Speaking as one who spent many years employed in shipping administration in New Zealand, I would like to say how much I enjoy and appreciate Murray Robinson’s interesting and well-researched articles regarding NZ maritime history. Murray’s article on the loss of TEV Wahine in April 1968, in the February, March and April 2013 issues of Sea Breezes, brought back memories of my days in New Zealand.
I first sailed into Wellington Harbour on Sitmar Line’s Fairsky in February 1969, en route from Sydney, Australia, to Southampton, following an abortive attempt to emigrate to Australia under the £10 Passage Scheme. Little did I realise then that I would soon be back in New Zealand and working for the Union Steam Ship Co, handling reservations for P&O’s magnificent white-hulled liners when they berthed at Auckland. Pursering on New Zealand Railways’ pioneering Cook Strait rail and road ferry Aramoana, which had earlier helped rescue survivors from the Wahine, and formulating freight rates for ACT A/ ANL (Associated Container Transportation Australia/ Australian National Line) container ships, which then called at Wellington on UK and West Coast North America voyages.
I then spent 18 most interesting years with NZ’s Marine Division of the Ministry of Transport and, uniquely, worked in all departments, except lighthouses, ie shipwrecks and casualties; ship registration; seafarer engagements and discharges and certificates of competency; ship and land surveys, shipping legislation, and harbours & foreshores. I even collected coastal light dues and paid out crew’s wages on the NZ Government ocean research vessel Tangaroa!
Upon first entering Wellington Harbour the first ship I saw in NZ was the old Holm Co freighter Holmpark, which United Salvage was using as a base to salvage the Wahine and was permanently moored at the wreck site for some years. Later, in the early 70’s, when walking to work at Marine Division HQ along Wellington’s glorious waterfront, I would pass large sections of the Wahine which had been landed on Taranaki Street Wharf by the Wellington Harbour Board’s floating crane steamer Hikitia (now preserved). Sections were also landed at Burnham Wharf.
One day in May 1972 a large pile of soaking bedding from the Wahine had been landed and I managed to secure a mattress label (manufacturer ‘Vi-Spring’, of London NW 10) - despite it having being submerged for the past four years! Superstitious folk had considered it a bad omen when divers landed a cargo of inscribed tombstones from Wahine in 1971. The Wahine’s emergency diesel generator was also recovered and used on the Holmpark.
Part of my job involved answering enquiries from the public re general shipping matters and many of these, from all parts of the globe, concerned the department’s inquiry into the loss of the Wahine. When the Ministry was (woefully!) disbanded by the incoming Labour government in the late 1980’s, I managed to salvage a Wahine poster (see photo), which has strangely ended up just five miles from where she was built, at Fairfield’s yard in Govan! Spookily, Wahine is depicted in Wellington Harbour on the last leg of her voyage from Lyttelton – the leg that she was destined never to complete on 10 April 1968. By another strange quirk of fate, the Wahine rescue ship Aramoana was built at Denny’s yard in Dumbarton, just five miles away from my birthplace, while the Wahine salvage vessel Hikitia was built here in Paisley by Fleming & Ferguson - at the end of the street where I now live!
ROBERT D CAMPBELL
48 McLean Place, Paisley
Renfrewshire, PA3 2DG