16 March 1889 HMS Calliope the Apia Hurricane and Westport Coal

On this day in 1889 the Australian Station Royal Navy screw corvette HMS Calliope was the only one of 20 ships to survive the hurricane which struck Apia.

She did so by raising steam in red hot boilers while holding ground facing the hurricane on her kedge anchors. As the USS Trenton bore down on her Calliope’s captain slipped his anchors and put full power on his engines and surged through a gap in the coral reef and gained the open sea. Captain Kane RN saved 250 lives of his Australian and British crew.

Nineteen other ships were wrecked and driven ashore with the loss of 100 victims. The town of Apia and most of Samoa was devastated.

When the weather moderated Calliope returned to Apia and brought relief to the stricken town. Emergency stores and medical supplies were landed and essential services restored.

On 4th April Calliope arrived at Sydney for a tumultuous welcome. When the ship berthed at Garden Island the harbour foreshores were lined with cheering crowds. It was a heroic welcome.

The fame of Calliope lived on for many years, particularly in New Zealand. Generations of New Zealand schoolchildren read in their school magazines of Calliope’s battle and how ‘the high igneous Westport coal, the best in the world,’ tipped the scales in her favour.

The Australian Squadron was bunkered on New Zealand coal for preference in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

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