Wednesday, June 20, 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
h3 class="g-title">Latest Issue - Look Inside! Game Changer

Most Popular

  • A Voyage of Discovery with NorthLink Ferries +

  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

  • Maersk Expansion +

  • St Helena Finishes Career +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Search for Wreck of Shackleton’s Endurance +

    SA Agulhas II A search could be mounted early next year for one of the most famous ships in British Antarctica exploration, the Read More
  • Delayed Polar Research Ship Set for Delivery +

    Kronprins Haakon Norway's new polar research vessel Kronprins Haakon is due to be operational this month, according to Norway’s Institute of Marine Read More
  • Second Heavy Lift Cargo for Power Station Project +

    Eastern Vanquish The second heavy cargo of equipment for the refitting of the Centrica power station at King’s Lynn arrived at the Read More
  • “Third Party Assistance” in Land Attack on Saudi Tanker +

    Abqaiq The Saudi Arabia flag tanker Abqaiq, 302,977dwt, was hit by a shore-launched anti-ship rocket fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia in Read More
  • Record Flies as Second Jack-Up Barge Arrives +

    Albatross What is believed to be the largest ship to visit the harbour in the history of Blyth, in Northumberland, arrived Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Appeal Over Developing New Master Plan +

    Enterprise To operate in California, ports must have a master plan approved by the California Coastal Commission that guides their development Read More
  • Shipyard Prepares Carrier for Laying Up +

    Enterprise In April, the Newport News Shipbuilding division of Huntington Ingalls Industries completed the inactivation of the former US Navy aircraft Read More
  • New Training Ship for US Merchant Marine +

    NSNV One Under the 2,232 page omnibus spending measure signed into law by President Donald Trump, the US Maritime Administration is to Read More
  • Giant Cranes Pass Through Puget Sound +

    Zhen Hua 28 A large heavy lift ship carrying four of the largest container cranes for the US West Coast sailed through Puget Read More
  • First Part of Ships’ LNG Conversion Completed +

    North Star The first of four conversion periods that will see the two Orca class rollon, roll-off vessels of Tote Maritime Alaska Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Kotug Takes Over Joint Venture Australian Tugs Firm +

    KT Maritime Tug Kotug Australia has acquired the Teekay Shipping Australia half of their joint towage venture KT Maritime Services. Read More
  • Class Approval for LNG Ore Carrier +

    Hyundai LNG Carrier The South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has received approval in principle from the Londonbased classification society Lloyd’s Register Read More
  • No Mistaking New Line’s Ships +

    ONE Livery The one ship that can’t be missed is the first for a new container line formed by three Japanese owners. Read More
  • Fatal Collision Blamed on Sudden Turn +

    USS John S McCain The collision between the US Navy destroyer John S McCain and the Greek owned oil/chemical tanker Alnic MC, 50,760dwt, in Read More
  • Nine New Cranes for Four Terminals +

    Zhen Hua 21 The first four of nine giant cranes for the DP World Australia container terminals at Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • 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
  • Historic Port Visit to Vietnam +

    USS Carl Vinson US News In a significant move in March, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made an historic port Read More
  • Russian Minesweeper Fleet Expands +

    Alexander Obukhov Russian News By 2027 the Russian Federation Navy is expected to have acquired a total of ten Alexandrit class minesweepers Read More
  • New Patrol ship for Danes +

    HDMS Lauge Koch Danish News On 11 December, in a ceremony held at Naval Station Korsør, the Royal Danish Navy commissioned the third Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • St Helena Finishes Career +

    RMS St Helena At last, after much delay, subsequent to the construction of the new airport on St Helena, the island’s namesake ship Read More
  • Maersk Expansion +

    Ulusoy 14 Maersk is making what seems to be a clever, though now very obvious, step to take for a far seeing Read More
  • "Rogaland" Performs for Dunkirk +

    Rogaland I am not normally drawn to such films as the latest Dunkirk release, but on my recent viewing it proved Read More
  • Weather Casualties +

    Hebridean Isles The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Superfast Stena +

    Superfast VII Superfast VIII The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

    BP Distributor A collection of fine images of coastal tankers delivering fuel to the Southern Scottish town of Kirkcudbright took my eye. Read More
  • The Benefits of Wheel Spokes +

    Will Everard The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her Read More
  • Double Dutch Ketches +

    Gallant The Dutch 27.7m steel ketch Gallant, was built as a ‘logger’ in 1916 for the North Sea herring fishery. Read More
  • Focus on Freshspring +

    Freshspring Severn Sea The Scandinavian connection this month, continues with the welcome reappearance of the magnificently versatile Severn Sea 147gt of Bideford seen Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Major Marine Fabrication Returns to Southampton +

    SMS Pontoon Good positive news from Southampton where marine engineering services firm SMS is, presently, midway through a contract to build three Read More
  • ITF Inspectors Help Repatriate Ukrainian Seafarers +

    Avonmore Crew In this, the second decade of the 21st century, I am still often astonished, saddened and angered by the treatment Read More
  • "Future of the Fjords" +

    Future of The Fjords Norway is a country which takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and is at the vanguard of changes to reduce Read More
  • Wight Shipyard Co Wins Second Export Order +

    Ultramar In 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Wight Shipyard Co’s famous Columbine Yard in East Cowes (Isle of Wight) Read More
  • Red Funnel Congratulates New Female Captain +

    Alice Duncan Red Funnel, the Isle of Wight’s awardwinning ferry operator, welcomes the promotion of Alice Duncan to the position of captain. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • ‘Ten Pound Poms’ . . . The Emigration Boom to Australia After WWII +

    New Australia With the cessation of hostilities after the end of WW2 in 1945, a number of Immigration Schemes were introduced by Read More
  • Symphony of Light Hong Kong +

    Symphony of Lights Cruise passengers on a vessel that includes Hong Kong within their itinerary, may have witnessed Hong Kong’s ‘A Symphony of Read More
  • "QE2" Comes to Life Again +

    QE2 in Dubai There will be many readers who, for the last decade, have followed the fortunes of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Read More
  • Supersub "Migaloo" +

    Migaloo The future of superyachts and how they may develop over imminent years, keeps superyacht commentators, like me, amused for hours. Read More
  • Superyacht Solution to Housing Shortage +

    Bluebird Diana Yacht Design is doing its bit to help solve the housing shortage. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

National Maritime Museum of Ireland Interior

Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering Co

On 1 January 1867, John Swire & Sons, having been established as merchants in Liverpool since 1816, opened the first Read More
HMS Hood

The "Hood", My Father - The Ship and Battle - The Bell

In writing about HMS Hood and her service career, I am not going to attempt to cover it fully, as Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

RMS Tayleur

Mrs Janet Taylor - Mistress of Science

The following is an extract from the presentation of a joint meeting of the Australian Institute of Navigation and the Read More
Hjaltland

A Voyage of Discovery with NorthLink Ferries

The lifeline connection by sea from the north of mainland Scotland to Orkney and Shetland is the stuff of legend. Read More
  • 1
  • 2