1940: Holmwood sunk

546-ton steamer Holmwood
546-ton steamer Holmwood, pictured in the New Zealand Herald, 2 Dec 1940

The steamer Holmwood was sunk near the Chatham Islands by German raiders (warships disguised as merchant vessels). All passengers and crew were taken prisoner.

Map of search for Holmwood and Rangitane
This map shows the paths of the ships and aircraft deployed after the attacks on Holmwood and Rangitane. It comes from a larger Central War Room Report. Source: Archives NZ
Ships at Greymouth wharf, circa 1924. 'Tees' is in the foreground, followed by 'Pakura' and 'Gabriella'.
Ships at Greymouth wharf, circa 1924. ‘Tees’ (later renamed Holmwood) is in the foreground, followed by ‘Pakura’ and ‘Gabriella’. Photo: LA Inkster, Alexander Turnbull Library

Evening Post, 2 Dec 1940, p 9


Twelve passengers were aboard the Chatham Islands steamer Holmwood, which is some days overdue and which is thought either to have encountered an enemy raider or to have broken down. This morning no further information about her was available.

The Holmwood’s passenger list is: —

Mr and Mrs D McMahon and their two children. Mr McMahon has been radio superintendent and postmaster at Waitangi, Chatham Islands, for about four years, and was on transfer back to New Zealand.

Mr and Mrs RC Idiens and their two children. Mr Idiens is a Christchurch man who has been in business as a builder and contractor at the islands for many years.

Mr and Mrs D James and their child, who were returning to New Zealand. Mr James has been working on a sheep station at Kaingaroa.

Miss C Hough. Miss Hough is an islander.


Captain James Miller, Christchurch, was in command of the Holmwood, and other officers were:— Mr A Campbell (Wellington), chief officer; Mr C Clarke (Wellington), second officer; Mr F Abernethy (Wellington), chief engineer; Mr HF Le Cren (Christchurch), second engineer; Mr GR Clayton (Dunedin), third engineer.

Members of the crew were Messrs JA Lumberg (Wellington), cook; MN McMillan (Wellington), steward; J Ellison (Wellington), able seaman; PJ Stiles (Lyttelton), able seaman; F Johnson (Wanganui), able seaman; D McLeod (Lyttelton), able seaman; TL Longun (Wellington), able seaman; SC Waterhouse (Christchurch); D Cornish (Greymouth), fireman; J Finnerty (Lyttelton), fireman; T Allen (Wellington), fireman.

Wireless plant was on the Holmwood and three of the officers were competent operators. No news was received from the vessel, however, after she had left the Chatham Islands on Monday morning on her run of about 450 miles to Lyttelton. The ship was carrying the following cargo:— 1375 sheep, 77 bales of wool, one horse, several tons of general cargo, and mails. The Holmwood was commissioned in Wellington.

Auckland Star, 17 Dec 1940, p 8


James Miller, master of the Holmwood, with young passenger Tom McMahon in the steamer's wheelhouse
James Miller, master of the Holmwood, with young passenger Tom McMahon in the steamer’s wheelhouse. Photo is from The Press, 2 January 1941
Among the passengers by the missing steamer Holmwood, which it is now presumed was sunk by an enemy raider between the Chatham Islands and Lyttelton, were Mr and Mrs D McMahon and their two children.

Mr McMahon, who is in the service of the wireless branch of the Post and Telegraph Department, has been wireless superintendent and postmaster at Waitangi, in the Chathams, for the past seven and a half years and was returning to New Zealand on transfer.

Before going to the Chathams he was radio inspector in Christchurch and was later on the staff of the Wellington wireless station.

Some years ago he made a trip to the United States on the naval supply ship Nucula as wireless operator. He is a native of Nelson.

Mrs McMahon is a sister of Mrs EG Taylor, of 16, Cadman Avenue, One Tree Hill. The two children are Eileen,1 aged six, and Thomas, who is between eight and nine years of age.

It was stated yesterday that parts of the wreckage of the Holmwood, containing shrapnel, had been found at the Chatham Islands. It is presumed that the 12 passengers, including five children and four women, and the crew of 17, have been taken prisoner.


1. A later report in the Evening Post (24 Feb 1941) names the children as Julia and Tom.