SS Penguin

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SS Penguin.jpg
SS Penguin
Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg New Zealand
Name: SS Penguin
Builder: Tod and Macgregor, Glasgow
Yard number: 128
Launched: 21 January 1864
Identification: Official number: 47849
Fate: Sank on 12 February 1909 after colliding with rocks near Wellington. 75 people killed in what is classed as New Zealand's deadliest maritime disaster of the twentieth century.
Status: Wreck
General characteristics [1]
Type: Passenger/cargo steamship
Length: 220 ft 6 in (67.21 m)
Beam: 28 ft 6 in (8.69 m)
Depth: 14 ft 4 in (4.37 m)
  • As built
  • 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
  • From 1882
  • 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)

SS Penguin was a New Zealand inter-island ferry steamer that sank off Cape Terawhiti after striking a rock near the entrance to Wellington Harbour in poor weather on 12 February 1909. Penguin's sinking caused the deaths of 75 people, leaving only 30 survivors. This was New Zealand's worst maritime disaster of the 20th century. [2]

Cape Terawhiti point in New Zealand

Cape Terawhiti is the southwesternmost point of the North Island of New Zealand.

Wellington Harbour Harbour in New Zealand

Wellington Harbour is the large natural harbour on the southern tip of New Zealand's North Island. New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, is located on its western side. The harbour, the sea area bounded by a line between Pencarrow Head to Petone foreshore, was officially named Port Nicholson, until it assumed its current name in 1984.


Ship history

Penguin was built by Tod & McGregor of Glasgow, Scotland, for G. & J. Burns of Glasgow, and launched on 21 January 1864. Registered in Glasgow on 4 April 1864, she was finally sold to the Union Steamship Company in 1879, and was extensively refitted in 1882. [1]

Sir George Burns, 1st Baronet Shipping magnate

Sir George Burns, 1st Baronet was a Scottish shipping magnate.

Union Company

Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Limited —when there was no chance of confusion casually referred to as Union, Union Company, Union Steam Ship Company, or Union Line— was once the biggest shipping line in the southern hemisphere and New Zealand's largest private-sector employer. It was incorporated by James Mills in Dunedin in 1875 with the backing of a Scottish shipbuilder, Peter Denny. Bought by shipping giant P & O around the time of the First World War it was sold in 1972 to an Australasian consortium and closed at the end of the twentieth century.


Penguin departed Picton on 12 February 1909 en route to Wellington in good conditions. However, the weather conditions changed by 8 pm, with very strong winds and bad visibility. At 10 p.m, Captain Francis Naylor headed farther out to sea to wait for a break in the weather, but the ship smashed into Thoms Rock while making the turn, and water started to pour in. Women and children were loaded into the lifeboats, but the rough seas dragged the lifeboats underwater; only one woman survived, and all the children were killed. Other survivors drifted for hours on rafts before reaching safety. As the Penguin sank, seawater flooded the engine room. The cold water reached the boilers, and a massive steam explosion violently fractured the ship. [3]

Picton, New Zealand Place in Marlborough, New Zealand

Picton is a town in the Marlborough Region of New Zealand's South Island. The town is located near the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound, 25 km (16 mi) north of Blenheim and 65 km (40 mi) west of Wellington. Waikawa lies just north-east of Picton, and is often considered to be contiguous part of Picton.

Following the disaster, a half-day holiday was declared in Wellington to allow the many funerals to be held, [4] as some 40 people were laid to rest in Karori Cemetery.

Karori Cemetery

Karori Cemetery is New Zealand's second largest cemetery, located in the Wellington suburb of Karori.

A court of inquiry found that the ship struck Thoms Rock near the mouth to Karori Stream in Cook Strait. The captain maintained that it had struck the submerged hull of the Rio Loge, lost the month before. [5] On the 100th anniversary of the sinking, Wellington's mayor unveiled a plaque at Tongue Point, near the site of the wreck. [6]

Cook Strait strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand

Cook Strait is a strait that separates the North and South Islands of New Zealand. It connects the Tasman Sea on the northwest with the South Pacific Ocean on the southeast, and runs next to the capital city, Wellington. It is 22 kilometres (14 mi) wide at its narrowest point, and is considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world.

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  1. 1 2 "SS Penguin". Clyde-built Ship Database . 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  2. The 1863 sinking of HMS Orpheus remains New Zealand's deadliest maritime disaster.
  3. "SS Penguin – New Zealand Disasters". Christchurch City Libraries. 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  4. "SS Penguin wrecked in Cook Strait". 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  5. Wood, Stacey; McDonald, Greer (11 February 2009). "Search for wreck of Penguin". The Dominion Post . Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  6. SS Penguin Sinking to be Remembered on South Coast, Wellington City Council, 9 February 2009.

Further reading

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.