Among the treasures in a box of odd bits and pieces discovered during one of the Hocken’s building manoeuvres is this 1919 blueprint of the TSS Waimana, showing “accommodation for Australian families”. We don’t know the provenance of this plan, but a little research on the wonderful Papers Past website revealed its link to an event labelled by newspapers “the Waimana scandal”.
|The blueprint, MS-3755
The Waimana, a twin-screw ship, was built in Belfast in 1911 for Shaw, Savill and Albion, to carry immigrants and cargo on the New Zealand run. In 1914 the Waimana took on a new role as troopship, for which she was “altered out of recognition”. She was one of the largest of the steamers that departed New Zealand in October 1914 with the main body of New Zealand Expeditionary Force troops. After a rapid conversion, the Waimana could carry around 1500 men, 62 officers and 500 horses. Through the war, the ship returned to its more usual duties, transporting cargo to and from Britain, but in 1919 troopships were again needed. In June 1919 the Waimana arrived in Auckland with 1675 returning soldiers, whose “behaviour during the voyage was excellent”.
Troopships were not renowned for their comfort, but soldiers generally tolerated some degree of privation without too much complaint. When it came to their wives and children, though, they had higher expectations. In October 1919 the Waimana was fitted out, as per our blueprint, to carry a group of 500 or so returning Australian servicemen from London, together with 400 women and 100 children under three. As soon as the passengers arrived, complaints began about overcrowding and inadequate facilities and supplies. The final straw for some may have come when one of the many babies aboard had its toe bitten by one of the ship’s large complement of rats. The military hierarchy agreed that the complaints were justified and the passengers disembarked while better transport was sorted out.
The origins of the blueprint remain a mystery – perhaps somebody kept it as an example of how not to fit out a steamer for families on long haul voyages.
Blog post prepared by Ali Clarke, Reference Assistant
|Waimana at the Cross Wharf, Dunedin, 1922. Otago Harbour Board collection, S04-167a
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