During the 1930s, TSMV "Wanganella" was a top-rated trans-Tasman passenger liner, with accommodation for 304 First Class and 104 Second Class passengers. She plied her trade between Auckland, Wellington, (New Zealand) and Sydney and Melbourne in Australia between 12 January, 1933 and 25 July, 1962. Each crossing of the Tasman Sea took three and a half days. The "Wanganella" had a break from the trans-Tasman trade during WWII when she served as a Hospital ship for the Australian Government. During the 1950s and 1960s, airline competition made trans-Tasman shipping less viable. In 1963 she was moored in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand and used as hostel for construction workers building the Manapouri Power Station. In April 1970 a tug towed her to Hong Kong, then later Taiwan where she was scrapped.


Construction and pre-World War II

"Wanganella" was built at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland and launched on 17 December, 1929. She was originally christened "Achimota", and destined for use as a mail and passenger liner for the West African trade. The commissioning owners, The Royal Mail Group, suffered financial trouble as a result of the Great Depression, and Harland & Wolff sold "Achimota" to defray building expenses. The vessel was bought by the Melbourne-based Australian shipping company Huddart Parker at a bargain-basement price in September 1932, and commenced regular service on 12 January, 1933.

During her time she had her fair share of excitement. On 28 December, 1937 she collided with a trawler off the coast of New South Wales. On 19 June, 1940 she assisted with the rescue of passengers from the RMS "Niagara", after the latter hit a mine and sank off the coast of Auckland.

Hospital ship

During World War II, "Wanganella" was converted to serve as an Australian Hospital Ship (AHS). Between May 1941 and 1946, AHS "Wanganella" carried wounded and sick evacuees from the Middle East, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Borneo and the South Pacific.

A recently-liberated soldier from Batu Lintang camp, Kuching, Sarawak wrote of her:

"My first real sight of the hospital ship occurred at a range of well over a mile ... Distances and sizes of things at sea can be very deceptive ... [and] I realised she was far bigger in all respects than I had imagined. "Wanganella", for such was her magic name, rode quietly at anchor unperturbed by wind or tide, unreal, dazzling white, clinically neat, a heavenly ship waiting patiently as a lover to receive us. ... I swayed with the motion of the MTB. My liberator Massey laughed at my weakness but enthused, 'This is one hell of a good ship. You'll be alright now cobber!' It seemed a contradiction interms to call "Wanganella" 'a hell of a ship'; to me she appeared as a vessel from another world, but I understood his concern to reassure me that indeed there was now hope of a future for us all. The port side of the ship towered high above us. I viewed with dismay the formidable rank of steps leading from the launch to the main deck. ... The slow energy sapping climb began. Each patient, for that was what we had become; was escorted by male Australian nurses. They were taking good care, that even as we had been snatched from under the Japanese heel, we should not fall now, and be claimed by the sea. ... After an eternity of endeavour, advancing one step at a time, one by one we reached the deck. Behind me a voice avowed 'I would not like to have to do that all over again.' It was Slim Landers: I was not sure whether he meant the climb up the gangway or the three and a half years at Batu Lintang." [Ooi 1998, 640-1. The author was L. E. Morris, who weighed five stone, three pounds (73 lb/33 kg) on his liberation]

"Wanganella" served as a hospital ship from 19 May 1941 until 1946, during which time she covered convert|251011|nmi|km|0 and transported 13,385 wounded.Smith (1992). Pg. 19]


On her maiden voyage after the war, "Wanganella" had a narrow escape when she ran aground on Barrett Reef (later to claim "Wahine" with 51 lives lost) at the entrance to Wellington Harbour in New Zealand. On 19 January, 1947, while making its first trans-Tasman voyage after the war, "Wanganella" struck Barrett Reef just before midnight and stuck fast. The weather conditions were unusually benign, and remained so for the 18 days the ship spent on the reef. (Such benign weather is still known in Wellington as Wanganella weather). No-one was injured, and the passengers were taken off the ship the morning after the accident. The damage she incurred put her out of action for twenty-two months, mainly as a result of industrial action while she was laid-up in a floating dock for repairs.

"Wanganella" was caught up again in industrial action; this time in the 1951 New Zealand waterfront dispute. This 151-day-long industrial battle between the employers and the watersiders in New Zealand began when watersiders refused to work overtime. The New Zealand Government, hand-in-glove with the employers, was determined to smash the union and introduced Emergency Regulations. The army was brought in to work the wharves. "Wanganella" became involved in smuggling money and manpower between Australia and New Zealand, with her Australian crew carrying thousands of pounds to New Zealand from various unions in Australia, in support of their New Zealand comrades.

In 1963 a last-minute reprieve from the scrapyard came from engineers tendering for the contract for construction of the Manapouri Power Station in New Zealand. Between 1963 and 1970, "Wanganella" was moored in Doubtful Sound to be used as a hostel for workers building the tailrace tunnel, and the Wilmot Pass access road. "Wanganella" was sold for scrap in 1970, and was towed to Hong Kong, then Taiwan.



* Ooi, Keat Gin (1998) "Japanese Empire in the Tropics: Selected Documents and Reports of the Japanese Period in Sarawak, Northwest Borneo, 1941-1945" Ohio University Center for International Studies, Monographs in International Studies, SE Asia Series 101 (2 vols) ISBN: 0-89680-199-3

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