The Sinking of The Marquette

– By Sarah Johnston (Client Services Co-ordinator – Radio, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)

Recollections from New Zealand nurses who survived the sinking of the troopship Marquette 100 years ago, on 23 October 1915, are among the new audiovisual items added to the anzacsightsound.org website this week. The website is a joint World War I anniversary project by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision and the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. It was launched in April this year in time for the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, and further archival film and sound items will be added to the site at intervals throughout the four-year commemorative period.

In the sound recordings, the nurses recall how the New Zealand field hospital they were with was travelling from Egypt to Salonika, to treat men wounded in the Gallipoli campaign. However, instead of being on-board a hospital vessel, they were transported in a troopship, the Marquette, along with an ammunition column and British soldiers. They were therefore a legitimate military target, and on the morning of 23 October 1915, the ship was hit by a torpedo fired by a German submarine.

Stained glass memorial window in the Christchurch Nurses Memorial Chapel – WWI nurse on the left above an image of the Marquette. (Image courtesy of Friends of the Nurses Memorial Chapel)
Stained glass memorial window in the Christchurch Nurses Memorial Chapel – WWI nurse on the left, above an image of the Marquette. (Image courtesy of Friends of the Nurses Memorial Chapel)

The Marquette quickly sunk, with the loss of 167 lives – 32 of them New Zealanders, including 10 nurses. In the recordings, Nurses Jeanne Peek (nee Sinclair), Elizabeth Young, and Mary Gould recall the botched launch of the ship’s life-boats, and then floating for hours in the ocean clinging to wreckage, waiting to be rescued. Listen here.

In another recording, New Zealand medical orderlies Herbert Hyde and Alexander Prentice discuss who was to blame for the deaths, and why the hospital unit was sent on a troopship in the first place. Listen here.

Many of the women who died were from the South Island, and they are remembered in the Nurses’ Chapel at Christchurch Hospital. The Chapel was built in 1924 as a memorial to the Marquette nurses, and to all nurses who died on military service during the war.