THE NEW ZEALAND MARITIME RECORD
The designation R.C.S. is a rare prefix to the name of a vessel and the Royal Colonial Ship Viti bore the original name of an island nation, that was subsequently corrupted to Fichi and more latterly to Fiji. The Fijian Naval Service shore station on the Queen's Highway into Suva commemorates the vessel's name.
The Viti was built as the vice-regal yacht of Sir Harry Charles Joseph Luke (1884 - 1969), Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St.George, Doctor of Literature, renowned author, keen philatelist, former Lieutenant-Governor of Malta, Bailiff Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem, High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, Commander-in-Chief of military forces and Governor of Fiji from 1938 to 1942. Sir Harry's responsibilities included the Crown colonies of Fiji, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (Tuvalu), the kingdom of Tonga, the British Solomon Islands, the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), the Line Islands (Kiribati) and Pitcairn Island.
With what was quite possibly the most expansive realm ever to befall the lot of a single individual, Sir Harry certainly needed adequate transport to get around his far-flung collection of British colonies. The Viti had a remarkable cruising range of more than 7,400 miles and below her bridge deck, with its own private promenade, was a sumptuous vice-regal suite panelled in pale Maple wood.
Her more prosaic role was to service inter-island communication in the South-west Pacific region administered by the Western Pacific High Commission based at Suva.
Official number 157802.
1939 Launched at Hong Kong.
1940 Arrived at Suva with a total cost including delivery of £97,000.
1941 April 17 Designated as Transport 373 and with a war time complement of fifty-five Captained by Commander James Mullins of the Royal Navy Reserve, the Auxilliary Patrol Vessel H.M.S. Viti was fitted with a 4 inch gun, two 3-pounders and a couple of Bren guns. The big gun had only been fired once although Mullins had not allowed the awning to be removed from the after deck before the shot and it was torn away by the blast. The vibrations also damaged the ship's fittings. Third engineer aboard the ship was Yorkshire-born Stan Brown. He had been in the merchant navy when war began and was frustrated from his goal of joining the Royal Navy by an official ban on such transfers. He was in Hong Kong when Viti left the dockyards and he was able to sign aboard. Once out in Fiji and with the new mission it was about to sail, Viti was transferred to the Royal Navy and Brown got his wish.
1941 July 19 Twenty-two soldiers selected from the 8th Brigade Group and fifteen Wireless Operators selected by the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department embarked on the vessel at Suva for coast-watching duties in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. They were equipped with low power battery-operated transmitting and receiving sets, accumulators, battery chargers, aerials, Morse keys and headphones. Also provided were twin 230-volt motor-generator sets, extra receivers and banks of batteries plus 13 metre aerial poles. Their standard 3-B-2 teleradio weighed around 135 kilograms, batteries not included, and could transmit up to a 1000 kilometres.
1941 July 24 Arriving at Banaba island, she passed through the reef into the 170 square kilometre lagoon. The island is 500 kilometres West of Tarawa, and the same distance from Nauru. The Australian armed merchant ship Westralia joined the vessel in the lagoon. She was on what her crew called "the birdshit patrol" protecting the Phosphate shipping. Mullins invited her officers over for afternoon tea. When the Australians replied, to the effect "don't you know there is a war on?" Mullins resorted to questioning their Irish ancestry.
1941 August 14 At around 3 am the vessel reached the Southern most of the Gilbert Island group, Tamana. At daylight they put ashore radio operator Cliff Pearsall and soldiers Joe Parker and Rod McKenzie.
1941 August 18 Radio Operator Arthur C. Heenan, of Hastings with soldiers Charlie Owen and Les Speedy were landed on Maiana island. Heenan wrote that the locals were friendly and he had a lazy time eating and sleeping. None of the coast-watchers ever saw a German, but about 4 months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 they were prisoners of the Japanese. All three were among the seventeen coast-watchers and five civilians executed on Tarawa on the 15th of October 1942.
1941 September 1 Viti sent ashore her last coast-watcher party when Max McQuinn supported by soldiers Basil Were and Lewis (Jim) Muller stepped onto tiny Makin Meang island in the Gilbert and Ellice group.
1941 September 11 Departed from Ocean Island and arrived at Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro) a week later. After a brief stop she continued on to Canton, Sydney and Hull islands, returning to Nikumaroro on the 25th.
1941 October 11 Viti made it back to Suva after a voyage of 103 days, having erected and tested 15 coast-watching stations.
1941 November 19 Departed from Suva at midnight for a twenty three day voyage to the Ellice Islands, with the High Commissioner, Sir Harry Luke aboard.
