Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Holmburn

Caught below decks amid accelerating smoke, flames and heat, outbreak of fire has always been a particular dread for men and women who live and work on and around ships.

Culprits come many and varied: cigarettes thoughtlessly discarded; sparks from oxy-acetylene torches during refits; oil inlet pipes not properly screwed up to burners when boilers are set away. Other reasons include coal smouldering deep inside bunkers, and electrical wires short-circuiting behind wood panels.

On the morning of 19 July 1921, at Lyttelton New Zealand, a steward went into the master’s cabin aboard the steamer Maori (3,399/1907. Sea Breezes August-September 2014) to remove dirty coffee cups. While there, he dropped a cigarette into the waste-paper basket under the master’s writing desk. It was Dundeeborn Captain WD Cameron himself, watching passengers disembark from the Maori which had just arrived from Wellington, who first noticed his cabin was on fire. Smoke began seeping then billowing from its windows port-side on the boat deck under the flying bridge where he stood. The ship’s crew responded very quickly, quelling the flames, but not before they had charred furnishings, carpet runners and curtains. The master’s writing desk, made of solid mahogany, suffered the worst damage.

TSS Maori’s owner, the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Ltd, did not go to the expense of procuring a new, replacement desk. Instead, its directors had shore carpenters cover the burned mahogany with plywood, resulting in a hodgepodge of cheap and best-quality timber intended to serve as a lesson in vigilance against fire to all the cabin’s future occupants. It’s said that a lingering taint of burnt wood never left the master’s cabin aboard TSS Maori, no matter how diligently a succession of chief and second stewards tried to ventilate it.

Manifold were the hazards in the grand old days of steamer travel when woodlined boiler and engine casings rose deck upon deck through a vessel’s passenger accommodation. Soot, coal dust and oily residue accumulated behind timber panelling coated with thick varnish or lead paint, waiting to be ignited by extreme heat from boiler uptakes. Use of fire-resistant materials gave much more protection against this threat in the post-WWII era, as did the fitting of sprinklers and smoke detection cabinets. But fire is a demon ever-ready to seize its opportunity. On the night of 7-8 May 1959, a grim little tragedy, largely forgotten today, took place at the port of Lyttelton, scene of the Maori’s escape thirty-eight years before, when fire broke out aboard the nearly-new flagship of Holm & Company Ltd ‘Ship [a] ‘death trap,’ ‘crew [a] ‘disorganised rabble,’ ‘too much drinking by crew’ blared some of many lurid headlines in the fire’s aftermath.

THE DUTCH-BUILT FLAGSHIP
So powerful became the Union Steam Ship Company, owner of TSS Maori and the largest fleet in the southern hemisphere, that few ship owners gained commercial air to breathe on New Zealand’s waterfront, on the Tasman Sea and in the South Pacific during the company’s 124-year life. From founding at Dunedin in 1875, to disposal of its last assets in 1999, competitors knew the Union Company as ‘the southern octopus.’ Tentacles reached into the board rooms and shareholdings of ship owners who dared intrude into the Union Company’s trades and profits. Some were allowed to persevere, but not for long and always under a jaundiced, watchful eye from the company’s branch managers and wharf superintendents.

Arguably, the most successful breach of the fortress was made by Captain Ferdinand Holm and his merchant seafarer sons and grandsons. Born at Arboga, Sweden in 1844, Ferdinand Holm landed at Wellington in 1868 as an able seaman aboard a sailing barque out of Melbourne. He began his family’s ownership of ships by purchasing a half-share in a 328-ton sailing barque called Malay in 1880. In 1906, when he and two other ship’s masters formed the Maoriland Steamship Company, its existence was tolerated only because Sir James Mills, the Union Company’s chairman and founder, personally held Captain Holm in high esteem as a friend. Felicitous though the chairman might outwardly have been, discreetly the Union Company infiltrated its shareholding until, in 1915, it owned the Maoriland Steamship Company’s entire fleet of three ships. An individualist never willing to concede, Captain Holm travelled to Great Britain to buy another steamer with which to start again.

He returned to Wellington in command of a 342 grt vessel named John, built in 1899 at the Whitehall Dockyard of Thomas Turnbull & Son in Whitby, North Yorkshire. For the first time, her funnel carried the emerald-green with black top that became the livery of Holm & Company Ltd, ship owner and agent. Based at Wanganui and under the management of Captain Holm’s oldest surviving son, Captain Sydney Holm, the company owned, chartered and managed a number of ships working the New Zealand coast. True to form, by 1930 the Union Company had acquired a controlling interest. The agricultural export boom of the 1950s brought cargo in abundance for all ships and so Holm & Company was permitted to expand its fleet with, for the first time, the building of new tonnage.

