Thursday, December 10, 2009

RMS Rangitiki

This is the third ship which brought part of my bloodline to New Zealand. I don't know the names of the first two yet, the ones which brought my paternal grandfather and grandmother separately to New Zealand around 1912, but the third has always been highlighted in my life, right from being a kiddy. The RMS Rangitiki brought my mum to New Zealand from Tilbury Docks in London 9 May 1958, to Auckland's wharves at 5.55 pm on 12 June 1958. With her came my maternal grandmother and my two American-born half-brothers. They had to stay on board, so my mum told me many times, because back then, Customs closed at 5pm. It wasn't until after 8 am the following morning, Friday the 13th, that the passengers were allowed to step onto these shores. Because of this, I've always considered Friday the 13th to be lucky rather than not.

At 16,984 tons, the Rangitiki was completed in 1929, followed by related ships the Rangitata and the Rangitane. All were built by John Brown and Co of Clydebank, and were originally ships of 16,700 tons, fitted with the highest powered diesel engines built up to that time in the United Kingdom. Rangitiki's maiden voyage was February 1929, from Southampton via Madeira and Panama.

During World War II, the Rangitane was sunk by German raiders in November 1940, and the Rangitiki nearly met the same fate. She was serving as a cargo ship, carrying meat and produce from Wellington for Britain, joining a convoy out from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The German battleship Admiral Scheer fired on the Rangitiki, but fortunately missed.

After that, she transported troops and military supplies to the Middle East, fitted to accommodate 2,600 troops. She was used in support of landings in North Africa in 1943, and then voyaged to New York with German and Italian prisoners-of-war. She also carried American troops, Commonwealth airman, and invalided troops.

Rangitiki returned to passengers to New Zealand waters after a full refit in 1948, with new engines, and all trace of her wartime past obliterated. A further refitting took place at Belfast in 1957 for her owners, the New Zealand Shipping Company.

Then, after bringing my family to New Zealand in 1958 -- she nearly came to grief. In September that year, the Rangitiki grounded on the treacherous Goodwin Sands, off the coast of Kent. Still lucky, she was soon refloated and carried on undamaged. Her last voyage from Wellington was March 1962, but then she was sold to Spanish buyers, and then, when that deal fell through, to a Dutch firm of ship-breakers. Finally, she was sold again to Yugoslav shipbreakers, and was scrapped later on that year. (Source: The Ships That Serve New Zealand, L. G. Stewart, 1964)

The images come from my mum's copy of the May 1958 passenger list. The family came here in tourist class, and their names are there.


  1. I can understand how people feel so passionate about ships. You made it sound very human like. Life, troubles, happiness and death.

  2. Thanks, Andrew.

    Some Pakeha Kiwis like me lightly kid about our family's "waka" (a reflection on the waka which brought the Maori tribes here hundreds of years ago.) Well -- I reckon RMS Rangitiki with all her story is one heck of a "waka" to be proud of having a connection to.

  3. Andrew you would have had to been a crew member
    to understand the true feeling about sailing on an old ship like thr Rangitiki and Rangitata

    Most crew of to day think it is only a floating hotel.

  4. Nice Blog. My Dad was a nineteen-year-old crew member that night of Nov 5th 1940 when the Adniral Scheer attacked Rangitiki. The bravery of Capt Fegen VC and crew of the Jervis Bay must never be forgotten.

  5. Thanks for your comment, and I agree.

  6. I was 13yrs old when I, too, sailed on the 'Tiki from Tilbury on the 9th May 1958 with Mum, Dad & younger brother. The voyage is still as clear today, after all this time.As we arrived at Curacao late at night, the passengers were not allowed ashore until the following morning, for just three hours. When, after the Panama Canal transit, we arrived at Balboa, there were riots in Panama City so we were not allowed ashore & as you probably know, Pitcairn Island was not accessible due to the coral reefs around it, so, five weeks travelling & only three hours ashore! I can remember the violent storm in the Pacific that blew for three days & nights & can also remember the announcement made by Commodore Lettington immediately before-"We are entering an area of complex depression, all open decks will be out of bounds to passengers----etc."
    During that storm the 'Tiki pitched, as all ships will, but still she didn't roll. A marvellous weather ship. I, too, can remember having to wait until Friday the 13th for disembarkation, although I feel sure that we were at anchor in the Waitemata, quite close to the submarine HMS Telemachus.
    I am now curious as to weather I may have known your mother, whilst she was on board as the tourist class ,particularly, was quite a close knit community, in fact a very close knit community!! It would be interesting to know! I can be contacted on-
    Hoping that I might hear from you.
    Happy days on the Rangitiki!

    Stuart Andrews

  7. I'm delighted to hear from you, Stuart! An email is on its way. Cheers!

  8. Thanks for this. Some interesting points of view.

    I was born on the Rangitiki 200 miles north of the Pitcairn Island, July 1946 on its way to NZ. Since that time, I made two further trips on her, back to the UK in 1947 and then back to NZ in 1954, where I still live.

    So I really do feel part of the old girl. You could well say I have the Rangitiki in my veins, figuratively speaking that is!

    Mary Anderson

  9. I sailed on the Rangitiki leaving Tilbury on November the 3rd 1951 via Curacao, Panama and Pitcairn Island before arriving in Wellington on December 3rd 1951. I was just 14 years old and travelling to a new life in New Zealand under some scheme who's name evades me. I then travelled up to Gisbourne and worked on a sheep station called Emirau, owned by Geoff Shanks. Wonderful memories of all my years in New Zealand.

    1. I arrived in Auckland from England in January 1959 on the Rangitata. I was born in Mtwara, Tanzania. I have lived mostly in Auckland. My father was from stockport. My name is also Paul Livesey.

    2. I arrived in Auckland from England in January 1959 on the Rangitata. I was born in Mtwara, Tanzania. I have lived mostly in Auckland. My father was from stockport. My name is also Paul Livesey.

  10. Amazing! I googled "Rangitiki June 1958" to verify the date that I needed as I am about to apply for my Super!! Reading your article and the other comments has made my day! My mother, two sisters and I came to New Zealand on the Rangitiki in June 1958. We thought we had arrived in fairyland, marvelling at all the lights of Auckland as we waited to berth the following morning. We remember the storm delaying our arrival; eating mashed banana and chips as most other passengers didn't turned up for dinner because they were too seasick, so we could have whatever we wanted! I recall we rolled marbles along the passage ways, oblivious to the raging seas around us! Thank you for reminding me of a great adventure all those years ago.

  11. Lesley Tahtakilic (née Sephton)March 2, 2015 at 1:55 AM

    I sailed on the Rangitiki out of Tilbury on 3rd November 1951 aged 7 with my parents and 3 year old brother as immigrants sponsored by A&G Price of Thames. I have vivid memories of the whole trip, starting with the rough crossing of the Bay of Biscay when my parents were prostrated with sea sickness and I was left to explore the ship and go to meals in the dining room on my own. Later I took part in races across the deck organized by the crew; the prizes were Mars bars. There was a group of children, 'the orphans', who were usually to be found in the stern salon and who seemed to be travelling alone. We have photos taken in the back streets of Curacao - two little pasty white English kids with a group of little black children. I remember the ship anchored off-shore at Pitcairn Island while islanders came aboard, padding about in bare feet and selling souvenirs. I still have a palm leaf fan bearing a painting of a bunch of roses and the inscription, Souvenir from Pitcairn Island. Entering Wellington Harbour in early December the ship was struck by a violent hailstorm, turning the decks white. I'm pleased now to think of the Rangitiki as my 'waka'.