Monday, 21 March 2016


SS Maori was a steamship of the Shaw Savill Line wrecked on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula near Cape Town in a storm on 5 August 1909 with the loss of 32 lives.[1]
She went aground a few kilometres south of the suburb of Llandudno. Everything conspired against the survivors: the coast was remote, inaccessible and very rocky and enormous rollers from the Atlantic Ocean crashed against the formidable granite cliffs that overshadowed the stricken vessel. It was late winter and the water was cold.
The wreck, lying in about 30 metres (98 ft) of water between granite boulders, has been popular with scuba divers since the 1960s but can be visited only when the weather is calm. The hull has been vandalized and much of the general cargo that the ship carried has been removed by souvenir hunters over the years. The cargo included crockery, rolls of linoleum, champagne and red wine. In the 1970s it was still possible to find bottles of wine scattered about the wreck in the sand. Most of these used to explode when brought to the surface. A few would survive but the wine inside them was impossibly foul.

Length:402 ft (123 m)
Beam:48 ft (15 m)
Depth:29 ft (8.8 m)

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Wednesday 11 August, 1909.

LONDON, August 10.
An Italian fisherman named Messena 
displayed great gallantry at the wreck of the
Shaw-Savill liner Maori a few miles south
of Capetown, crawling along a razor edge
of rock swept by heavy seas in order to
catch a rope thrown from the sinking
steamer. Thus the rescue of a number of
men was rendered possible.
Two Cape policemen are being prosecuted
for not reporting the statement of a fisher-
man on Thursday evening last that he had
seen five persons on the Maori some time
after she had struck.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 4 September, 1909.
By the South African mall delivered yesterday 
detailed accounts were received of the disaster 
which overtook the steamer Maori, near
Capetown, last month, while bound from London 
to New Zealand.
Forty minutes after leaving the Breakwater,
with the engines going at full speed, the vessel 
struck a huge rock, which seemed to stand
well out of the water.
The first intimation of danger was the lookout's 
warning cry. When only about thirty
yards from the rock he shouted, "Rocks
straight ahead" five times in frantic haste.
Captain Nicole immediately commanded the
steersman to put his wheel hard-a-port.
The next moment the Maori fairly ran up
the rock. Then came three awful bumps, and
back the big vessel slid into the water, as the
engines were put full speed astern.
When the vessel bumped the first time the
chief officer made his way to the bridge for
orders. The whistle was blown four times.
By this time the sea was breaking over the
decks. The skipper shouted to the chief that
the vessel was filling, and as there was no
time to be lost, ordered every man on deck.
His command was repeated below, and the
men hastily made their way to the deck.
The scene was weird in the extreme. Round
about the vessel was a heavy fog, and the
drenching rain made matters worse. The captain 
was on the bridge, and the men reached
the deck with little or no clothing. Hardly
one was fully dressed. Some were minus even
shirts and singlets. They at once realised
the dangerous position of the vessel. She was
gradually sinking. Every minute the sea
broke with heavier force, and at intervals
came that fearful grating noise as the big
boat ground upon the rocks that seemed to
beset her on every side.
Calmness prevailed. The men Implicitly
obeyed orders, and stood by the boats.
The vessel carried six boats, but only three
of these were lowered. While the men took
to the boats the skipper remained on the
bridge, and was the last to leave the vessel. 
He was seen to cross the bridge, making his
way to one of the boats on the weather side, 
which he is stated to have boarded.
The Maori was settling down by the bow.
As far as could be seen, the terrific bumps
had smashed in the fore part of the doomed
vessel, and there was a torrential inrush of
The boats slipped clear of the Maori. Soon
afterwards they lost sight of her in the mist
and the rain. The weather was so thick that
the boats failed to come together.
The chief officer, in charge of the port life-
boat, got a momentary glance of the other
two. He hailed them, and received an answering 
hail. Then the mist closed down, and they were lost to view.
Fearing the rooks, the chief officer decided
to stand well out to sea. The water was
heavy, and the men thinly clad, sodden with
rain, and shivering with the bitter cold of the
night, found it a matter of extreme difficulty
to keep the boat's head to the seas that were
rolling in.
They had not the faintest idea as to their
whereabouts; and their one hope was that
dawn would break and give them an inkling 
of their position. The night was pitch-dark, 
and the sight of the unfortunate men was 
indeed pitiful. All through the long hours they
kept at the oars, simply pulling the boat's,
bent against the seas that at intervals half
swamped her.
The chief officer saw ahead what looked to
be a stretch of white sand, and the bows of
the boat were turned in that direction. Immediately 
afterwards a heavy breaker struck
from behind, and the next minute
the lifeboat was cast upon a rock with
terrific force. All the occupants were flung
into the water and with what little strength
remained after the trials of the night all
succeeded in clutching hold of the gunwale of
the boat.
With the surf washing over them, Stewart,
the boatswain, encouraged the men to hold
fast. The waves continued to lash over the men 
until some of them, utterly exhausted, relented their hold.
The survivors, numbering nine, after a rest,
(having landed on the beach) made their way 
through the bush, and eventually 
reached a farm, where the inmates gave them attention.

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Wednesday 18 August, 1909.

LONDON, August 17.
An official enquiry, concluded at Cape
Town yesterday, into the wreck of the
Shaw-Savill liner Maori, 4,155 tons, on 
August 5 a few miles south of Cape Town,
showed that the cause of the disaster was
an abnormal inset due to a heavy gale. The
captain and officers of the vessel were

The winter of 1909 was harsh, two vessels meeting their fate along the South African coast. What had
become of the Waratah no one knew but survivors of the Maori fortunately lived to tell their tale. The
Maori incident further deepened distress and anxiety about the Waratah, with graphic details appearing
in the press of a harsh, unforgiving sea. Whatever had overtaken the Waratah must have been sudden
and merciful, but relatives and friends were never to learn the truth in their lifetimes.

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