22 August 2014

Poetry from war-torn seas

During the early hours of 26 November 1940, RMS RANGITANE was travelling from Auckland to London when she was attacked and sunk by German raiders. Of the 300 people on board, 13 were killed during the attack.

As part of National Poetry Day, we’d like to share a poem about the RANGITANE disaster from the Museum’s reserve collection. This poem was written by one of the female survivors and our copy is part of the personal collection of Mr William Edward Collison. Mr Collison was a steward on RANGITANE at the time.

Through the grey quiet of a November dawn,
The Rangitane sails, upon her homeward way,
When, suddenly, a shadow deep appears
And takes its shape in the uprising day.

A foreign ship! – The bridge springs in to life,
The Captain wakens from his well-earned sleep

A second ship has now appeared in view,
Is it an enemy upon the ocean deep?

As soon as born, our fears turn certainties.
The wireless message which we try to send
Wakens the guns upon the savage foe

And, with shrill cries, the shells wild voices blend.

The cruel shells, piercing the ship’s stout frame,
Have daunted not the men’s determined mind
To send that message – though it should cost their life –

To save all men and the ships who sail behind.

The ship manoeuvres to protect her guns,
Relentlessly the shells still pierce her side,
Below, the passengers, with quiet calm,
In darkness, amidst roaring tumult glide.

At last, from fire, blast and flood and smoke,
Respite is gained.  There falls a sudden hush.
The guns are silent.  Strangest sounds are heard; -

Men’s voices calling; water’s sudden rush;

The gurgling breathing of a dying girl
The joke upon the lips of one who lies,
Grievously wounded, even unto death,

And yet has light and laughter in her eyes.

At last the order “Take to the boats” rings out,
Obediently, with perfect calm, each one
Goes to his place.  The boats swing out and down.
The ship now floats, afire, her duty done.

n her, our friends and loved ones find a grave
For England’s love and England’s life they died.
We left them there – and prayed the mighty sea
Would welcome them, - their earthly bodies hide.

We love them still – but cannot hold regret;
They would have chosen to make that sacrifice
If they had known that their death could save
Others, freely they would have given their life.

For some it was death, others were prisoners taken,
Each, in his way, has served his country’s ends, -
Again will do so, as long as England needs
Ships and the sea.  On these her life depends.

A typewritten copy of the original poem, written
 by a female survivor of the tragedy [16044e ],
part of the reserve collection of the
 Maritime Museum
Ticket to the Rangitane Ball [16044g],
 part of the reserve collection of
the Maritime Museum.
Postcard of RMS RANGITANE [2636c], part of the reserve
collection of the Maritime Museum.  RANGITANE was a
passenger liner owned by the New Zealand Shipping Company.

15 August 2014

Protecting our beaches: Surf Life Saving and the legacy of Muriel Brown

Photo by Dave Young, 2010
As New Zealanders, we’re lucky to live in a country with so many beaches. But we also need to be aware of how dangerous our waters can be. Surf Life Saving New Zealand watches over our busiest beaches every summer to keep us safe in the sea - their red and yellow flags are a familiar and comforting sight.

Surf Life Saving started in Australia in 1906, and the first New Zealand clubs were established in 1910. Competitions between clubs brought public attention to the members’ skills and strength, and by the 1930s surf life saving was recognised and celebrated as heroic and necessary. The number of clubs and life savers increased and today there are 73 clubs with around 15,000 members.

The Maritime Museum’s surf life saving collection includes photographs and memorabilia belonging to Muriel Brown, the first woman to become a life member of the New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association.

Milford Surf Life Saving Club was the first club established in the Auckland District in 1925, and the Milford Girls’ SLSC was formed in 1932, with Muriel Brown as captain. The 1935/36 Auckland annual report records nine active members in the Milford Girls’ club in 1935. They made one rescue and gave first aid seven times that year.

Muriel Brown joined the surf life saving movement in 1932. She competed in events each year and even though the club only had a small membership, the team won several trophies and awards in the 1930s. After World War II Muriel served as an instructor and secretary of the Milford club. She also represented the Milford Ladies Surf Live Saving Club in the Auckland Association.

When the Milford Girls’ Club closed in 1961, Muriel joined the Orewa Club and was elected to the role of President.

The Auckland Association awarded Muriel for her work on several occasions. In 1971 she was the first woman to be made a life member of the New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association. She became a Governor of World Life Saving and in 1992 was awarded an MBE for services to life saving. Muriel died in 1996 at the age of 82.

Muriel Brown leading the Milford Girls’ Club in a
public display at Waihi Beach in 1937

08 August 2014

New Zealand Hospital Ships MAHENO and MARAMA

During World War One the New Zealand Government requisitioned two Union Steam Ship Company trans-Tasman liners the MAHENO and the MARAMA to be refitted as hospital ships. In 1914 MAHENO was the first New Zealand ship to be drafted into service and her first tour of duty took her to the battle at Gallipoli.  MARAMA became part of the ‘White Fleet’ in 1915 and arrived in Europe in time to join MAHENO in the ‘Channel run’ which involved transferring the sick and wounded from the battlefields of the Somme Offensive in France to hospitals in England.

