Friday, 14 March 2014

Anecdote Saturday - SS Penguin

The SS Penguin, a passenger/cargo steamship, was built by Tod and Macgregor of Glascow 1864 and launched in the same year. She was initially owned by G & J Burns also of Glasgow and later by the Union Steamship Company (1879). The Penguin was relatively small, 220 ft in length, with a gross tonnage of 874, powered by a twin cylinder compound steam engine, making 12 knots. She was deployed as an inter-island ferry based in New Zealand.

The Penguin foundered near the entrance to Wellington Harbour, 12 February, 1909, having struck Thoms Rock. 70 people died, 30 survived making this New Zealand's worst maritime disaster of the 20th Century. The Penguin had departed Picton bound for Wellington in fine sailing conditions. By 8 pm the weather had turned, strong winds and poor visibility setting the scene for disaster. Captain Francis Naylor charted a course further out to sea, but as the weather cleared and she turned towards the port, the Penguin struck Thoms Rock, quickly taking on water.

Women and children were placed in lifeboats which foundered in the rough sea conditions. Only one woman survived - no children. Survivors managed to cling to rafts and as the Penguin sank, water flooded the engine room causing heated boilers to explode, ripping the vessel apart.

An Inquiry was held, establishing the fact that the Penguin had struck Thoms Rock, near the mouth to Karori Stream in Cook Straight. The master on the other hand was convinced that his vessel had struck the submerged hull of the Rio Loge, lost a month prior. Wellington's mayor unveiled a plaque remembering those lost on the 100th anniversary of the sinking. The plaque can be found at Tongue Point, near the site of the wreck.

If the Waratah had struck a rock and taken on catastrophic volumes of water, she might have suffered a similar fate - boilers exploding. However, this event would disperse discoverable flotsam which was not the case.


SS Penguin
My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!


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