The Evening Post photographic collectionApril 18th, 2018 By Amalaratna
I’m a Wellingtonian and remember the Wahine disaster well. On 10th April 1968 I was a pre-teen living at Happy Valley in Owhiro Bay which is between Island Bay and Red Rocks. The weather was too windy to go outside; we couldn’t stand up and sheets of roofing iron were blown dangerously up the main street.
The school bus was cancelled and so our family stayed home from school and work and listened to the events unfolding on the radio.
Although many of those radio recordings have long since vanished, one of the best sources of information about this event are in the photographic record. In particular, the Evening Post Collection (PA-Group-00685) has an extensive archive of imagery related to the tragedy, including the effects of the storm on Wellington infrastructure, rescue efforts for passengers of the Wahine, the vessel in Wellington harbour and the crew.
The Evening Post
The Evening Post was a Wellington daily newspaper that ran from 1865-2002. A family business founded by Henry Blundell, it remained so until the 1960’s. There were two daily editions published; an early edition in the afternoon and a late edition in the evening.
In 2002 it merged with the Dominion Post newspaper to form a new publication: The DominionPost.
The photographic collection from the Evening Post has come to the Library in various deposits over the years, starting in 1963. The latest was in 2003. The complete collection comprises over 235,000 negatives and some 113,000 prints.
Although the prints weren’t all published in the paper, many were marked up for publication and have the newspaper’s caption on the verso. In some cases there are also multiples of certain images which Evening Post staff photographers reviewed in order to get a suitable photograph for publication. Many of the prints are contained in boxes of folders of individual photographs; these are arranged around broad topics over a wide range of categories.
Now that the negatives are housed in the Alexander Turnbull Library they are stored alongside other negatives in special rooms with controlled atmospheric conditions. The negatives are kept in low moisture, low temperature and filtered air in order to significantly slow chemical deterioration.
The Wahine disaster
The Wahine was an overnight passenger ferry from Lyttelton to Wellington. Services started in 1966 and it was one of the new roll-on roll-off services (that is, vehicles could drive straight on and off without having to be loaded on and off by crane). It could carry 927 passengers.
The Wahine left Lyttelton at 9.40pm on 9 April with 734 passengers and crew aboard this voyage.
By daybreak, as the Wahine approached the entrance to Wellington harbour, the wind had increased to 100 knots. At 6:40am the Wahine was blown off course, struck and run aground on Barretts Reef. As the winds worsened she began drifting into the harbour, past Point Dorsett, dragging both anchors. The Tug Tapuhi tried to tow the ferry but the line snapped.
The order was given to abandon ship at 1.30pm. Four lifeboats were launched – 3 made it to land on various sides of the harbour. On that day 51 people lost lives and others later from injuries. You can read excerpts from a first-hand account of what it was like on the Wahine that fateful day in a previous blog: Wahine: Ada's story.
Many of the Evening Post photographs have been digitised on the Library’s website. They can be searched by keyword, topic or reference number and the words 'Evening Post'. Records exist for boxes of the prints that haven’t been digitised yet so they can be requested and viewed onsite at the Library.
High resolution digital copies of most Evening Post photographs can be ordered for personal use through the Library’s website by clicking the ‘order copy’ button next to the image. For those images that haven’t been digitised, copies can still be ordered by filling in an order form. Staff can advise on ordering as well as using the photographs.
While most Evening Post photos can be ordered for personal use, some are still in copyright and have restrictions on their use. This is usually the case where the photographer was not an Evening Post photographer but donated photographs to the Evening Post collection. Social media remains a problematic area for use due to extensive licensing agreements by platforms like Facebook or Twitter therefore personal use does not extend to sharing the images on social media.
If you’d like to browse the digitised images from the Evening Post collection you can start here, on the first page of the gallery.
Frank Robinson, Photographer, for permission to use his photographs
Natalie Marshall and Jenni Chrisstoffels, Curator and Assistant Curator Photographic Archive for their assistance
Jay Buzenberg, Online Content Coordinator for editing