagreeable, pathetic and dramatic incidents, which might have ended tragically.
The journey had hardly begun before we had to stop to decide the “sailor shanty” problem, “What shall we do to the drunken sailor?” Two inebriates had come aboard uninvited, and Captain Walter [sic] had to bundle them into a boat to return ashore. This caused another delay, which was annoying, because we had been delayed three hours in order to give the afternoon concert. The inconvenience and strain of this “extra” was mollified by a grant of 9s.to each singer and special fees to the principals.
A fairly strong wind was blowing, and when this was mentioned the Captain said, “Oh, this is a good sea boat”. To those “in the know” it was ominous, as it meant it rolls tremendously. This was true of the “Wimmera”, but she rolled tremendously-and-a-half!! As a joker remarked, “This is more than a roll, it’s a roly-poly boat”. Within an hour we ran into a sou’-west storm. The Captain said it was the worst he had known for twenty years, and the Chief Officer declared that he had made fifteen voyages in her, and he had never had such a time.
Those South Pacific waves simply played shuttlecock with the “roly-poly”. They tossed her up and down, they swished and gurgled from end to end of the deck. They made everyone rise from dinner to feed the fishes, and go straight to bed!
The Captain collected as many as he could into the saloon to sing “Eternal Father, strong to save”, etc., and after a short prayer, committed us to the hands of God. He advised us to put on lifebelts, go to bed and try to sleep, and he would come and inform us if danger threatened.
A cyclone burst on us about midnight, and a tenor, a yachtsman, came to tell me that he had heard the Captain say to the Chief Officer, “We can do no more, put her head to the wind and let her drift”. This was done, and the vessel drifted 77 miles out of her course. Meanwhile, the roaring waves, which rose higher and higher still, burst through all the barriers, destroyed a port-hole, flooded every cabin, lifted portmanteaux, handbags, hats, clothes, etc., from their moorings, and sent them swish-swashing from one end of the cabin to the other. Beds, bedding and blankets were soaking, and the members were in dripping bath dresses. Those occupying rooms could not stir as the water was so deep. Dr. Harriss and half a dozen others were in the smoking room, and there they had to stay. One venturesome member tried to change his cabin, and was thrown all of a heap into the scuppers—a very, very near shave from drowning.
Ladies and gentlemen were mixed up in the same rooms, helpless. One lady wailed, “Oh, dear, this will end the World Tour”, to which a man replied, “If so, it will be the beginning of becoming angels sooner than we thought”.
Those who were in bunks were bruised by being banged from side to side. It was all terrible and horrible. After five hours of this perilous time the storm began to abate, then hope returned, but not appetite. Scarcely anyone could eat on Thursday, and many did not recover till we got to Auckland on Monday. Two ladies did not sing for a week.
As the day wore on we could take stock of some of the damage done by the storm. There was a long list of personal injuries and upsets. Dr. MacDougal, the doctor and physician to the Choir, worked liked a Trojan during the turmoil at great personal risk. These labours he continued all week.
The boat deck and bridge deck were washed away, the ironwork being twisted as though it were paper. A bulkhead was smashed in, a sailor smashed up, another knocked insensible, and a stewardess badly injured by being thrown out of her bunk. It was not until Thursday that we became aware of our dire peril, and that it is not a mere figment of fancy is evident from the fact that, some time after, the “Wimmera” turned turtle and “Davy Jones” claimed her for his “locker”. Thus ends the story of the “Swimmera”, the name by which she was always called during the journey and after. The Captain himself said it was a case of “touch and go”, and it was a good thing that we were all too ill to realize the danger we were in.
Friday was calmer and more came on deck. The sun shone brightly, but still the boat was “pitching” if not “tossing”. Those who were well stayed up to see another glorious sunset and the unique brilliance of the Southern Cross and the Milky Way.
Saturday was spent by the well ones looking after and cheeing up the ill ones, who were fortunately in numbers “growing smaller by degrees and beautifully less”. One little incident deserves mention. In the midst of the misery, eleven ladies in the Music Room, who had not had meals all day, were in a sorry plight when, in the evening, a good Samaritan reeled into the Social Hall. He had his pockets stuffed with fruit and was hailed with delight. Then the fun began. The ship was rocking so badly that he could not walk to them. He thereupon dropped on his hands and knees and crawled slowly from bunk to bunk, distributing oranges, pears, apples, etc., and slowly “mopped his fevered brow”.
Sunday was really beautiful, and most of the Choir could say “Richard’s himself again”.
For diversion we had a good look at Three Kings Island and Marie Van Diemen Cape. We were followed by beautiful albatrosses and somewhat smaller mollyhawks. There were also flying fish about.
Monday: All were roused at 6 a.m. to be ready for the doctor’s examination at 7. By the time this was over we had arrived at the wharf at 9 a.m. and were given a great welcome by a crowd of good souls who had waited all Sunday afternoon and had turned up again on Monday morning…
WELLINGTON SWEPT BY A GALE
NEARLY 600 POINTS OF RAIN
FLOODS IN THE HUTT VALLEY.
A southerly, cyclonic in its severity, which originated yesterday before noon and increased to a gale in the afternoon thrashed Wellington and district all night. This morning its fury was but slightly abated, and the wind blew across the city carrying with it stinging squalls of rain. Such a storm has not been experienced for many years, the rainfall for the last twenty-four hours totalling something like 570 points.
