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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 8 (November 2, 1936)

Familiar Ships in New Zealand Waters — T.S.S. “Maheno”

page 49

Familiar Ships in New Zealand Waters
T.S.S. “Maheno”

TheMaheno has breasted the swell of the South Pacific for the last time; on the sands of Fraser Island, off the Australian Coast, the remains of her once familiar hulk are being slowly pounded by the waves she so often conquered. But in the hearts of many people the world over, she still holds a warm spot; as a participant in the Dominion's economic development her name holds a proud place in New Zealand history.

Built at the Clyde yards of Wm. Denny & Bros., Dumbarton, a firm which has constructed so many well-known ships of the Union Company's fleet, the Maheno was launched in September, 1905. A steel ship of 5,323 gross tons and 6,000 Indicated H.P. developed by direct turbines and three propellers, she had a length of 400 feet, beam 50 feet, and depth 33 feet 6 inches. On the trial trip she ran 17.5 knots. The Maheno had the distinction of being the first turbine steamer to cross the Pacific, and she was only the second to arrive in Australia, the first being the Loongana, built by Dennys in 1904 for the Melbourne-Launceston service.

The Maheno’s arrival in Australia caused somewhat of a sensation. After a fast run across the Australian Bight, her engineers prepared her at Melbourne for a speed test to Sydney. On the 14th November, 1905, she swung into Port Jackson, having completed the 570-mile run from Melbourne in the record time of 29 hours 54 minutes. Not content with this performance, she immediately left Sydney and crossed to Wellington (1,189 miles) in the phenomenal time of two days 23 hours. It is only in recent years that the Maheno’s figures have been lowered, and that was by the Monowai, and within the last month by the new liner, Awatea. The Tahiti, which was one of the Union Co.'s fastest turbines, never came within less than an hour of the Maheno’s time.

Up till the Maheno's arrival, the record for the run across Cook Strait from Wellington to Lyttelton was held by the Union Co.'s ocean greyhound of former days, the Rotomahana, with 10 hours 35 minutes for the 173 miles. On the 15th December, 1905, the Maheno slipped across in 9 hours 11 minutes, a record which stood for many years, but which has now been lowered by both the Wahine and the Rangatira, and also by H.M.S. Dunedin and H.M.S. Diomede.

With performances such as these to her credit, the Maheno's entry, in 1906, into the Vancouver-Auckland-Sydney service was naturally a notable one. For years she ran with the greatest regularity, at times on the All-Red route to Vancouver, and at other times on the San Francisco run.

The Maheno is probably best remembered for her War-time service as one of His Majesty's New Zealand Hospital Ships. In 1915 the people of New Zealand subscribed a fund for the purpose of fitting out a hospital ship for use in the Gallipoli Campaign, and for bringing back badly wounded soldiers to New Zealand. For this purpose was required a ship which was fast enough to avoid possible merchant-ship enemy craft, was a comfortable seaboat, and on which the wards would be airy and well-ventilated. The Maheno was selected as being the most suitable vessel available, and the task of re-fitting her was commenced. The then Governor-General, Lord Liverpool, was personally interested in this work, and no effort or expense was spared in ensuring that her equipment was complete, and that the wounded soldiers she was to carry would have the very best of comfort and attention.

(Photo., Courtesy Union Steamship Coy.). The T.S.S. “Maheno,” at Wellington, New Zealand.

(Photo., Courtesy Union Steamship Coy.).
The T.S.S. “Maheno,” at Wellington, New Zealand.

The Maheno received five different charters during her War service. On the 11th July, 1915, commenced the first charter, when she steamed slowly out of Wellington Harbour on her way to Anzac. After 10 weeks' work at Anzac and in the Mediterranean, the ship proceeded to England, returning again after having been placed in dry dock. At Mudros it was necessary to repair the X-ray equipment, which had been damaged during a severe storm in the Bay of Biscay. Leaving there the Maheno picked up and took in tow a disabled hospital barge, arriving at Anzac once more on the 11th November. Here the ship filled up with patients and left for Alexandria, where orders were received to proceed to New Zealand. At Port Said a full complement of New Zealand patients was embarked. After an uneventful voyage, the Maheno arrived at Auckland on New Year's Day, 1916, and proceeded to disembark patients there, and at Wellington, Lyttelton and Dunedin.

On the 26th January, 1916, the ship left Wellington on her second charter, arriving back again about the middle of April with 326 invalids. On the 28th April she left Port Chalmers and proceeded to Southampton. For about four months, the Maheno was employed between French and English ports transporting British wounded who were arriving in train loads from the big Somme offensive. On these trips the ship was filled from stem to stern, the decks having been converted into wards by the hanging of canvas screens all round the ship. The usual complement was over 1,000 patients. After embarking 380 New Zealand sick and wounded, page 50 page 51
(Photo., Courtesy Union Steamship Coy.). The “Maheno” as a New Zealand Hospital Ship during the Great War.

(Photo., Courtesy Union Steamship Coy.).
The “Maheno” as a New Zealand Hospital Ship during the Great War.

the ship left Southampton on the 28th October, and had an uneventful voyage home, arriving in Auckland just before Christmas. On the ship's return to England, the great offensive in the West had just begun. The Maheno had a busy time, crossing the channel 40 times. The constant danger from enemy mines and the frequent altering of the course through the presence of the British minefields, made navigation of the 120 miles from port to port a strenuous and trying task, which placed a heavy strain on the sailing staff of the ship. The Marama, which had by this time been commissioned as a hospital ship, was also engaged on this work; and during this period the Maheno was occasionally in port alongside the famous Cunard Transatlantic liner, Aquitania, which was the largest hospital ship afloat.

On the 18th January, 1917, the Maheno was re-commissioned at Lyttelton on her third charter. After some work in Mesopotamia, she arrived at Liverpool in March. The weather was intensely cold, icicles hanging everywhere. After embarking 379 sick and wounded the ship sailed for Auckland. Through the carelessness of the pilot, the ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, and was stuck fast in the mud for about 17 hours. After three weeks at Port Chalmers over-hauling and refitting, the Maheno left on the 30th May for England via South Africa. The day before sailing, orders were received that, in accordance with War Office instructions, no nurses were to be carried on Hospital Ships, and the nursing staff, very reluctantly, had to leave the ship. At Sierra Leone a raider was encountered, but was easily shaken off. Throughout her commission, the Maheno received a number of messages regarding enemy raiders, but the crew were happy in the knowledge that no merchant ship raider could catch the Maheno. On the 8th August, 378 patients were embarked and the ship sailed for New Zealand via Panama, arriving at Auckland on the 16th September, having established a world's record of actual steaming time from New Zealand to New Zealand round the world in 76 days 12 hours.

The fourth charter commenced on the 20th October, 1917, when the ship left Port Chalmers for England via South Africa, arriving back in Auckland on January 18th, 1918. Leaving again on the 1st March, she arrived back at the end of May.

On the 7th July, the ship left Port Chalmers, on the fifth charter, for England via Suez, arriving back in New Zealand on the 20th October. Leaving again on the 15th December for Southampton,
(W. W. Stewart collection). The Wellington-Auckland “Limited” Express approaching Auckland.

(W. W. Stewart collection).
The Wellington-Auckland “Limited” Express approaching Auckland.

the ship returned via Panama to New Zealand, arriving on the 22nd April, 1919. Port Chalmers was reached on the 26th April, and here the vessel's last commission in His Majesty's service ended when she was placed in dry dock for re-fitting prior to being handed back to the Union Steamship Company.

Since the War, the Maheno was engaged mainly on the inter-colonial service. In 1929, when a weekly Dunedin-Bluff-Melbourne service was recommenced, she was placed on this run in conjunction with the Manuka. This ill-fated service was short-lived, and ceased when the Manuka was unfortunately wrecked at Long Point in December, 1929. In January, 1931, the Maheno was laid up at Port Chalmers, where, on account of the prevailing depressed shipping conditions, she remained for nearly four years. The Melbourne Centenary celebrations gave an incentive to the re-establishment of the Dunedin-Bluff-Melbourne service, and the Maheno was re-commissioned for this purpose. After an extensive overhaul and re-fit, she presented a bright and gleaming spectacle as she left Port Chalmers on October 30th, 1934, on her first voyage in the revived service—but it was to be a term of short duration.

Good ships, like all good servants, must one day retire, and in June, 1935, after nearly 30 years' valuable service, an announcement was made that the Maheno had been sold to shipbreakers in Japan. Thus, on the 3rd July the vessel, stripped of most fittings, left Sydney on her last voyage. It was also her last battle with the elements, for in a hurricane off the Queensland Coast, she broke her moorings and piled-up on Fraser Island.

In the Carillon at Wellington the ship's bell and nameplate may be viewed, two appreciated souvenirs of one of the pioneer greyhounds of the Pacific.