History - Fascinated by the fleet

By: Lyn Johnston

In August 1925, the American Battle Fleet visited Australia and New Zealand, marking the alliance between America and the British Empire. Albertland photographer Harold Marsh was enthusiastic about all things military, having been a lieutenant in the Rodney Mounted Rifles. The fleet visit was not to be missed, so he packed up his bulky glass plate camera and caught the train to Auckland.

Ferrying sightseers out to the USS Colorado, W H Marsh Collection
Ferrying sightseers out to the USS Colorado, W H Marsh Collection

On August 11, Harold went to Emily Place hoping to find a suitable vantage point for taking photos of the fleet’s arrival. He spotted the Seaman’s Mission, which had people on its flat roof, and thought he would try a bit of cheek – asking a lady on the door if he could go up. Although it wasn’t supposed to be open to the public, she kindly let him through.
Preceded by seaplanes, eight battleships, including the mighty California (flagship) and the even larger Colorado and Maryland sailed past North Head to their anchorages in the Waitemata.  Harold took seven snapshots, six of the fleet and one of the crowd in Emily Place.

The following day, 80,000 spectators watched the sailors parade up Queen Street. “For once, Aucklanders came out of their shells and cheered,” the New Zealand Herald reported.

Harold’s niece Daisy Farmer was working in Auckland at the time and later wrote home to Wharehine: “The fleet has been here and the time was short and precious. A fortnight doesn’t give you much time to get acquainted does it, but most of us girls managed the trick.”

Daisy and some workmates made friends among the crew of the Colorado, who escorted them on a tour of the battleship, with Daisy noting that the engine room was so warm she nearly roasted.

Monday night and Tuesday morning were times for goodbyes. Daisy wrote, “It was all too funny for words, the sailors and their girls saying the final goodbyes. Every one of the sailors busted out howling and most of the girls followed suit. They sailed yesterday at 9.30 and in lovely fine weather. They arrived in the sunshine and departed in it, leaving a lot of broken-hearted girls behind. You can’t imagine how quiet and lonely it is in town now.”

The warships had been open daily to the public, ferries providing transport to the larger vessels. Only the California was berthed at Princes Wharf; the other battleships rode at anchor in the channel. Harold Marsh was among the many visitors – his camera recording images of ferries, seaplanes, battleships, naval cutters and the Auckland wharves. These are a precious and enduring record of an historic occasion.

Lyn Johnston, Albertland Museum


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