Captain coming ashore

Seldom if ever before has the moment been captured on photograph when a ship's captain steps ashore just after his ship has been wrecked or sunk. This photo, taken by a newspaper camera-man, shows 57 year old Captain Gordon Robertson, Master of TEV Wahine, on Seatoun Wharf after having been pulled from the sea by a rescue vessel. Shock and hypothermia are plain on his face. Captain Robertson is in his master's uniform; below the left shoulder of his jacket are the rows of campaign ribbons from his Merchant Navy service during World War Two.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wahine Disaster, the sinking of the ship Wahine in Wellington harbour, New Zealand on the 10th April 1968 with the deaths of 51 people.

My name is Murray Robinson and I am the godson of Captain Gordon Robertson, the man who was in command of the Wahine on 10th of April 1968.

This website is dedicated to the Wahine and Captain Robertson. It provides detailed information about both, and answers the many questions that still surround the Wahine's tragic loss and the role Captain Robertson played.

Photograph by John J. Gray

Sublimely beautiful; the Wahine as we remember her during her short life, before the tragedy of 10th April 1968. The offshore rocks and light tower of Pencarrow Head, where she fought her battle with the seas that morning, lie off to starboard just ahead of the ship. In this photo she is steaming into Wellington harbour late on a summer-time afternoon, near the end of a daylight crossing from Lyttelton. Captain Robertson is on the bridge. The Wahine was the finest ship he ever commanded, both the summit and very bottom of his lifelong career at sea.

Wahine on her side
Photograph by John J. Gray

The Wahine lying on her side and partially submerged in Wellington harbour, a few days after the disaster of 10th April 1968.

This photo has been kindly restored by Royce Flynn September 2012.

A very great amount has been written, filmed and spoken about the Wahine Disaster in the many years since 10th April 1968. Much of it rightly focuses on the memories of survivors from that day and those who rescued them from the sea. But there is another side to the Wahine: the story of the ship herself and of her master, officers, engineers and crew who fought so courageously to save her. Theirs is a truly marvelous seafaring epic of devotion to duty combined with very great tragedy. Despite the frenzy of the storm - the worst ever recorded in Wellington - and the terrible damage done to the ship, the Wahine all that morning refused to concede. Astonishingly she stayed upright, intact and afloat. But then, as the storm died away in the early afternoon and with her battle almost won, the Wahine quietly rolled over and sank.

Her loss, with so many lives taken, was the most colossal shock. The Wahine was a big, modern, powerful, fine-looking ship less than two years old. Captain Robertson and his senior officers, all of them highly experienced mariners, had believed she would come through the storm. Afterwards Captain Robertson tried to get on with his life, returning to sea, but privately he never got over the Wahine. Who could have? Worse was to follow.

The myths and misinformation began soon after the Wahine's loss, and have persisted down through the years. It was said that Captain Robertson did not get to the Wahine's bridge on time that morning, having slept in. Heedless of the raging storm, he decided to carry on with entry into Wellington harbour because he did not want the Wahine to be late. Speed was foolishly reduced for the comfort of passengers. Captain Robertson then became disorientated and inadvertently backed the Wahine over Barrett Reef. Reports given to him about the water on the vehicle deck were ignored, the passengers were lied to, and Captain Robertson stood around on the bridge all morning doing nothing. He was late in giving the order to abandon ship, resulting in more deaths.

Another myth has it that after the sinking he was banned from ever bringing a ship into Wellington harbour again. When he died, Captain Robertson took his secrets about what actually took place aboard the Wahine, with him to the grave. Then there is the notion, just as false, that the Wahine was a bad-luck ship, poorly constructed and prone to accident.

All this is baseless, contemptible and wrong. The aim of this website is to put the record straight for Captain Robertson and the Wahine.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the content of this website is accurate.
No responsibility is accepted for any errors.

Copyright: The contents of this website are copyright and may not be reproduced or published
in any way
without prior arrangement and the permission of Murray Robinson.

Updated 23 November 2017

Murray Robinson can be contacted by emailing:

Wahine News


I want to write a book telling the story of Captain Robertson and the Wahine, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Wahine Disaster (and the 45th anniversary of Captain Robertson's death) in 2018. If you could help with financing or with publishing, please contact Murray Robinson on

Follow this link to an exceptional set of images showing the wreck of the Wahine, taken on 12 April 1968 two days following the disaster. This must rank as the most beautiful and the most striking photography ever shot aboard the wreck:

Dominion Post article

In its Saturday 6 April 2013 edition, on page A12, the Dominion Post published a two-page article that repeats many of the falsehoods about Captain Robertson that this website seeks to put right. I was not asked to respond to any of what the article says, before it was printed, even though this website was used as source material for the timeline given in the article on the same page.

