Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Rangatira's bell comes back to Wellington

The Rangitira was one of New Zealand's most famous inter-island ferries and the last to carry passengers overnight between Wellington and Lyttelton in the 1970s. Needless to say, it has extensive coverage in the new transpress book Strait Crossing: the ferries of Cook Strait through time by Victor Young. One souvenir of the ship, the bell, is now home and will be on display in the Museum of Wellington City & Sea on Queens Wharf.

The following report is from the website as is the photo:


Twenty-four years [actually 23 years] after being spirited off the Rangatira while it was docked in Britain, the bell of the former Wellington ferry is to return home.

Its voyage has seen it secreted in a port, hung in British pubs and rung in a Scottish home. Now its "liberator" and "caretaker", former Wellington wharf policeman Ross Auld, has flown it back to New Zealand to donate it to the Museum of Wellington City and Sea.

Mr Auld, 54, who lives in the Bay of Islands between international diving contracts, acquired the bell from the Rangatira one night in 1985 at Falmouth, in southwest England.

He had remembered the ship, which sailed between Wellington and Lyttelton under the flag of the Union Steamship Company in the 1970s, from his days as a member of Wellington's wharf police in 1976.

Mr Auld was working on a salvage ship out of Falmouth in 1985 when he was made aware of the Rangatira's presence.

"I was with two Kiwi mates. When we came back in to port [Willie Bullock] said to me, 'There's the old Rangatira over there'.

"In the bars that night the locals told us the ship had been there for nine months and was up for sale.

"It had been down to the Falklands. My mates went on the boat the next day and had a look around. Willie came back and just happened to mention the Rangatira's bell was still on the boat."

Mr Auld boarded under cover of fog one night and hacksawed the 23-kilogram bell's fastenings from the ship's bow.

He wrapped it up and spirited it under the gangplank, where it lay for six months.

"One night my mates and I shifted the bell into the boot of our car. We souvenired it to ensure the bell returned to its true home in Wellington."

While in Mr Auld's care the bell had several homes. It spent 12 years in a pub in Essex before moving on to become the official pub bell in the Ship Inn in Johnshaven, Scotland.

"It hung there until about 2004. After that a mate looked after it for me in Aberdeen."

Mr Auld returned from London this week with the bell.

"It was the right time to bring it home. It's going to go to the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. It belongs to the people of Wellington. I'm coming down to Wellington to give it to the museum in the next couple of weeks."

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