SS Waitangi, wreck at Mana Bay, Taranaki
salt and sand never sleep
Brief historical notes on the SS Waitangi, gleaned from several publications, include :
1889, built at Grangemouth, England, a twin-screw steamer 120 ft long, 20ft beam, 7ft 9in depth, 192 tons gross, twin-screw steamer
1890 purchased from Peninsula & Akaroa S.N.Co., Lyttelton
1891 sold to Reynolds, Hobart.
1896 Reynolds taken over by Union, Banks Peninsula sold to Northern SS Co., Auckland, renamed Waitangi.
1912, 1915 and 1917 saw her involved in minor accidents she nevertheless survived
1919 became property of The Patea Farmers’ Freezing Co
June 1920 saw heavy rain that brought down a very high fresh in the Patea River and this deposited more silt in the river than the pilot had seen before ... got stuck abreast of the tide gauge (which had shoaled up 2ft) ... later freeing herself (Margaret de Jardine, Shipwrecks on and off the Taranaki Coast, published Taranaki Newspapers Ltd, undated pg.212). Later that month she had a minor encounter between her propeller and the anchor rope of the Wallace, and Christmas day saw fire break out in the forecastle
1921 – 23 laid up in the Patea River, idle
1923 returned to work, and on only her second voyage on 5th May arrived off port with 46 tons of chaff and a general cargo, hit the end of the West wall with her bows, doing considerable damage – a large triangle-shaped hole above the waterline on the starboard side and a smaller hole abaft – swinging around and beaching, where she now lies. Several attempts to refloat her failed. 5 other vessels foundered on our coastline in the same year
June 1925 saw her funnel removed after 14 charges were fired. Requests to remove her engines and cut her up for sale as iron were refused. With the passing of years and various efforts to salvage her that also failed, she eventually became completely buried under sand – and so slowing down the deposit of sand in the river.
July 1937 saw very heavy westerly weather scour away to right above the wreck. Further attempts to sell her to scrap merchants floundered and she again was claimed by the sand
July 1978 saw a particularly severe storm remove enough sand to reveal the remains of the funnel, part of the deck planking and part of the boiler (ibid)
SO WHY THESE PAINTINGS ?
I am struck by several aspects that form the basis for my decision to make these works ...
1. 3 of us, on a week’s painting and art journey along the Taranaki Coast came upon her completely to our surprise – so that her impact was huge; for me, she might as well have foundered the previous day, so much life seemed to be represented there
2. Research later back at the Patea Museum revealed the extraordinary number of ships that have been lost on this coast since western shipping began here. To me this represents a huge impact over time on the lives of countless people involved in varying degrees with these vessels, and therefore on the region over time
3. As an artist, I am most interested in the properties and processes engaged in with both materials and natural elements. To me, this is a spellbinding witness to the relentless, action of iron sand, salt, water and wind on what at the time would have been deemed to be an indestructible structure built to beat the elements and serve mankind in several ways
At the same time, the supremely powerful processes of erosion - both adding and removing material - are invisible to the eye as they take place, and are only seen as the end product of these actions after some time has elapsed.
This has given me a new considerations about ‘how life works’, and of humanity’s futile efforts to overcame, tame or even harness the processes that come together under the title ‘life’, as well as how we in Aotearoa ‘live’.