The article says Captain Robertson decided to take the Wahine to sea from Lyttelton on the evening of 9 April 1968 despite a storm warning that made clear its magnitude was to be that of a 10-to-20 year event. There was nothing in the storm warning that said anything like this. The storm’s centre that evening was 1,120 kilometres away to the north-east.

The article next says that Captain Robertson was asleep while his crew had difficulties steering the Wahine in the large waves. The facts are that the Wahine’s chief officer, a fully qualified master mariner, was in charge on the bridge during this time. The steering difficulty was nothing unusual, and was rectified by lowering the Wahine’s speed.

Captain Robertson woke not as the ship was nearing the harbour heads, as the article says, but at 5 a.m. when the ship was in the middle of Cook Strait. He was on the bridge from 5.50 a.m., his normal time, when the Wahine was still out in Cook Strait and south of Baring Head.

The ship’s speed was reduced to half ahead to aid the Wahine’s steering, which it did. The reduction did not render steering useless, as said in the article.

There is no factual evidence that Captain Robertson tried to steer the Wahine back into the harbour after successfully bringing her bow round and pointing out to sea. Nor did he turn her into Breaker Bay. This is all completely wrong.

Critics of Captain Robertson are quoted in the article but the Dominion Post journalist has not included any comment in Captain Robertson’s defence, by way of offering balance and fairness to what he wrote.

On 12 April 2013 the Dominion Post published the following two letters:

Dominion Post letters

Dominion Post letters
Can you help with any information about this painting? The artist is either U.Turner or V. Turner. If you can, please email Josh on

Want to see a digital model on the Wahine under construction? Go to Wahine under construction


Magnificent Seven

Ships In Focus announces a major new liner book:

Shaw Savill's Magnificent Seven

Corinthic Athenic Ceramic Gothic Persic Runic Suevic

by Andrew Bell and Murray Robinson.

In May 1946, amid the hardships of post-war Britain, the splendid new passenger liner Corinthic was launched into the Mersey. Vanguard of a class of seven, she offered first-class sea travel reminiscent of the halcyon days of the 1930s. Corinthic was followed by sisters Athenic, Ceramic and the Gothic, and by three cargo-only ‘Big Ics’, Persic, Suevic and Runic.

‘Shaw Savill's Magnificent Seven’ not only gives full accounts of their careers, which in two cases were unusually notable, but offers much more besides. The authors have drawn together a treasure-house of memories, facts and photographs from those who designed, built and sailed ‘the Big Ics’. They tell fascinating stories of ordering and constructing the ships, life on their bridges, in the passenger lounges and the crew mess rooms, and work in the engine rooms and holds.

The most famous of the class was the Gothic, which had the extraordinary distinction in 1953-54 of serving as royal yacht for the very first visit by a reigning British monarch to the Commonwealth countries of the southern oceans. But each of the ships had their stories, including that of the stranding of the Runic on Middleton Reef and of the fires on the Corinthic and Gothic.

By the authors of ‘A Tasman Trio’, ‘Shaw Savill's Magnificent Seven’ is a masterly account which successfully summons up the immediate post-war era of sailing in and working on the last of the classic cargo-passenger ships. Co-author Murray Robinson is a New Zealand Ship & Marine Society member and lives on the Kapiti Coast. The book is illustrated with his paintings of 'the Big Ics.'

The Governor-General of New Zealand has given his personal foreword for the book.

A hard cover, A4 book of 168 pages awash with plans, photographs and paintings in colour and black and white, ‘Shaw Savill's Magnificent Seven’ is available from J. and M. Clarkson, 18 Franklands, Longton, Preston PR4 5PD, UK; email: or order through their website:

Priced at GBP25.00 plus GBP4.50 packing and postage for buyers outside the UK.


An emailer seeks help tracing a bravery award made to Terrence Edward Smith, a British seafarer who rescued four Wahine survivors from the sea on 10th April 1968 - including a pregnant woman who subsequently named her daughter Terri in his honour. The medal has since been lost from Mr Smith's family, who are anxious to learn of its whereabouts.

