Site of Norwich City Rescue

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This is a companion article to the main entry on SS Norwich City. The purpose of this article is to sort out questions raised in the Forum about the rescue operations.

Norwich City Chronology

Friday, 29 Nov
  • Norwich City hits reef.
  • No camp.
Saturday, 30 Nov
  • Contact made by Norwich City radio with Apia, Western Samoa.
  • Smoke seen coming from engine room.
  • Crew prepares life boats.
  • Captain Hamer lost overboard.
  • Starboard boat lowered, but capsized.
  • Eleven men drowned.
  • Swindell ordered to leave Apia to assist the crew.
  • Camp 1 established.


  • "The beach was very exposed so a camp site was selected some 100 yards into the woods, all hands assisting in carrying provisions etc. Fortunately all those who reached safety were uninjured so we were unhampered in that respect. The boats’ sails were used to make a tent to keep out the rain but when they became saturated rain began to come through making life fairly miserable."
  • Crew searched for water.
  • Fire started
  • Three bodies buried.
1400 Trongate departed Apia.
Sunday, 1 Dec


  • "The dawn came with the promise of fine weather and shortly afterwards each man was given a dipper of water and the camp was reorganised. A more suitable site was selected and parties told off for various jobs. One party under the Second Officer was told off to obtain water, another for cocoanuts and the remainder to build a shelter. The lifeboat axes came in very useful for this. Small trees were cut down, trimmed and lashed between four large trees in the form of a square. A trellis of smaller trees and branches was formed on top and over this the two sails were spread. Around three sides a barricade was made to keep out the crabs, leaving the lee side open for the fire, which was soon got under way. The ground was cleared of twigs etc., and then covered with leaves over which was placed a couple of blankets and old canvas which had been washed ashore. Altogether it looked and was fairly comfortable."
Monday, 2 Dec
  • Lincoln Ellsworth agrees to rendezvous with Trongate at Gardner Island.
Tuesday, 3 Dec
0650 Swindell:
  • "Sighted Gardiner Island."
0730 Swindell:
  • "Sighted Norwich City and crew on beach."


  • Several parties set out for the other side of the Island and on their way sighted two steamers coming round to our side. It wasn’t very long before those in camp knew the good news and all were on the beach in no time, sore feet and coral forgotten. To see those two vessels approaching, one from the north and the other from the south was the finest sight I have ever seen."
  • Both had slowed down during the night and made the Island by daylight arriving on the east side, meeting then turning round and arriving at the scene of the wreck about the same time; this would be about 8 a.m.
0830 Swindell:
  • "Stopped half mile off wreck."
0900-1430 Swindell:
  • "Launched whale boat, water, provisions, boat unable to return."
  • "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."


  • "The boat was handled with superb skill, coming through the surf about 200 yards south of the wreck."


  • Lincoln Ellsworth motor boat alongside.
  • "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."


  • "We took the stores and water from the surf boat and went to the camp. They told us that it was impossible to go through that surf again so we went to the lee side . The surf boat went across the lagoon . On arrival at the lee side the surf was pretty well as bad. After several attempts with the surf boat they eventually got away with three men. They returned to us again. A rocket line was fired from the Trongate's life boat about 2.30 before the lifeboat had left the island with the three men. The rocket line could not be used for life boat purposes but was used for sending messages with."


  • "After the surf boat had landed both ships circled the island in search of a more suitable place to effect the rescue. A place was found about a mile and a half from the scene of the wreck, the crew and the survivors transporting the surf boat across a lagoon to the waiting vessels. Several attempts were made in the afternoon. One boat with three men was taken to safety. The boat returned, and several more attempts were made, but were unsuccessful. After the boat capsized, it was decided to wait until next day."[1]


  • "Steamed ship round south East corner."
  • "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."


