(1919-1939) ROP for HMS Veronica 11 February 1931 – Napier Earthquake

Read the Report of Proceedings by  H.L. Morgan, D.S.O. R.N.Commander-in-Command of HMS Veronica.


At Sea.

11th February 1931.

No. 1408.


In accordance with your verbal orders I have the honour to forward you the following report embracing the time from “Veronica’s” arrival at Napier to her return to Auckland.

We anchored off Napier about 0600 on Tuesday 3rd February.  The harbour master Captain Whyte-Parsons came onboard a little after seven and at about 0730 we weighed and proceeded into the Inner Harbour securing alongside the new wharf, West Quay at 0800.    Arrangements had been made for official calls to be made and returned commencing at 1500, this had been so arranged because originally it was intended that we should not come into harbour till 1330, however our earlier arrival permitted our entering at high water instead of at low water.

At 1045 I was standing on the Quarter Deck when suddenly the ship commenced to shake violently as thought the engines were racing at full speed, this was only momentarily and was succeeded by a terrific and indescribable noise,  the ship being flung violently about.   I went on to the Boat Deck and there through a cloud of dust saw the road and wharf heaving about,  the storehouses opposite swaying in all directions whilst others were crashing to the ground in ruins,  people could be seen rushing into the road and there going through the most extraordinary antics in an endeavour to keep their feet.

The ship continued to bump violently against the wharf and to surge up and down until finally all the after wires parted except the spring and her stern was swept out into the middle of the harbour,

As the dust cleared away it could be seen that considerable damage had been done ashore, but as the business part of Napier is situation on the other side of the hill it was impossible to form and y idea as to it’s extent, however from what could be seen from the ship it was only too evident that it must be very considerable.   Fires broke out almost at once.

At about 1140 we managed to haul the ship alongside the wharf which, though considerable damaged,  was still standing, and got out the kedge anchor to the shore so as to assist to hold the ship upright if she commenced to fall over to starboard,  at the same time I had the port tanks flooded to list the ship against the wharf,  all this was necessary as the water was now pouring out of the Inner Harbour like a mill race and it could only be a question of minutes before the ship grounded even if she were not to be left high and dry forever,  at the same time fires were drawn in the boilers.

I then called for volunteers to land and endeavour to render all assistance possible, the whole ship’s company wished to go and had to be selected by the Officers.  Two parties landed at once, one under command of Lieutenant Warrand and the other under Sub. Lieutenant Vesey,   subsequently another party was landed under the Commissioned Gunner, Mr Gale.   The first aid party with Surgeon Lieutenant Commander McVicker had already landed and another first aid party landed shortly after this taking food and water with them.

I was now faced with the difficulty of not knowing what had exactly happened or was happening, all telephonic communication had of course failed and from where the ship was, little could be seen except smoke in all directions indicating the many fires.   A large wool store on the other side of the Iron Pot on our port quarter was blazing furiously but luckily at present the wind was blowing from the one direction southerly where the sparks etc. could do least harm, but I was very afraid lest a shift of wind should ignite the various storehouses in our vicinity which would necessitate our abandoning the ship.  About this time (Noon) the water commenced to return and we were enabled to light up boilers again.  It was of course quite obvious that we were now the communicating link between Napier and the rest of the Dominion.

Many women and children now commenced to come onboard and were accommodated as best we could, they continued to come onboard during the remainder of the day and by night time a large number had arrived, all more or less destitute.   We fed them as well as we could I would pay a high tribute to the courage of the women who never made a murmur and were pathetically grateful for the little we could do for them.

The “Northumberland” and “Taranaki” who had been anchored off the entrance to the Inner Harbour embarking wool, frozen meat etc. had after the first shock (due to the shoaling of the water in their vicinity) weighed and proceeded further out where they anchored and now at about 1300 communicated with me and offered to land men and medical officer.   I requested them to do so and to place the parties landed under my orders.

At about 1330 the Navigator, Lieutenant Warrand, returned to the ship and gave me the first authentic account of what had occurred as far as he could tell, he landed again almost immediately taking with him such remaining men as could be spared.

About this time I directed the First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander Grimes, to land accompanied by a messenger and endeavour to get hold of any local authorities that he could and inform them of what had already been done and that I was ready to co-operate with them in any way that they might desire.

The Town Clerk and the Postmaster came onboard about 1430 but could add little to the information already at my disposal I told them of what was being done and showed then the signals which had already been made.

About…(missing)..…he had been unable to get in touch with any of the local authorities but informed me that Surgeon Lieutenant Commander  McVicker had founded a medical headquarters at the Police Station to which all urgent cases were being taken.

Lieutenant Warrand returned onboard at about 1600 to inform me that he considered that the question of food and water would soon become acute and to obtain my permission to form a depot and to commandeer the necessary food  The landing  party from the “Northumberland” had just come alongside so placing them under his command; I directed him to take whatever steps he considered necessary.    Later on I was informed that the “ Taranaki’s “ landing party, which had landed at Glasgow Wharf had also joined up with Lieutenant Warrand’s party.

