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"Alexandra" - Timaru's lifeboat.


The life boat "Alexandra" is no longer housed in the Landing Services Building. It has been shifted to make way for the Maori Heritage Centre which is to be established in Bay 1 of this historic building. At present the life boat is being stored in a building at the Timaru Botanic Gardens - until a suitable and safe place is found to display it again.  June 2010.

Sept. 2023. She is still stored out of sight.

Lyttelton Times, 28 February 1863, Page 4
Life Boat. "We find the following in the Home News: On the 8th of December some interesting and satisfactory trials were made at the Regent's Canal Dock, with a new life-boat, on the plan of those of the National Life-boat Institution, for New Zealand. The boat is 35ft. long and 6ft. wide, and seems to be admirably adapted for the special purpose for which she is required, namely to land passengers at Timaru, in the Canterbury province, from the ships and steamers which call there, when the surf would be too heavy for ordinary boats to venture off. Her self-righting properties answered extremely well and when full of water the boat self-ejected it in 15 seconds. She possesses all the qualities of the single-banked boats of the Life-boat Institution. She was shipped on board the emigrant ship Huntress, which has sailed for New Zealand with 200 or 300 emigrants. The boat was built by the Messrs, Forrest, of Limehouse, under the direction of Mr. John Marshman, [Marshall] the intelligent emigration agent for the province of Canterbury in this country.

The old lifeboat the "Alexandra" can no longer be viewed at the Timaru Visitor Information Centre in the Landing Services Building. She was moved there in 1997 after being fully restored. For years she was always at the top end of Caroline Bay near the aviary protected from the weather by a covered shed. She was placed there in 1932, on the 50th anniversary of "Black Sunday.  On 18 June 1862 the Canterbury Provincial Secretary wrote to London to order a double-ended 33-foot boat with a six-foot beam, complete with launching carriage and provision for six pulling oars and a steersman. It was built 300. The lifeboat, imported from England by the Canterbury Provincial Council for Timaru, came out to Canterbury on the "Huntress" in 1863.  She is 39' long and 6' 6" wide amidships. The Alexandra was stored in the lifeboat shed near the Government landing shed.  She was used on "Black Sunday", 14 May 1882, when the "City of Perth" and the "Benvenue" were wrecked.  During the rescue attempts the Alexandra capsized four times and nine lives were lost.  Previous to this she hadn't been used for thirteen years. The first report of a rescue boat being on stand-by at Timaru came from "The Lyttelton Times" which reported in October 1861 that "the lifeboat, stationed at Le Crens," could not be launched except by taking it a mile away. and arrived in Timaru in 1864. It was called 'Alexandra' and the highlight of its long service record was the rescue in 1882 of 43 passengers when two big sailing ships, the City of Perth and the Benvenue, were wrecked. The rescue boat made several rescues, then rolled four times with the loss of ten lives, including seven members of the rescue boat crew. The spirit of courage and selflessness which the 'Alexandra's' crew showed in that storm goes on to this day as rescue boats crewed by volunteers from the far south to the far north of New Zealand risk there lives.

In the landing building

The Star Feb. 10th 1887
The Warriors of the Sea.
A Life-Boat Story

(From Punch)

Up goes the Lytham signal! St Anne's has summoned hands!
Knee-deep in surf the the Life-Boat's launched abreast of Southport sands!
Half-deafened by screaming wind: half blinded by the rain,
Three crews await their Coxswains, and face the hurricane!
The stakes are death or duty! No man has answered "No!"
Lives must be saved out yonder, on the doomed ship Mexico!
Did ever night look blacker? did sea hiss before?
Did ever women's voices wail more piteous on the shore?
Out from three ports of Lancashire that night went life-boats three,
To fight a splendid battle, manned by Warriors of the Sea!

Along the sands of Southport, brave women held their breath,
For they know that those who loved them, were fighting hard with death,
A cheer went out from Lytham! the tempest toss it back,
As the gallant lads of Lancashire bent to the wave's attack;
And the girls who dwell about St Anne's, with faces white with fright,
Pray'd God would still the tempest, that dark December night.
Sons, husbands, lovers, brothers, they'd given up their all,
These noble English women heart-sick at duty's call;
But not a cheer, or tear, or prayer, from those who bent the knee,
Came out across the waves to nerve those Warriors of the sea!

Three boats went out from Lancashire, but one came back to tell,
The story of that hurricane, the tale of ocean's hell!
All safely reached the Mexico, their trysting-place to keep,
For one there was the rescue, the others in the deep
Fell in the arms of victory! dropped to their lonely grave.
Their passing ball the tempest, their requiem the wave!
They clung to life like sailors, they fell to death like men,
Where, in our roll of heroes? When in our story? When?
Have Englishmen been braver, or fought more loyally.
With death that comes by duty to the Warriors of the Sea!

One boat cane back to Lytham! Its noble duty done.
But at St Anne's and Southport the prize of Death was won!
Won by those gallant fellows, who went men's lives to save,
And died there crown'd with glory! enthroned upon the wave!
Within a rope's throw of the wreck, the English sailors fell,
A blessing on their faithful lips, when ocean rang their knell;
Weep not for them, dear women! cease wringing of your hands!
Go out to meet your heroes across the Southport sands!
Grim Death for them is stingless! The Grave has victory!
Cross oars and bear them nob'y home! Brave warriors of the sea!

