Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 6 (October 2, 1933)


The subject of this month's character sketch of a distinguished New Zealander is a gallant and skilful seaman, who has won fame in Antarctic adventure and war honours in the Royal Navy. Frank Arthur Worsley, D.S.O., Commander R.N.R., is one of those whose career verifies Dr. MacMillan Brown's belief, expressed recently in the Cambridge History of the British Empire, that New Zealand will, as old England has done, breed an enterprising Oceanic race. His life is an exemplar of the irresistible call that “the bright eyes of danger” hold for some strong souls, who like Worsley and his late comrade Shackleton, find in the perils of circumpolar exploration the supreme zest of existence.

Frank Arthur Worsley, D.S.O., Commander R.N.R.

Frank Arthur Worsley, D.S.O., Commander R.N.R.

The beautiful sailing clippers of the New Zealand Shipping Company's fleet were the practical training school in which scores of colonial lads learned their calling in the era when canvas still had a strong hold on the world's ocean commerce, forty to fifty years ago. Many a boy from Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago was soundly drilled in seamanship and navigation under the well-skilled old masters of sail in such ships as the Waitangi, the Piako, the Waimate, Wairoa, Turakina, Waikato, Waipa, and their sisters of the round-the-Horn trade, in the days when the tall spars and painted ports of the big square-riggers were a familiar sight in every New Zealand port. We saw the ships come in deepladen with London and Liverpool general merchandise; they bore the signs of long and stormy voyaging. We saw them tow out and set sail to the deep-sea music of chanties, crammed to the hatches with wool and all manner of New Zealand and South Sea Islands produce.

In one of those handsome iron ships, the Wairoa, learning his life business with schoolboy enthusiasm, active as a circus gymnast up aloft, was an Akaroaborn boy, Frank Worsley. The apprenticeship he served in that ship, and in the Piako, gave him a grounding in sailorly handiness and the lore of the sea-life and a resourcefulness in emergency such as no young seafarer can possibly acquire in these greatly changed times. The loss is great; the school of sail-training, now no more, cannot be replaced by mere machinery, despite all modern inventions.

That was Frank Worsley's college of sea-wisdom and physique-toughening toil. A few years later we find him as a smart young officer in the New Zealand Government steamer service. When I first knew him, in 1899, he was second mate in the Tutanekai, under Captain C. F. Post; later he was chief officer in the Hinemoa. I was shipmates with him, as passenger, on two voyages, one to Samoa, the other a search in the Tasman Sea for the disabled and drifting steamer Perthshire. Captain Post thought a great deal of his alert young second mate, who was a careful and exact navigator. But young dogs will have their day, and it was a wild apprenticeship in the old N.Z.S. Co. Worsley was given to pranks, and the most daring of all was his annexation of his Imperial German Majesty's flag from the Consulate flagstaff on Apia beach, that cruise of 1899. I hope Commander Worsley, R.N.R., will tell the story some day in the book that he should write on his South Sea memories. The centre of that German flag occupies a place of honour on the wall of a New Zealand museum to-day. It is popularly supposed to have been captured valiantly by the New Zealand page 26 Expeditionary Force in the taking of Samoa in 1914.