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Author Topic: The Torpedo Boat Museum, Lyttleton, NZ  (Read 1473 times)


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The Torpedo Boat Museum, Lyttleton, NZ
« on: September 11, 2012, 10:50:18 am »

I had a day's stopover in Christchurch and decided to seek out the Torpedo Boat Museum at the little port of Lyttleton. I know that Lyttleton is reached by a long road tunnel and I do wonder if it will even be accessible after seeing the terrible earthquake damage that has devastated the City. In the event the very long tunnel is apparently unaffected, surely a tribute to the designers.

This must be one of the world's most obscure museums. It is housed in a former powder store around a headland from the port.

The tiny building, accessible only by a remote clifftop path, houses the remains of New Zealand's only means of defence against Russian ships in the 1880's - The torpedo boat 'Defender'.

This tiny craft, built by Thornycroft at Chiswick in 1883, carried a 'spar torpedo', a charge carried on a long wooden pole that had to be rammed against an enemy ship and exploded electrically. Improbable as it sounds, these devices had been used successfully in the American civil war. Defender had lain on a beach at Lyttleton for almost 100 years and had eventually been bulldozed into a pile of scrap, before being dug up and preserved by enthusiasts.

The boat itself survives in two halves, both beaten back into shape after being crushed by a bulldozer and is now mounted on supporting frames. The plating was galvanised and about 1/16" thick. The spar torpedo is a replica!

There is a nice model on display, and also a copy of the original plans which may be available from the museum. An original engine, removed from a sister ship, was preserved by Christchurch Technical College and is in perfect condition.

Access to the museum is by courtesy of local volunteers and my host, who had come out especially, was rather surprised when another unannounced visitor just turned up. This gentleman produced from his wallet a faded snap of a small boy standing in the conning tower of Defender while she was still intact and lying on the beach. My host and I both immediately recognised the picture because it is in the museum's collection, but he was as surprised as I was when the chap said that the little boy was him!

He then told us a wondrous tale. He had grown up in Lyttleton and his mother had been a Lyttleton girl. She clearly remembered all of her life that day in November, 1910, when Scott had left from Lyttleton for the Antarctic and the bright pink dress which Scott's wife had worn as she stood beside him on the bridge of the Terra Nova. I found this account very moving indeed.

Bryan Young

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Re: The Torpedo Boat Museum, Lyttleton, NZ
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2012, 05:37:39 pm »

I've got very fond memories of Lyttleton....circa 1957(ish).
First trip cadet. The local "padre" from the Seamans Mission took us 3 cadets up to the top of the extinct volcano rim to observe a passage of the first Sputnik.  (Lyttleton being in the flooded caldera of an old volcano). No tunnel then! Just drive "up and over".Always had fond memories of the friendliness of the locals towards us kids. You awaken memories!. BY.
Notes from a simple seaman


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Re: The Torpedo Boat Museum, Lyttleton, NZ
« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2012, 05:53:55 pm »

If any one is interested, the plans (profile and plan views + profile and plan GA) are available online in PDF format.

The best things in life are self-made.
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