1941 November 25 Called at Gardner Island, where Aram Tamia, Bauro Tikana and Esera came aboard briefly and met with the High Commissioner.
1941 November 26 Arrived at Canton Island, as did the North-bound American Airways flying boat from Auckland, New Zealand via Noumea.
1941 November 29 Sailed for Gardner Island at 4:30 p.m. The messing records indicate that Johnny, the handyman at Canton came aboard for transport to Gardner.
1941 November 30 Returned to Gardner Island at 11:00 a.m. The provisioning records of the vessel show a charge of two shillings per diem for the transport of a nurse from Gardner Island to Suva, a voyage of 11 days.
1941 December 1 Arrived at Hull Island at 1:00 p.m. where the Acting Administrative Officer and Wireless Operator, a man named Cookson, came aboard bound for Suva and "badly needed" leave.
1941 December 1 Arrived at Sydney Island at 9:00 p.m. departing at midnight of the following day. According to the messing record; Johnny-the-handyman's wife and child come aboard for transport to join Johnny on Gardner.
1941 December 4 In the morning the ship paid a brief call at uninhabited Phoenix Island. In the afternoon it stopped at Enderbury where Sir Harry entertained the four U.S. Department of the Interior colonists aboard Viti with much appreciated tea and cake. The ship sailed for Canton Island the same evening.
1941 December 5 Arrived back at Canton Island in the morning, where the High Commisioner left the vessel to return to Suva by flying boat the following day.
1941 December 7 The ship arrived at Gardner Island at 8:00 a.m. en route to Fiji and departed an hour later, just long enough to drop off Johnny-the-handyman's family and 18 tins of condensed milk at the direction of Dr. Macpherson. The crew learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour while there.
1941 December 11 Viti arrived back in Suva in the afternoon.
1941 December 16 Came under the control of the Royal New Zealand Navy and sent to Lyttelton to have an Asdic sonar echo location device fitted. The dome, which protruded two and a half feet through a hole in her hull, was highly prone to damage and she lost it at Tarawa island in early 1944. The vessel returned to Lyttelton each Winter until 1945 for her annual refit
1943 April 9 The U.S.S. Dash arrived at Suva from Noumea to relieve H.M.S. Viti as the local escort and patrol vessel.
Wellington, July 1943.
1943 November 9 At 2.30 p.m. the vessel arrived at the Port Purvis Anchorage, Florida Island in the Solomon Islands archipelago.
1944 November 2 Escorted the Harbour Defence Motor Launch Paea on a six day voyage from Auckland to Suva.
1945 September 13 Departed from Auckland in the command of Captain Webster at mid-day for Espiritu Santo, from where she towed the 188 ton supply ship Hawera the 700 miles from to Suva.
1945 November 18 Arrived at Auckland in the command of Captain Cummings after having escorted the Harbour Defence Motor Launch Kuparu on a six day voyage from Suva.
1945 November Paid off and returned to civilian service. In the command of Captain Cummings and during the succeeding ten months she would make nine voyages from Suva to Auckland for the Fijian government.
1947 December Offered for sale by the government of Fiji with the British ship brokers C. W. Kellock and Company acting as agents.
1948 February Sold to the Tasman Steam Ship Company of Auckland for £27,000.
1948 May 28 Arrived at Hobson Wharf, Auckland with Captain Lisle Lindsay in command. The first officer was Captain Fordham, chief engineer Arthur Goodrich, Harry Works second engineer, Bob Misrie as third engineer and Joe Columbus as chief steward. She carried a cargo of 100 odd tons of Copra and general, plus a large collection of spares for the vessel.
1948 June - October Refitted at Auckland at a cost of £21,171. Given a second hold, she was fitted with refrigeration equipment for 200 tons of frozen cargo at 11 degrees Fahrenheit. The aft deck was plated in, the flying bridge removed and windows replaced with port holes. The vice-regal suite was partitioned into cabins, but the Governor's massive tiled bathroom remained intact, and although fitted with bunks, so did the dressing room with its ornate furnishings and huge mirrors.
1948 October 22 Departed at ten minutes past noon for Sydney with a cargo of frozen fish.
1948 November 20 In the command of Captain Barrett she arrived at Auckland from Sydney via Wellington at 10.55 am. He would be her master until early 1950, during which time she made seven voyages between Auckland, Lyttelton, Dunedin, Melbourne and Sydney.
1948-9 During the first year she carried 719 tons of fish, 1,000 tons of egg-pulp, meat, butter, and some general cargo, and in addition 901 tons of fruit. That year the company had an income of $127,582 from the Viti.
