Topic: Emigrating on the SS Captain Hobson (1953) by Debbie McCauley

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The SS Captain Hobson left Glasgow in June 1953, arriving in New Zealand on 7 August 1953. This is the story of the voyage as recalled by my mother-in-law, Barbara Turner, fifty-nine years later - Debbie McCauley (2012). This article appeared in New Zealand Memories magazine in October/November 2016 (122, 14-19).

Arthur Barnabas Turner and Barbara Elizabeth Wallace married in Hull, Yorkshire, on 30 June 1951. On the night that Barbara met Arthur, three years earlier, he had expressed his desire to emigrate. Arthur was coming to the end of a seven year apprenticeship specialising in electric motor rewinding with Pardoe Engineering in Witham, Drypool, Hull. The firm was located opposite the Red Lion pub.

Conditions for a young couple after World War II were difficult. Rationing continued for many years and there was a post-war housing shortage. After Arthur and Barbara married they boarded with a man called Fred at No. 1 Skerne Grove in Hull. Fred loved to sing and also had an amazing strawberry patch.

The couple’s hopes of a place of their own were dashed when a promised flat fell through which triggered Arthur’s serious inquiries about emigration. He was keen on immigrating to Australia, but Barbara wanted somewhere not quite as hot. Arthur eventually found a position bonded for two years to electrical engineers W J Parlour Ltd in Auckland, New Zealand. They would be assisted emigrants whereby their passage was paid for by the New Zealand government.

1954 Wm J. Parlour Ltd Electrical Engineers, Arthur Turner

To prepare for emigration the couple gave much of their clothing away as they were only allowed to take one trunk of belongings. Barbara remembers a favourite coat she had which she passed on to her younger sister Margaret, “It was a lovely coat, but looked better on her than it did on me because she was taller” she said. They went on a tour of London, Cornwall and the South of England, thinking that they may never get a chance to see those places again.

The couple left from Glasgow, Scotland, in June 1953 aboard the SS Captain Hobson, formerly known as the Amarapoora. The Amarapoora has an interesting history. It was a passenger liner built in 1920 by William Denny & Bros, Dumbarton, Scotland, for the Henderson Line’s service from Glasgow to Burma. Its history includes:

  • 1920: Built by William Denny & Bros Ship Yard in Dumbarton, Scotland, at a cost of £406,960. Able to carry 525,340 cubic feet of cargo, 150 first class passengers and a crew of 142. She had one 22-foot and seven 26-foot lifeboats.
  • 1939: Preparation for World War II saw the Royal Navy convert the Amarapoora into a hospital ship: HMAS Amarapoora. Equipped with 503 beds, 103 medical staff and 121 crew. 
  • 1944: Converted to a Far East Hospital Ship and sent to Trincomalee, Sri Lanka as a base hospital.
  • 1946: Bought by Ministry of Transport and chartered by an International Refugee Organisation to ship World War II refugees or displaced persons from European countries to Australian.
  • 1948: Converted to an ‘austerity’ emigrant carrier with accommodation for 617 passengers.
  • 1951-52: Refitted as an emigrant ship and renamed SS Captain Hobson for the New Zealand assisted passenger scheme from Glasgow to Wellington via Panama service carrying 584 passengers.
  • 1952: August 31 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1952: December 19 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1953: April 9 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1953: August 7 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1954: Mainly used as a troopship.
  • 1955: Resumed her transporting of emigrants to New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1955: August 4 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1955: December 7 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1956: April 16 - arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1956: September 20 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1956: Used as a troopship in the Suez crisis (29 October to 7 November 1956).
  • 1957: February 10 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1957: June 18 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants. 570 miles out in the Pacific suffered a major mechanical breakdown and towed into Auckland. Temporarily repaired and returned to England via the Suez Canal.
  • 1958: March 26 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants.
  • 1958: July 19 – arrived at New Zealand with emigrants. Suffered more engine trouble after the last two voyages, laid up at Bombay then sold for scrapping.
  • 1959: Broken up for scrap by Okushogi & Co in Osaka.

