The only thing more riveting than trainspotting is ship-spotting. Whenever I’m looking through albums or collections of old photos I always look out for any snaps of steamers and see if I can recognize them. If not, then I cheat and look on the back to see if the photographer left a hint in the form of scrawled writing. This time I was in luck – this tiny snapshot (7 x 4cm) gives the name “Encounter”.
This is a distant view of the HMAS Encounter, a light cruiser which served in the First World War. This photograph came from a collection of images taken by a New Zealander fighting in the Middle East in 1917, and was presumably taken from a troopship on the way over. The Encounter was regularly assigned troopship escort duties and for good reason – German commerce raiders were on the prowl for unprotected ships.
When a steamer called the SS Matunga went missing on a voyage from Sydney to Rabaul the Encounter was sent out to investigate. It was too late – the Matunga (along with her cargo of 500 tons of Westport coal) was the latest victim of the SMS Wolf. A cat and mouse game ensued in the South Pacific with the Australian authorities desperate to neutralize the risk to their shipping.
The crew of the Encounter were unable to find the Wolf, I like to think that this was perhaps in part because they were too busy taking photographs of cats.
The Wolf continued wreaking havoc across the seven seas, even crossing the Tasman to lay minefields just off the New Zealand coast. Upon completion of an incredible 15 month voyage her captain was awarded the Blue Max.
The Encounter survived the First World War, but wouldn’t see the Second. She was used as target practice in 1932 and to this day she lies in seventy metres of water, about eight kilometres off Bondi beach. I have no idea what happened to the cat.
© Lemuel Lyes