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TAINUI DISASTER., Sun, Volume VI, Issue 1746, 18 September 1919
SOLE SURVIVOR'S STORY. UPSETTING OF THE LIFE-BOAT. EVIDENCE AT THE INQUEST. The story of William Henry Farrand, sole survivor of the disaster which befell the coastal steamer Tainui, off Port Robinson early on Tuesday morning, was the principal evidence at the inquest, opened at Cheviot yesterday afternoon, on the bodies of five of the victims.
• The inquiry was held by Mr S. E. McCarthy, S.M., coroner, and concerned the circumstances of the deaths of Charles Williams and Daniel McLean (seamen), Ephraim Greenwood (engineer), and William Townsend and Alex. Fullen (firemen), v
Sergt. H. Scott represented the police and Mr G. H. Buchanan, the New Zealand Refrigerating Company, Ltd., which owned the Tainui. The Survivor's Story.
William Henry Farrand, the sole survivor of the disaster, who identified the five bodies, said that he was cook on the Tainui. The vessel was registered in Auckland. She sailed from Lyttelton on Monday evening at 6.30 with a cargo of perhaps 2000 cases of benzine, and five agricultural implements. The waterside workers loaded the vessel. He boarded the vessel about 3.30 in the afternoon, and did not leave her before sailing. He went to bed about seven o'clock. Stevens, the mate, had the watch from midnight, a seaman named Howard was at the wheel, and the fireman's name was Townsend. There were seven hatch covers on the vessel, two aft and five for'ard. The benzine was stored fore and aft, a few cases being lashed securely on deck. The implements were carried in the fore part in a space in the hold between the benzine cases— He did not think there .would be any likelihood of the cargo shifting in the event of rough weather. At about 2.30 on Tuesday morning he was awakened by an explosion. He went on deck and found that fire had broken out in the fore hold. There was a big sheet of flame. The mate was on deck and Howard was at the wheel. Witness awakened the captain and the crew. Howard stayed at his post till he could stand it no longer—till he was told by the captain to leave the wheel. Launching the Life-boat.
The crew were ordered to the boat. The Tainui's engines were still running. There was a swell on, and when the boat was launched the swell and the action of the vessel still going ahead caused the boat to capsize. It was righted. The captain then ordered the engines to be stopped, and he and three others got into Ihe boat, whilst witness went down to the saloon and found two buckets, which the captain and McLean used in an unsuccessful attempt to bale water out of the Hfe-boat. The life-boat then heeled over and threw its four occupants into the sea, the buckets being lost. There were five members of the crew on the deck of the vessel. Three of them went down the ropes and righted the lifeboat, whilst witness ran down to the cabin, and, being unable to find a bucket, procured a tin of biscuits, which he threw to the captain, who emptied the tin and tried to bale the boat out wilh it. Boat Overturns.
There were seven men now in the boat, which turned over once more and broke adrift, the men in it being cast into the sea. Witness and Stevens were still on the Tainui. Then Williams cried out, "Follow me." Capiain Cowan, Williams and Fullen were then seen setting out to swim the four miles to shore, where the breakers could be seen. Witness then advised the mate to "get in" (meaning the sea), as the life-boat was drifting away keel up. The mate said that he or the captain must be the last to leave the ship. Witness then dived into the sea, followed by Stevens, and both reached the upturned boat, lo which McLean, Greenwood, Townsend and Howard were clinging. Drop Off One by One.
The life-boat then started to drift towards the beach. The six men were on the boat for two hours. The captftin, Williams, and Fullen were abreast of the life-boat. The captain cried out "Cook, can't you come and help me." Witness replied, "We're stuck ourselves." • He heard nothing from the other two. The engineer by this time was nearly exhausted, and said, "Cook, we'll all have to die, I am dying." Witness said, "Don't talk silly, we'll be ashore in about 10 minutes." The
engineer slipped off and floated dead alongside the boat for about 10 minutes. The next one to drop off was Howard. All went well with the remainder for about 15 minutes when the rollers were reached. Townsend was lying on his stomach across the centre of the boat, McLean was at the nose of the boat, and witness and the mate had hold of ihe ropes on either side. Then a roller struck them and Townsend and McLean were washed off and disappeared. Only witness and the mate were left. A heavy sea broke over the boat shortly after and then witness missed Stevens. The Shore Reached.
