TYRONE, steamer : The largest vessel to be wrecked on the coast of the South Island to date, the Tyrone struck on the rocks just south of Otago Heads at 4 a.m. on September 27, 1913, and became a total loss. The casualty was caused by a heavy fog which lay like a cap over the land, obscuring the light on Taiaroa Head, and rendering it impossible to determine the direction of the fog signals which were heard from the lighthouse. A curious feature was that the fog did not extend seaward, where conditions were quite clear.

The Tyrone left Lyttelton on September 26 for Dunedin, and various courses were steered until the vessel was abreast of Akaroa lighthouse, which was abeam at 3.25 p.m., distant about four miles. It was a fine evening, and the course was set for Otago Heads. The second officer reported seeing Moeraki light at 1.20 a.m., bearing S. 24 W. This being as the master expected, he ordered the second officer to alter course to S. 29 W. The weather was then overcast, but clear. At about 3.40 a.m., when the log showed 146 miles as the distance run, the master told the second officer to have it hauled in, with a view to getting ready for anchoring. About 10 minutes later the captain heard the explosive fog signal on Taiaroa Head, and felt assured that he was a good distance from the shore. He waited for the second fog signal, which confirmed the first, and ordered the engines to be slowed down. It was then 4 a.m., and all the officers were listening for the fog signal. The fourth officer reported the light visible on the port bow. In the meantime the lead was cast, and it gave the master the first intimation that his ship was aground. He could see no land, and received a report that there was 24 feet of water on the starboard how. The engines were kept going full speed astern for some time, but the ship did not respond.

With the light, reported by the fourth officer, noted in his mind, and the 24 feet of water on the starboard bow, the captain ported the helm and ordered full speed ahead, thinking the steamer was on the Spit. About two minutes later he saw land on the port quarter, and realised the position of the steamer. The master again ordered full speed astern in an effort to navigate the Tyrone out by the same route by which she entered. About 10 a.m., as the tide rose, the Tyrone began to show signs of going astern. The steamer had been worked about 250 feet astern when the tug Plucky, which had arrived on the scene, commenced to tow on the starboard quarter. The Tyrone was slowly worked astern, but the Plucky was not sufficiently powerful to keep the larger vessel’s stern to seaward, and the Tyrone settled down on Wahine Point. After striking a rock it was realised that No. 3 hold was pierced, by the noise of the air coming out of the air pipe. It was next found that the port propeller had jammed on the rocks.

The Tyrone lay in a most exposed position, broadside on, and although hopes were entertained at one time of refloating the vessel, she became a total wreck. First she took a big list seaward, and then the hull assumed a badly twisted appearance as an increasing sea pounded the steamer. Later, the Tyrone parted in two, first the fore part and then the after part disappearing as the result of two heavy southerly gales. The rescue of the steamer’s crew presented very little difficulty, and shortly after midday on the day of the stranding preparations were made to land her complement of 70 persons, five of whom had been employed on the steamer Devon when she was wrecked at Wellington Heads a month previously. At the stern the cliff was no more than 80 feet high. A ladder, 20 feet long, was obtained from the steamer to bridge the short span between the ship and the cliff, then a leading line enabled the men to scramble up over the rocks the remainder of the distance, some 20 or 30 yards, to level ground.

At the Court of Inquiry the master admitted that he had made a mistake by confusing the distance from Akaroa light to Taiaroa Head-147 mileswith the distance from Lyttelton to Taiaroa Head -155.7 miles. This error led him to believe that the steamer had still approximately nine miles further to run. Independent evidence was also tendered to the effect that the usual set or current running northwards was running strongly to the south between September 26 and 28. The court held that the loss of the Tyrone was not caused, directly or indirectly, by careless navigation on the part of the master; and that from the reports received he was justified in proceeding on his course without taking soundings or reducing speed. As the cause pointed mainly to an error of judgement the assessors agreed that the master’s certificate should be returned to him.

The Tyrone, No. 114,064, was a steel, twin-screw steamer of 6,664 tons gross and 4,295 tons net register, built at Belfast in 1901 by Messrs. Workman, Clark and Company, and her dimensions were: length 450.5 ft., beam 55.2 ft., depth 30.6 ft. Her engines were of 662 h.p. nominal. The Tyrone was owned by the Union Steam Ship Company, but was employed in the trade between West of England ports and New Zealand, and was controlled by the Federal-Houlder-Shire Company. She was ruder the command of Captain A. F. G. McLaughlan. (See plate 71.)

scroll to top