Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




The Calliope played little part in New Zealand history yet the name lives on. She was a single-screw steel and iron wood-cased corvette of 2,770 tons, 235 ft long, of 44 ½ ft beam, and carried a crew of 291 men. Launched at Portsmouth dockyard in 1884 and first commissioned in January 1887, she was detached from the China station to join the Australian squadron later in the same year. She arrived in New Zealand in December 1887 and after visiting several ports, took part in the opening of the Calliope Dock, Auckland, on 16 February 1888, being the first ship to enter it. Strangely enough, the dock takes its name from Calliope Point out of which it was excavated. This was named from an earlier warship which had visited New Zealand in 1846.

In 1889 the Calliope was dispatched hurriedly to Samoa to relieve HMS Rainbow. She coaled at Wellington and reached Apia on 2 February. Samoa was a trouble centre and on 15 March there were three United States, three German, and one British warship in the small harbour. A storm which had blown up from the south on the previous day turned to the north-east and increased to a hurricane which blew directly into the open harbour. Throughout the night it battered the vessels causing them to drift shorewards. At dawn Calliope was within 50 yards of the reef, and despite the use of the steam in all boilers it was not possible to steady her. There was additional danger from the other vessels dragging and swinging on their anchor cables and being driven on to her. She was struck by two ships, and her jib boom was carried away. Eventually the danger from the remaining ships ahead and the reef just astern left only one solution. At 9.30 a.m., choosing the right moment to avoid a German vessel and with his own stern about 20 ft from the reef, Captain Kane slipped his anchor and with the engines full ahead, which in calm water would give 14 ½ knots, Calliope proceeded out to sea. At a speed of less than a knot she passed the USS Trenton, whose ship's company cheered her on. Visibility was almost zero and it was not possible to fix the ship's position. As long as the engines held out, however, things were reasonably good and, despite the fact that they were working at full power for almost 12 hours, they did. At 8 p.m. the sea had dropped somewhat and by noon of the 17th the wind was down to a mere gale. On the 19th Calliope was able to return to Apia to find the harbour clear of shipping. Of the seven warships she was the only one afloat, though two others were later refloated. The deaths totalled 130 men.

The staff engineer in his report attributed much of the success in maintaining and generating steam to the Westport coal which was being used. In his opinion it was the “very best colonial coal”. The Captain gave credit to the engines, to the crew, and to the ship's builders. The Calliope was withdrawn from active service in 1907 and became the headquarters and drill ship of the Tyne Division of the RNVR at Newcastle.

Next Part: AMOKURA