THE SAD TALE OF SS TARARUA

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Jeff Thorpe
Posts: 313
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 3:54 pm

THE SAD TALE OF SS TARARUA

Post by Jeff Thorpe » Wed Aug 24, 2016 1:33 pm

THE SAD TALE OF SS TARARUA

Jeff Thorpe © 15 August 2016


Ship builders must swell with pride when one of theirs meets fame,
and mourn if disaster strikes a craft that bears their name.
Such would be the case for Gourlay Brothers of Dundee
with Tararua's sinking in an unforgiving sea.
A screw driven passenger steamship built in 1864,
one of 230 that hailed from Gourlay’s door,
owned by Union Steamship Co, three masted and twin engined
she made New Zealand history though surely not intentioned.

On 29 April 1881 Tararua sailed from Port Chalmers bound for Bluff,
then to continue on to Melbourne, a course known well enough,
a regular passenger service with one fifty-one on board,
Melbourne arrival that one in particular looked toward.
Ship’s captain Frank Garrard was travelling to his wedding,
little knowing the tragedy to which his ship was heading.
Near dawn on the next morning the ship struck Otara Reef
off Waipapa Point, the start of unimaginable grief.

Rocks broke the ship’s propeller and unshipped its rudder
pinning it to the reef with an unrelenting shudder.
The first lifeboat holed on launching, a second reached the land
though with sparse population no help was on hand.
A telegraph was sent to Dunedin asking for support,
ironically not marked urgent thus, assistance fell well short.
By noon the wind had risen and the swell intensified,
another lifeboat capsized, seven trying to swim died.

The ship was breaking up and first the stern went under,
passengers clinging to wreckage quickly dashed asunder,
the only lifeboat left could not breach the waves,
numerous poor souls were dispatched to watery graves.
Those left on board moved forward and on to the rigging
but, their fate was sealed, the elements unremitting.
2.30AM next morning was heard the last victims’ cries,
at daybreak only floating wreckage, the sea had claimed its prize.

To this day New Zealand’s worst civilian shipping disaster,
one hundred and thirty-one passed on to their hereafter,
only twenty persons survived, for days bodies swept ashore,
a graveyard set up at Otara on land vacant before.
Known as Tararua acre, fifty-five were buried there
and a plaque erected to commemorate the sad affair.
Initially Captain Garrard was interred at this ground
but later reburied at Christchurch in a pioneer compound.

A Court of Inquiry assigned much blame to Captain Garrard
plus a lookout, seaman Weston for failing to safeguard
Tararua’s position which was too close to the shoreline
and which could have been rectified by the use of a lead line.
Some say Garrard a scapegoat with no right of reply
though with such a great catastrophe, facts awkward to deny
yet, two important recommendations came from the Inquiry,
vital for future shipping and having no expiry.

Firstly, the need for a lighthouse at Waipapa Point,
an endorsement that for mariners did not disappoint,
Tararua not alone in perishing at Waipapa,
Otara Reef for shipping a major handicapper,
the barque William Ackers wrecked there five years before,
eight of eleven crew the greatest sacrifice bore.
As such, in 1884 a lighthouse built and lit
for nine nautical miles does the powerful beam emit.

The second recommendation dealt with lifebelt provision,
for maritime safety, a no brainer decision.
Incredibly, Tararua had only twelve lifebelts on board,
woefully inadequate and not to be ignored,
not unexpected, the Court forthwith instituted
lifebelts for all passengers and crew, an order undisputed.
As well the inquiry directed, life boat drills to be compulsory
and held at stated intervals not treated as perfunctory.

Major edicts certainly, but little consolation
for those whose lives were lost in utter desolation,
a tragedy by all accounts which could have been prevented
instead, a stain on history which has been long lamented.
A bitter lesson learned to promote safety on the ocean,
achieved it must be said with vast outpouring of emotion,
one thirty-one reasons why seafarers of today
owe a debt to Tararua every time they cast away.
Last edited by Jeff Thorpe on Thu Aug 25, 2016 9:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Shelley
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Location: Maryborough, Queensland
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Re: THE SAD TALE OF SS TARARUA

Post by Shelley » Thu Aug 25, 2016 7:42 am

Hi Jeff

What a sad tale - so well told. Congratulations on your detailed research! Maritime history has so many lessons, too often learned the hard way at the cost of human life. Our coastline is littered with the wrecked evidence! As you so rightly say ...
A bitter lesson learned to promote safety on the ocean,
achieved it must be said with vast outpouring of emotion,
one thirty-one reasons why seafarers of today
owe a debt to Tararua every time they cast away.
By the way, you might want to edit your post - there is a gap after the poem but if you scroll down you'll see the text appears again. A little glitch with your cut-and-paste in the marvels of modern technology, I'd say. ;)

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

Jeff Thorpe
Posts: 313
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 3:54 pm

Re: THE SAD TALE OF SS TARARUA

Post by Jeff Thorpe » Thu Aug 25, 2016 9:16 am

Thanks Shelley

Cutting and posting not my speciality. I'm more at home with a pair of scissors and a jar of clag

Cheers, Jeff

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