Port Elliot 1924

Port Elliot 1924

PORT ELLIOTT, steamer: The vessel was bound from Auckland to Wellington when, shortly before midnight on January 12, 1924, and in thick weather, she stranded near Horoera Point, between Te Araroa and East Cape, and 80 miles north of Gisborne. At 8.30 a.m. on the 13th the ship was lying on a reef about 300 yards from the shore, with her bow slightly dipped and her stern out of water.

Shortly after midnight the settlers in the neighbourhood of Horoera Point were awakened by a ship’s siren, followed by distress signals. The crew of 70 had taken to the boats at about 3.30 a.m., and remained near the ship until the arrival of the steamer Tutanekai, which had received a wireless message from the Port Elliott, and had raced to the scene. The Port Victor and the steamers Arahura and Awahou also went to the rescue of the crew, while the small steamers Kuru and Koutunui were despatched from Napier and Tolaga Bay respectively to assist in salvage operations.

The Port Elliott did not shift after she struck at 11.41 p.m. Her forehold commenced to leak, and there was eight feet of water in the engine-room on the morning of January 13. Several of the ship’s plates were then twisted and buckled. The night was pitch dark, with a thick fog, when the vessel struck; the steamer was travelling at about 13 knots, and without warning went over the reef. She seemed just to slide over the reef and then stop. The order for, full speed astern was given without altering her position. After about an hour the Port Elliott commenced to go down by the head. The engines rested on the reef, and every time the ship moved they remained stationary.

The Tutanekai rescued the crew from the boats and transferred the men to the Port Victor, which conveyed them to Wellington. The Port Elliott remained upright and half broadside on to the sea, much out of water. She was fast amidships. An increasing swell caused her stern to swing slightly shoreward. Attempts were made to get ropes ashore to prevent the vessel from slipping off, but the steamer later shifted about 50 yards closer inshore and sank deeper into the reef. The ship was flooded with 10 feet of water from end to end, and soon became a total wreck.

The Port Elliott was carrying about 2,500 tons of cargo, consisting largely of motor cars. When she struck the impact was fairly severe. At about 0.45 a.m. the vessel had made three or four feet of water all over. The bulkhead between the engineroom and the boiler-room at that time showed grave danger of collapsing, and the engines appeared likely to break down, the engine bed having been affected by the pressure from the rock on which the ship was resting. As the Port Elliott might break in half at any minute the lifeboats were launched and the whole crew left. There was no mishap. On January 15 the ship had the listless roll of a waterlogged vessel.

At the inquiry into the loss of the Port Elliott, the court held that there was a set inshore of which the master was unaware, and therefore could not provide against; that the course set at 10.05 p.m. would have cleared the East Cape, but owing to the third officer reporting a light in the direction and corresponding to that at East Cape the master altered the course at 10.25 p.m., which the court held he was justified in doing; he was also justified in assuming that the light reported to him was the East Cape Light, although, in fact, it was a bush fire showing at intervals. The court was of the opinion that the set and alteration of the course combined bined resulted in the casualty, but that under the circumstances and existing weather conditions it was not caused by the wrongful act or default of the master, officers or crew, and the certificates of the master and third officer were returned to them.

This was the second time that the Port Elliott had appeared in a hopeless position on the New Zealand coast. She was formerly named Indrabarah. “Indrabarah ashore seven miles north of Rangitikei and breaking up fast” was the laconic message despatched from Marton on May 10, 1913. The weather was very bad, with the wind in a bad quarter. The master was credited with the report that the ship was breaking up. She was a quarter of a mile from shore in a heavy sea, but later reports showed that she was embedded in the sand. There were no rocks to damage the hull, but she had to stand the full violence of the southerly and westerly weather. The vessel had reached Wanganui Heads, but could not secure satisfactory anchorage and kept on the move, and in very dirty weather she finally grounded, bow on to the shore. When daylight arrived a boat attempted to make the shore. On getting clear of the shelter of the ship, the boat received the full force of the storm, and two men were washed overboard. One was hauled back, but the other was in the water about two hours until rescued by a companion who went out with a line. In the meantime the Union Company’s tug Terawhiti arrived on the scene from Wellington, and the prospects of refloating the Indrabarah were considered good.

During the following two weeks several attempts were made to get the steamer off, but without success. By June 12 it was estimated that the attempts to salvage the vessel must have cost about £10,000. By June 24 the prospects were blacker than ever, the steamer being a few yards from the beach at low tide. But early in July the startling news came through that the Indrabarah was afloat, and she steamed into Wellington almost before the people knew that operations extending over two months had been brought to a ‘successful conclusion. This was the result of a combination of a very high tide, a light wind off shore, a line from the Terawhiti, and the turning of the Indrabarah’s own propellers, which had been badly damaged. The Indrabarah was docked at Port Chalmers from July 29 until September 10. The rudder was badly twisted throughout its entire length, and about 10 feet of the lower end had been carried away. The blades of both propellers were broken to half of their length, having apparently come into contact with some solid material. When the broken rudder and damaged propellers were taken into consideration the safe navigation of the Indrabarah to Wellington, and then to Port Chalmers, was a very meritorious performance. The work of overhauling the Indrabarah was one of the largest jobs undertaken at the southern port. The Indrabarah was subsequently loaded at New Zealand ports, and, while en route to London, stranded in the Suez Canal, but she was not seriously damaged.

The Port Elliott, No. 131,279, was a steel, twinscrew, four-masted steamer of 7,395 tons gross and 4,664 tons net register, built at Newcastle-on-Tyne in August, 1910, by Messrs. Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd., and her dimensions were : length 471 ft., beam 58.4 ft., depth 31.6 ft. Her engines were of 755 nominal horse-power. When the Tyser Line merged into the Commonwealth and Dominion Line the Indrabarah was renamed Port Elliott, and had been a constant trader to Australia and New Zealand. The Port Elliott was under the command of Captain A. J. Fishwick when she was wrecked. (See plate 92.)

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