On February 12, 1909, the steam ship “Penguin” departed Picton for Wellington in favourable conditions, carrying over 100 passengers and crew. The weather worsened as she crossed the straight, and that evening was marked by poor visibility due to heavy rains. At 10pm, with no land in sight, she struck Thoms Rock off Terawhiti.

Captain Naylor did not seem to think there was any real danger as he ordered the life rafts ready and that the passengers be fitted with life belts. There was little panic as the rafts were filled, but the rough seas made the evacuation disastrous. One launch failed, spilling its passengers into the freezing water. Other rafts capsized during the night.

Over two-thirds of those on board lost their lives that night, making it the worst maritime disaster of the century.

There are many records related to the wreck of the SS Penguin that are from series currently being digitised by the Digitisation Programme. These records are now online and a selection of images are available below.

Captain Naylor lived until 1940. He retired as a harbour master in Wanganui.

Digitisation Team, Wellington Office, Archives New Zealand