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War Economy

A Windfall – The Port Bowen

page 119

A Windfall – The Port Bowen

The incident of the Port Bowen throws an interesting sidelight on the shortage of refrigerating space, and of materials generally, when war broke out. This cargo vessel of 8000 tons ran aground off the port of Wanganui in September 1939, and could not be refloated. She was fitted with refrigerating plant. Following the Court of Inquiry in Wellington in November 1939, the Government was successful in acquiring the wreck free of all charges. Using local labour, the majority of whom were men previously engaged in subsidised work,1 and with the co-operation of the Public Works and Railways Departments, who built a pier and extended the railway line, the wreck was dismantled.

Large quantities of valuable materials were recovered, including several tons of bronze from the propellers and about 8000 tons of steel plates of various sizes from the hull and bulkheads. The Navy Department took over a lot of urgently required gear, and the winches were removed and put to new uses.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this salvage effort was the removal from the ship of a complete refrigerating unit.2

The following extract from Hansard for 30 July 19413 is revealing:

Mr Barrell (Hamilton): ‘… We found on that ship a first-class refrigerating plant, complete with many thousands of feet of granulated cork insulation. It was a fully equipped plant. Honourable Members will also appreciate the importance of that fact, coming, as it does, at a time when refrigerating space is of such importance to us.

‘… Ultimately, it was decided to investigate the possibilities of rehabilitating the old freezing works at Kakariki, an excellent building that had got into disrepair over the years, not having been used since 1919. The Minister's Committee was asked to consider the question of installing in the freezing works that valuable plant from the “Port Bowen”. The estimated value of the plant was between £23,000 and £25,000. The Minister finally approved of the work, and today we have that establishment almost ready to begin operations in cool-storing butter, meat and cheese.’

Mr Polson: ‘Are the electric motors there?’

Mr Barrell: ‘Yes, we have everything, and the works are almost page 120 ready to commence operations. They will provide approximately 462,000 cubic feet of cool space, which means that we can store 4,075 tons of meat, as well as a considerable amount of butter and cheese in these works.’

1 Scheme 13.

2 See Chapter 2 for discussion of the need for refrigerating equipment.

3 NZPD, Vol. 259, p. 642.