An order for MV Holmwood (797/1953) first of four refrigerated and general-purpose coasters, was awarded to Bodewes Scheepswerven NV. Longestablished at Martenshoek in the Dutch province of Groningen, renamed Royal Bodewes on celebrating its 200th jubilee in 2012, this shipyard two years later produced a second coaster for Holm & Company, MV Holmglen (485/1955). Very impressed with the sturdy seakeeping qualities of its new vessels, at the beginning of 1957, Holm & Company’s directors returned to Bodewes Scheepswerven NV with a third order. More substantial at 845 grt, costing NZ£250,000, Yard Number 430 became her owner’s flagship and very first with passenger accommodation. Her keel was laid in March 1957.

Holm & Company maintained a regular trade between Lyttelton and the Chatham Islands; for this, the new ship’s design included four passenger cabins, two with three berths, one four-berth and one two-berth, occupying her lower deck starboard side above the engine room. Part of New Zealand, the Chatham Islands is an archipelago in the South Pacific about 850 kilometres east of Christchurch. Its inhabitants, numbering 600 in the 2013 Census, are fisherfolk and farmers. Voyages under charter to the New Zealand government were also envisaged, transporting supplies and personnel to the meteorological stations on Raoul Island, north-east of New Zealand, and to Campbell Island deep in the Southern Ocean.

Holm & Company’s superintending engineer, Mr Errol S Donne, supervised construction at Martenshoek then became the new ship’s chief engineer for her delivery voyage. She had six watertight bulkheads, a straight raked stem, cruiser stern and shell plating that was clencher built. On 21 August 1957, Mrs G Bodewes, wife of a director of the shipyard, named and launched Holmburn into the Winschoterdiep Canal, the vessel entering the water sideways. After fitting-out, she ran her acceptance trials in the North Sea on 16 December 1957, achieving a top speed of 14.4 knots.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - March 2018 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Nexus

Most Popular

  • LNG Not the Driver for New Ferry Orders +

  • Big Boost for Liverpool Container Services +

  • Tall Ships at Liverpool +

  • Royal Navy Commissions New Survey Ship +

  • Rolls-Royce Marine Sold to Norwegian Group +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Bridge Sections Transported on Giant Barge +

    Lowestoft Barge One of the largest barges ever handled at Lowestoft was safely moved out of the port early in July on Read More
  • Tougher Penalties for Laser Misuse +

    Phil Buckley Tougher new penalties for the misuse of laser devices has been welcomed. Read More
  • Rolls-Royce Marine Sold to Norwegian Group +

    Rolls-Royce Autonomous Ship The UK-based major engineering company Rolls-Royce is selling its Commercial Marine business to the Norwegian technology group Kongsberg Gruppen ASA. Read More
  • Launch of New Ship For Antartic Work +

    The launch party Shortly after noon on July 14, the new polar research ship Sir David Attenborough was launched at the Birkenhead shipyard Read More
  • Barrow Takes Port of the Year Title +

    Barrow Port Barrow has won the prestigious Port of the Year Award at this year’s 10th annual UK Ports Conference in London. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Cleaning Up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch +

    Garbage System 001 This month, a new floating clean-up system to tackle what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was due Read More
  • Panama Canal Ban on LNG Ships to Go +

    Panama Canal On Oct 1, the Panama Canal Authority will lift its daylight and encounter bans on LNG vessels to offer more Read More
  • Setting New Standards on Hawaii Service +

    Daniel K Inouye What is claimed to be the largest container ship to be built in the United States was named at a Read More
  • Wartime Wreck Checked For Oil Leak +

    Coimbra In mid-June, the US Coast Guard carried out a special survey to see if a fully-laden tanker sunk by a Read More
  • LNG-Fuel Ferry in Service +

    Spirit of British Columbia The BC Ferries’ Spirit of British Columbia returned to service on June 6 after a major mid-life upgrade which included Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Wreck of Cruiser From 1905 Battle is Located +

    Kea Trader The South Korean company Shinil Group said it has found the wreck of a Russian cruiser that was sunk 113 Read More
  • Ship Salvors Recover Debris From Reef +

    Kea Trader A new independent bathymetric survey of the wreck of the container ship Kea Trader, 24,720gt, on a reef in New Read More
  • Final Hurdle Overcome in COSCO Takeover +

    COSCO The Chinese line COSCO Shipping Holdings has been given permission from the Chinese anti-trust authorities for its proposed US$6.3bn takeover Read More
  • Giant Collier Third to Trade With Japan +

