1924: Ripple founders

SS Ripple in Wellington Harbour, date unknown
SS Ripple in Wellington Harbour, date unknown. Alexander Turnbull Library

Evening Post (Wellington), 7 August 1924, p 6


Early this morning a message was received in Wellington that the small Richardson steamer Ripple, which left here at 3.30 pm yesterday for Napier, had broken down and was drifting helplessly in the vicinity of Cape Palliser.

The weather was very bad at the time and a high sea was running before the south-westerly gale, and was according to the meagre information received before the wires to Cape Palliser came down, driving the vessel off the shore.

A wireless message was dispatched to the ferry steamer Mararoa, then halfway between Lyttelton and Wellington, to change her course and keep a lookout for the distressed vessel and all other ships in the neighbourhood were instructed to go to her assistance if she was sighted.

Unfortunately, the Union Company’s tug Terawhiti was undergoing overhaul, and was not available to make the trip, but the steam trawler Futurist was in port, and it was decided, if no further news came through, to send her out as soon as the weather moderated with equipment for towing the Ripple back to port. Conditions at the Heads were such, however, as to obviate the possibility of sending out a small boat, and it was hoped that one of the several vessels in the vicinity would be able to render assistance in time.

The wind this afternoon was holding steadily from the south-west, but a change of direction means that the Ripple would be forced towards the coast-line with possibly disastrous results.

A wireless message from the Mararoa at noon reported that she would arrive at Wellington, at 4 o’clock this afternoon.

The Mararoa saw no signs of the Ripple.

In addition, visibility outside the Heads was very low, and the chances are that even if the distressed steamer was within a few miles of the rescuing vessels she could not be seen., Further details should be available when the Mararoa arrives this afternoon.

The Ripple is a steel single-screw steamer of 413 gross, and 174 net tons, built at Hardinxveld in 1905 by Messrs Vliet and Co for the Canterbury Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. Her dimensions are: 141ft 7in, beam 24ft, depth 11ft 3in. She was purchased by the Richardson Company, of Napier, in 1910, and since then has been engaged in the East Coast service, with an occasional trip to the South Island. Captain JA Norling is in command, and he has a crew of 17.

The Futurist had not sailed in search of the Ripple at a late hour this afternoon and it is doubtful if she does get away whether she will be able to pass the Heads on account of the abnormal seas running.

Evening Post (Wellington), 8 August 1924, p 8


Though there was an optimistic feeling in shipping circles yesterday afternoon and evening that the small coastal steamer Ripple, which signalled her distress off Cape Palliser early yesterday morning, would ride on up the coast before the heavy south-westerly gale, the worst is now feared, as a telephonic message was received by the Superintendent of Police about midday to-day, from the officer in charge of the Masterton station, to the effect that a lifeboat containing the body of a man had been found on the beach at Flat Point, about fifty miles up the East Coast from Cape Palliser.

Beyond the bare statement that the boat and body have been found on the beach, there is at the time of writing no detail, and whether or not the boat is from the steamer Ripple is not definitely known in Wellington, though it is presumed that such is the case.

On receipt of the information from Flat Point, a body of police was immediately dispatched from Masterton to render help if help can be given and to make further inquiries.

A Press Association message from Masterton states:— Telephonic communication from coast this afternoon stated that the dead body of a seaman and a lifeboat had been washed up on the beach near Flat Point Station.

Further information received in the city this afternoon definitely established the fact that the lifeboat is from the missing steamer. The body recovered was not in the boat, but on the beach nearby.

The failure of the Mararoa to pick up any sign of the vessel in Palliser Bay was considered very good news, for it was believed that the Ripple, which was looked upon as a particularly good sea boat, would, by putting on the small amount of sail often carried by small coasters, be able to hold off the land and up the coast until picked up or until repairs could be effected to the engines or propeller shaft, or what may have been the cause of the breakdown. The wind, being several points from the west, would tend to keep the vessel on a fairly safe course, maintained those who know the dangerous east coast, whereas had she been unable to clear Cape Palliser there could have been little hope for her in the face of the whole gale and mountainous seas in the bay. These hopes, however, have apparently been not securely founded.


Captain JA Norling is in command of the Ripple, and has his residence in Wellington.

Mr Nicholson, chief officer, is unmarried.

The second officer, Mr D M’Allister, holds a master’s ticket, having at various times been in command of vessels of the Richardson Company. He is a married man, and lives in Napier. He signed on recently as “relieving officer.”

The chief engineer, Mr JB Neilson, joined the Ripple about a month ago to take the place of the late Mr J Glover, who died in Wellington on Wednesday evening. His home is at Johnsonville, and he is married.

The second engineer, Mr WJ Meban, is married,. and lives at 16, Murphy Street, Wellington.

The vessel’s complement also includes five able seamen, two firemen, a cook, and a steward, the majority of whom have their homes in Napier. As the crew signed on at Napier, full details of the members of the crew are not available at the local office of Richardson and Co, but it is known that the crew includes the following:—
B Johanson, AB, single.
O Dybdale, AB, married, living at Napier.
B Gustafsson, AB, single.
R Williamson, AB, married, living at Norway Street, Wellington, in Mav, 1922.
WR Bruce, AB, single.
PC Cavey, AB, single, living in Newtown.
Robert Nelson, fireman, single, living in Wellington.
J Way, fireman, thought to be married, living in Wellington.
John Offer, fireman, of 31, Grafton Road, Roseneath. He is a married man, about 45 years of age, and has no children. He is well known on the West Coast, where he was a miner for many years, and latterly took to seafaring.


Mr Barton, Jun, of Trentham, was not a passenger by the vessel. He went to Napier on a previous trip, and intended returning by the Ripple on her return trip this time.


Although the worst is feared, some hopes are entertained that the Ripple is still running before the wind, now probably much abated, and that an attempt was made in the early morning hours to send a boat ashore, a mishap then occurring. A vigorous search is proceeding from the shore for signs of the remaining ship’s lifeboats off-shore.


The Ripple, probably one of the best known units of the local coastal fleet, was built for the Canterbury Steamship Company of New Zealand in 1905, and she was purchased five years later by Messrs Richardson and Co, of Napier. Since then she has been engaged mainly in the Wellington-East Coast trade, carrying produce from Wellington to Napier and calling on the return at the various stations on the East Coast for wool. She is a steel single-screw steamer of 413 tons gross and 174 tons net. Her principal dimensions are:— Length, 141 ft 7in; beam, 24ft; depth, 11ft 3in. She has the reputation of being a very lino sea boat.


The steam trawler Futurist, which was to leave port yesterday immediately the weather moderated, was unable to get away till 10 o’clock last night. Even then she met with tremendous seas at the Heads and shipped heavy seas before she made her clearance. It was considered when the Futurist left port that she would have to make a long run up the coast if the Ripple was, as it was hoped, running before the wind and that if she should come up with her, she would perforce have to carry the tow on up to Napier.

Neither the Ripple nor the Futurist carry wireless installations, and consequently no word can be expected of the movements of the trawler until her return to port, unless she is able to signal ashore to one or another of the several sheep stations on the coast, which are connected with Wellington or Masterton by telephone.

As was stated in yesterday’s “Post,” telephonic communication with Cape Palliser broke down on account of a failure of the line, immediately after the bare message that the Ripple was in distress had bean sent through. Had communication with the Cape been maintained it is possible that the Mararoa could have been given directions which would have taken her without delay to the drifting coaster, providing, or course, the the Ripple remained in sight of the Cape through the driving rain and the mist and spume of the storm.


Extremely boisterous weather wis reported by the ferry steamer Mararoa, which, while en route from Lyttelton to Wellington on Wednesday night, was instructed by wireless to proceed to Cape Palliser for signs of the Ripple, and which in consequence did not arrive here until 3.30 pm yesterday. Although no damage was done, it was obvious from the appearance of the Mararoa that she had had a rough handling in the Straits, and there was not one of the passengers but seemed well pleased that the vessel was safe in port. Captain TB Sewell stated that the wireless message was first picked up at 2.30 am yesterday, and, accordingly, a course was steered for Cape Palliser. At 6.30 am the vessel reached Palliser, but did not see the missing steamer, although she spent nearly four hours cruising around in the vicinity. The weather was very thick and the visibility so low that it was doubtful whether the Ripple could have been seen a mile away, and as the waves driven up by the fierce gale, had assumed huge proportions and were breaking on the deck, Captain Sewell decided to make Wellington without delay. However, the seas at the Heads were unusually big and the vessel had to stand off for several hours before she was able to effect an entrance. One member of the crew probably expressed the opinion of all on board when he said, “I’ve never, in all my life, seen such seas!”


On being communicated with by telephone by a “Post” reporter at 3 o clock this afternoon, Mr Charles Cameron, of Flat Point, stated that early this morning a Flat Point rabbiter found that a lifeboat had drifted ashore. The name Ripple was on the lifeboat, and the dead body of a sailor lay alongside.

Mr Cameron added that at Flat Point they had not seen any sign of the Ripple.

Captain Petersen, on receiving first advice from Mr Cameron that a boat had been washed ashore at Flat Point, issued instructions for men on horse back to make a search of the coast north and south of that point. It was subsequent to that that the report was received that a body had also been washed ashore. No further word has been received by Captain Petersen.


The coastline from Cape Palliser to Flat Point, where it is reported that a body has been found, is particularly treacherous, and holds out considerable danger to vessels that have to negotiate a southerly storm. The coastline is low, formed of sand and shingle beaches, with rocky points and ledges extending here and there about one mile off the shore. Flat Point, which is twenty-four miles south from Casllepoint, is a low projection with a sandy tongue running a short way out, with a rocky ledge extending to the northward for a mile. There is a reef running in a north-east and south-west direction for about half a mile.

The first landing is at Mr Eric Riddiford’s station Tora, 40 miles north-east of Cape Palliser. Castlepoint, 20 miles further on, offers very slight shelter, but there is good anchorage at Cape Kidnappers, which is, however, a further 128 miles up the coast from Cape Palliser.

Reports from Flat Point are that a south-east gale was raging there all day yesterday and throughout the night. At present the weather is squally.

Auckland Star, 9 Aug 1924, p 7


(By Telegraph.—Special to “Star.”)

In the House of Representatives to-night sympathetic reference was made to the Ripple disaster, and a protest was voiced against the absence of wireless installation on the vessel.

“I rise to speak of one matter only, and it is a matter of life and death,” said Mr P Fraser (Wellington Central). “The hearts of the whole people of New Zealand have been stirred during the last two days in connection with sad news about the steamer Ripple, and the fate which apparently has either overtaken her, or what she is enduring at the present time. We are hopeful that instead of the tragedy revealed by the lifeboat and the body which have come ashore, that still the ship herself has gone further up the coast, and has sought and obtained some harbour of refuge, but we do not know — we have no means of knowing. There is no wireless installation aboard that ship — to the discredit, be it said, of the Parliament of this country, which has not seen to the matter earlier.

“This matter has been brought up repeatedly on the floor of this house. I, personally, have brought it up, and also other members. There is a question on the Order Paper at present. The question is by the member for Grey Lynn (Mr Bartram), and is to ask the Minister of Marine whether, in the interests of the travelling public, he will give instructions, or if he has not the power to do so, if he will bring down legislation this session, compelling the installation of wireless in all coastal vessels? Then this very important note is added. During the overhauling of the SS Arahura her place on the Napier and Auckland run was taken by the SS Manaia, which was not equipped with wireless. Quite recently she experienced a very trying time, and was lost sight of for hours in one of the worst gales experienced on the East Coast, and disaster might easily have occurred. A wireless installation would have enabled assistance to be called in such a case.

“I find,” continued Mr Fraser, “that the Ripple, and the ship Futurist, which was sent out to search for the Ripple, are both without wireless. The Futurist may have been the best searching ship available in the harbour at the time she was sent out. I do not know — that is a matter for experts to determine – but one thing we do know, and that is she is not equipped with wireless. Nobody knows where she is at present, and nobody knows what the result of her search has been. Consequently, no word can be expected from the trawler until she returns to port, unless she is able to signal to some o£ the sheep stations along the coast. I ask that this should be stopped for all time round the New Zealand coast.”

Reform and other Members: Hear, hear.

“This Parliament has power, and Government has power, and I am going to appeal to the Premier and ask him to tell us definitely to-night that from now onwards no ship, passenger or cargo vessel, will leave our ports without wireless installation so that the men who go down to the sea in ships and battle with the waves, and upon whom so much of the prosperity of the country depends, and who always play their part nobly and well, will have their ships equipped with a most scientific and up-to-date method of communication. Everybody in this country is watching anxiously, and hoping against hope, even when they fear the worst in regard to the Ripple.”

The Premier made sympathetic reference to the disaster and to the mourning which had been caused in many homes. He did not wish to prejudge anything, because there won’t be an exhaustive inquiry into what had taken place, and an attempt, [?] successfully to find [?] of what had occurred. [?] the Minister of Marine [?] say that nothing would be left undone to prevent a recurrence of the disaster such as had happened at our doors.

Additional paragraph breaks added to improve readability. Some words in the final paragraph are illegible.

Evening Post (Wellington), 15 August 1924, p 6


The chapel of the Sailors’ Friend Society Institute was crowded last evening when the Prime Minister (the Right Hon WF Massey) unveiled a memorial tablet to the men who lost their lives in the sinking of the coastal steamer Ripple, the tablet being inscribed:

To the glory of God and in loving memory of the late captain, officers, and crew of the s.s. Ripple, which foundered at sea, 6th August, 1924. Thy way is in the sea.

The tablet is the ninth of its kind in the sailors’ chapel of the institute. Associated with it are tablets to the memory of the personnel of the Ohau, Hinemoa, Penguin, Ventnor, Lizzie Belle, Woollahra, Elingamite, Moana and Omaka.

“In a sense o£ duty to those who have been lost, and to those who have been bereaved, I have come to unveil the tablet to their memory,” said Mr Massey. “There are many here to-night who remember the wrecks on the New Zealand coast that are memorialised by the tablets on these walls. I myself remember a great many of them but I cannot recall an occasion when the people were so shocked as when the news came to them of the disaster that befell that wll-known, sturdy little steamer, the Ripple, that went down with all hands.

“I feel that there is no necessity to mention to you here that our sympathies went out if full to the bereaves, to those who are left to mourn, and who are now experiencing the full significance of ‘the vacant chair,'” he continued. “Probably we shall never know the details of the actual disaster, but we may be certain, with full confidence, that the officers and crew were all brave, reliable men, who, whatever else took place, observed the last the fine traditions of their class, as the British seamen has [sic] ever done. It is our duty, and the duty of Government, Parliament and people to do everything possible to make the ships that go out from our ports safe for those that sail in them. Nothing must be left undone to provide the most modern means of ensuring the safety of life. None can say with certainty that wireless would have saved those on board, but wireless has done great things in saving life at sea, as we ourselves know from the experience of the personnel of the American schooner Helen B Stirling being rescued in the last moment by the cruiser Melbourne which picked up her call for help.”

Mr Massey spoke of the fortitude of the British seaman during the war years more especially during the period of intensive submarine operations; the Navy and the mercantile marine between them had shared the great task of maintaining the Empire’s sea communications during the darkest days of war.

“In my visits to Britain,” said Mr Massey, “in voyages across the Atlantic I never met a sailor that did not give whole-souled devotion to his duty, that did not, even after getting safe ashore from his torpedoed ship, want to go back again, to help his comrades bear the heavy responsibility cast on them’, whether it be in the ships of the Navy or those of the mercantile marine, which kept up the food supplies to Britain and to the soldiers on Britain’s many fighting fronts. Those who take pride in reading British history know what a big share the mercantile marine, to which the Ripple belonged, had in building up the Empire.”

The missioner (Mr James Moore) preached an eloquent sermon, taking his text from Genesis xvi., 9. Mr HE Nicholls recited the 26th Psalm, and Mr HT Johns read the lesson from John xiv., 1-15. Miss Gwen Esau sang “O Rest in the Lord.” Mrs Good presided at the organ, and with her was Mr Weston (clarinet). Prior to the service tea was provided for 45 sailors by Mr BC Warnes.