Wahine Disaster

On April 10, 1968 the Wahine passenger ship foundered on Barrett Reef near the Wellington heads in New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster since 1909. Winds of 125 knots blew across Cook Strait when a cyclone and southerly front collided. 51 people drowned, 47 on the eastern shore, many driven against sharp rocks near Eastbourne.  Two people died later of injuries.

Since European settlement began in the 1790s there have been over 2,300 shipwrecks in NZ waters, and an unknown number of Maori lives and canoes lost.

There were so many deadly maritime disasters in the 1800s in New Zealand waters that drowning was known as ‘the New Zealand death’.

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Ship Wahine sinking in Wellington Harbour. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: 35mm-01149-28-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Ship Wahine on her side in Wellington Harbour. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1572/23-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Alma Hicks, 3 years old, waits in the Wahine smoke room.  Tragically she later lost her life when her lifeboat was overwhelmed by huge waves off the Pencarrow Coast. Photo: F T Robinson, from The Wahine Disaster : a tragedy remembered,  by Emmanuel Makarios.

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Survivors from the Wahine shipwreck in a lifeboat, being tugged by two boats, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 35mm-01153-11-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Survivors from the Wahine shipwreck arriving in a lifeboat at Seatoun, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: PAColl-7796-06. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Wahine shipwreck survivors coming ashore at Seatoun, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 35mm-01157-24-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Survivors from the Wahine shipwreck arriving at Seatoun, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 35mm-01161-20-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Survivor from Wahine shipwreck with Salvation Army Cadet Keith Goodisson on wharf in Seatoun, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 35mm-01155-16-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
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Clarence O’Neill, survivor of Wahine shipwreck. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1570-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
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Elderly female survivor from the Wahine shipwreck being served soup on Seatoun beach, helpers include Salvation Army Captain David Bennett. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1569/7A-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Beached lifeboat from the Wahine, Eastbourne. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1577/6-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
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Life raft and wreckage of ship Wahine on Eastbourne beach. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1578/24-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Ship Wahine on her side in Wellington Harbour, New Zealand. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1594/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Crane on the hull of the Wahine wreck, Wellington Harbour. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/3536-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Hikitia floating crane lifting a portion of the ferry Wahine, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 35mm-00036-b-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Lifeboat from the Wahine, being used by salvage workers at the wreck, broke away during a storm and washed up at Petone foreshore. Evening Post, 13 May 1969.

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Hutt News, 13 April 2010.

On April 10, 2010, Wahine survivors, crew, police and Eastbourne residents gathered at Korohiwa to see the Wahine’s foremast erected as a memorial on the Eastbourne coast at the place where many survivors came ashore. Joint efforts by the Eastbourne Historical Society, Community Board and the Hutt City Council saw the memorial established.  Survivor Shirley Hicks, who lost two children to the tragedy, tied a bunch of flowers to the flag rope.

On April 10 in 2018 the 50th Wahine Day will be commemorated the “Wahine 50th Charitable Trust” has announced. It’s working with Councils and planning a dawn service at Eastbourne, a midday event on Wellington’s waterfront, and afternoon visit to the Wahine memorials at Seatoun. A reunion lunch will be included for survivors, rescuers and family members of those on board the Wahine the day it sank at the entrance to Wellington harbour.

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