Aboard the ship was the New Zealand Coronation Contingent returning from London where they had represented New Zealand on 2 June 1953 at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. One of the soldiers was Victoria Cross (VC) recipient Jack Daniel Hinton (1909-1997). Barbara remembers him as a ‘nice bloke’ and prone to attacks of malaria during the voyage. Seeing him sitting on a deck chair and ‘looking terrible’ Barbara asked him if he was alright to which he explained about the malaria attacks that laid him low.

1953 SS Captain Hobson, looking aft

The soldiers often flirted with the single girls onboard and there was more than one shipboard romance. Barbara remembers one between a returning soldier and a girl onboard that had seemed fairly serious. When they docked, however, she observed from the deck the soldier disembarking. On seeing what must have been his ‘real’ girlfriend waiting for him he threw off his hat, ran towards her and swept her up in his arms in an over-the-top show of affection. Eyebrows were raised all round and fellow passengers sent rueful smiles the way of the girl who had been so flippantly cast aside.

Like the families on board, Arthur and Barbara were in separate cabins. Barbara was with a mother and daughter plus another woman while the men were in together. Barbara remembers lots of families aboard with copious amounts of washing hanging everywhere. It was a very boring time for her as she was feeling unwell and the onboard diet was lacking in fresh fruit. Fruit was only made available on Sundays when passengers could choose either an orange or an apple. Boat drills helped to pass the monotonous time and everybody took part.

1953 SS Captain Hobson, boat drill

While they were sailing through the Atlantic, the SS Captain Hobson received a request to pick up a very ill seaman from another ship. The ship turned about and headed north, about sixty miles back the way they had come to pick up the ill man. He was suffering from appendicitis and was operated on by the SS Captain Hobson’s ships doctor. Barbara recalls that the doctor was a Scotsman who had his wife with him for the voyage. The incident was reported in the Dominion on 8 August 1953:

SHIP INTERRUPTS VOYAGE TO HELP SICK MAN. The Captain Hobson interrupted her voyage to New Zealand with nearly 600 English immigrants to help a sick man. On July 2, on her way across the Atlantic, the ship picked up a signal from the freighter Tricape, asking for medical assistance. One of the crew needed an appendicitis operation. The Captain Hobson received the call about 6.30 p.m. and just before midnight the two ships met. The medical officer, Dr. T. Brannan, of Glasgow, went over to the Tricape in a boat and brought back the sick man. He then operated on the seaman, who was well enough to be able to walk off the ship at Curacao. (Dominion, 8 August 1953, p. 12)

1953 Captain Hobson, Panama Canal locomotives operating on tracks

During the journey they saw albatrosses and flying fish. Barbara cannot recall any storms at all during that journey, but remembers the Irish Sea as being rough. There was also the boiling heat of the 51 mile long Panama Canal which opened on 15 August 1914. Barbara remembers the ship being towed through the narrow canal by locomotives operating on tracks on the lock walls. After they were through they called into Balboa which is a district of Panama City located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.

1953 Captain Hobson, Panama Canal tugboat

The ship sat well in the water being a good sailor with a skilled captain. The officers were all British while the crew were mainly Indian. On most nights the couple sat at the Captain’s table. Barbara suspects that this was because they had no children with them. On one occasion they were seated on either side of the Captain, and when he learned they were a couple he swapped chairs with Barbara so she could be seated next to Arthur, giving her the ‘Captain’s Chair’. Also seated at the table was the ships surgeon. One night, when they were all dancing, Barbara remembers watching the porthole which was one minute showing the sea and the next minute the sky. Fortunately everybody had their sea legs by then and as the ship still felt very stable it didn’t affect their dancing!

1953 SS Captain Hobson, Crossing the Line Ceremony group shot

Barbara was feeling very ill by the time of the crossing of the line ceremony. The ceremony is a tradition for when a ship crosses the equator. Those who had not crossed before were in line for a dunking. On board the ship was a canvas swimming pool into which some people were dunked. Arthur fortunately escaped this experience.

1953 SS Captain Hobson, Crossing the Line Ceremony group shot

During the journey, Arthur and fellow passenger, Joe Spearman, built and painted little toy boats for each child on board. Barbara recalls that none of the father’s of the children aboard helped, it was just Arthur and Joe on their own, but that was fine as they were enjoying themselves. These boats were given to the children at the end of voyage party.