  • "The two vessels now cruised along the reef in search of a suitable place, the surf near the wreck being far too dangerous. A place was found about 1 1/2 miles south of the wreck, the breakers being not quite so bad, but bad enough to make it anything but a joy ride to get over."
  • "We then crossed the lagoon in the boat to where the vessels were waiting on the outside and transported the boat to edge of the reef."


  • Launched ships boats, first mate in charge.
  • Lincoln Ellsworth doing same and launching motorboat.
  • Observed boatmen transporting crew and whaleboat across lagoon.
  • Trongate, also Lincoln Ellsworth standing by.
1430 Swindell:
  • "Fired rocket line on shore, received message: Send water, biscuits, weather too bad, try tomorrow."
1500 Swindell:
  • "Whale boat successfully over reef. 3 survivors, our boat again ashore, unable take water or stores. Heavy surf, many attempts made to launch unsuccessfully."
  • "The native crew, which had been working incessantly 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."


  • "I did not think the natives would make any further attempts that night but about half an hour later they decided to try again and three adventurous spirits, the Second Engineer, Wireless Operator and Cabin Boy got in and were across the surf in no time. Great excitement prevailed, the Trongate and Lincoln Ellsworth blowing their whistles and everyone cheering. The surf boat was then taken in tow by the motor life boat to the Trongate. The surf boat returned shortly afterwards with only half the crew. They had decided that with our assistance to get to the edge of the surf, the boat would be easier to manage with three men. After several more unsuccessful attempts, it was suggested that they should go out alone, row along the edge of the surf to the southward, where possibly there would be a more suitable place, to which they agreed. About an hour before sunset they tried again with one sailor, but this time the boat was turned over and completely swamped, the sailor being hauled to safety by the crew. The natives decided to remain ashore and we were very thankful to have them as events proved. We all turned to now and hauled the boat to the beach."
  • Swindell: "Head south and full away for one and a half hours."
  • Camp 3 for 21 survivors and 3 or 4 native boatmen. Natives started a fire and cooked crabs and birds.
2000 Swindell:
  • "Stopped engines for night."
Wednesday, 4 Dec
0630 Swindell:
  • "Ships head north and full away."
0740 Swindell:
  • "Alongside position."
0830 Swindell:
  • "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."
  • "Three more survivors and received message
"To the Master s.s. Trongate - the positions as to getting over that 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 but a case of milk would come in useful also matches, chlorodyne as some of us are getting diarrhoea and any old boots (on pair size tens) and any old hats and tobacco. 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"
  • "Boat sent ashore with all requested."
  • "Finding a better landing."
  • "Three more survivors over reef. From now on rescue completed. Boat taking water kegs and barrel each time and various requirements."
1415 Swindell:
  • "The last survivors arrived on board 'Trongate' 2.15 p.m. Method: whale boat over reef to 'Trongate's' boat. 'Lincoln Ellsworth's' launch towing to 'Trongate.'"
1430 Swindell:
  • "About 2.30 p.m. 12 men transferred to 'Lincoln Ellsworth.'"
1530 Swindell:
  • "Full away.."


Friday night
  • no camp.
Camp 1
  • 100 yards inland
  • Saturday night only.
Camp 2
  • Further inland.
  • Water collected.
  • Wooden frame covered by sails.
  • Sunday and Monday nights.
Camp 3
  • 1.5 NM "south" of the wreck.
  • Supplies and water requested and provided.
  • Tuesday night only.
  • 21 survivors and 3 or 4 boatmen.
  • Natives started fire and cooked crabs and birds.

Weather conditions


  • "Strong westerly wind and high seas were striking the ship and she was pounding heavily on the reef so that men coming along the deck were thrown in all directions."


  • "At the time of the wreck [2300 Fri 29 Nov] it was raining hard and wind from the westward, blowing hard. It rained hard right through the following day [Sat 30 Nov]. After that it was showery and hot."

