The Regulus and Port Kembla
The Regulus was built in 1907 by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson of Newcastle on Tyne for the Westport Coal Company, based in Dunedin. She was a vessel of 584 tons, and was purchased by the Anchor Shipping Company in 1913 and traded successfully around the New Zealand until 1935, when she was sold to F.E. Jackson & Co. Auckland and broken up in 1936.
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The Regulus made headlines in 1917 when she picked up the crew of the Port Kembla, which had struck a mine off Cape Farewell that had been laid by the German Raider Wolf some weeks earlier. The survivors were taken on board and fitted out with dry clothing, then with the boats in tow the Regulus headed back to Nelson. The lighthouse keeper on the Boulder Bank seeing the Regulus returning with two life boats in tow, after just leaving the night before, thought something was amiss and notified the authorities. The news spread like wildfire and, on the ship's arrival, hundreds of people were on the wharf to welcome Capt. F.L. Vickerman and his crew and to find out the situation.
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Because of wartime censorship, little could be published at the time but it was impossible to conceal the truth in a place like Nelson where so much solicitous good will existed, and it was soon known that the ship in question was the Port Kembla, which had left Australia laden with food valued at a million pounds for Britain a few days earlier, and was to call into Wellington for bunkers en route.
The explosion had taken place in the for’ard hold, with the vessel sinking in twenty minutes, just giving enough time for all hands to get into the boats, but not enough to collect any personal effects. The cause of the explosion was not fully known until after the war when information became available from the Log Books of the raider Wolf and there it was found that she had laid mines off Cape Farewell.
The crew were fitted out by the people of Nelson and the Anchor Company took responsibility for transporting them to Wellington.
It was in this way that the “Regulus” had played her small part in the war effort.
The story of the Regulus was taken from Anchor Ships and Anchor Men by Allan A Kirk published in 1967 on behalf of the Company as a record of the Companies history
Updated Dec 2020
Sources used in this story
- Kirk, A. A. (1967) Anchor Ships and Anchor Men. Wellington, NZ: Reed
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Further sources - The Regulus and Port Kembla
- By internal explosion (1917, September 19) The Colonist, p.2
- Crew entertained (1917, October 17) The Colonist , p.2
- How the vessel was sunk (1917, September 19), The Colonist, p. 5
- Port Kembla sunk off Farewell Spit (1917, September 19) Nelson Evening Mail, p. 5
- The Port Kembla disaster (1917, October 1) The Colonist, p. 3
- Fraser, M. (2011) SS Kembla. Dive Magazine
- Port Kembla. New Zealand underwater heritage group. Retrieved 10 February, 2014