Sunday, June 10, 2012

Richard and Roscommon

A while ago, I wrote about an intriguing plaque on a free-standing belfry, beside the Anglican Church of St Mary the Virgin in Addington, Christchurch. The plaque reads:
This belfry is erected by Friends, Parishioners
and The Lancashire "Besses O' Th' Barn" Band
to the memory of New Zealand's Great Statesman and Humanist
13 years (1893-1906) Prime Minister of this colony
Born June 22nd 1845 at Eccleston Hill Lancashire
Died at sea Lat.33°, 55'S. Long.150°, 08'E
S.S. "Oswestery Grange" Sunday June 10th 1906
Buried at Observatory Hill Wellington June 21st 1906 Aetat 61
My previous post investigated the "Besses O' Th' Barn" Band from Lancashire. But I'm also interested in the reference to S.S.Oswestery Grange...
"King Dick", NZ Premier Richard J.Seddon, died aboard Oswestery Grange, today in history 10th.June 1906, while coming back to NZ from Australia. The belfry plaque is very detailed, even down to the exact latitude/longitude of the position of Seddon's demise.
But what of the ship itself? David Lawson, a Welsh journalist, writes:
"Oswestry Grange was built in Belfast in 1902, more than 6,500 tons...a single-funnelled, four-masted steamer, 450ft long and capable of 13 knots and with accommodation for 39 passengers. Oswestry took her place on the Federal-Houlder-Shire Line service travelling from Britain to Australia and New Zealand. As one of its flagships, Oswestry Grange often transported dignitaries including NZ’s greatest and longest-serving prime minister, Richard John Seddon. It was just before setting foot on Oswestry in 1906 that Seddon, returning from Australia, sent a famous telegram to the Victorian Premier: 'Just leaving for God’s own country'. Seddon would never see NZ again, dying aboard ship the following day, but his description of the country has endured to this day."
Oswestry Grange was sold to the Union Steamship Company of NZ in 1912, as the freighter Roscommon. During World War One, Roscommon was put to work on the UK supply routes...but crossed paths with legendary German submarine U-53 (one of the Top Five German U-boats of WWI, sinking 88 ships).
Early on the morning of August 21st 1917, Roscommon was one of 19 steamers attempting to slip unnoticed out of Northern Ireland’s Lough Swilly. The fleet began the long process of manouevering from single file into convoy formation, unaware of the lurking submarine. It took almost seven hours to move the convoy into position, but finally the formation was complete and the ships began to get under way. Suddenly alarm bells rang out as the destroyers picked up three torpedoes inbound. There was no time to react: the first torpedo struck a ship at the head of her column; a second barely missed the vessel behind her; the third struck Roscommon, which was the second ship on the portside column. U-53 escaped easily, as Roscommon slipped beneath the waves.
David Lawson writes that five of her crew were killed in the attack and 80 made it to safety; says the vessel was sunk without loss of life.
Roscommon lies about 73m down, some 20miles NE of Tory Island, off the northern end of Northern Ireland (at 55° 27' North and 8° 00' West).
Richard Seddon lies on Observatory Hill, Wellington.
[The excellent blog Timespanner contains a post about the many Seddon memorials erected around the Auckland area...]

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