Saturday, 19 March 2016


The Advertiser (Adelaide) Friday 19 October, 1906. 

Auckland. October I8.
A fire was discovered on the Union Com-
pany's steamer Tarawera between Gisborne
and Auckland at midnight last night. The
passengers were aroused and warned to
dress, as it was impossible to say what
the result would be. 

A Waratah commentator remarked that fires at sea were regarded by passengers as amusement,
something to while away the time. This paragraph gives a more realistic impression, bearing in mind
what became of the SS Volturno.

They behaved quite calmly, and there was nothing in the 
nature of a panic, even among the women and children. 
The crew fought the fire for on hour and a half, 
and poured 5 ft. of water into the hold, 
the outbreak being eventually extinguished 
without damage to the hull. About 200 or 300 tons 
of cargo were damaged, all in the afterhold.

5 ft. of water in the hold certainly had the potential to destabilise the vessel.  Reference was made to
the fire being extinguished before hull damage ensued. My feeling is that fire damage to a hull was a
very real threat to the structural integrity and may very well have been the Waratah's last straw.

The vessel left Gisborne at 9.50 am. on
Wednesday, and the fire was discovered
last night by one of the crew, who noticed
smoke issuing from the after hatch. Captain 
Rolls gave orders to cut open the
deck above the blaze. In a few minutes
axes opened a hole in the main deck. The
vessel was plentifully supplied with hand
grenades, which were thrown through the
opening in the deck. Simultaneously
water was poured into the hold. The
engines were slowed down in order to prevent 
a draught, and the boats were swung
out ready to leave the ship at a moment's
notice equipped with provisions for several
weeks, though but a few miles from the shore. 

I have the impression that Captain Rolls' aggressive action made all the difference in subduing the
blaze. One wonders the extent of action taken by Captain Ilbery? Throwing grenades into the hole
would certainly have elicited a reaction from passengers. It makes sense slowing down to reduce the
draught. The Waratah was making about 13.5 knots astern of the Harlow suggesting that the priority
was to return to Durban as quickly as possible rather than 'slowing down'.

At 3 o'clock this morning the fire was entirely extinguished. 
The vessel arrived here three hours later. The discipline, 
according to the passengers was perfect. The crew behaved
splendidly, and left nothing undone to secure the safety of the ship. 
To this the passengers attribute the fact, that they are at 
Auckland to-day. The exact damage will not be known until 
the hold is emptied.

A tribute to fire-fighting on board a steamer.
There was no flax or wool in the hold, and
nothing of a nature likely to induce spontaneous combustion. 
The origin of the fire is a complete mystery.

Fires on board steamers were common and this is an excellent example of the source being a
'complete mystery'. It is naive to assume that nothing particularly flammable was on board Waratah
and nothing which could have caused an explosion.

The passengers, numbering between 50
and 60, signed an address and presented it
to the captain, officers, and crew, expressing 
appreciation for their splendid efforts
and admiration of the excellent order and
discipline. Captain Rolls, in acknowledging the 
presentation, congratulated the passengers on 
their calmness, and said the officers and crew 
only did their duty. 

Heartening outcome and story, matched by the beautiful image of the Tarawera below.

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