If you have any information about Mr Smith or the medal he received, please contact this website at:

A Wahine survivor is wanting information about a blue-hulled yacht that was on the western side of Wellington harbour on 10 April 1968 during the rescue. It sank later that afternoon, and its owner may have had the name Dickson or Dickinson.

If you recall this yacht or have any details about her identity, can you please email this website on:

See answer below.

Miranda under sail

Miranda close up
© Gerry Devitt. Both photos are acknowledged with thanks to Gerry Devitt and are not to be reproduced without his prior permission..

ANSWER: Gerry Devitt advises the yacht was the Tahi Miranda, owned by him in 1968. She had a blue hull and sank in Wellington harbour on 10th April 1968.


In its programme 50 Years Of TV News that screened on Sunday 27 June 2010, Television New Zealand announced the results of a viewers' poll ranking the biggest news events of the past 50 years from 1960, when television began in New Zealand, to 2010. The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the USA was voted the biggest news event, with the death in France of Princess Diana on 31 August 1997 the second. Loss of the Wahine on 10 April 1968 was voted fourth biggest news event.

TVNZ showed, once again, that myths and rubbish about the Wahine still abound over four decades later. In describing the Wahine's loss during their 50 Years Of TV News programme, TVNZ's presenter said the following: " a gathering storm she tried to enter the heads and hit winds of 160 kilometres per hour."

The Wahine was just to the north of Pencarrow Head, already INSIDE the entrance to Wellington harbour, when the storm struck in the early morning darkness of 10 April 1968. Prior to that the winds and seas, although very rough, had not been increasing or "gathering." See the 10th April 1968 page of this website to find out was really happened.


Foremast on truck
© Craig Cottrill. Gratefully acknowledged to Craig Cottrill and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

Placing of the foremast memorial
© Photo by Jim Mason. Gratefully acknowledged to Jim Mason and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

On Thursday afternoon 21 January 2010, some 41 years and seven months after it was cut from the wreck, the steel foremast from in front of the Wahine's bridge was raised at Korohiwa Bay, Eastbourne as a memorial to the ship and those who died. The mast is located on the foreshore just to the south of the old Eastbourne Omnibus Garage. Painted white, it can be clearly seen from the main shipping channel out in the harbour, against the backdrop of the hills. These photos show the mast arriving by truck and then being lifted into position by crane. In the middle distance, immediately to the right of the mast in the second photo, is the red roof of the old house at Burdan's Gate. This marks the start of the long, winding dirt road that follows the shoreline round to Pencarrow Light and beyond. Hundreds of survivors walked or were carried along this road after landing on 10th April 1968, many having been pulled from the raging surf by rescuer Jim Mason, who took this second photo. Forty seven people died in these same waters or on the Pencarrow beaches that day. Out in the harbour entrance is the Cook Strait rail ferry Aratere, arriving from Picton. The foremast was dedicated at a ceremony attended by survivors, rescuers, their families, local people and the Mayor of Hutt City, on Saturday 10 April 2010.

The foremast can be seen just below the surface of the sea in the picture on this page showing the Wahine lying on her side. It was one of the first large items removed from the wreck when salvage work commenced in August 1968. Divers severed the base of the foremast with cutting torches, allowing it to fall to the seafloor. It was then lifted by the floating crane Hikitia and taken ashore, whereupon it was dumped on waste land at Te Aro near the Overseas Passenger Terminal. The bent rails on the radar platform halfway up the mast testify to the damage done during the mast's recovery. For the next four decades it languished in various council yards, corroding away and pasted with graffiti. The work of restoring the mast and erecting it at Korohiwa Bay was undertaken by the Hutt City Council. The radar with its scanner has long gone, as has the navigation light on the mast's lower, smaller platform.

Rescuing liferafts
© Ian McFarlane, Museum of Wellington, City and Sea Collection, Reference: 2166

This photo was taken late on the afternoon of 10 April 1968 in Korohiwa Bay. Rescuers scramble to pull ashore one of the Wahine's battered liferafts and check its interior for any survivors. The house at Burdan's Gate can again be seen in the middle distance. The approximate position of the foremast today is to the left, out of the picture, where the onlooker with hood and gumboots is standing.

Foremast lights
© Sam Parker CEng FRINA. Gratefully acknowledged to Sam Parker and not to be reproduced without his prior permission.

