- Wilson, Graham, Warrant Officer Class Two, Australian Intelligence Corps
- History - general, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The force of the waning storm kept Calliope at sea until the morning of 19 March when she ventured back to Apia to try to recover her lost anchor. A scene of total desolation greeted her. Adler was high and dry, Olga and Nipsic beached and Trenton partly piled on the sunken Vandalia and herself partially sunk to the gun deck. Of Eber there was no sight at all. All merchant vessels were also sunk and the beach was strewn with debris. Unable to recover his anchor and in need of repairs which were unavailable in Apia, Kane decided to steam for Sydney. This decision was supported by the British consul who agreed that political matters were, for the moment, overshadowed.
Rescue efforts for the stricken ships had begun on the morning of 17 March even as the hurricane still raged. This rescue effort came from a totally unexpected quarter. Prior to the advent of the hurricane, the Samoan rebel leader Mata’afa had massed 6,000 men outside Apia preparatory to attacking the Germans. On hearing of O le Afa, the big hurricane, however, the rebels had thrown aside their weapons and streamed into Apia to offer their assistance. The first thing that they did was to assist the survivors of the Nipsic ashore. A party then tried to reach Adler stranded on its reef but were driven back by a group of fifty armed Germans who had been on the beach as a security party before the storm struck. Somewhat understandably, the Germans thought that the Samoans were intent on finishing off the survivors of the Adler rather than rescuing them.
Later in the morning a party of Samoans did in fact manage to reach Adler and brought a safety line back to the beach but it broke. Numerous valiant efforts to replace the line by Samoans trying to swim out to the reef were defeated. Finally, the Chief of Apia commandeered a whale boat and with a crew of Samoans ventured out to rescue the sailors who had been clinging to Adler’s rigging since 0800 the previous morning. They then rigged safety lines to the beach and for the rest of the day ferried survivors ashore. During these operations the only Samoan to die in the harbour, a man named Tui, was killed when a gun broke loose on Adler’s deck and crushed him. In the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, who was then resident in Samoa and was an eye witness to the events described, by their selfless effort `the Samoans earned the gratitude of friend and foe.’
Several months after the storm Olga and Nipsic were refloated, the German ship going to Sydney for repairs while the American went to Honolulu. Eber was gone completely, her wreck sucked out though the throat of the reef into the deep water outside. Trenton, Vandalia and Adler were stripped by wreckers and the hulks of the first two were eventually removed. Adler, however, remained on her reef for over sixty years. In 1956 she was covered up by landfill during a project to expand Apia’s land area out over the reef. Local legend states that this burial unleashed the hurricane of 1966, when the shrieks of the sailors stranded on Adler during the 1889 hurricane were supposedly heard in the wind.
Besides the warships, all of the merchant vessels in the harbour were also sunk or destroyed. A memorial to the German sailors who died is located on the coast road halfway between Apia and Mulinuu Point.
Captain Kane and his ship were a source of immense pride in both London and the Australian colonies, especially New South Wales, home of the Australia Station. Kane’s report of proceedings was presented in London as a parliamentary paper. In the report Kane gave special praise to the conduct of the Engineering Department of Calliope and in particular to the work of Staff Engineer Bourke. This praise was seconded by the First Naval Lord (sic), Sir Richard Vesey Hamilton and the Commander in Chief of the Australia Station, Rear-Admiral Fairfax and for his efforts Bourke was immediately promoted to Fleet Engineer.
The disaster drew attention to the great risks Royal Navy ships ran when carrying out requests to remain at Samoa and other islands in the South-West Pacific during the hurricane season. The experience at Apia led to the Admiralty advising that such risks would only be sanctioned in the future if the Foreign Office was prepared to take responsibility for any losses that were incurred.