           1953 SS Captain Hobson, Arthur Turner making toy boats                                           1953 SS Captain Hobson, Joe Spearman making toy boats

Barbara remembers a little boy of about three years old during the journey. She believes that he must have been a New Zealander as he had a buzzy bee with him. He used to walk around the ship with one hand in his fathers and the other holding the buzzy bee’s string. Barbara could hear his approach via the buzzy bee’s clacking then him going past into the distance and coming right around the ship again, all the time clacking away.

The Captain Hobson’s lounge boasted a piano along with pianist. One of the passenger’s was always requesting Granada (1932) to be played so he could sing along: Granada, I'm falling under your spell, And if you could speak, what a fascinating tale you would tell... Needless to say, the passenger was not a good singer and his fellow passengers cringed at every request!

1953 SS Captain Hobson, After Lounge postcard

The SS Captain Hobson arrived at the Port of Wellington on 7 August 1953. Two nurses that were seated at the Turner’s table asked what Barbara thought of Wellington. To their dismay she commented that it looked better than Glasgow and was a bit like a fairyland with all the twinkling lights from the houses on the hills. There were lots of nurses on board that voyage. The Dominion of 8 August 1953 records the arrival of the ship:

FAILURE OF SHIP’S PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM PREVENTS WELCOME. Immigrants who arrived at Wellington yesterday in the Captain Hobson could not be officially welcomed when immigration officials met the ship in the stream. Nor could the Adjutant General, Brigadier J. R. Page, who went out to the ship to welcome home 12 members of the New Zealand Coronation contingent, get his men together for a welcome aboard the ship. The ship’s public address system had broken down. So Mr. J. V. Brannan, chief immigration officer, walked up and down the ship hoping none of the 600-odd immigrants would want to return to England because of official indifference. Brigadier Page did his official welcoming on the wharf. He was able, though, to speak to the men individually in the ship. Efforts were made to repair the system but by the time the ship tied up the loudspeakers were still croaking: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten; testing.” (Dominion, 8 August 1953, p. 12)

After arrival, most of the passengers caught the overnight train from Wellington to Auckland which meant that they were awake all night. Barbara remembers that it looked as if the whole country was flooded and wondered if she had arrived in the antipodean equivalent of Venice! The Dominion recorded that the Captain Hobson was being temporarily taken off the migrant run:

MIGRANT VESSEL TAKEN OFF RUN TILL NEXT YEAR. The migrant ship Captain Hobson, now in Wellington, will leave the migrant run for the remainder of this year. The Minister of Immigration, Mr. Sullivan, said yesterday that there had been a decline in applications under the British scheme, and the previous backlog as assisted immigrants awaiting passages had now been overtaken. This decline was caused mainly by the reduced number of family groups at present being nominated in New Zealand by employers and relatives. As the larger ship, the Captain Cook, could cope with the number to be brought out, for the remainder of this year, the Captain Hobson could be released temporarily to the British Ministry of Transport, and it would be used for special duties for the British Government till January. (Dominion, 8 August 1953, p. 12)

Arthur and Barbara boarded with Hull woman, Mrs Kemp, in Auckland for three months after their arrival. The house was in Grey Lynn where they could hear the lions in the Auckland Zoo roaring at night. Her most vivid memory of Mrs Kemp is that every time she turned a light on she said ‘Let there be light’.

The newly crowned Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip had a summer visit to New Zealand from 23 December 1953 to 31 January 1954. The photograph below was taken by Arthur in Karangahape Road, Auckland, possibly on Wednesday, 23rd December:

1953 Queen's Visit, Karangahape Road, 23 December

Four months after Arthur and Barbara’s arrival, on Christmas Eve (24 December 1953), one of the nurses who had come over with them on the SS Captain Hobson was killed in the Tangiwai Rail Disaster. Mount Ruapehu’s crater lake wall had collapsed, sending a lahar and two million cubic metres of water into the Whangaehu River. A massive wave then swept away one of the concrete supports of the rail bridge at Tangiwai (Māori: Weeping Waters).  At 10:21pm the Wellington to Auckland night express plunged off the weakened bridge. The nurse was one of the 151 people that died. Queen Elizabeth, broadcasting her Christmas message from Auckland, finished with a declaration of sympathy and on December 31st Prince Philip attended the state funeral.