The Wahine's foremast as it was aboard the ship, showing the navigation and signal lights with which it was fitted, all of which could be activated from the bridge as needed. Note the curved base at the foot of the mast, which was not saved when the mast was cut from the wreck by salvage divers. There is a man standing on the roof of the starboard bridge wing, above the green side light, and two other men can just be made out near the foot of the stairway leading up to the bridge. One of these is Sam Parker, who kindly provided this image for this website.


Quartermaster Ken Macleod, who was helmsman on the bridge of the Wahine on 10th of April 1968, passed away at Te Omanga Hospice in Lower Hutt, New Zealand at 8 a.m. on Friday 25 September 2009. Aged 75, he had been afflicted with cancer and in declining health for some time. His funeral was held on 30 September 2009.

Kenneth Macleod was born in Back on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland on 29 January 1934. Youngest of three children, he was the son of an infantry sergeant serving in the Seaforth Highlanders, a distinguished regiment of the British Army. Sergeant Macleod was stationed in Hong Kong with his family in the late 1930s, then went to France with the British Expeditionary Force when World War Two began. He was a survivor of the Dunkirk Evacuation in 1940. Ken's father was, however, tragically killed at Inverness shortly afterwards in 1940, where his regiment was based at the time, when accidentally run down by a bus during the wartime black-out. Ken's mother, whose name was Mary Ann, took her family home to Back where Ken grew up and where his grandfather taught him to speak Gaelic. Then in 1951, at the age of 17, Ken went to London to follow his older brother Donald to sea. He became a qualified able seaman and joined the New Zealand Shipping Company, serving aboard their ships Rangitata, Ruahine and Rangitoto. The Ruahine was Ken's favourite ship; he worked as a saloon deckhand aboard this liner. His job was to maintain the promenade decks, setting out deck chairs for passengers and then re-stowing them when not in use.

Emigrating to New Zealand in 1963, Ken worked on many ships belonging to the Union Steam Ship Company. In 1968, aged 34, he was one of two seaman quartermasters aboard the Wahine. The other was Tommy Dartford. Their job was to steer the ship in response to helm orders from the Master when the Wahine was manoeuvred into and out of her berth at the interisland terminals each morning and evening. Going astern into the berth required particular skill; Ken would be steering the ship from the port wing control console using her bow rudder, with Captain Robertson beside him at the rear-facing bridge windows. Ken had been selected by the Master for this task because of his abilities as a helmsman; it was a job where he was known as "the mud pilot."

On 10th April 1968 Quartermaster Ken Macleod was on duty from 4 a.m., and steering the Wahine from just before 5 a.m. He was at the wheel when the ship came in through the harbour entrance, as the storm hit her just north of Pencarrow head and control of the ship was lost, throughout the battle to restore control and get her back out to sea, and as the Wahine went aground on Barrett Reef. Ken remained on the bridge throughout the morning, standing-by. He was a member of the party of seamen who manhandled the tug Tapuhi's towing wire onto the Wahine's stern. When the abandon ship order was given, Ken got away as a member of the boat crew for the starboard number one accident boat, which was under the command of Third Officer Grahame Noblet. Thrown into the sea when this lifeboat was overturned, Ken, who was a non-swimmer, spent two hours in the freezing water until rescued by Captain Newey and the Arahina. He was then landed at Seatoun Wharf. Ken later recalled that during his two hour ordeal he kept going because of his wife Shirley, who was expecting their first daughter Louise, born a month later.

Ken went back to sea six days after the disaster, as a seaman aboard the cement carrier Ligar Bay. His last ship was the Cook Strait rail ferry Arahura. Retiring from the sea in 1990 at the age of 56, Ken worked as a house painter and lived with his wife Shirley at Otaki Beach until shortly before his death. They were married in September 1967 and had two daughters. Kindly and soft-spoken, Ken was a gentleman and a highly respected seafarer of the old school. He held strong views about how and why the Wahine was lost and was very disappointed that his account of what happened prior to the ship's grounding was never given official recognition.

© Murray Robinson
26 September 2009

A Tasman Trio


Recalling the great days of ocean liner travel between Australia and New Zealand
aboard the Wanganella, Awatea and the Monowai.
Hardback, 104 pages, 189 photos plus maps, paintings and deck plans.
Order your copy by emailing

Tasman Trio book cover

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