Conflicting Interpretations of the Data

The meaning of several terms are disputed: 1. What did Swindell mean by "the southeast corner of the island"? 2. What did Lott mean by "the lee side"? 3. What did the witnesses mean when they referred to the skiff going "across the lagoon"?

Camp 3 in Tekibeia

The argument for camp 3 in Tekibeia is presented in a different form in the article on the Norwich City Survivors' Shelter.

1. The "southeast corner of the island" would mean the first corner of the island as seen from the Trongate's perspective one-half mile off of the Norwich City wreck.

The existence of this "corner" is what provides shelter from the northwest wind; this, in turn, helps to explain the interpretation given here of "the lee side of the island."

Trongate perspective.png

Andrew McKenna argues that the only place to see the skiff heading toward the southeast is through one of the passages into the lagoon:

I've said before, and Gregory Daspit mentions it in his email, you cannot see out of or into the lagoon anywhere except the two passages mentioned above, so the only way for the ship to see the surf boat is if it happened to be outside one of the passages looking in. If the surf boat had continued down to the SE end of the lagoon as you suggest, the boats would not have been able to see the ship, and vice versa. That is not a recipe for rescue and I can't see anyone thinking that being out of visual contact with your rescuers was a good plan.
The only logical solution is to exit at Tatiman or Baureke passage, and get rescued. Look at the timeline, they go aground on Friday night. The Trongate and the L. Ellsworth arrive on Tuesday at 8am ish. After launching the surf boat ashore, the next thing the ships do is find a better place some 1.5 miles down the beach from the wreck. Later that same day, they "cross the lagoon in the boat to where the vessels were waiting on the outside and transported the boat to edge of the reef. It was now about 2 p.m." So since the arrival of the ships, only 6 hours has passed.

In making this drawing, I supposed, without evidence, that the narrowing of the land (and possibly lower vegetation there) might allow a view into the lagoon:

SE corner.png

Andrew's argument against a portage across Aukaraime North through the vegetation applies to the narrow areas indicated by arrows above as well:

Nobody in their right mind would attempt to exit the lagoon and portage their boat through the dense underbrush across the island to the beach on the NE side. If they had, it would have been an extreme effort, and I would expect that adventure would have been reported in the records. Nobody mentions such activity. From personal experience, I can tell you that this would be a near impossible task without a bunch of cutting tools and a ton of water. In 2001, it took us two days to cut a trail from the lagoon to the ocean and that was with machetes and chain saws, and even then the trail was only wide enough for human traffic, not a surf boat.
Baureke exit.jpg
2. The "lee side of the island" is taken to mean "all the shoreline that is sheltered from a northwest wind by the shape of the island."
3. "Across the lagoon" means from Noriti to Tekibeia.
The purpose of this drawing is to show that there is more than one way to cross the lagoon. The three leftmost lines are from Noriti to Tekibeia. Six of the lines lead "southeast" from Noriti.
The supposed sequence of camps then looks something like this:

Camp 3 at Seven Site

1. The "southeast corner of the island" would mean Ameriki, as is easily recognized with modern maps.
2. The "lee side of the island" is taken to mean "the shoreline that near the Seven Site."
3. "Across the lagoon" means from Noriti to the Seven Site.
Camp 3 is at the Seven Site.

Failed crossing at Seven Site, Camp 3 in Tekibeia

This theory was proposed as a compromise. It shares the interpretations of the witness statements of the theory that Camp 3 was at the Seven Site, but proposes that the rescue was effected offshore from Tekibeia.

This scenario implies that:

  • 24 survivors were ferried to the Seven Site by boat.
  • The boat was carried across land to the reef.
  • The boat was carried overland back to the lagoon.
  • The survivors were ferried to Tekibeia.
  • The boat was carried overland to the reef.
  • Camp 3 was in or near Tekibeia.

All of this would have been accomplished on Tuesday in the space of five or six hours.


  1. Melbourne Argus, "Wreck of the Norwich City," 16 Dec. 1929.