1950 March 28 Arrived at Auckland from Melbourne in the command of Captain Ted Couldrey at 11.30 pm. He would continue as her master until 1960.
1950 January 12 An able seaman fell overboard on a voyage from Ulverstone, Tasmania to Sydney with a cargo of frozen Peas (loading at right). He spent twenty-five minutes in the sea.
1950 October 1 A the end of a voyage from Sydney she crossed the treacherous Manakau harbour bar and became the first foreign going vessel to berth at the port of Onehunga in living memory.
1950-1 The cargo tally shows she carried 1,848 tons of fish, 286 tons of egg-pulp, 837 tons of meat, 1,944 tons of fruit, 1,648 tons of general cargo, 239 tons of explosives, 104 tons of quick-frozen foods, 40 tons of butter and some mail. This was a total of 6,946 tons and brought in $143,050.
Sydney, 11th November 1951.
1951 July Loading Blue Cod at the Chatham Islands for Sydney.
1951-2 Cargo carried was slightly less, but the company's income rose nevertheless to $157,432.
Tending her Sulzer diesel engines in the mid 1950s.
1952 March 2 Arrived at Auckland from Westport in the command of Captain Naylor at 1.40 pm. He would be her master for five voyages before Ted Couldrey resumed command.
1952-3 The income from her was $160,420 from 1,022 tons of fish, 939 tons of meat, 1,493 tons of fruit, 876 tons of explosives, 506 tons of butter, 180 tons of egg-pulp, 8 tons of quick-frozen foods and 1,521 tons of general cargo and sundry frozen goods.
1953 June 5 Departed from Auckland for Sydney with a barge in tow.
1954 Sailed from Wellington under charter to the New Zealand Department of Civil Aviation to service the meteorological station on Campbell and Raoul Islands from where she returned to Auckland on the 3rd of January, 1955 at 11.15 am.
1955 April 6 Departed from Auckland at 10.20 pm under charter to the New Zealand Department of Island Territories until January 1956 on the Nuie and Cook Islands run while the regular ship, the Maui Pomare, was laid up undergoing repairs.
1956 December Carried 200 tons of frozen Peas from Napier to Sydney.
Loading cargo at Pyrmont, Sydney in February 1958.
1958 Fitted with laboratories, deep echo-sounding gear and extra accommodation and chartered to the New Zealand Department of Industrial Research for Oceanographic research at Tahiti.
Above Left: crew members, above Right: Captain Ted Couldrey, both photographs were taken at Sydney in February 1958.
1959 December - April 1960 Sixteen Australian coastal voyage carrying 1,973 tons of frozen foods earned $111,578.
1960 September 16 After two months at Auckland, she departed for the Cook Islands at 4.45 pm and would not return to her home port for a year.
Nearing the end of her New Zealand career in 1961.
This image to the left derives from a card in an early Gregg's Jelly Crystals collector's series.
1961 September 9 Arrived at Auckland from Ballina (N.S.W.) after receiving a two foot hole in her bows when she ran on to a rock off the Whangerei harbour heads. For the following five years and with a succession of owners and creditors, she lay on the Auckland waterfront - derelict, rusting and forlorn.
1961 October Sold by tender to Mr. C. A. Odell.
1962 Towards the end of 1962 the Viti was once again offered for sale by tender. This time she was bought by Mr J. J. Enwright, of Seafoods Ltd., Whangarei.
1966 March 19 Dry docked at Devonport for six days. Subsequent to what was probably a survey she was sold for an undisclosed sum to Mr. J. J. Batty, a British business man with international interests in commercial shipping. He had arrived in New Zealand a fortnight prior to purchasing the vessel on a business trip, with no intentions of buying a ship.
A newspaper report from this time stated that he intended to refit her, using native New Zealand wood panelling, as a pleasure yacht and floating business headquarters. A conflicting report stated that he had bought her on behalf of a Hong Kong business group and that she was expected to carry refrigerated cargo to Malaysia and other parts of South-East Asia.
1966 November 9 Towed to Whangerei by the Otapiri and extensively refitted. Prior to her departure for Hong Kong, she was reported as looking brand new again.
1967 Reported to be working the small ports of Thailand and Vietnam.
Blair, Captain W. Clough
Luke, Sir Harry
Luke, Sir Harry
Luke, Sir Harry
Luke, Sir Harry
McDougall R. J. 1944 -
Thanks to Michael Field of the Agence France-Presse, the Australian Photographic Agency, the New Zealand National Archives, the State Library of New South Wales, Steven McLachlan (specialist in Maritime Covers) for many of the images and Marcus Castell for bringing it all together.
New Zealand National Maritime Museum
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