Ships were and are important to Pitcairn Island. Whereas some have had dire consequences of their visit, many still are remembered fondly, and some have a special place in the heart of Pitcairn Island. In the late 20th century the Blue Star Line truly stands out as a boon to Pitcairn, but there have been many more. With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, Pitcairn became more accessible to the world at large, and more ships began to stop over. Not least ships from the New Zealand Shipping Company. Hence, the first vessel induction into the “Dem Tull” Hall of Fame is the NZSC’s Cargo Liner S.S. Remuera.
The S.S. Remuera was ordered by the New Zealand Shipping Company in 1910 and built by W. Denny at Dumbarton. She was launched on May 31st, 1911 and delivered some months later on September 8th. She was triple-screwed, and driven by Triple Expansion steam engines. She was made specifically for the New Zealand-UK route (via Cape Horn then later Panama).
Her very early career was relatively uneventful except for a collision with the steamer Niobe off the Lizard in 1912. It was only her second voyage, but she survived and was soon back to plying her trade. A year later there was an outbreak of Scarlet fever aboard that resulted in one death. Despite these two setbacks the ship was not considered unlucky, and she made twelve voyages before Europe descended into war. Like so many other merchant vessels, she saw service in World War I as a troopship for a time.
An important date for the Remuera occurred in 1916 as she was bound for the UK. I’ll let the New York Times (August 20th, 1916) tell the story: “New Steamship service through the Panama Canal from Wellington, New Zealand, to London was inaugurated when the steamer Remuera of the New Zealand Shipping Company passed through the canal last month en route to London.” Prior to this voyage her trips back to Britain went round Cape Horn.
However, this also opened a new chapter in the Remuera’s history, because now she was also able to stop off at one of the more isolated spots in the Pacific Ocean, Pitcairn Island.
Remuera’s first visit to Pitcairn Island was under Captain H.E. Greenstreet on October 24th, 1916. On this voyage the Remuera brought mail to Pitcairn, something she would do throughout her career. Captain Greenstreet would come back one more time a year later, but after that he relinquished command of the Remuera.
Remuera’s longest-serving captain, J.J. Cameron first captained the Remuera to Pitcairn on April 24th, 1919. He proved to be very popular with the Pitcairners, and on one occasion in April, 1921, he, with the help of the postmaster of Cristobal, Gerald Bliss, managed to get passage for the Pitcairn writer Rosalind Amelia Young Nield to Wellington.
One of the many friends that Captain Cameron made on Pitcairn was Vieder Young. As is passed down in the family, “He (Captain Cameron) give plenty good thing to ucklun. But he use fer anchor halfway to Panama, he so ‘fraid fer run orn shore.” This concern may possibly be due to a collision with the S.S. Marengo that the Remuera suffered in 1922 near Weymouth in the UK. The damage was bad enough that they had to necessitate repairs to the ship. As a result, in the year 1922 the Remuera only made one visit to Pitcairn. The following year, Captain Cameron brought the Remuera once again to Pitcairn, and he was presented with a bureau made of native timber (this bureau was constructed by Vieder Young, Elliot Christian, Calvert Warren and George Warren. It was probably miro wood, according to some sources). The Pitcairn Island Internal Committee had agreed to have it made in recognition of his services to Pitcairn. Two other bureaus were also made and presented to the New Zealand Shipping Company and to Gerald Bliss in Cristobal.
Besides mail and passage to and from Pitcairn, the Remuera also delivered gifts from both the ship and other contributors. In June 1923, the Remuera brought a large amount of galvanised iron roofing for the Pitcairn homes (a gift from Messrs. Lysaght of Bristol). On this and other occasions, there were also other items such as clothing which were gifted by the ship as well. There were several passengers who came to and from Pitcairn besides Rosalind A. Young. In March 1924 the Adventist missionaries Robert and Henriette Hare arrived. A little over four years later, on September 22nd, 1928, Pastor Hare and his family returned to Pitcairn on the Remuera, and brought with them two car engines, one which was used to power the island radio and the other to power Pitcairn’s first motorboat.
Sadly, on February 14th, 1929, the Remuera made her last voyage to Pitcairn under Captain Cameron. Altogether he had made thirty-three trips to Pitcairn aboard the ship. He was succeeded by Captain A.W. McKellar who made only one voyage to the island in the Remuera. Several more captains followed, but they did not last more than a few trips. The next steady captain would be E.A. Holland who made a total of eleven trips to Pitcairn (the first was on February 26th, 1933). He was remembered as a sober and decent captain, and a couple of voyages are noteworthy. In particular, on February 24th, 1935, while the Remuera was under his command, Kempson Maddox MD, a medical student supervisor at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital arrived on the Remuera to conduct a medical survey of the Pitcairners. Captain Holland would make one more trip that year before he left the Remuera for good.
The last notable captain was F.W. Robinson. He directly succeeded Captain Holland and for the next five years he would make twelve trips to Pitcairn (another three were done by a Captain Lamb twice in 1938 and once in 1939). As for Pitcairn memories of Captain Robinson, at least from Vieders pile, “he alright, but I not know him as good as Captain Cameron un Captain Holland.”
The Remuera was very much a veteran now, and had made many stops at Pitcairn over the years. She had survived World War I intact, but she was not prepared for the ferocity of World War II. On July 12th, 1940, she left Wellington with cargo, mostly refrigerated goods. On this trip she did not carry any passengers. She made a stop at Pitcairn on July 28th, then headed on to her eventual destination of London. Little did the Pitcairners know they would never see her again. In Bermuda she joined a convoy headed to the besieged UK. The German Kriegsmarine, in the form of the dreaded U-Boats took out several ships in the convoy, including that of the commodore of the convoy. Remuera was then made the commodores vessel. On August 26th, as she was off Kinnaird Head in Scotland, a mixture of Luftwaffe Heinkel 115 seaplanes and Junkers Ju-88 bombers from Stavanger in occupied Norway attacked her. A bomb from a Ju-88 missed her but a Heinkel 115 torpedo found its mark. She sank stern first, but thankfully all aboard were saved. In the words of her Marine Engineer Lionel Hodgson, “In those days at least, the ship was your home, and I'll never forget the feeling of seeing my home disappear under the waves.”
So passed the Remuera, a friend to Pitcairn for almost 24 years. She was one of the many vessels to have an impact on Pitcairn, and her officers and crew were popular and familiar to the people of the island. This induction is dedicated to the Remuera, and to all those who sailed on her.
I want to thank Garry Law who has a brilliant website dedicated to the Remuera on http://100megsfree3.com/glaw/remuera/. The website has a plethora of information and images and is well worth an extensive browse. Much of my information on the ship itself comes from him and his site. Mr. Law’s father and two uncles immigrated to New Zealand aboard the Remuera in 1931, and when they stopped at Pitcairn, his father traded a bowler hat for a bunch of plun (bananas). Anybody on Pitcairn seen a bowler hat lying around?
As for the brilliant pictures, both paintings and photographs alike, I wish to thank David Ransom, whose website is at http://www.nzsc.co.uk/. This website is dedicated to fighting cancer, something I strongly believe in, so spread the word.
Herb Fords book “Port of Call” was useful for many details of the visits to Pitcairn.I additionally want to thank members of my family (including those I never met, such as Vieder Young) for the oral and some written histories regarding Pitcairn and the Remuera (thanks to my father Brian Young who was the first to tell me of “Captain Cameron and the good ship Remuera”).