Then the boat and witness were sent to the bottom but came up again. The current had set inshore. Witness, becoming afraid, as he was badly bruised by the shingle, pushed off from the boat about 100 yards from shore which he reached. Wit-
ness then took off his coat, and putting it over his head breathed hard under it to keep himself warm. Later he walked towards the steamer which had drifted ashore before witness did. He could not reach it, and was found about 8.30 a.m. by two persons who procured a horse and conveyed him to their residence where he was cared for. Three Explosions. To Sergeant H. Scott: There were three explosions. About 15 minutes elapsed from the time of the last explosion till the abandonment of the vessel. He was not aware that any member of the crew was injured by the explosions. To Mr Buchanan: The fire was issuing from the fore hatch, and did not spread. The hatch cover had been blown off. Louisa McKay Hughes, postmistress at Port Robinson, stated that her house was situated on a headland a considerable height above the sea. About 2.30 on Tuesday morning she was awakened by a report like that of a distant gun. She went outside, and saw a fire some distance from the shore. A little later it seemed quite close and the flames were leaping "sky high." There was very little smoke. She saw •something like flames shooting up from the water at two or three points. She thought there was someone in danger, but her daughter did not think so. She went back to bed, and then heard a sound like that of a siren. About 6.30 a.m. her son who lived some little distance away, sent to say that a ship was on fire. She could not get into touch with the postmaster at Cheviot until about 7.30. Her office did not open till 8 o'clock. The Police Evidence.
Sergeant H. Scott, stationed at Cheviot, said that at 7.45 a.m. he received a message to the effect that there appeared to be a vessel on fire ashore on the coast between Gore
Bay and the mouth of the Waiau River. He started out, being joined by a number of civilians. On arrival at the coast he saw Farrand, the sole survivor, in company with two vouths named Winskill. Farrand informed him that he had been employed as cook on the Tainui, which had caught fire about four miles off the coast at 2.30 that morning. He and the other members of the crew had taken to the boat, but the boat capsized, and all the others weYe drowned. Witness arranged with the Winskills to have Farrand conveyed on horseback to their home. He then went back along the beach where some people were standing round the body of a member of the crew who was identified as Williams, Bodies Come Ashore. He was then told that two other bodies had been found about half a mile nearer Gore Bay. Those bodies were identified as those of Townsend and Fullen. About an hour later two more bodies came ashore at Gore Bay, three miles south of where the first body was located. Those two bodies were identified as Greenwood and McLean. He had the bodies removed to Cheviot. Position of Wreck.
The Tainui was on the rocks near a place called Shag Rock. She had been cast high and dry. When he saw the vessel first she was burning fiercely fore and aft, not amidships. The life-boat was found washed ashore about 300 yards south ,of where Farrand was found. It was lying bottom upwards. Four of the ship's life-buoys were found at different places along the beach. About six cases of benzine were found intact. The body of Townsend was singed about the face, but there was no injury by fire observable on any of the others. The coroner adjourned the inquiry to Lyttelton sine die in order that the evidence might be taken of some person concerned in loading the vessel. Immediately after he was found, Farrand was photographed by Mr E. Winskill, on a hillside near the scene of the wreck. It is a reproduction of this photograph which appears in The Sun to-day.
EQUIPMENT OF SHIPS. FEDERATED SEAMEN'S RESOLUTION. Press Association. WELLINGTON, September 18. The annual meeting of the National Council of the Federated Seamen's Union, now being held, the disaster to the Tainui and its crew was considered. Members stood, and, in silence, passed the following resolution: "That the National Council of the Federated Seamen's Union, now in annual meeting respectfully tenders to the relatives and the friends.of the crew of the steahicr Tainui the sincere sympathy and the condolence of the organised seamen of New Zealand in the great loss they have sustained in' the disaster, and the council expresses its great abhorrence at the laxity of the proper authorities in permitting ships with benzine cargoes putting to sea without their being properly equipped for the carriage of the cargo in question. Further, the council is of opinion that seamen should refuse to proceed to sea in any ship with a benzine cargo unless the holds of > the ship are so constructed as to prevent benzine fumes penetrating to any other part of the vessel beyond the holds. The general secretary of the union, Mr W. T. Young, in a statement to the Press, said that, if those in power for the moment will not act to preserve life and limb, other means will have to be taken by other men, even at risk of offending the regulations.
TAINUI DISASTER., Sun, Volume VI, Issue 1746, 18 September 1919
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