According to page 21 of the Bushnell Survey of Gardner Island (2nd quarter)
, three lifeboats from the Norwich City were observed during the Bushnell’s visit to survey the island in November-December 1939. In a post on another thread (which I cannot find at the moment) Ric pointed out that the Norwich City was equipped with four lifeboats, and he asked (perhaps somewhat mischievously) what happened to that fourth lifeboat.
But according to the Ameliapedia page on the Norwich City
, Captain Hamer’s and First Officer Thomas’s Board of Trade Inquiry accounts of the Norwich City accident
only two lifeboats left the Norwich City on the night of the accident.
One lifeboat, located on the port side aft of the funnel, was torn away a big wave while being positioned for possible deployment; Captain Hamer, who was nearby, was lost from the ship when this wave struck, but he luckily washed up on Gardner. After the loss of Captain Hamer the rest of the ship’s crew boarded a starboard lifeboat aft of the funnel, but this boat quickly capsized once in the water, resulting in the loss of 11 of the ship's 35 men. Hamer says that while awaiting rescue the surviving crewmen dragged two lifeboats, presumably these same two lifeboats, to a point “well clear of the tide”. Neither Hamer or Thomas mention any other lifeboats reaching terra firma in the several days before 24 men of the Norwich City were rescued by the Trongate.
So, how to explain the third lifeboat seen on Gardner by the Bushnell survey party? I’ll leave it to others to consider some of the other possibilities, but here let me consider here that the third lifeboat might have been removed from the Norwich City by the New Zealand survey party that visited Gardner in 1938, and then left where it was seen by the Bushnell team. We know from M.H. Hay’s journal
that the N.Z. Survey team tied up to the wreck of the Norwich City and used it as a landing point for supplies that then were manhauled over the reef to the island. We even have a photo
of small boats of the N.Z. survey team off the bow of the Norwich City. Perhaps the New Zealand survey team saw the two remaining lifeboats on the N.C., and tried to use one of them to ferry supplies to the island over the reef at high tide. The Bushnell crew tried to use one of their whaleboats to do this but it was treacherous going--their whaleboat got holed on the second run over the reef—so maybe the kiwis figured rather than risking one of their own small boats they’d try using one of the remaining Norwich City lifeboats. But Hay makes no mention of Norwich City lifeboats, nor does the account of E.W. Lee another N.Z. survey team member. Lee goes on at some length about the difficulties encountered hauling supplies across the reef, so one might think Lee would have mentioned any attempt to use the Norwich City lifeboats, even if those attempts didn’t work out (e.g. the lifeboat was not very watertight, or was too hard to handle, and was left on the island when the people trying to use it gave up on it).
If I haven't poured enough cold water on the N.Z. hypothesis, also consider that a good deal of the Norwich city was consumed by fire the night it ran aground—see the Position Report
provided to the Board of Trade Inquiry; would the two unused lifeboats, which were forward of the funnel survived this fire?
I don’t have a satisfactory answer to the mystery of the third lifeboat. Maybe the Bushnell report just got the facts wrong, and there was no third lifeboat. The puzzle of the third lifeboat remains unsolved, by me at least.