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Rusting Maheno

Mighty Maheno Lies Rusting

By James Donahue

The 400-foot ocean liner Maheno has been a quiescent fixture on the sandy shore of Australia’s Fraser Island since 1935 when a cyclone drove it hard aground. Once a proud liner for New Zealand’s Union Company the wreck today is but a rusted curiosity piece for vacationing island visitors.

The Maheno was launched in Scotland in 1905 and spent most of its 30 years of service in the Tasman Sea, carrying passengers and freight between New Zealand and Australia. The ship held the distinction of being the first turbine driven steamship in the world.

The steamer was powered by three Parsons turbines, had a refrigerated cargo hold, and space for up to 420 passengers. Passengers enjoyed a dining room, smoking room, and music room. The ship also offered electric lighting.

The strange name Maheno is a Maori name for "island." Maori is the native language of New Zealand.

During World War I Maheno was converted for use as a hospital ship. She was fitted with eight wards and two operating theaters. She carried casualties from major battle scenes and finally operated in the English Channel, carrying wounded troops from France to England and then brought patients from the UK back to New Zealand.

After the war Maheno returned to its regular passenger and freight runs between New Zealand and Australia. The ship was retired in 1935 and sold to an Japanese shipbreaker in Osaka. It was under tow behind the Oonah, a Tasmanian ferry, on its way to Japan when the storm hit off the Australian coast. The towline parted and the Oonah was struggling with steering problems and unable to recover the old liner.

The wreck was found beached on Fraser Island and the ship’s crew of eight men was camped on the island, waiting rescue. Attempts to refloat the liner were unsuccessful so it was left on the island to rust.

At First Grounding