Seldom if ever before has the moment been captured on photograph when a ship's captain steps ashore just after his ship has been wrecked or sunk. This photo, taken by a newspaper camera-man, shows 57 year old Captain Gordon Robertson, Master of TEV Wahine, on Seatoun Wharf after having been pulled from the sea by a rescue vessel. Shock and hypothermia are plain on his face. Captain Robertson is in his master's uniform; below the left shoulder of his jacket are the rows of campaign ribbons from his Merchant Navy service during World War Two. 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wahine Disaster, the sinking of the ship Wahine in Wellington harbour, New Zealand on the 10th April 1968 with the deaths of 51 people. My name is Murray Robinson and I am the godson of Captain Gordon Robertson, the man who was in command of the Wahine on 10th of April 1968. This website is dedicated to the Wahine and Captain Robertson. It provides detailed information about both, and answers the many questions that still surround the Wahine's tragic loss and the role Captain Robertson played.

Sublimely beautiful; the Wahine as we remember her during her short life, before the tragedy of 10th April 1968. The offshore rocks and light tower of Pencarrow Head, where she fought her battle with the seas that morning, lie off to starboard just ahead of the ship. In this photo she is steaming into Wellington harbour late on a summer-time afternoon, near the end of a daylight crossing from Lyttelton. Captain Robertson is on the bridge. The Wahine was the finest ship he ever commanded, both the summit and very bottom of his lifelong career at sea.

The Wahine lying on her side and partially submerged in Wellington harbour, a few days after the disaster of 10th April 1968. This photo has been kindly restored by Royce Flynn September 2012

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A very great amount has been written, filmed and spoken about the Wahine Disaster in the many years since 10th April 1968. Much of it rightly focuses on the memories of survivors from that day and those who rescued them from the sea. But there is another side to the Wahine: the story of the ship herself and of her master, officers, engineers and crew who fought so courageously to save her. Theirs is a truly marvelous seafaring epic of devotion to duty combined with very great tragedy. Despite the frenzy of the storm - the worst ever recorded in Wellington - and the terrible damage done to the ship, the Wahine all that morning refused to concede. Astonishingly she stayed upright, intact and afloat. But then, as the storm died away in the early afternoon and with her battle almost won, the Wahine quietly rolled over and sank. Her loss, with so many lives taken, was the most colossal shock. The Wahine was a big, modern, powerful, fine-looking ship less than two years old. Captain Robertson and his senior officers, all of them highly experienced mariners, had believed she would come through the storm. Afterwards Captain Robertson tried to get on with his life, returning to sea, but privately he never got over the Wahine. Who could have? Worse was to follow. The myths and misinformation began soon after the Wahine's loss, and have persisted down through the years. It was said that Captain Robertson did not get to the Wahine's bridge on time that morning, having slept in. Heedless of the raging storm, he decided to carry on with entry into Wellington harbour because he did not want the Wahine to be late. Speed was foolishly reduced for the comfort of passengers. Captain Robertson then became disorientated and inadvertently backed the Wahine over Barrett Reef. Reports given to him about the water on the vehicle deck were ignored, the passengers were lied to, and Captain Robertson stood around on the bridge all morning doing nothing. He was late in giving the order to abandon ship, resulting in more deaths. Another myth has it that after the sinking he was banned from ever bringing a ship into Wellington harbour again. When he died, Captain Robertson took his secrets about what actually took place aboard the Wahine, with him to the grave. Then there is the notion, just as false, that the Wahine was a bad-luck ship, poorly constructed and prone to accident. All this is baseless, contemptible and wrong. The aim of this website is to put the record straight for Captain Robertson and the Wahine.

Horror of Wahine

In its Saturday 6 April 2013 edition, on page A12, the Dominion Post published a two-page article that repeats many of the falsehoods about Captain Robertson that this website seeks to put right. I was not asked to respond to any of what the article says, before it was printed, even though this website was used as source material for the timeline given in the article on the same page. The article says Captain Robertson decided to take the Wahine to sea from Lyttelton on the evening of 9 April 1968 despite a storm warning that made clear its magnitude was to be that of a 10-to-20 year event. There was nothing in the storm warning that said anything like this. The storm's centre that evening was 1,120 kilometres away to the north-east. The article next says that Captain Robertson was asleep while his crew had difficulties steering the Wahine in the large waves. The facts are that the Wahine's chief officer, a fully qualified master mariner, was in charge on the bridge during this time..

The steering difficulty was nothing unusual, and was rectified by lowering the Wahine's speed. Captain Robertson woke not as the ship was nearing the harbour heads, as the article says, but at 5 a.m. when the ship was in the middle of Cook Strait. He was on the bridge from 5.50 a.m., his normal time, when the Wahine was still out in Cook Strait and south of Baring Head. The ship's speed was reduced to half ahead to aid the Wahine's steering, which it did. The reduction did not render steering useless, as said in the article. There is no factual evidence that Captain Robertson tried to steer the Wahine back into the harbour after successfully bringing her bow round and pointing out to sea. Nor did he turn her into Breaker Bay. This is all completely wrong. Critics of Captain Robertson are quoted in the article but the Dominion Post journalist has not included any comment in Captain Robertson's defence, by way of offering balance and fairness to what he wrote