Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

Te Totohutanga o te Wahine 10 o Paengawhāwhā 1968 The Sinking of the Wahine 10 April 1968

"Wahine at Lyttelton, 1965" by David C sourced via Kete Christchurch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ

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 to help you research the sinking of the Wahine in greater detail. Some of the books may be available in branch libraries - each book title links through to the libraries' online catalogue so you can check location and availability.

Also below are curated search results from Digital NZ — a search site that harvests the collections of partner libraries, museums, galleries, government departments, the media and others.

From Digital NZ

From Our Shelves

Websites

  • Archives Online - Wellington City Council
    Wellington 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
  • TEV Wahine - 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.

Heritage Links (Local History)