PAMIR – The New Zealand Episode

The New Zealand Episode

Elegance, grace, beauty and power. All epithets which, at one time or another, have been applied to many a tall sailing ship. Perhaps the most graceful, elegant and beautiful of these, more so because in a modern world she existed like a wraith from the past was a ship called PAMIR.

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"Beauty in action. Beauty indeed! The grandest sight of all."
Jack Churchouse - PAMIR Under the New Zealand Ensign

Built in Germany in 1905, PAMIR represented the peak achievement of sailing ship design and construction. She was constructed at the Hamburg yards of Blohm and Voss and launched on the River Elbe on July 29th to a career which would span almost exactly 52 years. During her long career PAMIR was to sail under the flags of Germany, Finland, New Zealand and, briefly, Italy. Her life before and after the antipodean interlude have been well documented elsewhere but it is the love, respect, esteem and nostalgia surrounding this great ship and her association with New Zealand to which this page is dedicated.

The circumstances surrounding the delivery of PAMIR to the care and custody of the New Zealand Government and the Union Company were rapidly moved by the juggernaut of the Nazi war machine during those dark days in Europe towards their inevitable conclusion. These circumstances, unintentional as they may have been, led Finland to be regarded as "territory in enemy occupation" and as such an enemy in time of war. All Finnish ships within United Kingdom territorial waters were seized in prize and the British Government cabled its New Zealand counterpart urging them to act in a like manner. Thus started the eight year romance between New Zealand, New Zealanders and PAMIR, the effects of which are felt to this day.

PAMIR was seized as prize by the Collector of Customs (Mr R. J. Gray) on August 3rd 1941. Notice was served on Captain Bjorkfelt at 4.45pm that afternoon and 6 days later on August the 9th a captivated public read an account in the Evening Post of this historic event. It was to be the only event of its kind to occur in the history of New Zealand and, as such, has immense historical significance. She was taken under the care of various official bodies and became the subject of  legal issues for almost 5 months from the time of her seizure. As such she was not legally released to the Crown until December 9th 1941 and it was not until early February of the following year that she was prepared to take on her first New Zealand crew.

PAMIR was to make ten commercial voyages under the New Zealand Ensign, nine of which were to ports such as San Francisco, Vancouver and Sydney. The tenth voyage was a majestic circumnavigation of the world between October 1947 and October 1948. During this time approximately 300 adventurous young New Zealand men had a love affair with a ship the likes of which had not graced the waters of Port Nicholson during their lifetimes. On board her they gained their seafaring skills in addition to confidence, self assurance and an instinctive regard for and apprecation of teamwork. Such names as Robert Howard, Albert Finderup, Murray Henderson, Graham Sheppard, James Lancaster, Maurice Reardon and Gilbert Inkster among many, many others will remain enshrined with the memory of this great vessel - the last deep sea square rigger to make a commercial voyage.

At 10am on Friday November 12th 1948 PAMIR was officially restored to Finland and to the care of her former owner Gustaf Erikson. Solemnly Graeme Sheppard, a former Deck Boy, Ordinary Seaman and Able Bodied Seaman aboard PAMIR, lowered the New Zealand flag that had swung proudly above her stern for 8 years and replaced it with the flag of Finland. Fittingly, her former commander, Captain Bjorkfelt, flew out to New Zealand to sail PAMIR back to Finland.

The era of the commercially viable sailing ship had passed and PAMIR was laid-up until March 1951 when she, along with her sister and sometime rival PASSAT, were sold to a shipbreaker in Antwerp. She was reprieved at the last minute and bought to be used by Germany as a cargo carrying training ship. It was in this capacity that, on September 21st 1957, she sank in the teeth of a North Atlantic hurricane with the loss of 80 lives. For 52 years PAMIR had sailed the seas of the world, through two world wars and innumerable storms. It was the sea she loved and it was the sea which finally took her. An adventurers end.


Hail PAMIR! Queen of the Tall Ships.

Copyright: Denise & Peter 1999 - 2007