Maheno's launch - hospital ship Maheno at Gallipoli

January 16, 2013

Maheno's launch - hospital ship Maheno at Gallipoli

Hi there

I came across your piece about the launch that has been described as being aboard the hospital ship Maheno at Gallipoli. Have you dug up any further information since that post?

I have almost completed a history of the NZ WWI hospital ships. Although the launches were the biggest and costliest items added during the ships' conversions, the paper trail is incomplete. Certainly I can say that only
Maheno made it to Gallipoli (late August 1915) in time to serve off the beaches; the Allies had abandoned the peninsula by the time the Marama got there. Voyager National Maritime Museum now has the 'Nautilus' from the
Marama, but old tales of holes made byTurkish bullets off Gallipoli cannot be correct.

The first Maheno launch is recorded, but not the second.

The results of my research to date is pasted below. Sources are from contemporary newspaper reports and from Archives NZ (ANZ).

Gavin McLean

The ships’ launches Launches – ‘oil engine vessels’ as they called them then – were the biggest and priciest items sought for the hospital ships. The Maheno (and later the Marama) had a full complement of lifeboats, but needed powered launches for ship-to-shore transfers when moored in roadsteads or off open beaches. Liverpool’s appeals for two for each ship drew keen responses. In fact, the army turned down several offers for boats too big to be handled by the ships’ davits.

The New Zealand Power Boat Association (NZPBA) paid around £350 for a launch for the Maheno.[i] In a big ceremony, Auckland mayor J.H. Gunson presided over the launching of the Awhina by C.H. Palmer at James
Reid’s gaily bedecked Sulphur Beach yard in June 1915. The  boat had been building for another owner,  enabling Reid to convert and complete it in a fortnight; many of the subcontractors donated equipment or services free of charge. The boat’s bow flag bore a replica of the launch surrounded by the words ‘For those whom we honour’, followed by the association’s initials.[ii]

NZPBA members also offered to crew this boat, but as this was contrary to regulations, Christchurch yachtsman George Andrews joined the ship as officer-in-charge of the two launches.[iii] He already knew one of them, New Brighton Power Boat Club member Horace Chester’s 12.5-metre kauri launch Nautilus, which later went to the Marama. Andrews was assisted by Port Chalmers identity Edward Knewstubb.

The Marama’s other launch was brand new, the result of an appeal launched by Gisborne residents. Led by local resident G.J. Black, who offered £100, they ordered it from Auckland’s renowned boat builder Charles Bailey, who for £375 delivered a smart, 8.8-metre-long 12-knot motor boat. Gisborne’s launch like the others, was painted in hospital ship colours and could accommodate 30 people ‘at a pinch’.[iv]

The Marama’s launches failed to impress during the first leg of her first journey. In January 1916 Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Cook reported that they had given trouble at every port, ‘one breaking down at Adelaide almost as soon as it started, and was still out of commission at Albany’. Both broke down at Colombo, forcing the ship to rely on sampans. From Suez, Cook reported that the engineers were still working on the boats.[v]

The launches got less use after the ships became in effect ambulance carriers, shuttling from Avonmouth or Southampton to New Zealand. In September 1917 the Maheno’s chief officer asked the Transport Board if they could swap one motor launch for a lifeboat. A lifeboat would carry 45 people instead of 30 and would save £10 a month in wages as well as benzine and rope. In any case, the boat under discussion ‘on almost every occasion… has been found unsatisfactory, and consequently useless’.[vi] By May 1919 the Marama had no launch drivers and the Maheno just one. That month the Union Company agreed to the man being removed although the boat was kept aboard on the understanding that the Maheno’s crew would operate it if required.

[i] Observer, 25 Sep 1915.
[ii] Auckland Star, 11 Jun 1915.
[iii] Evening Post, 2 Jul 1915.
[iv] Ibid., 3 Dec 1915.
[v] Cook to GOC Wellington, 8 Jan 1916, AD 1 887/ 39/182, ANZ.
[vi] A. Reed to Capt Post, 22 Sep 1917, AD1 287 25/244, ANZ. The OC agreed, adding that the boat had almost invariably broken down whenever used.

Gavin McLean  | Senior Historian
Ministry for Culture and Heritage = Te Manatu Taonga
ASB House, Level 4, 101-103 The Terrace
P O Box 5364, Wellington, New Zealand


My thanks for your interesting mail.

No I must admit I have not looked any further for any report about Mareno's launches, but from your research they do not appear to have been a success.

All the best.

back to letters index


This site was created as a resource for educational use and the promotion of historical awareness. All rights of publicity of the individuals named herein are expressly reserved, and, should be respected consistent with the reverence in which this memorial site was established.

Copyright© 1984/2014 Mackenzie J. Gregory All rights reserved