The Evening Post photographic collectionApril 18th, 2018
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.
The path of tropical cyclone Giselle. 10 April 1968. This is a print from the Evening Post Collection. The map shows the start of the storm and its progress. The circles represent 12 hour intervals. Tropical cyclone Giselle tracked down over the country and was met by a Southerly front travelling up the country. This caused hurricane force winds and heavy seas. From: Photographic prints relating to marine accidents and sea rescue. PAColl-7327-1-012.
This is one of the few photographs of the Wahine upright taken from the shore. You can see how bad the visibility was. The caption from the Evening Post reads “The murky shape of the disabled Wahine looms through the southerly off Fort Dorset till late this morning. In the foreground are the rocks of the point below the fort”, 10 April 1968. Ref: EP-1968-1566. This photograph hasn’t been digitised yet.
This is a well-published photograph, taken in the late afternoon. The caption from the Evening Post reads: “Late afternoon picture of the Wahine as she rolled almost horizontal”, 11 Apr 1968. Ref: EP/1968/1647/14-F. This photograph hasn’t been digitised but there is a similar digitised version here: EP/1968/1647/14-F
This photograph and the one following were images taken while on board the Wahine giving the perspective from crew and passengers. It shows the tug Tapuhi coming to assist. The photographer was Frank Robinson, a steward on the Wahine. These photographs are in copyright and permission is needed to re-use them. Frank Robinson. Evening Post Collection. EP-Accidents-Sea-rescue-Wahine2-folder2of2-002
Crew on the Wahine setting up a tow line to fire to the tug Tapuhi. You can see how large the seas were. Frank Robinson. Evening Post Collection. EP-Accidents-Sea-rescue-Wahine2-folder2of2-001. This photograph is in copyright.
This is another well-known photograph. It was originally cropped when published in the paper. Here you can see the un-cropped version with negative number on the right-hand side. "Life boat from ship Wahine landing passengers and crew on Seatoun beach, after the ship sank on 10 April 1968. Published on 11 April 1968. Dominion post (Newspaper), Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1576-F. The cropped version is: EP/1968/1576-F
This photograph and the following one show how severe the cyclone was on land. Automobiles overturned by Wahine storm, Wellington. Dominion post (Newspaper), Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/1581-F
House in Island Bay, Wellington, damaged by Wahine storm. Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1968/2014-F. This photo was taken a month after the cyclone. The caption from the paper reads “Family forced to leave this ex-house. Perched on a bluff above Island Bay, this house is just one of the reminders in the city of last month’s storm. Eventually the house will be repaired but in the meantime the wind and rain attack and erode what remains of the new home”. 11 May 1968. P21
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.
Box of Evening Post prints. PAColl-7327-1-012 Photograph by Amalaratna
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