Month: November 2016

First Encounter of War – SMS Emden

About 8,000 men and 4,000 horses, which made up the Main Body and 1st Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, embarked from Wellington in October 1914, sailing in a convoy via Australia to Europe to join the war. Ten troopships had been requisitioned by the NZ government from shipping companies to accommodate men and horses on this momentous voyage. The NZEF anchored in Hobart, Tasmania, for two days and the men went ashore for marching exercises. They re-embarked and sailed to Albany, Western Australia, on 28 October where they were joined by 28 Australian troopships and escort vessels and about 22,000 men and 3,500 horses.

The combined ANZAC fleet of 38 troopships and escorts, carrying 30,000 soldiers and 7,500 horses left Albany on 1 November 1915. Their destination was no longer Europe.

Turkey had declared war against the Allies only the day before, and the Expeditionary Force was diverted to Egypt. On that leg of the voyage, the convoy encountered war for the first time when sailing to Colombo in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. While the convoy was at sea, the Imperial German navy cruiser, SMS Emden, captained by Karl von Müller, had raided the Cocos Islands, also known as the Keeling Islands, in the Indian Ocean, in order to destroy British operations that were stationed there.

2-sms-emden

Emden, beached on North Keeling Island, November 1914. (SLV, Public Domain)

The Emden was pursued and attacked by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney. She was badly damaged and run aground by von Müller to avoid sinking with all hands aboard. More than a third of her crew was killed and most of her surviving crewmen were taken prisoner. Captain von Müller escaped with a small crew in a commandeered schooner and managed to sail back to Germany.

The wounded German prisoners were sent to Australia while the uninjured were taken on board HMAS Sydney to Colombo and transferred to ships in the convoy. The prisoners were interned in Malta after their voyage north and finally repatriated to Germany in 1920.

The ship’s ensign somehow found its way into the hands of New Zealand soldiers. A series of holes in the linen, apparently made by shrapnel, are visible. The simple cotton ensign is composed of a white field with a red cross and a yellow crown at the centre of the cross. It was donated to the Whanganui Regional Museum in 1957.

1-emden-ensign

The ensign of the SMS Emden (WRM ref:1957.15)

Also in the Museum collection is a badly stained and dog-eared mimeographed issue of The Arrower, the newspaper of the NZEF aboard HMNZ Transport No.10 Arawa. The magazine records the Emden event in great detail alongside current events, the voyage schedule and poetry. Apparently, this copy of the Arrower was later sunk in a submarine and rescued and acquired by Captain Morgan of the first NZ Expeditionary Force, who donated it to the Museum in 1935. “A.H.W.” puts the Emden event into verse.

Sydney and Emden

Here’s to the Sydney cruiser,

That put the Emden out,

She beat the German bruiser,

With a good Australian clout,

No more the German pirate,

Will sink our helpless ships,

She took the count for the full amount,

When the Sydney came to grips.

 

The Germans wanted something soft,

So to the Cocos went,

The wireless saw him from aloft,

So “S.O.S.” was sent,

The Sydney quickly took the hint,

And turned her nose about,

In an hour or two the news came through,

The Emden’s down and out.

 

Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

 

The first Telegram in Whanganui

In the Museum collection is the first telegram to be received in Whanganui.  Received at 3.40 pm on 3 November 1869, the telegram was addressed to the settlers of Wanganui and the district and was sent by then Premier William Fox. The message reads, “I congratulate you on the completion of the telegraph. May it strengthen the Bonds of Union + promote the prosperity of the Colony.”

1-first-telegram

The telegram sent to Wanganui by Premier William Fox on 3 November 1869 (ref: 1802.5812)

The first government-owned telegraph line in New Zealand was established between Christchurch and Lyttelton in 1862, and the first lines in the North Island appeared two years later. Initially the North Island line was for military use only, to assist with the land wars of the time. By 1866 it had been purchased by the provincial government and incorporated with the wider public telegraph system.

The telegram, or electric telegraph, was revolutionary for its time. Previous attempts at communication were slow and cumbersome, limited to the speed a human could travel on foot, horse, or boat. The invention of the electric telegraph, however, hugely altered the face of global society and economy.

From the first days of electricity in the 18th century people have been finding ways to use it to improve our lives; communications benefited greatly. Various attempts had been made to use electrical currents to send messages but none were very successful until 1837 when William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone started experimenting. They devised a machine on which a series of needles was attached to a board, each of which could turn clockwise or anticlockwise, depending on the electromagnetic charge it received. The operator would choose the direction of the current and the needles would turn to point to corresponding letters on the diamond-shaped board.

This system was gradually refined and simplified until only one needle was required. Numerals were then added to the repertoire. This format was closely followed by Morse code with its familiar dots and dashes, and some telegraph machines were developed with printing capabilities so the message was automatically printed for later deciphering and delivery. Improved communication methods removed the message from the object carrying it and enabled it to move much faster, requiring only someone on the receiving end to transcribe it and ensure its delivery.

2-veitch-in-uniform

Steve Veitch dressed in his uniform for delivering telegrams (ref: P-CH-006)

Almost instant communication saw the rapid growth of business and organisations, which in turn encouraged society to embrace telegrams for a more personal use. To keep costs down, the message had to be short and to the point – the average telegram was less than 15 words – and required the language to be free of any local or regional colloquialisms which could be misinterpreted.

The speed with which information could travel the globe changed the face of news reporting. Many newspapers began bearing the title of “Telegraph” indicating they received their news timely and accurately. Misinformation still got through, however; the New York Sun and Honolulu Evening Bulletin published on 15 April 1912 both reported receiving telegrams stating all passengers aboard the Titanic had been saved.