When in dark nights of winter, fierce storms of wind and rain,
Howl round the cosy homestead, and lash the window-pane.
When over hill and tree top, we hear the tempests roar,
And hurricanes go sweeping on, from valley to the shore,
When nature seems to stand at bay, and silent terror comes,
And those we love on earth the best are gathered in our homes!
Think of the sailors round the coast, who, braving sleet or snow.
Leave sweethearts, wives, and little ones, when duty bids them go!
Think of our sea-grit island! a harbour where alone,
No Englishman to save a life has failed to risk his own!
Then when the storm howls loudest, pray, of your charity.
That God will bless the Life-Boat! and the Warriors of the Sea!

Dec. 1886

In the landing building
Photos taken November 2nd 2002. Courtesy of Han Freeke. 

Timaru Herald, 5 June 1869, Page 5
An inquest was held on the 31st ult., by the district Coroner, B. Woollcombe, Esq. at the Royal Hotel, on the body of Duncan Cameron, who was drowned on the 24th instant, by the capsizing of the lifeboat A jury of fourteen was empanelled, of whom Mr George Healey was elected foreman. The following evidence was taken : Edward Newton, sworn, deposed: I am a mariner, employed on the surf boats at Timaru. I identify the body lying here as the body of Duncan Cameron. I last saw him alive on the 24th May. Between one and two o'clock deceased got into the lifeboat with me and others. He took the steer-oar and took the stroke-oar. I here were three attempts made to launch the lifeboat while we were in it. The drawback or undertoe [sic] took her off at last with only four oars in the boat. I thought we were clear of the surf, when a heavy sea came up and ran the boat astern and capsized her.
Robert William Marshall : I am a boatman, employed at the. Government Landing Service, Timaru. I have seen deceased. I found his body yesterday, between twelve add o 'c o clock, among the rocks in Caroline Bay.
James Field Crawford: I am the lessee of the Government Landing Service, and a master mariner. By the Foreman : I did not think there was any necessity to launch the lifeboat on the morning of the 24th May, when asked by Mr Turnbull. I was acting for Mr Mills, the Harbour Master, who was ill at the time, having been injured by a rocket; and therefore had control of the boat. My crew were the men who would have to man it.
Alexander White : I am a boatman, employed at the Government Landing Service, Timaru. I recollect the 24th May. I was one; of the crew of the lifeboat which was launched. There were nine other persons besides myself- deceased was one of them. An attempt was made to launch the boat, but she was not got out until after three attempts. She was capsized in a heavy sea.

Timaru Herald 17 August 1873
A meeting of the Timaru lifeboat crew was held last evening. Chief-Coxwain in the chair. Captain Webster, the newly-appointed harbour Master was present, and elected Captain of the crew. A meeting will be held every three months.

Timaru Herald 10 June 2006
The future of the lifeboat Alexandra is causing concern. The lifeboat, currently in bay one of the Landing Service Building, may have to make way for a Maori rock art visitor centre. But that centre is likely to be at least a year away, and investigations into new locations for the lifeboat have already begun, should it have to be moved. One submission to the Timaru District Council's long term plan suggested a maritime museum should be established in the bay instead, with the Alexandra a focal point. Also suggesting some form of museum is the South Canterbury Historical Society. The society is asking the council to look carefully at the long term future of the lifeboat. "This valuable heritage asset requires a long-term home where it can be displayed and cared for." The society said developing a local transport display area could be a solution, and could provide a suitable venue for large transport items that could not fit into the South Canterbury Museum. Timaru Maritime Transportation Trust chairman Philip Brownie said the Alexandra was a popular attraction, with people asking on a daily basis if they could have a closer look at it. Mr Brownie said the trust would support the concept of a transportation museum. "We'd like to see the boat in a facility where people could have a fuller appreciation of it." Mr Brownie said temporary storage was available if the Alexandra had to be moved, and there had been discussions with the council about alternative locations for it. While it was possible the Alexandra would have to be moved, it wasn't definite.

9 June 2010 Timaru Herald
The future of the historic Alexandra lifeboat and Blacketts lighthouse came up for discussion. The lifeboat is in storage and its future housing is undecided. Possible locations range from Perth St near the seafarers' corner, adjacent to the lighthouse, or on Caroline Bay. The lifeboat is a "valuable historic artefact" that needs climate control, Councillor Ray Bennett said. "It's not just about putting it behind glass. It is one of only two of its type in the world and is worth six or seven figures. It is a serious, expensive matter." The New Zealand Historic Places Trust supports relocating Blacketts lighthouse to the Benvenue Cliffs walkway while submitter FG suggested it be moved to a more prominent position on Caroline Bay. The lifeboat could possibly be housed in an extension to the South Canterbury Museum, the South Canterbury Historical Society suggested. It wants to see more definite steps in the plan for the museum's expansion.

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