Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

The Sinking of the Wahine 10 April 1968

History

The Wahine, listing on her side
The Wahine, listing on her side. Footnote [1.]

Though there have been worse shipping disasters in New Zealand with far greater loss of life, the sinking of the Wahine in 1968 is by far the most well known.

The tragedy can be attributed to one major cause - the weather. The storm which exploded upon Wellington was one of the worst ever recorded in New Zealand. Its ferocity was due to it being a combination of two storms which by chance happened to merge directly over Wellington.

The first storm began several days before as a minor tropical cyclone to the far north of New Zealand. It was initially expected to pass over the Chatham Islands, but on the night of 9-10 April (the limitations of technology at the time meant it could not be tracked overnight), it dramatically changed course and headed south to Wellington. At the same time a deep depression was heading up the South Island - and the two storms clashed together at almost exactly the same time as the overnight Lyttleton - Wellington ferry T.E.V Wahine approached the harbour entrance.

Massive waves and hurricane force winds led to the ship being forced on to Barrett's Reef. This resulted in the loss of her starboard propeller and the failure of her port engine, leaving the ship without any propulsive power. With capsize inevitable, the order to abandon ship was given early that afternoon. Of the 734 passengers and crew on board, 51 people lost their lives.

On shore, the storm also resulted in massive damage, flooding and injuries as people were hit by flying debris. The storm also marked the coming-of-age for television news broadcasting in New Zealand as camera crews rushed to report on events as they unfolded. The resulting footage was screened around the world as the world's media spotlight turned its attention to Wellington. Television coverage of the disaster later went on to win an international World News film award.

The disaster has also been well documented by historians and journalists. Below are a number of resources which can be found in the Central Library to help you research the sinking of the Wahine in greater detail. Some of the books may also be available in branch libraries - each book title links through to the libraries' online catalogue so you can check location and availability.


At the library

The library has many resources to help you research this topic. Have a browse below, or come in to the Central Library, 2nd Floor, to browse the largest range of resources — just ask a librarian

Books

New Zealand Shipwrecks : 195 years of disasters at sea / by C.W.N. Ingram
910.45 ING
This is the latest edition of a book first published in 1936. It has been updated many times with new shipwrecks and more information on historic wrecks. Arranged chronologically, the section on the Wahine gives an excellent hour-by-hour account of how the sinking happened as well as details of the Court of Inquiry which followed the disaster.

The Wahine Disaster / by Max Lambert and Jim Hartley
910.453 LAM
Probably the most detailed book written for the general reader on the disaster. It also includes a number of dramatic photographs of the event.

Please note: The full text of The Wahine Disaster, by Max Lambert and Jim Hartley is available online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre (including many of the photographs)

New Zealand's Shipwreck Gallery / by Steve Locker-Lampson and Ian Francis
910.45 LOC
Has a brief write-up of the disaster and a dramatic photograph in its section on the Wahine.

The Wahine Disaster / by Kevin Boon
910.453 BOO
A well-illustrated introduction to the sinking of the Wahine especially written for younger readers or for those for whom English is a second language.

New Zealand's Darkest Days / by Bruce Morris
991.1 MOR
Published in conjunction with the New Zealand Herald, this book covers some of New Zealand's worst disasters including Mt Erebus, the Napier earthquake, and the sinking of the Wahine.

T.E.V Wahine (O.N. 317814), Shipping casualty, 10 April 1968. Report of Court and Annex Thereto, November 1968
910.453 NEW
This is the official report of the Court of Inquiry headed by R. D. Jamieson in 1968. It is extremely detailed and recommended for those who wish to do serious research into the disaster.

The Wahine Disaster
Ref 910.453 WAH (Kept at Desk)
This is a educational kit designed especially for school use. It is compiled from newspaper reports which were originally published in The Dominion and The Evening Post. The kit is reference only but you are welcome to make photocopies from it. Please ask the desk staff on the 2nd floor of the Central Library to view the kit.

Documentaries on DVD

The sinking of the Wahine was a ground-breaking event in the history of broadcasting in New Zealand. Watching these resources will help you gain a better understanding of the impact the sinking had on New Zealand at the time.

The Wahine disaster / TVNZ and Mr Smith Television.
"The inter-island ferry Wahine sank in Wellington Harbour on April 10, 1968 after it was overcome by the worst storm in New Zealand. Fifty-one people lost their lives. Stunning new animation brings to life the last moments - with wind gusts reaching an amazing 276 kilometres an hour, the realistic animation shows how a giant wave picked up the 9,000 tonne Wahine and flung her sideways. In zero visability the ship's master tried to manoeuvre his vessel back out of the harbour but instead, he struck Barrett Reef. The Wahine then drifted helplessly before rolling over and sinking just hundreds of metres from land. The 735 passengers and crew had to jump for their lives. Many were swept across the harbour to a remote and rocky shoreline. Rescue attempts were difficult and dangerous. This TVNZ documentary provides a new look at the disaster by concentrating on some of the survivors and their day of horror, together with animation which illustrates, for the first time, how the Wahine succumbed in a terrible storm, to become one of New Zealand's worst sea tragedies." (Catalogue)

New Zealand disasters
Includes a section on the Wahine disaster -- "Wahine : the untold story"

Shipwreck! : deadly harbor / Discovery Channel
"On April 9, 1968, 700 people piled on to the Wahine, a New Zealand ferry boat, the most common form of inter-island transportation. The Wahine's story is told utilising interviews with survivors, rare television footage and re-enactments. The innocent passengers and crew had no reason to suspect they were on a collision course with the worst storm New Zealand had ever seen. Early the next morning, the ship's radar failed as 40-foot waves and winds of 90 knots pummelled the ferry. Having lost power, the ship slammed into the jagged rocks of Barrett's Reef. Rescue ships battled with limited visibility but couldn't make it to the ferry and the passengers had to abandon the ship" (Catalogue)

Newspapers & Magazines

The Dominion and The Evening Post, April 1968

The Central Library has microfilmed copies of these newspapers covering the Wahine disaster.

They give haunting reports and on-site coverage of events as well as helping to place the disaster in a historic context. Photocopies can be made of complete pages or of individual articles.

Ask staff at the 2nd floor reference desk for details.

Footnotes

  1. Wahine photo from The Evening Post supplied courtesy of The Museum of Wellington City and Sea. back

Video & Audio

From Radio NZ

Survivors of the Wahine disaster tell their story 50 years on (full article & video)

From NZOnScreen

1968 New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation coverage of the disaster

See also this Collection of Documentaries about the Wahine Disaster

From NZHistory

A Radio broadcast from the day of the Wahine disaster
Hear a radio broadcast from the day of the disaster, together with transcript


Images & Ephemera

From Museums Wellington

An image collection that is a special tribute to the TEV Wahine. Covers the launch of the ship, its interior, the ship in dock, the disaster and sinking, and the salvage of the wrecked ship.

From Digital New Zealand

A curated image search from selected institutions

From Archives New Zealand

A Flickr collection of photos taken during the disaster, showing passengers being rescued.


Websites

NZHistory - Wahine Disaster
A good overview of the disaster

Wellington City Archives
City Archives are the repository for the Wellington Harbour Board and the Union Steamship Company records, containing original source material relating to the Wahine disaster

From Digital New Zealand
A curated search from selected institutions (all results)

Heritage Links (Local History)