STATUTORY DECLARATION OF J.H. SWINDELL, MASTER, S.S. TRONGATE
John Harry Swindell, Master of S.S. Trongate, a British ship at present
lying in Apia harbour, Western Samoa, hereby solemnly and sincerely
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.
at Apia sent aboard my ship a 19 foot whale boat and a native crew
to man it in case it should be required.
native crew for the whale boat consisted of:
||an Ellice Islander who acted as steersman
||a Niue Islander who acted
||a Tokelau Islander.
||a Niue Islander.
||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.
hove to at 8.30 a.m. about a half mile away from the stranded vessel
which appeared to me a total loss.
||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.
||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.
||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
||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.
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.
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.
||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:
biscuits weather too bad try tomorrow."
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.
||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.
||The swell moderated
during the day but was still very heavy at nightfall: the LINCOLN
ELLSWORTH and the TRONGATE stood off for the night.
||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.
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 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
of the NORWICH CITY sent me the following message by these survivors:
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.
||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.
||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.
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.
||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.
and marked "A" is a copy of his depositions taken before
the said Naval Court.
||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
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."
Declared at Apia in the
Territory of Western Samoa this 11th day of December 1929 before
Chief Judge of the High
Court of Western Samoa.
This paragraph is written in by hand in the original.
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.
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.)