NZ Hospital Ship MAHENO by W. Cockell, oil on velvet (2003.6)
NZHS MAHENO illuminated at night, part of Voyager
New Zealand Maritime Museum's reserve collection.
Both ships were fitted out with wards, operating theatres, an anaesthetic room, medical and surgical storerooms, an x-ray room, electric lifts, rooms for sterilising and laundry, a dispensary and a dining room.  As with all hospital ships, both were painted white with a green stripe and the Red Cross, clearly marking them as neutral aid ships.  Under the Hague Convention, all hospital ships were expected to help any injured regardless of nationality, they were not to be used for any military purpose, and were subject to inspection by enemy forces.

Traditional field hospitals and clearing stations were impossible on the Gallipoli Peninsular, so hospital ships became a symbol of safety for the Allied sick and wounded.  MAHENO would anchor in the open sea, and receive the wounded that were ferried across by small launches in all weather conditions and often under gunfire.  Although the Turkish military respected the hospital ships and never purposely aimed artillery toward them, there was always the constant danger of being hit by stray ammunition.

During the aftermath of the Battle of the Somme, the medical staff of the MAHENO and MARAMA found themselves even more overworked.  Working without proper sleep for stretches between 40 and 60 hours, they faced caring for wounded soldiers in overwhelmingly crowed conditions. It was not uncommon to load up to 1000 patents, twice the normal capacity of the ships.  Patients were put wherever there was room, lying on mattresses spread on the decks or cramped below in the narrow corridors.

Photograph of NZ Hospital Ship MAHENO signed by
medical staff and crew. Part of Voyager New Zealand
Maritime Museum's reserve collection (2000.294.1)
The medical staff and crew suffered from exhaustion, physical injury, seasickness, illness and infection.  Soldiers from Gallipoli brought with them diphtheria and those coming aboard from the trenches of France were infested with lice.  As well as contending with overcrowding and overwork, those aboard hospital ships were also in constant danger not only from the perils of rough weather at sea but from sea-mines and German torpedoes.  However, despite all the hardships, the MAHENO transported 14,361 sick and wounded soldiers between France and England, MARAMA carried 10,798.

This next series of images are taken from a photo album from the Maritime Museum’s reserve collection.  The album was compiled by Archibald Currie Dalton during his wartime service as a Purser onboard HMNZHS MARAMA (1994.121.6).  Images from top to bottom:  HMNZHS MARAMA, Dispensary, Operating table, C Ward, New Zealand patients on deck, Blind Australian soldier making a string bag.

30 July 2014

Lifejackets - safety at sea

We all know that lifejackets are essential pieces of equipment on boats – allowing wearers to keep afloat if they somehow end up in the water, saving them from drowning.

Flotation devices help people who can’t swim, but also those who can, by allowing them to remain still to conserve energy and delay the onset of hypothermia.

They are a vital part of our lives on the sea.

The first kind of flotation device made was the cork vest credited to Captain Ward in the United Kingdom in 1854.
Cork life jacket.
The Popular Science
Monthly (1887)

But the life jackets that were the ancestors of those we know today, with buoyant material sewn inside sealed pockets, were invented here in New Zealand.

Orpheus Newman was born in St Helier, Jersey in 1863. She was named after the ship HMS Orpheus which was wrecked on the Manukau Bar earlier that year, and on which her older brother was believed to have died along with many others.

Although it was later discovered that her brother had survived the wreck, as a child Orpheus was haunted by the idea of drowning. She finally overcame this affliction as a 10 year old on the long journey to New Zealand with her family in 1873.

However, drowning remained a theme in her life, as In 1912 Orpheus’ other brother drowned while fishing near Dunedin where the family had settled.

In this same year Titanic sank causing the deaths of more than 1,500 people, after which the British Board of Trade issued a competition throughout the Empire for the design of a new flotation device more effective than the cork vests.

Over 6 years, with the feedback of the Board of Trade, Orpheus developed lifejackets she called 'Salvus' ('safe'). They were made of canvas, with the sealed pockets filled with kapok for buoyancy. Kapok is the fluff from inside the seed pods of a kapok tree – moisture resistant and buoyant. The vests she designed were easy to put on over the head, and more cushioning than cork for landing in water from a height.

Modern copy of Orpheus Newman's kapok lifejacket
From 1918 these lifejackets were adopted by the British Navy, English and New Zealand ferries, and the Union Steam Ship Company fleet, and were used worldwide.  (newspaper article)

They were superseded however when a lifejacket made of synthetic materials and with head support was designed during World War II.

Since then many different lifejacket designs have been created and they are an essential, and compulsory, part of our lives and leisure on the sea.

On display at Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum is the Emirates Team New Zealand sailing uniform helmet and lifejacket worn by Richard Meacham on the AC72 in the 34th America's Cup, San Fancisco 2013. (right)