Research Document #20
The Report of the Board of Trade’s Inquiry
into the Wreck of the Norwich City.
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Click on any link below to go to that document.
  1. Cover Letter to the Board of Trade, London
  2. Statement of Henry Cleveland Lott, Second Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  3. Statement of John Harry Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  4. Statement of Daniel Hamer, Master, S.S. Norwich City
  5. Statutory Declaration by J. H. Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  6. Position Report describing condition and location of S.S. Norwich City
  7. Report of J. Thomas, First Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  8. Crew List

STATUTORY DECLARATION OF J.H. SWINDELL, MASTER, S.S. TRONGATE

I, John Harry Swindell, Master of S.S. Trongate, a British ship at present lying in Apia harbour, Western Samoa, hereby solemnly and sincerely declare:
1. On Saturday 30th November, 1929, at 6 a.m. I received information of the stranding of the S.S. NORWICH CITY at Gardner island in the Phoenix Group, and was later instructed by His Excellency the Administrator of Western Samoa to take my ship which was then in Apia Harbour, Western Samoa, for the purpose of rendering assistance to the stranded vessel.
2. The Harbourmaster at Apia sent aboard my ship a 19 foot whale boat and a native crew to man it in case it should be required.
3. The native crew for the whale boat consisted of:
    MISSONARI an Ellice Islander who acted as steersman
    HALE TAMA a Niue Islander who acted as bowman
    PA TEATA a Tokelau Islander.
    LEINIPOLE a Niue Islander.
    LEINIPOE      "
    FALETULE      "
4. My ship sailed from Apia harbour at 2 p.m. on Saturday 30th November, 1939, and on Tuesday the 3rd day of December, 1929, we sighted Gardner Island : an hour later we could see the NORWICH CITY.
5. The TRONGATE hove to at 8.30 a.m. about a half mile away from the stranded vessel which appeared to me a total loss.
6. A heavy sea was running and large breakers extended for about 300 feet ashore from the reef. The TRONGATE crept in to about 800 feet from the reef and at 9 o'clock the whale boat was launched with the native crew aboard, for the purpose of taking water and provisions ashore to the survivors who I could see on the Island.
7. The whale boat succeeded in making the shore in safety. I consider that only wonderful seamanship and courage enabled them to get the boat over the reef and through the heavy breakers between it and the shore.
8. It was a physical impossibility to get the whale boat back to the TRONGATE at that spot, so I steamed along the reef to try to find a better landing. The Motor Ship LINCOLN ELLSWORTH which had arrived to render assistance followed the TRONGATE.
9. When we rounded the south East corner of the Island, I observed the native crew taking the survivors across the lagoon towards the South East.
10. The TRONGATE then hove to and launched the life boat in charge of the Chief Officer: the motor boat from the LINCOLN ELLSWORTH was launched to tow our life boat, but owing to the heavy breakers they could only stand by until the whale boat could cross the reef on its return journey.
11. We observed the whale boat endeavouring to come back to the TRONGATE the whole of the morning, but it could not cross the reef: it was frequently capsized and washed inshore: each time it was capsized and washed inshore the crew would get it afloat again to make another attempt.
12. At 2.30 p.m. we fired a rocket line ashore and by this means we received a message from the NORWICH CITY survivors as follows:
    "send water biscuits weather too bad try tomorrow."
13.

At 3 p.m. the whale boat succeeded in crossing the reef and reached the TRONGATE'S life boat and the LINCOLN ELLSWORTH'S motor boat. The motor boat towed the other two boats to the TRONGATE. The whale boat had brought 3 survivors from the island.

14. The native crew, which had been working uncessantly [sic] since early morning, rested for a little while on the TRONGATE; then 4 of them returned to the island to be ready to make a further attempt to bring off the survivors in the morning.
15. The swell moderated during the day but was still very heavy at nightfall: the LINCOLN ELLSWORTH and the TRONGATE stood off for the night.
16. The two vessels returned to the Island next morning at 7.40: a heavy swell was still running. We saw that the whale boat was ready for launching.
17. The TRONGATE'S life boat and the LINCOLN ELLSWORTH'S motor boat were launched to be in readiness to assist the whale boat as soon as it could cross the reef.
18. We observed the four natives launch the whale boat and start off towards us with 3 more survivors aboard. They succeeded in crossing the reef on their third attempt: twice they were capsized and washed ashore with the boat but they succeeded the third time and were then towed to the TRONGATE.
19. The Captain of the NORWICH CITY sent me the following message by these survivors: -
    "To the Master S.S. TRONGATE.
   

"The position as to getting over that reef surf appears to be hopeless. The only thing I can see for it is a cruiser with a seaplane to alight in the lagoon inside if possible. Send us as much water as you can as we have none. We have meat ------- These (native) men from your ship say there is too much risk from sharks should the boat capsize when crossing the reef: sorry to put you to all this bother and we all thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely yours,

D. Hamer

Master"

20. We packed up all the stores and provisions asked for by the Master of the NORWICH CITY, and they were successfully taken ashore by the native boatmen: on this trip ashore they found a better landing.
21. The native boatmen continued working all the morning and until 2.15 p.m. they went backwards and forwards from shore to the TRONGATE'S life boat bringing 3 survivors each time. They were capsized from time to time but not so frequently as on the day before.
22.

I cannot speak highly enough about the conduct of the native boatmen: their work was the most courageous and skilful [sic] I have ever witnessed or could even imagine. Without them the rescue could not have been effected.

24. I was present when the Naval Court sat in Apia to take evidence concerning the disaster and I heard Henry Cleveland Lott, the 2nd Officer of the NORWICH CITY give his evidence.
25. Attached hereto and marked "A" is a copy of his depositions taken before the said Naval Court.
26. I am informed and verily believe that the waters near the reef were teeming with sharks during the time the native boatmen were performing their rescue work.*

AND I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and by virtue of the provisions of an Act of the Imperial Parliament intituled [sic] "The Statutory Declarations Act 1835."

(sd.) J.H. Swindell

Declared at Apia in the Territory of Western Samoa this 11th day of December 1929 before me

(SD) J.H. Luxford

Chief Judge of the High Court of Western Samoa.

* This paragraph is written in by hand in the original.

POSITION OF NORWICH CITY

High on reef of N. W. corner of Gardner Island. Four foot out of water at low tide. Gutted by fire from engine room forward. Star. side buckled in, large rents port side, amidships, bottom must be torn out from fore peak to No. 4 hold and (water in No. 5) the only apparent good portion of vessel is the stern; propellor and rudder. Bridges collapsed. Funnel leaning forward and foremast aft.

(Sgd)
J.H. Swindell, Master
G.A. Gibson, Chief Officer.
A.J. McCulloch, Chief Engineer.

(Rent on port side not observed by me, A.J. McC.)

Click on any link below to go to that document.
  1. Cover Letter to the Board of Trade, London
  2. Statement of Henry Cleveland Lott, Second Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  3. Statement of John Harry Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  4. Statement of Daniel Hamer, Master, S.S. Norwich City
  5. Statutory Declaration by J. H. Swindell, Master, S.S. Trongate
  6. Position Report describing condition and location of S.S. Norwich City
  7. Report of J. Thomas, First Officer, S.S. Norwich City
  8. Crew List
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