Maritime menus are one of my favorite kinds of ephemera. Not only do they give a taste for daily shipboard life but it also gives me an excuse to research a specific vessel. I’m yet to be disappointed when learning about the story of any ship from this era and the Nieuw Zeeland is certainly no exception…
She was built in Rotterdam in 1927 and along with the Nieuw Holland was marketed as one of K.P.M’s ‘great white yachts’. She was a beautiful ship and made quite an impression when she started plying her trade on the Singapore to Sydney route.
“The Nieuw Zeeland, the first of two new Dutch oil-burning passenger liners to be placed on the Singapore-Java-Australia service, arrived at Brisbane today. She is a magnificent vessel, and an admirable acquisition to the Australian maritime trade.” – The Argus (Melbourne) Thurs 5th July 1928
Despite the impact that the Great Depression had on international travel, the two Dutch ‘great white yachts’ continued operating successfully through the early 1930’s. Photos like the one above show a stunning Nieuw Zeeland all but upstaging the Sydney Harbor Bridge at its opening celebration in March 1932.
The menu in my collection is dated Thursday August 29th, 1935 and was presumably printed onboard. I’d almost given up trying to find out where the Nieuw Zeeland was on that exact day but finally came across a shipping advert with details of her voyages. She was due to leave on a round trip from Sydney on 24th July for Java, Bali (the thought of Australian tourists invading there as early as 1935 amuses me) and then on to Singapore. She was to return to Sydney on 2nd September.
One can presume then that on August 29th she was somewhere north of Sydney, possibly having already called in at Brisbane. I guess it makes sense that someone is more likely to pocket a menu as a souvenir towards the end of his or her voyage.
It is fascinating to look through the list of what was to be served that day. (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having a private chuckle when noting that this Dutch vessel had a variety of Joints available). I can picture passengers eating delicacies such as Iced Asparagus, Lobster Mayonnaise and MacMahon Tarts as the Nieuw Zeeland completed another routine journey. The picture is one of serenity and is void of the dark times about to come.
Everything changed on 10th May 1940 when German forces attacked Holland. It only took four days for German forces to beat the Dutch into submission. One can only imagine what it must’ve been like for any Dutch crew on the Nieuw Zeeland when they heard the news that on the other side of the world their homeland had been invaded.
The Nieuw Zeeland joined the war effort and was refitted in Singapore, emerging as a troopship in the Royal Navy. Her first task was to transport Australian troops from Melbourne to the Middle East where she then continued into the Mediterranean.
Her link with the people of her namesake was steadfastly forged in 1941 when she ferried New Zealand forces to and from the desperate defense of Crete. Here she came under attack by the Luftwaffe, the same force that had devastated her home country a year earlier.
She became an orphan in early 1942 when Singapore fell to the Japanese. Her home country, her home port and her most familiar seas were all in enemy hands. The days of Lobster Mayonnaise and MacMahon Tarts were a distant memory and she was now a hardened war veteran.
The final blow to the Nieuw Zeeland came on 11th November 1942. She had just dropped off troops as part of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, when she came into the sights of U-380, a German Submarine. She was torpedoed with the loss of 21 lives. The last to leave the ship was the Captain, along with his dog (name unknown, history keeps some secrets).
After a colorful 14 years the ‘Great White Yacht’ slipped beneath the waters of the Mediterranean where I presume she rests to this day.
Seventy-five years since that easy-to-romanticize day on the Nieuw Zeeland off the Australian Coast and a lot has changed. The same journey now takes only seven hours at the cost of as little as $400.
Sadly I’ve been unable to locate a recipe for MacMahon Tarts. While I may never have the opportunity to cruise in style on the Nieuw Zeeland I’d hoped to at least try one of her delicacies. If anyone happens to come across this recipe (or better yet wishes to bake me a sample) then please get in touch!
© Lemuel Lyes
I am grateful to both the Australian War Memorial and the State Library of New South Wales for allowing me to use images from their collections.
Also I would like to acknowledge the following sources which assisted my search to learn about the Nieuw Zeeland.
The Argus (Melbourne) Thurs 5th July 1928
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954) – Wed 17 July 1935