In 2003 a reunion for those who sailed on the 1953 voyage of the SS Captain Hobson was held in Cornwall Park, Auckland. Barbara did not attend as she was unaware of the event.

by Debbie McCauley (2012).


POSTSCRIPT: From the other end of the world edited by R. K. Dean (GWW Services, April 2010). On pages 161-185 of this book is the story of Rosemary Thompson who emigrated with her fiancé Jim Burton on the SS Captain Hobson, arriving in New Zealand on 11 February 1957. Page 181 mentions Vera (1911-2009) and Ted Gleed who were great friends of Arthur and Barbara Turner. Vera and Ted, who were from Hull, immigrated to New Zealand by airplane in 1949. Ted was a half-hose loom mechanic. During his Hull childhood Ted spent time living with the sister of Arthur’s grandmother, Sarah Ann Turner (nee Pounder) (1879-1941), so there was a close connection between the couples. On the same page of the book there is reference to ‘two more couples’ from England. This was Barbara and Arthur Barnabas Turner (1929-1995) and their close friends Marion (1929-2012) and George Edward Lavender (1929-1995). George was an electrical draftsman from Newcastle on Tyne. Marion and George arrived on the SS Captain Cook in [November ?] 1953.



Auckland Weekly News, 26 June 1957.

Barbara Elizabeth Turner (personal communication, 2012).

Captain Hobson Kids (2012). Retrieved December 23, 2012, from

Captain Hobson 1953 Reunion 2003

Dominion, 8 August 1953.

Emigrant Ships: The vessels which carried migrants across the world, 1946-1972 by Anthony Cooke (n.d.).

Gillian Headifen, Alexander Turnbull Library (personal communication, 2013).

Jack Hinton wins the Victoria Cross (2012). Retrieved December 24, 2012, from

Passenger Ships of the 20th Century by David W Latimer (2012) 

Tangiwai railway disaster (2012).  Retrieved December 26, 2012, from

The Royal visit, 1953-54 (2012). Retrieved December 26, 2012, from


See also:

Beginnings: The story of a never-to-be forgotten journey across the world by Pam Ellender (New Zealand Memories, Issue 81, December/January 2010 (pp. 47-51) - SS Captain Hobson, May to July 1958.

The Last Crossing by Noel Davenhill (New Zealand Memories, Issue 72, June/July 2008, pp. 10-15) - SS Captain Hobson, May to July 1958.


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Emigrating on the SS Captain Hobson (1953) by Debbie McCauley

First Names:Barbara Elizabeth
Last Name:Wallace
Place of Birth:40 Telford Street, Hull
Country of birth:England
Family Surname:Turner
Occupation:Legal Secretary
First settled:Auckland
Date of Arrival:7 August 1953
Name of the ship:SS Captain Hobson
Date of sailing:June 1953
Place of settlement in Bay of Plenty:Tauranga
Later places of settlement:Whangaparoa, Whanganui, and Nelson
Port of arrival:Wellington
Sailed from:Glasgow, Scotland
Spouses name:Arthur Barnabas Turner
Spouses date of birth:13 June 1929
Spouses place of birth:7 Rustenbury Street, Hull, England.
Spouses date of death:7 April 1995
Spouses place of death:Whangaporoa, New Zealand
Spouses nationality:English
Date of marriage:30 June 1951
Place of marriage:Hull, England
Fathers name:Peter Wallace
Fathers date of birth:19 March 1897
Fathers place of birth:Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Scotland
Fathers date of death:5 February 1965
Fathers place of death:Kirkcaldy, Scotland
Fathers nationality:Scottish
Mothers name:Phyllis Moyne
Mothers date of birth:25 May 1898
Mothers date of death:1 March 1976
Name of sibilings:Margaret Malcolm Wallace
Name of the children:Louise Turner and Peter William Turner
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Emigrating on the SS Captain Hobson (1953) by Debbie McCauley by Debbie McCauley (Tauranga City Libraries) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License