Later on in the evening I received information from Lieutenant Warrand that he was in touch with Mr. Barnard,  the local Member of Parliament and that a meeting of the prominent citizens would take place that evening at about 2000.  I informed him that if conditions permitted,  I would attend the meeting.  During this period I received various requested to provide guards, assistance at the Maternity Home, etc.  which we endeavoured to comply with.

At 1950 accompanied by Captain Whyte-Parsons, the harbour master,  I proceeded in a car to attend the above meeting,  we had to walk the last quarter of a mile as the roads were impassable and the condition of the town as I then saw it beggars description,  buildings were in ruins and had – in most cases fallen across the streets and fires were raging everywhere.  The people one saw appeared to be more or less normal but stunned –  mentally and to have no idea what was going on;  of course by this time a very large number had left the town for the open country or were camping on the beach.   At the corner of the street facing the Police Station we met Mr. Bernard,  the Deputy Mayor and some other of the prominent citizens.  I told them of what had been done, what was being done and that you were arriving about 0700 the next day with “Diomede” in company and asked if there was anything further which they could suggest or would like me to do.  No one had anything further to suggest so I requested that they would,  with such other local authorities as might then be available, meet you on board “Veronica” at 0800 the following day  (Wednesday 4th February) after doing this we returned to the ship.

The night which followed was rather trying as shocks kept recurring and the wharf to which the ship was secured showed signs of collapsing on top of us, however the women and children were extraordinarily good and to our intense relief day broke without anything further having happened.   By this time the fires were burning themselves out and at 0545 I embarked with Captain White-Parsons in his boat and proceeded to the outer anchorage to meet “Dunedin” and “Diomede”.

From the time of my reporting the state of affairs to you, you are aware of everything which has occurred.

The remainder of the week was spent alongside the wharf in the Inner Harbour, to which the water has more or less returned though there is a less depth by seven feet, nothing?? …. as linking ship for communication purposes between the cruisers and the shore parties and at night landing small parties to investigate fires etc. and to patrol to check looting.

On Sunday 8th February at soon His Excellency the Governor General and Her Excellency Lady Bledisloe visited H.M.S. “Veronica” and His Excellency addressed the Ship’s Company after which the officers had the honour of being presented to their Excellencies.

In accordance with orders received at Noon on Tuesday 10th February “Veronica” proceeded to leave the wharf for the outer anchorage, soundings had been taken by the Harbour Master and Lieutenant (N) and the former was convinced that the ship could be swung round till her head pointed out to sea her stern remaining secured to the wharf as is the usual practice.  I did not feel so sure that this was practicable and after we had swung through about 6 points it was quite clear that the water was too shoal to allow us to swing any further, I then decided to attempt to get out by a stern board and with the aid of the “Koau” towing astern and the Harbour master’s launch at the bows we finally managed to get clear and to anchor near H.M.S. “Dunedin”.  The fact that the helm jammed hard-a-starboard just as we commenced to go astern led to a delay which might have proved fatal to our departure that tide.

At 1330 we weighed and proceeded as fast as possible in order to take advantage of the fine weather for Auckland.   When clear of the land a heavy southerly swell made things very uncomfortable until rounding East Cape, but from there onwards the weather was perfect.   At 0940 I considered conditions were so god that it was possible to reduce to 10 knots and at 2350 we anchored in the Examination Anchorage of Rangitoto.

At 0610 weighed and proceeded, making fast alongside the Training Pier at 0635.

In conclusion of this report I beg to state that in my opinion the officers and men under my command behaved as I expected they would do and to my mind maintained worthily the high traditions of the Navel Service.   Where all did so well it is hard and perhaps unnecessary to particularly mention anyone but I do consider that great initiative was displayed by Lieutenant Warrand in initiating, organizing and maintaining a food depot with feed some 2000 people on the night of the 3rd – 4th February and which was the only one working for at least 36 hours.      Surgeon Lieutenant Commander McVicker also deserves great credit for the prompt way in which he immediately formed a central dressing station at the Police Headquarters and for the untiring way in which he laboured to assist the injured.

I should particularly like to mention the prompt support and loyal co-operation of the Masters of the SS “Northumberland” and “Taranaki” their landing parties, especially that from “Northumberland”, were of the greatest assistance and without them we should have found it quite impossible to accomplish all we did.

Captain Whyte-Parsons with his knowledge of the town etc. and his wide experience has been of the greatest assistance to me throughout and the town of Napier in my opinion owes his a great deal.

I have the honour to be,


                                             Your obedient servant,

                                                                                        H.L. Morgan, D.S.O. R.N.


 To:Commodore Commanding.

New Zealand Station.