N.S.W. Dec. 16th 1929
Being one of the survivors
of the stranded British steamer Norwich City which came to grief
on “Gardner Isl” on the night of November 29th, 1929, and subsequently
being rescued by the combined efforts of the crews of the Norwegian
tank m/v Lincoln Ellsworth and the British steamer Trongate who
was specially equipped with a native crew and surf boat to carry out
the rescue work which was compelled on December 4th. I have been requested
by the navigating and 2nd officer A. Holm of the m/v Lincoln
to make a few observations on the characteristics of the island as
we found it during our five days awaiting the rescue.
It is the opinion of our
captain and my fellow officers that the island appears to be of
volcanic origin which has become extinct, the crater which is now
full of water making the lagoon.
The island is surrounded
by a shelf which projected some 200 yards from the shore into the
sea. This shelf is comprised of a hard black rock which in our opinion
is lava, which when the volcano was in action, was thrown into the
sea where it immediately cooled, forming one large mass of rock.
At all states of the tide a greater depth of water was found to
exist nearer the shore, than on the outskirts of the shelf. The
edge of the shelf appeared to be almost perpendicular, and we were
afterwards informed that a depth of 60 fathoms existed almost up
to the breakers. The sea shore is mostly coral which has also formed
on top of the shelf, and walking is most difficult unless heavy
boots are worn to protect the feet. Throughout the whole of our
walks of exploration, not a single break was found in the shelf,
and landing at any part of the island would be extremely dangerous
unless made by the most experienced native boat crew. The taking
off from the island proved to be still more dangerous than the landing,
for even during what appeared to be ideal weather conditions high
seas continued to break on the edge of the shelf, repeatedly throwing
the surfboat and its occupants back amongst the anxious watchers.
Some idea of the dangers
of the taking off may be formed from the fact that during the first
day of rescue work, only 3 of the 24 survivors were successful in
being taken across the reef to the boats assisting in the rescue
work outside, which were kept rather busy in keeping the sharks
away from the surfboat after its safe crossing. I may here state
that outside of the reef there were swarms of sharks which certainly
did not add any comforts to the rescue work. 24 men got rescued
and 11 lost.
During our stay on the
island the rise and fall of the water appeared to be about 5 feet,
but this was greatly influenced by the force of the wind. The undercurrent
out near the edge of the shelf was tremendous, and even at low water
with a depth of 18 inches, it was most difficult to keep ones feet.
The lagoon which is situated
in the centre of the island was about 4 miles long and 1 mile broad,
and had two entrances from eh sea, one from the NW and the other
from S. Both entrances were tidal, a depth of about 3 feet existing
at low water. The water at the NW side of the lagoon was very shallow
for about 1 mile from the entrance, after which deep water existed
of an extremely blue character. A coral shelf about 10 yards wide
existed all around the lagoon, and the whole of this inland water
was absolutely infested by sharks of a small species, the largest
being about 4 feet long, which did not hesitate to attack us when
walking along the shelf.
The island consisted of
a strip of coral surrounding the lagoon covered with trees. The
distance between the lagoon and the sea shore varying from 1/4 to
1/2 miles. The highest of the trees reached a height of about 60
feet above sea level. The trees were of a light character and full
of sap, the diameter varying from 15 to about 24 inches on the larger;
a few sharp blows with our small lifeboat axes was quite sufficient
to bring down any of the trees, the wood being of such a soft nature.
A few coconut palms were
found around the NW entrance to the lagoon from which we daily gathered
the nuts, but these were not of a very good standard and like everything
else which grew on the island, appeared to be in a state of decay.
Near the palms we found two disused galvanised roofed huts and a large
water tank, all of which were in a state of collapse, but which indicated
to us that the island had at one time been inhabited, most probably
with a view of growing coconuts, but that this had not proved to be
very profitable and had been abandoned. The whole island was covered
with rats, crabs and large sea birds. The rats were of a small specie
and brown in colour, and we were informed after being rescued, that
a Dr. at Apia had informed the Master of the S/S Trongate before she
sailed on her voyage of rescue that the rats were deadly poisonous.
The land crabs were of enormous size and of varieties such has none
of us ever seen before, and they did not hesitate to come into camp
during the night and make attempts to bite us. The claws or pinchers
of these crabs were easily from 4 to 8 inches long with large teeth
at top and bottom, and we have sat and watched them carry away our
coconuts in their claws without the least trouble, and also to eat
birds which were the size of a small duck. The natives who rescued
us were simply delighted at seeing them and immediately caught several
and threw them on to the fire until they became a cherry red, when
they certainly made good eating to a hungry person; the natives informed
us that these crabs were valued at 1$ each at Apia.
The birds of the island
were all large, the average being about the size of a duck. These
birds appeared to be so fascinated at seeing humans there that they
would sit on the branches of the trees and allow us to walk up and
catch them, without making any attempt at escape. These birds were
also quite eatable, so between crabs, birds and coconuts one would
never starve on the island.
Water was our greatest
trouble, but after the prolonged rain which existed at the time
of our stranding and throughout the first day and night we found
quite a lot of brackish water on a guano dump to the NE of the lagoon.
Although this does not sound to be very drinkable, we were all more
than glad to take our ration of it after it had had a good boiling,
and we experienced no ill effects. Following the first day of dry
weather this pool of water was non-existent, but we had collected
sufficient when the opportunity offered to have lasted us about
3 weeks should we have had no more rain. Fortunately, we were not
called upon to stop more than 4 days before the rescue ships arrived,
and on the afternoon of the fifth day the last of the survivors
were transferred from the island to the rescue ships.
Late chief off. of the stranded s/s Norwich City.
I hope that these observations
may in future be some use to your Hydrographic Department. Exact
copy made by
Asgur G. Holm
Tank m/v Lincoln Ellsworth
Go. T. Dannerig & Co.
s/s Norwich City pos