This week we feature seven year old Ralph Elen of Wellington, being gently escorted by a local policeman across London Street in Lyttelton, presumably in the direction of the Police Station on Sumner Road. He holds the distinction of being the first stowaway on the Rangatira. His story was widely covered across New Zealand – he had apparently gone on board in Wellington with his grandparents “and decided to stay and have a ride. He was not noticed until the vessel was at sea. Ralph is happy and well pleased with himself”, although looking somewhat subdued in our photograph!
The TEV (Turbo-electric Vessel) Rangatira was an inter island express steamer commissioned in 1930 and in service until 1965, being finally scrapped in 1967. She was the fifth Union Steam ship to carry that name and was much admired for her sleek, elegant lines and attractive timber and brass lined interior, well fitted out for the comfort of passengers. With a maximum service speed of 23·9 knots and an average of 17.5 knots, she held the record for fastest interisland journey covering the 280 km between Wellington and Lyttelton.
The ship had a colourful career, including but not confined to ploughing into the crane ship Rapaki in Lyttelton in 1933, pushing that vessel beneath the wharf. In 1936 she survived a severe storm and grounding at Wellington Heads akin to that which resulted in the Wahine tragedy; thankfully the slow speed she was travelling meant that the ship was able to be reversed off the rocks with no injury to passengers. In 1940, foggy conditions resulted in her grounding at Pigeon Bay and the necessity to rescue 750 passengers, until she was freed with the assistance of a tug and a steamer. The war years saw her in service carrying troops to Fiji. Christmas Day 1959 saw another grounding – this time in Tory Channel and again requiring the disembarkation of passengers.
Notwithstanding these events, the Rangatira completed 3,500 crossings of the Cook Strait, connecting many thousands of travellers with their destinations. With a capacity for 956 passengers and 112 crew per voyage, that equates to nearly 4 million individual journeys!