    Port Kembla The first liquefied natural gas import terminal in New South Wales, Australia, is to be built at Port Kembla by Read More
  • ONE Commitment Enters Service +

    ONE Commitment The first of the magenta-coloured container ships of the Ocean Network Express (ONE) entered service in May. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Royal Navy Commissions New Survey Ship +

    HMS Magpie British News The latest survey vessel to join the Royal Navy was commissioned into service at her homeport of Devonport Read More
  • F-35 Stealth Fighters Land in UK +

    F-35 British News The first four of Britain’s next generation F-35 Lightning supersonic fighter jets touched down in the United Kingdom Read More
  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

    Admiral Kuznetsov Russian News Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be refitted to prolong the warship’s operational life. Read More
  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Victoria Of Wight’s Voyage Home +

    Victoria of Wight Wightlink’s new £30million flagship Victoria of Wight sailed from the Cemre shipyard in Yalova, Turkey on 16 July for the Read More
  • Greek Ferry Sector Steps Up in Fire Tragedy +

    Paros Jet The Greek ferry sector was in the news during the wildfire tragedy that swept the coastal area near Athens during Read More
  • LNG Not the Driver for New Ferry Orders +

    Stena E-Flexer In the last issue of Sea Breezes, I wrote of the breathtaking development of Irish Sea ferry operations over the Read More
  • Condor Looks to the Future +

    Condor Clipper Condor Ferries has faced some speculation in recent months as its owner, Macquarie European Investment Fund 2, winds down and Read More
  • W.B. Yeats Further Delayed +

    W.B. Yeats The delivery of Irish Ferries’ new €144 million cruise ferry W.B. Yeats from German shipbuilder Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) has been Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Sunderland to Esbjerg Race +

    Oosterschelde On the north east coast of England, it was Sunderland’s proud claim that more ships had been built here than Read More
  • Tall Ships at Liverpool +

    Belem At the end of May, a Tall Ships fleet met at Liverpool. Read More
  • New Bridge Challenges Melissa +

    Melissa The organisers of the charter barges working from Ipswich are worried by plans to build a road bridge across the Read More
  • German Schooners +

    Thor Heyerdahl Two German schooners based at Hamburg are regularly making voyages under sail with general cargoes across the Atlantic. Read More
  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Naming Ceremony for Forth Tug and Pilot Boat +

    Forth Puma and Craigleith In my Message From The Bridge in the August edition of Sea Breezes I highlighted the Firth of Forth. Read More
  • SMS Avonmouth Relocates to Bigger Premises +

    City of Cardiff In my long-ago deep sea days with Blue Funnel, Avonmouth was an occasional port of call before heading to our Read More
  • Big Boost for Liverpool Container Services +

    Port of Liverpool More positive news from Peel Ports Group. Read More
  • Kerne Preservation Receives Queens Award for Voluntary Service +

    Steam Tug Kerne I was delighted to hear that in the Queen’s Honours List, published at the beginning of June 2018, the Merseyside Read More
  • UK P&I Launched Safety Competition +

    UK PandI Logo UK P&I Club, a leading provider of P&I insurance and other services to the international shipping community, has launched its Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Turnkey Explorer Yacht +

    Explorer 67 An exciting opportunity for an owner looking to build one of the finest explorer yacht projects available has presented itself. Read More
  • Great Perseverance +

    Meira Behind the construction of every great yacht there is a story and in the building of Meira, it is one Read More
  • Keel Laid for Hapag-Lloyd’s First Expedition Cruise Ship +

    Hanseatic Inspiration A keel-laying ceremony was held on June 20 2017 for Hanseatic Nature, the first of two expedition cruise ships being Read More
  • Superyacht Season - Cannes +

    Numarine 26 XP Loved and hated in equal measure by those who exhibit at the Cannes Yachting Festival, as it is correctly known, Read More
  • Superyacht Season - Southampton +

    Targa 43 OPEN The season begins with Southampton, now celebrating its 50th year which, following the demise of the London Boat Show becomes Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Largs Bay

One Voyage Too Many - The Last of the Bay Boats, 1957

Largs Bay, a twin screw turbine steamer of some 14,000 grt, had a long rather complicated history after being built Read More
Galeb

"Galeb" - From Banana Boat to Presidential Yacht

One day in October 2017, I sat at an outside table at a restaurant on the fringe of the harbour Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Peter Crawford

Peter’s “Scillonian” Life on the Ocean Wave

Peter Crawford, is relief captain and first mate of the MV Scillonian, the sturdy little ship which is an essential Read More
HMS Lincoln

HMS Lincoln and Her Unusual Defensive Weapon

A “run ashore” the night before going to sea the following day is very much part of a seafarer’s life. Read More
  • 1
  • 2