EFFECTS ON SHIPPING
Shipping in Wellington to-day is at the mercy of the gale, and in consequence is practically at a standstill. Boats arriving in port report that an exceptionally fierce gale with heavy seas is raging in the Straits, and their experiences appear to have been most unpleasant. The coastal trade is paralysed; and unless the weather abates in the very near future, considerable inconvenience will be caused to shippers.
The Home liner, Rotorua, which cleared Wellington for London yesterday afternoon, would probably meet the full force of the gale, while the coastal steamer Aorere, which took her departure for Patea yesterday, was unable to face the elements, and had to put back to port.
The Manuka left the wharf for Melbourne, via ports, at a few minutes after 5 o’clock yesterday, but was unable to proceed any further than Worser Bay, where she anchored. An attempt was made to get her away to-day, and a little after 8 o’clock she steamed out of Wellington Heads — over twelve hours late.
The Mararoa, which was to have left for Lyttelton, at her usual time last night, did not venture out into the gale. It was hoped to despatch the vessel early this morning, but on ascertaining .the conditions prevailing at the Heads, it was deemed inadvisable to take any risks, and the trip was abandoned. It has now been decided that the Mararoa will leave for Lyttelton to-morrow night, the majority of her passengers transferring to the Maori, which is timed to got away this evening.
All the coastal steamers in Wellington, yesterday were unable to get away, and, until the weather moderates, there is little hope of their leaving port. The Wairau could not get out of Blenheim, while it is surmised that the Huia (from Terakohe) is sheltering at Long Island and the Awaroa (from Nelson) at Cabbage Bay. The Blenheim, which is blocked at Blenheim, should make her appearance here some time to-morrow. The Stormbird is bar-bound at Wanganui, but is expected to get away for Wellington to-morrow.
The Alexander, which was to have sailed for Nelson and Motueka last evening, will miss a trip, her cargo, etc., from Nelson and Motueka being brought by the Kaitoa, due here to-morrow.
The Arahura was to have made a special trip to Picton to-day, but this, too, has been abandoned.
All the colliers are detained in port indefinitely. It is possible that, should the weather show signs of abating, the Koonya and Kaitangata may get away for the West coast this evening. Neither the Komata (for Westport) nor Karori (for Lyttelton) will be able to get away before to-morrow.
Loading operations were practically suspended on the Maitai yesterday, and the vessel’s departure for Auckland, via Napier and Gisborne, was postponed until late this afternoon.
The auxiliary scow Echo, and the schooner Falcon, both of which have large cargoes of timber to discharge at Miramar, were unable to work either yesterday or to-day. It is thought that the John (from Timaru), and the Rakiura (from Greymouth) are sheltering somewhere along the coast. The Ngahere, which left Greymouth at 1 a.m. yesterday, is also believed to be sheltering from the gale.
Although the other three vessels which arrived in port this morning were severely handled, their experiences were by no means so bad as that of the Huddart Parker Company’s inter-colonial steamer Wimmera— over four hours late. When the vessel was seen beating up the harbour this morning it was apparent that she had met the full force of the gale, as she had a heavy list to starboard. The vessel left Napier shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday, and all went well until about two hours before midnight, when she ran into the storm. Tremendous seas were shipped, some breaking clean over the whole vessel, but she behaved admirably. The impact was so great that it caused the cargo to shift (hence, the list to starboard) and this to a great extent retarded the vessel’s progress. By the time the vessel first met the storm, most of the passengers had gone into their bunks, but nevertheless they, or at least those who were not particularly good sailors, were unable to get any sleep. When morning broke the gale had not moderated, and the seas were tremendous. However, although seriously inconvenienced by her list she laboured on, and, much to the relief of the passengers, arrived at the Heads shortly before nine o’clock, and at the wharf about one and a-half hours later. Her troubles were, however, not at an end. The force of the gale made the task of berthing particularly difficult, and it was not until noon that the Wimmera was made fast at the Queen’s Wharf (No. 6 south). Passengers speak highly of the manner in which the vessel completed the trip, which, to use a passenger s expression, was “extremely dirty.” Three accidents to members of the ship’s complement occurred during the voyage. A youth employed on the vessel had a thumb split open from top to bottom, an able seaman received a bruised leg, and the baker, owing to a fall, received injuries to his ribs. On arrival in port the three men were attended by Dr. Henry who discovered that the injuries were not of a very serious nature. In consequence of her late arrival the Wimmera will not make a call at Lyttelton, but will sail for Dunedin direct at noon to-morrow.
Evening Post, Volume LXXXV, Issue 103, 2 May 1913, Page 7
More Weather Events
Despite the more challenging weather experienced, there were also times when the beauty of storms at sea could be appreciated, such as the following recorded in The New Zealand Herald in April 1913:
Although the passage from Sydney to Auckland of the steamer Wimmera was marked by generally fine weather, a heavy thunderstorm was encountered after the vessel had been twenty hours at sea. The sky suddenly became black with heavy clouds to the south-west, and in a very short space of time the horizon was constantly lit up by brilliant flashes of lightning, while the thunder pealed loudly overhead. After sunset the whole heavens appeared to be lit up by the lightning, the magnificent scene being watched with much interest by the passengers. The rain fell in torrents, and although the storm continued throughout the night, the sea remained comparatively smooth.
New Zealand Herald, Volume L, Issue 15288, 29 April 1913, Page 6
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