Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ancestors in New Zealand Napier Earthquake 1931

William White's pictorial record of New Zealand's Napier Earthquake

William White was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1889. In a previous blog I wrote of William's childhood spent in foster care after his mother Sarah, died and his father William White Senior remarried. William junior ran away to Sydney Australia at the age of 16 and did not return until he travelled there to attend his father's funeral in January 1931. (see 'Out of Ireland we come'). William by this time was married and had three young children but was finding it difficult to find work in Australia, as a French Polisher, during the Great Depression. He made the difficult decision to leave his family in Sydney, Australia and to remain for a period in New Zealand, working and travelling around both the South and North Islands in the company a friend, Tom Miles and his mother's cousin, George Crail. The three men travelled by car, selling manchester in the towns and cities they visited. Often they cooked meals by the roadside as they travelled in the car pictured right, (William White is pictured on the left).

William, Tom and George were in the North Island of New Zealand on February 3, 1931, when the Hawkes Bay region in the North Island was struck by a deadly earthquake which devastated the cities of Napier and Hastings. At 10.47 on a peaceful summer's morning, the quake hit with a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale, the epicentre being 15 kilometers north of the two main cities in the area, Hastings and Napier and only 16 kilometers below the surface of the ground. The quake lasted about 2 and 1/2 minutes and was followed by more than 150 aftershocks in the 24 hours following the initial force. The death toll from this natural disaster was 258 people. Most of the deaths occered in Napier, many in Hastings and three in a nearby town of Wairoa. Minutes after the earthquake, fire raged through both Napier and Hastings. The water supply was cut off in Napier preventing the fire brigade from fighting the flames. In the town of Hastings. despite having water to fight the fire, the flamed spread furiously beyond the town. This earthquake is usually known as the Napier Earthquake because most of the deaths occured in that town, although, this tragic disaster is also called the Hawkes Bay Earthquake.

William's wife, mary Jane (Jean) and his children William (Brian), Lorna and Shirley must have been worried about their husband and father since the photographs that he took show that he must have been in the general area at the time of the earthquake. Writing on the back of several photographs indicates that people were still burued beneath the rubble in the remains of the toen of Nappier when William photographed the completely destroyed town. Today Napier is known as the Art Deco town because it was completely rebuilt in the 1930's with many beautiful buildings of this style.

Below are some of the photographs which William White (my husband's grandfather) took in the aftermath of the Napier Earthquake. It was not unusual for William to compile a pictorial record of events, since he was an official photographer in World War 1 and we are privileged as a family to have many of his photographs taken at Ypres, in France.

William White and George Crail standing in front of the remains of Dr Moore's place in Marine parade.

Section of 'The Bluff' which collapsed. people were still buried beneath the rubble when this phtograph was taken.

Napier after the earthquake.

Napier in the aftermath of the 1931 earthquake.

Destruction caused by the Napier earthquake, February, 1931