Australia

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.

 

Advertisements

Extinct, stuffed and symbolic

Extinct, stuffed and symbolic

Dr Eric Dorfman’s professional credentials would be a separate – and very long – story. The books he’s written and studies he has made, in themselves, would make a fascinating Midweek article (note to self: write fascinating Midweek article about Dr Eric Dorfman’s books and published studies).

In this issue, however, we treat him as the recently appointed director of the Whanganui Regional Museum and hear about his interest in the long extinct Tasmanian Wolf, Thylacinus cynocephalus.

To do that I had to follow the tall, one-time Californian (but I think New Zealand has claimed him now) down into the bowels of the museum, shuffling between shelves until finding dozens of specimens of the taxidermists’ art. There we encountered our Tasmanian Wolf.

The museum has a stuffed specimen, collected by the museum’s founder, Samuel Drew, sometime around 1891, well before the species met its total demise. It looks its age, poor thing, but the astounding fact is that we have one.

Eric lived in Australia for some years and knows a bit about these creatures. So why did he choose it to present to Midweek?  “It’s immensely cool from the fact that we have an extinct Australian species of which there are only a few in the world and exemplifies the importance of the collection internationally, as well as nationally. It’s cool on a personal level because I’m a conservationist by profession and there is still an effort afoot to see if maybe there are some left in Tasmania … and evolutionarily it’s very cool because although it looks like a dog it’s actually more closely related to a kangaroo, koala or wombat.”

The Thylacine is a marsupial and has a pouch like a kangaroo … well, the female does. The museum’s specimen is an adult male. Eric says they are more closely related to the quoll, another Australian animal, which is “more like a marsupial weasel”.  “From an evolutionary standpoint, this is convergent evolution with a dog,” says Eric. “Also biologically that’s very interesting.  One of my research thrusts is about humans’ relationship with nature,” he says. Eric has a book coming out later this year – Intangible Natural Heritage – of which he is author/editor in league with a team of distinguished authors.

Looking at this sad, stuffed specimen, Eric sees past the obvious and finds a symbol of “our coming of age as a society when we realise that doing this [making animals extinct] is a really bad thing.” He stresses that while this new-found consciousness is too late for some species, it’s not too late for many others.

He praises the work of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) and its work here and overseas. “DOC is supporting other countries, including the United States, in methodology of setting up island sanctuaries … and it’s fantastic to be in New Zealand – even though this is an Australian species – from the point of view of this is a place where we have come of age in terms of the environment, and I hope we stay there. You can see why this launches into a lot of really interesting philosophical issues … and also thinking about where museums have been and where they’re going.”

It’s incredible, almost, to realise that Samuel Drew, Whanganui Regional Museum founder, actually helped, in his way, send species such as the huia extinct. He did that by trading stuffed huia (probably) to get an example of another species that, itself, would be extinct in another 50 years. At the time he traded for the Tasmanian Wolf, it was reasonably common but he needed it for his marsupial collection.

“No museum curator has ever intentionally sent a species extinct,” says Eric, “but back in the 19th century when species looked like they were going extinct, often, museum curators would run out to make sure they had them in their collection before anyone else got them … the huia was a victim of that kind of thing.”

The Thylacine was once a pan-Australian species, says Eric, with cave paintings to prove it was once even in the very north of Australia in Kakadu National Park. “By the time Drew was around it was restricted to Tasmania,” he says, although it was being hunted until its final (probable) extinction in the 1930s.

Eric says there is enough genetic material in existence so that, one day, techniques of cloning may be able to reintroduce the species. And so we looked at Samuel Drew’s legacy, part of his vision of a great museum that was all-encompassing.  “We now ‘get’ why he did it,” says Eric, “and we now have this incredible treasure. This is an amazing thing to have.”

There are lemurs from Madagascar and animals from all around the world, some exhibited upstairs, others hiding from the light below decks in the vaults. The Thylacine stands with them, an example of old ethics and philosophies and yet a symbol of what we are today. And if we do manage to clone them back into existence, will we look after them this time? The last word goes to Dr Eric Dorfman.

“If the Thylacine is never going to be reinvented and really is extinct, and the same with the huia, don’t we owe it to the species and owe it to ourselves to allow it to awaken us to the realities of what we’re doing to the planet?”

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek newspaper in June 2011.  Reproduced with permission from the author.