HMS Orpheus

Wreck of  H.M.S. ORPHEUS  On Manukau Bar New Zealand Feb 1863.Richard Beechey 1868. On loan from the Edmiston Trust. On display at New Zealand Maritime Museum

The ORPHEUS disaster is often called ‘New Zealand’s worst sea disaster’. Although the WAHINE disaster would be New Zealand’s most famous shipwreck, the ORPHEUS was the greatest loss of life. Out of the 259 men assumed to be aboard, 189 lost their lives.

It happened on the 7 February 1863 on the Manukau Bar, on the west coast of Auckland.

The Merchant Navy

Medals awarded to George Henry Davis (1999.21.17), part of the NZ Maritime Museum reserve collection. During World War One Davis served as a soldier in the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps; the first two medals of this set represent his service during this conflict. George Davis also served in World War Two as a marine engineer in the Merchant Navy, for his service he was awarded The 1939 - 1945 Star, The Pacific Star, The War Medal 1939-45 and the New Zealand War Service Medal.  The last medal of this set is

On Wednesday 3 September we remembered the bravery and sacrifices of the civilian seamen known as the Merchant Navy. They were not a military force; they were the men who sailed the civilian ships requisitioned by the New Zealand and British Governments for war service.

100 years since New Zealand joined WW1

Union Steam Ship Company steamship MOERAKI, oil painting attributed to Frank Barnes (1859-1941). Fraser Collection,  NZ Maritime Museum (8673). The passenger steamship was built for the company in 1902, and was employed in the trans-Tasman service.

Friday 29 August marks one hundred years since what is considered New Zealand’s first military action in World War I.

Poetry from war-torn seas

Ticket to the Rangitane Ball [16044g],  part of the reserve collection of  the Maritime Museum.

During the early hours of 26 November 1940, RMS RANGITANE was travelling from Auckland to London when she was attacked and sunk by German raiders. Of the 300 people on board, 13 were killed during the attack. 

Protecting our beaches: Surf Life Saving and the legacy of Muriel Brown

Photo by Dave Young, 2010

As New Zealanders, we’re lucky to live in a country with so many beaches. But we also need to be aware of how dangerous our waters can be. Surf Life Saving New Zealand watches over our busiest beaches every summer to keep us safe in the sea - their red and yellow flags are a familiar and comforting sight.

New Zealand Hospital Ships MAHENO and MARAMA

NZ Hospital Ship MAHENO by W. Cockell, oil on velvet (2003.6) NZHS MAHENO illuminated at night, part of Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum's reserve collection.

During World War One the New Zealand Government requisitioned two Union Steam Ship Company trans-Tasman liners the MAHENO and the MARAMA to be refitted as hospital ships.

Lifejackets - safety at sea

We all know that lifejackets are essential pieces of equipment on boats – allowing wearers to keep afloat if they somehow end up in the water, saving them from drowning.

Lighthouses - guiding the way

This flag is from the Auckland Harbour Board, it shows Rangitoto Island and the Rangitoto Island Lighthouse. Part of the Voyager NZ MM collection (11411)
Navigating New Zealand’s coastline and harbours can be a perilous undertaking, even with all the technology available today.  Lighthouses have always been, and always will be, essential for mariners who rely on these beacons to guide them safely in dangerous waters.

Shipwrecks - the recovery

NIAGARA, BIll Laxon Collection, Voyager NZMM
Travel by sea was fairly dangerous in the 19th century. Ships were wrecked because of the lack of lighthouses to guide them; the inaccuracy of maps and lack of knowledge of new coastlines.

Protest Vessels

From being attacked in the safety of port, to taking protest action to the open seas, the people who crew protest vessels often find themselves in extremely dangerous situations. 

Navigating the Pacific

Waka Quest’s double-hulled voyaging waka Haunui

According to the Tahitian story, the ancient king and voyager Tumu-nui listed eight dangers of the sea: long-wave, short-wave, isolated-coral-rock, fish-shoal, sea-monster, animal-with-burning-flesh, crane-empowered-by-Ta'aroa [the supreme god of creation], and giant-clam-opening-at-the-horizon.

Maui Tikitiki A Taranga

Around the world, in all cultures there are heroes, and here in Aotearoa New Zealand, Maui appears as a hero whose achievements benefit people.  Taranga who, thinking that her last child was still born, wrapped him in her topknot and cast him into the sea.  

Ingrid Visser – Orca Protector

Ingrid Visser, Sept 1999  Photographer B.J. Berghan
With a strong affinity with the ocean from a young age, it was not surprise that Ingrid Visser followed a natural path to became a guardian of all orcas, not only in New Zealand but all of Australasia.

Auckland Tally Clerk’s Union

An intricately hand-carved and gold-embellished roll of honour pays homage to the men of the Auckland Tally Clerks’ Union who fought in the World Wars.
Of the 28 union men who served, four made the ultimate sacrifice. After the wars, they continued to fight – but this time, for their rights on the Auckland waterfront.

Rob Waddell - A Hero with a Giant Heart

Rob Waddell wins gold at Sydney 2000
Rob Waddell’s accomplishments in world sport are best described as Herculean - reaching the pinnacle of not one, but two very demanding sporting codes.
A world and Olympic rowing champion, Waddell has also been one of the tough men of Kiwi yachting – grinding for Team New Zealand in two Louis Vuitton Cup victories and three America’s Cup matches.  And he did it all with a troublesome heart.

Barbara Kendall – Rainbow Girl

Barbara in the lead in a mistral board race.  Barbara Kendall Collection,  Voyager NZ Maritime Museum [2003.215]

In a dazzling 24-year boardsailing career, Barbara Kendall became known as The Rainbow Girl – winning a medal of every hue at the pinnacle of sport, the Olympic Games. 

Greg Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell - HAWAIKI NUI

Plan of HAWAIKI-NUI / Designer Jacques Pariselle, conception Frances Cowan,  realisation Frances Cowan and Matahi Brightwell. Proceedings Waka Moana Symposium, Voyager NZ Maritime Museum [1996.132]

When Greg Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell realised a dream when his double-hulled waka HAWAIKI NUI arrived off the coast of Gisborne in 1985.The master carver had spent five years hand-crafting the traditional canoe and preparing it for an epic journey across the South Pacific – to prove that the long sea voyages portrayed in Polynesian folklore were really possible.


Russell Coutts leading the fleet at the  1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games /  photographer Bob Fisher.

When Russell Coutts drove a sleek black yacht across the finish-line off San Diego on Sunday, May 14th, 1995, a nation on the other side of the Pacific Ocean went into raptures.
With a little “Black Magic” and a whole lot of team spirit, New Zealand had won the America’s Cup – the holy grail of sailing – for the first time in the 144-year history of the world’s oldest sporting trophy.  

Mary Jane Bennett - Keeper of the Light

Mary Jane Bennett was not only dedicated to taking care of her husband and seven children. She was also committed to looking after the wellbeing of seamen rounding Pencarrow Head at the entrance to Wellington Harbour. Despite the most challenging conditions, Mary Jane was the first – and only – woman to become a lighthouse keeper in New Zealand.

Peter Burling & Blair Tuke: champions and future heroes

Tuke and Burling with silver medals  at the 2012 London Olympics

If you peered into a crystal ball at the future of New Zealand yachting, the chances are very high you would see Peter Burling and Blair Tuke sailing front and centre.