New Zealand Shipping Company stoker

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

The following is an extract from my new book Pitcairn Island via the Panama Canal in the 1920s – SS Remuera's visits to the tiny Pacific island. The book, a 172 page paperback, includes over 100 rare black and white illustrations, extensive extracts from passenger Logs, and contemporary newspaper reports.


Setting the record straight

Unfortunately, I need to begin this journey through the 1920s by being rather controversial. On researching the voyages of the Remuera, I have found that the ship continued to be powered by coal until late in 1922 when she was converted 
to run by oil-fired steam. The problem is that many of my source books, magazines and websites mistakenly say that the Remuera was converted in 1920. 

The advantages of oil over coal

The change from coal-fired to oil-fired steamships was quite dramatic. Coaling a ship was a dirty and tedious job, whereas oil was simply pumped directly into the storage tanks. The boiler room of an oil-fired steamer could be as much as 25° cooler, on the Fahrenheit scale, than if coal were burned under the same boilers. Much of the additional heat in the boiler room, when using coal, was caused by opening the furnace doors to load more coal, and then much heat was lost, making coal-fired ships much less energy efficient. Labour saving was also tremendous, with the required fire-room workforce on some ships reduced by an incredible 90 per cent.

A further advantage is energy density. Oil has a lot greater energy per ton, meaning that less tonnage of oil is required when compared to coal for the same distance of travel. This might mean more tonnage available for cargo on a cargo or mixed ship. Or, if the same tonnage is loaded, it would give more range and potentially more choice about where to stop for bunkering next.

Contemporary reports confirm conversion was in 1922

As you can read in my book, one passenger wrote, in the published diary of his voyage, that on 25th June, 1921, “the passengers suffered great discomfort from the old method of loading coal”.

The description of the 14th December, 1922, voyage from Southampton, in New Zealand’s Auckland Star newspaper, begins with: “The Remuera, the first passenger steamer burning oil fuel to leave England for New Zealand…”.

Also, there is the dated photographic evidence, illustrated below, that the Remuera’s rebuild did not take place before July 1922 when she collided with the SS Marengo.

This photograph, possibly taken by the ship’s hairdresser Henry Keyse, shows the Remuera after her collision with the SS Marengo. The Remuera is in her original form, prior to the refit. At this time she had five lifeboats in a row on the boat deck. After the refit, photographs show that there were four in a row.
It was the ideal opportunity to work on the engine room when the Remuera was being repaired. There was a period of well over four months for this conversion to be carried out before the Remuera went back into service.

Two early "Selfie" photographs

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Apparently, the first selfie has been credited to one of the American pioneers of photography, Robert Cornelius, who produced a daguerreotype of himself in 1839. It was not known as a selfie at the time of course, the name has been credited to an unknown Australian:

The first use of the term was on a public forum in September 2002. An Australian man took a photo of his torn lip after a drunken night out and was seeking advice about the stitches that he had just received. The man’s identity has remained a mystery, and he is surely missing out on much fame or notoriety. Many linguists have analyzed the term and believe that it is very typical of the Australian language to shorten words and end them with (ie); other examples include barbie for barbecue, firie for firefighter, postie for postman and tinnie for a can of beer.

The two photographs here certainly do not date back to 1839, but they are still interesting as they were taken with an extremely long bulb shutter release mechanism. Early cameras had a "B" setting which referred to "Bulb" or sometimes "Brief" exposure. The bulb was a detachable rubber pneumatic shutter release as shown in this illustration from Wikipedia. When the shutter was set to "B", the pneumatic release kept the shutter open for as long as the photographer squeezed the bulb.

In the second photograph below, the bulb is clearly visible in the man's hand, and also the very long line to the camera. Sadly, there is no information written on the photograph as to who the people are. 

Unfortunately there was obviously a fault with my time machine as I have no idea when or where I have been! If you have any idea as to the location or time period, please do get in touch.

Ruahine III in Clydebank, Scotland

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The fantastic photograph below, from my collection, was taken at the John Brown Shipyard, Clydebank, Scotland, c.1949. Thank you to Herb Ford, author of Pitcairn Island as a Port of Call for the following information:

This would have been Ruahine III (both I and II were built at a different yard – Wm. Denny & Bros, Dumbarton) and she was launched on December 11, 1950, so the photo would most likely have been taken in 1949, given the degree of completeness shown; can’t get closer to an exact date for you than that. 
Ruahine III made her maiden voyage from London to Wellington on May 22, 1951, after having been handed over to the New Zealand Shipping Company (which was then actually the New Zealand Shipping and Federal Steam Navigation Company) on May 3, 1951.
In 1968, after having been transferred to Federal ownership in 1967, she was sold to C. Y. Tung’s Orient Overseas Line, Hong Kong.  She was renamed Oriental Rio.  In 1969 she left Hong Kong on the Round the World Service. 
This great ship arrived at Kaohsiung for scrapping on December 31, 1973.

External link: The story of the Clyde Bank Shipyard

Two superb locomotive photographs

Thursday, 16 April 2020

The two photographs on this post are from two different countries, with rather different style steam locomotives, but with two proud crews posing in a similar way beside their machines.

In the first photograph, from the United States, this old Cabinet photograph shows the crew of the Pennsylvania Railroad's locomotive number 3117, circa 1920.

The photograph is 6 inches by 8 inches in size, and mounted on a large 8 inch by 11 inch card suitable for framing. It would seem strange to witness this kind of photograph being taken today beside a modern railway engine, but this quote, from the book Northwestern Pacific Railroad by Fred Codoni (Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 978-0738531212) explains the story behind my photographs rather well:

"… at a time when crews posing beside their iron steeds was not considered loafing. That was also an age when engineers and firemen were regularly assigned to one engine, and the men and "their" locomotives became very close."

I have found another copy of the American photograph online – click here – so I would imagine copies were made available to the crew.

My second photograph, from the UK's London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) was taken in Brighton in 1909 according to a hand written date on the back of this real photo postcard.

I was particularly taken with this Brighton photograph when I noticed that, with typical British humour, one of the crew is holding his oil can so that it would empty into the pocket of the unsuspecting man next to him!

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