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The 6, 600 tons multi-decked single-funnelled ship "Zealandia" was attacked by Japanese aircraft as it laid at anchor in Darwin Harbour in the Northern Territory on 19 February 1942. This was the first major air raid on Darwin. It was followed by another air raid later that same day.

"Zealandia" had taken the 2/40th Battalion to Timor in November 1941 and then returned to Darwin to head south with evacuees. In Sydney sh was loaded with material to protect her oil tanks. An Ant-tank Company and their guns and ammunition were loaded for the return journey to Darwin. She left Sydney on 23 January 1942 and arrived in Darwin on 6 February 1942.

On th morning of the Japanese attack she was partially unloaded and the crew had just finished a boat drill when the Japanese attack began. Captain Kerr called for volunteers to man the ships' boats to pick up survivors from other damaged ships.

A number of Japanese bombs fell very close to "Zealandia" on a number of occasions and finally a bomb fell through the Number 3 hatch and exploded in the ship's hold. The Japanese dive bombers then also attacked the "Zealandia" hitting it with cannon and tracer fire. By this time the ship was on fire from end to end. The ammunition in Number 1 hold then started to explode. The steam line that drove the fire pumps was then disabled by another bomb. At this stage Captain Kerr gave the order to abandon ship.

As the crew took to the boats, "Zealandia" slowly settled on the bottom of the harbour leaving only the tops of her masts clear of the water. Two crew members died from their wounds after they had transferred to the Hospital Ship Manunda. The remaining 142 crew members survived the fierce attack by the Japanese. The two men who died were:-

James Masson (AB, Australian Merchant Navy) - died 21 February 1942, aged 61 years
Patrick Vincent O'Connell (Fireman, Australian Merchant Navy) - died 23 February 1942, aged 27 years

The "Zealandia" was extensively salvaged in 1960. The remains of "Zealandia" lay near the remains of the "British Motorist" near Darwin's main wharves.

Note:- Paul Constance contacted me on 17 November 2011. His mothers maiden name is Mary O'Connell. He told me that the P. O'Connell (fireman) who died on the Manunda hospital ship bombed in the raid on Darwin in 1942, was his mother's brother brother, Paul's uncle Patrick Vincent O'Connell (28 years of age at the time)


I'd like to thank John Richards and John Wilson for their assistance with this web page.



"Wrecks in Darwin Waters"
by Tom Lewis

Roll of Honour - Northern Territory Library


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This page first produced 11 February 2002

This page last updated 23 October 2015