Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Interisland Ferry - The Rotomahana

Postcard view of the Rotomahana at anchor in Wellington Harbour

Built in 1879 by the Dennys Shipyard, the Rotomahana was the first mild steel ocean-going merchant steamer in the world. On its voyage out to New Zealand it broke records for sailing times for various ports. Capable of carrying 195 first class (saloon) passengers and 105 2nd class passengers, its crew complement numbered 53.

Upon arrival in New Zealand, the Rotomahana entered the intercolonial service - the trans-Tasman trade in today's parlance - until it was transferred to the interisland service between Wellington and Lyttelton.

Its speed & reduced sailing times combined with the rakish style of its funnel, sail yards, and its bow figurehead quickly made the Rotomahana a popular vessel with passengers and within the Union Steamship Company. While expensive compared to slower, iron ships it turned in strong profits immediately.

The Rotomahana entered the interisland ferry service between Wellington and Lyttelton in 1899 and stayed on the run until 1910. Subsequently it entered the Union Company's Tasmanian coastal service running to Launceston. It was scrapped in 1926.

According to the electoral rolls, in 1905, Joseph McLean was third engineer on the Rotomahana and was based in Lyttelton. Within a year or two he was promoted by the Union Company to chief engineer on its vessels operating in the New Zealand coastal trade such as the Kini and the Hawea.

In 1908 his skills as a marine engineer were tested to the limit by the Hawea's drifting dead-in-the-water for more than a month in the Tasman Sea before effecting sufficient repairs to the stern shaft to get the Hawea under power to return to port. This was followed barely two months later with the Hawea striking the bar at Greymouth and being dashed on North Head by breakers, eventually breaking apart.

No comments: