1926: Manaia strands

SS Manaia aground on Slipper Island
SS Manaia aground on Slipper Island, 10 Jun 1926

Evening Post (Wellington), 11 June 1926, p8


A message received by the Secretary of the General Post Office from the Auckland radio station stated that at 11.40 last evening signals were received from the Northern Steamship Company’s vessel Manaia that she was ashore on Slipper Island, off the Coromandel coast, and was being held by her propellers. At 3 am the company’s steamer Ngapuhi had been communicated with, and was proceeding to the spot, which she was expected to reach at 10 o’clock.

At 3.25 am the Manaia reported that tho weather was coming up, and that she was making water fairly fast. There were about 60 passengers on board.

A message at 10.22 from the steamer announced that the Ngapuhi had arrived, and was taking the passengers off. Two boats had got away safely.

A message at noon stated that all the passengers had been transferred to the Ngapuhi.


(By Telegraph.—Press Association.)

The following is the list of passengers on the steamer Manaia:— Messrs Johnston, Fyfe, Topplin, Peters, Wilkinson, Harris (2), Capper, Kenney, Ludwig, Ciochetto, Mackrell, Hewlett, Sayer, Hille, Aitken, Jackson, Patrick, Clark, Frost, Fergusson, Canning, Graham, Stein, Teale, Lee, Jethro, Lock, Perryn, M’Kay, Benham, Meredith, Harrison, the Masters Dale (2).

Mesdames Begg, Avery, Perryn, Abraham.

Misses Abrahams (3), Rich, M’Leod, Brook, Bucknall, Stewart (2), Lully, Best, Scott, Pittaway, Stone, Laurance (2).



Advice was received in Auckland shortly before 1 o’clock this morning that the Northern Steamship Company’s steamer Manaia had gone ashore on Slipper Island on the trip from Tauranga to Auckland. The vessel was hard and fast, but was not in a dangerous position.

Captain Norbury advised that he was all right until this morning, when he asked for assistance.

Information of the accident to the Manaia was sent to Auckland by a wireless message from the vessel, which struck at about 11.20 last night. She left Tauranga at 8 pm.

At half-past two this morning the Manaia reported that she was holding on to the reef with the propellers. The passengers were still on board. The weather was squally, and the seas moderate, but the steamer was bumping heavily.

An earlier message had stated that it was intended to land the passengers in the ship’s boats, but according to the latest advice this has not been done.

The ship is equipped with a small wireless set which was installed in accordance with the regulations governing coastal vessels. Captain Norbury and the first officer, Mr. Shirley, are proficient wireless operators, and in addition the chief steward, Mr Long, has had experience as an operator.

The harbourmaster, Captain Sergeant, advised at 1 am that arrangements had been made to divert the Ngapuhi, then en route from Whangarei to Auckland, so that she would proceed direct to Slipper Island to the assistance of the Manaia.

Up to 2.30 am efforts to get in touch with the Ngapuhi by wireless had not succeeded, but it was anticipated that, failing wireless communication, it would be possible to signal to her from the Tiritiri Signal Station. At 3 o’clock the weather off Slipper Island was reported to be easterly, with heavy rain falling. The Rimu was dispatched from Auckland for the scene of the wreck at 9 am.

Slipper Island is twe miles off the coast from Coromandel Peninsula, and four miles south-east from Tairoa Head, and is about 100 miles from Auckland.

The Manaia is a well-known coastal steamer of 115 tons. She was formerly the Rotoiti, owned by the Union Steam Ship Company, and was purchased some years ago by the Northern Steamship Company. At present she is engaged in the service between Tauranga and Auckland. She was built at Dumbarton in 1898, and her dimensions are: Length, 220 feet; breadth, 33 feet; depth, 13 feet.



The “Star’s” Tairua correspondent wires: “The Manaia is about one mile off Slipper Island, well up on the reef behind a small rocky island. A two-masted scow is standing by, and a Northern Company’s steamer has just arrived (10.15 am) The Manaia is keeping steam up. The sea is moderate, and the weather is getting calmer. It is dull and cloudy, but clearing.

“Mr Cory Wright’s launch is on its way out.”



The Manaia’a cargo includes 34 bales of hemp, 21 bales of tow, 34 bales of sheepskins, 63 cases of fruit, 21 sacks of maize, four cases of bacon, and a quantity of general cargo, also a fair-sized mail.

Slipper Island is owned by Messrs G and W M’Laughlin, and has an area of 600 acres. It is used as a sheep run.


(By Telegraph. Press Association.)
THAMES, This Day.

The Manaia is ashore on “The Watchman,” a small island a mile from Slipper Island. The island is about 30 feet high. The ship appears from Tairua to be broadside on, and down at the stern. She is in a very exposed position. Mr Cory Wright and a party from Tairua proceeded to her early this morning by launch, but at noon had not returned. A fair sea is running.



A wireless message from the Ngapuhi at noon stated that all the passengers had been transferred to the Ngapuhi.

SS Manaia on Auckland harbour, date unknown
SS Manaia on Auckland harbour, date unknown. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

Evening Post (Wellington), 12 June 1926, p 8


(By Telegraph.—Press Association.)
AUCKLAND, 11th June.

The Ngapuhi reached Auckland with the Manaia’s passengers shortly before 11 o’clock to-night. The work of transferring the passengers from the wreck was safely accomplished, the Ngapuhi being at the scene for four hours.

Passengers who were interviewed said that the wreck was not attended by any sign of panic. The only indication that anything was amiss was a sudden grinding as the ship piled up on the reef, hard and fast. Though all the passengers looked tired, scarcely any showed serious signs of their experience.

The passengers said that the Manaia when they left her at 2 o’clock this afternoon had a decided list. The work of salvaging the luggage and cargo was in progress. A later report, however, states that the crew had left the wrecked vessel in the schooner Motu.

“What we need more than anything else is sleep,” said one of the passengers. “None of us has had any sleep since last night, though some of us were able to doze for a couple of hours on tho Ngapuhi.”

The steamer Marama, for Sydney, was delayed to take those passengers who wore coming by the Manaia to join her. The main concern of these passengers was for the safety of their luggage. There was inevitably some disorganisation, but the officials worked hard, and few of the travellers boarded the Marama dissatisfied.

The passengers all pay tribute to tho conduct of the women and children, particularly the children, when the ship struck. One passenger remarked: “The kiddies just stood by without a murmur.”

“The luckiest feature of the mishap,” said a member of a theatrical company, “was the fine weather. Had there been a south-easterly wind there would not have been so many of us to tell the tale.” He added that the general impression was that the Manaia was held up by only one rock. The passage on the Ngapuhi was described as comfortable, and high tributes were paid to the officers and crew of the vessel.

At 9.20 to-night the captain of the Manaia reported that the Manaia’s stokehold and engine-room were flooded. Some of the crew wore being transferred to the Rimu, which was standing by.



Little hope is entertained of salvaging the Manaia. Advice was received from Captain Norbury late last night that the vessel was badly holed forward, and the water was in the holds, and rising rapidly.

The vessel’s bow was so far on the reef that there was no immediate danger of her sinking. The sea was smooth.

A great deal of the cargo in the after hold had been transferred to the scow Motu. A message received at 11.5 pm stated that the Rimu had taken off the crew with the exception of five who were staying on board.

A message at an earlier hour notified that the vessel was making water, and that the engine-room was getting flooded. The dynamos would not last much longer (that was at 6 pm), and the ship had a very heavy list. A message from Tauranga notified that the steamer Clan Susan, when passing on the run from Auckland, saw lights on the Manaia, but they appeared to be oil lights.

It has been the policy of the Northern Steamship Company to carry most of its own risks. Thus in the balance-sheet for the year ended 31st March last the sum of £56,730 was credited to insurance account and £19,111 to insurance account No. 2, giving a total reserve under this head of £75,841. Apart from that, all the company’s vessels are covered by a total loss only policy, taken out with ordinary insurance companies. Tho amount of the policy covering the Manaia was not available to-night. Her value may be roughly stated at over £20,000.


(By Telegraph.—Press Association.)

When the Ngapuhi was signalled from Tiritiri and instructed to proceed to the scene of the wreck a course was set for Cape Colville. Although every effort was made by the engine-room staff to develop the utmost speed there was always a feeling on board that they might not be in time to avert serious loss of life. For seven hours the Ngapuhi forged on her southward journey, the forbidding nature of the night and the heavy swell running causing some apprehension as to the chances of getting near enough to the disabled vessel to render assistance.

As Slipper Island loomed up all eyes were turned for a view of the Manaia, but she was away to the south-east. It was not until about half-past nine o’clock yesterday morning that she was seen.

The rescuing steamer approached from the seaward side of the island, and Captain Dorling kept the lead going, as he had foul ground and a line of sunken reefs between his ship and the Manaia. It was then noted that the Manaia was hard and fast on a reef extending out from the southeast point of the island, with her bows high on the rocks, her stern riding low in the deep water surrounding the reef. Although she had a slight list she was perfectly steady, the falling tide having left her firmly aground, although her engines were being used to prevent her slipping off into the deep water.

Captain Dorling brought his vessel up within a mile of the stranded steamer. He learned that the Manaia’s passengers were still on board. It was then about 10 o’clock, with the wind from the north-east. Under these conditions the Manaia was in a comparatively sheltered position.

Captain Norbury, of the Manaia, had taken the precaution to lower the Manaia’s boats into the water, and no time was lost in transporting passengers to the Ngapuhi. This operation was carried out in a most orderly manner.

Approximately two hours were occupied in effecting the transference, and when about 2 pm it was seen that nothing more could be done the Ngapuhi took her departure for Auckland, which she reached shortly before 11 o’clock last evening.


(By Telegrcph.)
(Special to “The Evening Post.”)

Wrecks have occurred at Slipper Island on previous occasions. The auxiliary schooner, Te Teko, belonging to the Northern Company, struck at the south end of the island on 6th August, 1920, and soon broke up. One of the crew was drowned while trying to reach the shore. The scow Surprise was wrecked there previously.

On 12th May, 1921, the Northern Company’s steamer Tasman, while bound from Auckland to Whakatane, struck on the Rurimu Beef, off Matata, and sank shortly afterwards in deep water. The passengers and crew took to the boats and landed on the beach near Matata without mishap. This wreck occurred during squally and rainy weather in the early hours of the morning.

On 3rd February, 1919, the rafting steamer Wairoa went ashore on the Tairua Bar, a few miles to the north of Slipper Island, and became a total wreck.

The Manaia was until the recent acquisition of the Matangi the largest unit of the Northern Company’s fleet. She was built at Dumbarton in 1898 for the Union Company and was named the Rotoiti. For a number of years the vessel was engaged in the Onehunga-New Plymouth trade and between Wellington and Nelson. In 1912 she was bought by the Northern Company for the Auckland-Whangarei trade and was renamed the Manaia. From that time she has been continuously engaged trading out of Auckland.

Over a period of nearly half a century the history of the Northern Company has been comparatively free of marine casualties. Prior to the loss of the Tasman and Te Teko, the steamer Muritai was lost on the middle Chicken Island, off Whangarei Heads, while the steamers Kia Ora and Gairloch were wrecked on the west coast about twenty years ago.

Captain Norbury is one of the veteran masters of the Northern Company’s fleet. He has been associated with the company for nearly 40 years, and at different times has had charge of all the company’s larger vessels. When the Ngapuhi was built he went Home and brought that steamer out to New Zealand.



Graphic details of the wreck of the Manaia were given by passengers after their arrival at Auckland. As the Ngapuhi drew alongside tho wharf one could see many smiling faces, signs of evident relief after their anxious experiences. They had a warm welcome from the large number of people who had gathered on the wharf.

After talking with some of the Manaia’s passengers one gathered that the mishap was not connected with the blinding gales and panic that go hand in hand with the stories written about most wrecks. “Indeed it was a very prosaic sort of wreck,” one of the passengers said. “The Manaia just slipped on to the reef and that was all there was to it.”

“I was asleep and was suddenly wakened by a grinding, biting sound,” said a woman passenger. “This was followed by severe bumping. All the passengers were startled and a mild panic ruled for awhile. I heard women making desperate inquiries about their children. The crew soon informed us that the ship had struck a reef, and that there was nothing to be alarmed about.


“We all dressed hurriedly,” she continued. “We were supplied with lifebelts, and many put them on. We found out later that they were not wanted. However, the passengers all hurried out to see what had happened. It was misty and raining, but we could see the land quite plainly. We could also see the rocks on which the Manaia was stranded. She appeared to be held hard and fast, and the propellers were kept going to keep her in her position. The lifeboats were swung out on the calm side in case of emergency.

“The whole thing appeared to be worse than it really was,” she said. “It was dark, and all this preparation was going on. The Manaia struck about 11.30 o’clock on Thursday night, and none of us got any more sleep. This was my first experience of the kind. It was not very terrible. The delay was the most annoying part of it.”

Another passenger paid a tribute to the general coolness of passengers as a whole. There was excitement at first, he said, but they soon became resigned to their position. He also referred to the confidence inspired by the captain, officers, and crew. They went about their work calmly and methodically. Fortunately no one was hurt. The vessel did not strike the reef with sufficient violence to throw the passengers from their berths.

The work of transferring’ the passengers from the Manaia to the Ngapuhi in the Manaia’s lifeboats was also carried out without incident or mishap.

Among the passengers were 24 members of the Stanley M’Kay Pantomime Company. One of them stated that the wreck was not half as good as some of the stunts the company put across the footlights.

Before the Manaia’s passengers disembarked from the Ngapuhi they gave three rousing cheers for the officers and crew of the vessel for what they had done.


(By Telegraph.)
(Special to “The Evening Post.”)

No clearer case for the value of wireless on coastal vessels could have been made out than that provided by the facts attached to its use in connection with the Manaia. Had the ship not been equipped she would probably have lain on the reef, her plight unknown to any except those on board, until the Motu passed that way from Tauranga several hours later, and had a storm been raging the position would have been considerably graver. As it was the Manaia was able to acquaint the Auckland authorities of her condition and ask for assistance.

The next important part played by wireless was when the authorities here set about immediately to provide relief. It was decided to intercept the Ngapuhi, which was on her way from Whangarei to Auckland. This was done about 3 am, when she was “picked up” off Kawau, 70 miles from Slipper Island. The Ngapuhi, thus diverted, was within six hours standing alongside the Manaia.

Evening Post (Wellington), 14 June 1926, p 10


(By Telegraph.—Press Association.)

Listing heavily to port, and with her bows gaping below the waterline on tho rocks of Slipper Island, the steamer Manaia was abandoned at 7 o ‘clock on Saturday night, after an inspection had shown that any attempt to refloat her would be futile.

When the vessel struck at 11.30 on Thursday night the impact was terrific. Several of the crew were thrown from their bunks.

Captain Norbury, who was on the bridge, states that there was a rainstorm at the time. He paid a tribute to the behaviour of the passengers.

After the vessel struck, every pump was kept going to its full capacity, the firemen working knee-deep in water until the furnaces were extinguished. Salvage operations were commenced on Saturday morning. Four lifeboats were kept in operation between the Rimu and the Manaia. A salvage gang first cleared all portable equipment, and then attacked the fixtures with sledgehammers and coal chisels. The saloon and cabins wore cleared of furniture, and the engineers spent the day removing small machine fittings. The only cargo not put aboard the Motu is a few cases of fruit in the fore hold.

For one-third of the Manaia’s length there are masses of rock on both sides. The rest of the ship overhangs the clear water. At low water the bow is almost high and dry.


The master of the Manaia, Captain WF Norbury, has been connected with the Northern Steamship Company for 38 years, and has been commodore for the past ten years. He Is an excellent seaman and enjoyed the confidence of passengers on both coasts.

At different times Captain Norbury has had charge of all the company’s larger vessels. For many years he traded on the Onehunga-New Plymouth run in the Gairloch, Ngapuhi, and Rarawa. He then took over the Manaia and became Commodore of the fleet. He also traded for many years on the Opotiki run, and has an intimate knowledge of the coasts. When the Ngapuhi was built in 1900 he was sent to England to bring the vessel to New Zealand. He holds a wireless operator’s certificate, and was the second man to pass when the new regulations were brought in.

Captain Norbury had with him the following officers: —Chief officer, Mr F Shirley; second, Mr W Monaghan; chief engineer, Mr R Mudie; second, Mr E Carpenter; third, Mr M Ranson. Mr W Oberon was chief steward. The crew numbered 36 all told.


An incident connected with the rescue of the wrecked steamer Manaia’s passengers was not without its humorous, if not pathetic side. This was the determination of a diminutive member of a Pantomime company to see that her pet bantam rooster was properly cared for and not left behind. The gift of an admirer in one of the towns visited by the company, the rooster answered to the name of “Becky,” and when the Manaia struck, the first thoughts of the young actress were of her pet. Forgetting her other treasures, she flew to Becky. He had ‘been with her for over a year, and lavishly though he had been cared for in his travels with his young mistress, it was as nothing to the affection and caresses that were bestowed on him as he snuggled in the crook of her arm on board while awaiting the arrival of the Ngapuhi. Becky accompanied his owner in the lifeboat and was with her all the time on the Ngapuhi. Now he is on his way to Sydney with her on the Marama.