Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Last Voyage of the Loch Lomond – 1908 – Part 2

The Loch Lomond on the left, Geelong harbour, Victoria, Australia.

The waters around New Zealand have claimed over 2000 ships in the past two centuries. As recorded in a previous post in July, the barque Loch Lomond was one of them.

By 24th August 1908, the Loch Lomond carrying a cargo of coal was some 40 days out of Newcastle, Australia but had not reached its New Zealand port Lyttelton. The schooner Falcon had reported sighting a sailing barque in Cook Strait, separating the North and South Islands on 9th August. The unidentified barque was seen running before a southerly gale but newspaper reports declared that given a rash of bad weather it was not surprising the Loch Lomond had not yet arrived.

The commonly-held view at the time was that a search was unwarranted or too huge a task. The most likely fate of a sailing ship was that it was wrecked or having been dismasted by bad weather she foundered. If a sailing vessel was disabled something could normally be rigged to get it underway again. A sailing vessel could drift off course quickly compared to a disabled steamer so any search area could widen rapidly. Wireless telegraphy was not yet in use on New Zealand ships, another two years passing before the first marine radio being installed on a passenger steamer.

It was not until 5th September that the Union Company ordered its other vessels to keep a lookout for the Loch Lomond. No sightings were reported. In mid October reports began to come in from the north of the North Island of wreckage linked to the Loch Lomond. A fisherman found a lifebuoy bearing the Loch Lomond’s name off Great Barrier Island. In the next six weeks further wreckage including the name board of the Lock Lomond were located along the coastline of the northern tip of the North Island. Wreckage was recovered as far south as the Chatham Islands over 800 km due east of Christchurch on the South Island.

Reflecting how far flotsam can travel, nearly a year after it sailed from Australia, a further lifebuoy was recovered in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu today).

No sign of the 19 crew aboard the Loch Lomond was ever found despite searches to the north & south of New Zealand and along tran-Tasman steamer routes. Two theories were advanced to explain the ship’s fate – it was either wrecked or foundered somewhere off the north of the North Island or it suffered a similar fate after passing through Cook Strait with strong sea currents accounting for the distribution of wreckage recovered.

On 12th February 1909 the interisland steamer, SS Penguin sank near the entrance to Wellington Harbour in Cook Strait with the loss of 75 lives. This disaster overshadowed the loss of the Loch Lomond in New Zealand maritime history. This short account seeks to remember the Loch Lomond nineteen who might otherwise be lost to history.

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