Tuesday 19 January 2021

Wars and whales

Despite (I know!) not being, like so much of the rest of the world, locked down, isolated or in any way confined to the premises, I have still managed to give due attention to social media. So I have followed the TikTok sea shanty thing right from the first post of Nathan Evans singing solo, through all the fun additions, one by one, to the collective, multinational and very catchy masterpiece it is now.

Though I had heard the Wellerman song before that, I wasn't aware that it is, in fact, local to New Zealand. People have, naturally, done the research and found that the British-born Weller brothers sailed from Sydney to Otago Harbour in 1831 and set up a whaling station there. (Their ship, the Lucy May, was later crewed by Herman Melville.)

The Wellers were the first Europeans in the area, even before Dunedin was founded (by the Scots - Nathan is also Scottish, by the way). They did very well until the whaling industry collapsed in 1840, simply because there weren't any right whales to be found any more. Funny, that.

There's a rock named after the brothers just off the coast right by the road that runs out along the Otago Peninsula, so I have sailed past it, with Azamara, in 2017. Returning to the ship after a railway outing earlier that day along Taieri Gorge, I went into the Maritime Museum at Port Chalmers, alongside where the ship was moored, and had a good nose around. Without a doubt, I would have seen Weller Brothers artefacts there, but was more taken by Shackleton's typewriter and Mark Twain's complaint about the Union Steam Ship Co's Flora: "the boat was the foulest I have ever been in" which made me feel pretty smug about Azamara Journey. I was also fascinated to see a bit of debris from (see below) the Japanese attack on Darwin.

I was also driven past Wellers Rock, again without realising, on my way out to Taiaroa Head and the seal and penguin colonies there, on a TRENZ tour the following year. After our drive through that property, we finished up at the royal albatross colony to coo at the big fluffy chicks, before dutifully admiring the 1886 Armstrong Disappearing Gun at the underground fort there - built because of the fear of, believe it or not, invading Tsarist Russians. 

*cough* Coincidentally, just last week, I popped across the harbour to Devonport for a bit of a Segway, and we went up to North Head to look at the gun emplacement there, also built because of that threat of a Russian invasion in the late 1880s. And *ditto* yesterday, I stood in a similar, but much bigger, gun pit at Stony Batter right here on Waiheke, where in 1948, somewhat tardily, they finished installing a 9.2 inch gun to fire at the Japanese, who really had been poking around NZ during WW2, after the fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin in 1942. After a single test firing in 1951, the gun and other equipment were eventually broken up and sold for scrap, and some of the sheet metal was bought by - the Japanese. Who are also, incidentally, one of the few whaling nations left in the world.

So, we've gone from a sea shanty connecting people in many nations, to serious guns installed at huge effort and expense to repel invasions, at a time when the physical borders of many countries are shut tight... it's a funny old world, eh?

1 comment:

the queen said...

This was one of your best - it just all spirals around, doesn’t it?


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