Napier earthquake

Loading the player...

Tono kōrero mai

These tapes feature the recollections and memories of people who were in Napier at the time a devastating earthquake struck on 3rd February 1931. This programme was recorded to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster.

Stuart MacKenzie & Jim Donovan remember city before shake.
Joan Morrissey & Stuart MacKenzie recall strange events before the disaster.
Joan Morrissey on how her day started; she came off-duty at 6:30am and it was a remarkably hot day. Ben Jackman, British Seaman aboard HMS Veronica, recalls looking forward to shore leave.
Jock Stevenson and Stuart MacKenzie both at school when the earthquake happened. Jock Stevenson fell over and was trampled by other students rushing to get out. The assembly hall completely collapsed; he says it was a miracle the quake happened when it did and not half an hour earlier.
Edna Tresseder was in Napier shopping with her four year old daughter when the earthquake struck. She was 8 months pregnant and tried to keep calm, she sat down and cuddled her daughter. She prayed and heard God speak to her saying she would be alright.
Jim Donovan, a Harbour Board employee, was working on the wharf when the earthquake struck.
Ben Jackman was on board the Veronica, in her engine room at time.
Harry Popplewell worked in a shop in Hastings at the time. A customer ran out but Harry instructed his assistants to stay in the shop.
Ron Giorgi was at work in his father's shop in Hastings. He pulled his father out of a pile of bricks. He remembers parapets falling and killing people.
Joan Morrissey was asleep in the Napier Nurses' Home. She was woken by a jolt, realised it was an earthquake. Her bed was in the corner, loose items were flying around the room and then the wall opened. She considered running but then decided to stay put. The next thing she remembers is being in a mass of debris, she doesn't know how it happened.
Mary Eames was ironing at the Napier Hospital. The iron was thrown from her hand. The corridor collapsed and she was buried. After a second jolt, the roof opened and she was able to climb out. She saw one of the night nurses sitting up in bed. Together they walked down the slope of the building onto the road. They saw that the whole Nurse's Home had collapsed.
Jock Stevenson was a third former at school. During the break between the two shocks, he and another boy ran out towards the science lab.
Stuart MacKenzie remembers a taxi driver who had had a few drinks at the Masonic Hotel. He ran into a building with his car as it collapsed. Thought he would get 6 months jail.
Harry Popplewell recalls the general scene in Hastings. The Post Office and Grand Hotel had fallen down; the clock tower at the Post Office had collapsed completely. Looked like a bombed town. The Grand Hotel had been a four storey building and it had crumbled to the ground. Everybody seemed in a daze, it was difficult to conceive what had happened, but very quickly reacted to the situation and tried to help people. Many people were killed. He remembers trapped people calling for help but being burned alive before they could be reached.
Jock Stevenson had been at the Boys' High School. They came into town after the disaster and he describes people's reaction in Napier. It seemed complete and utter chaos. He went looking for his brother who worked in a chemist shop where a fire had broken out. He failed to find him there and so went back onto the Parade. There he met a man coming the other way with bandages and blood on his face who he didn't recognise initially. It was his brother.
Jim Donovan left work and rode his bike home. His three children were at different schools. The eldest daughter arrived home shortly after he did, visibly upset. He found his second daughter at her school with the nuns, saying prayers. His son was sitting on a hill outside the school with his mates watching the city burn.

Joan Morrissey was trapped for 2 hours in her Nurses Home bed. She slowly tried to move different parts of her body and feel around, although she was stuck. Finally she found the iron curtain rail and used it to make herself some more room. The headboard of her iron bed had bent over her and protected her head. Eventually she worked her legs free and was thankful for the blanket which had offered slight protection. Then she was finally able to emerge into the sunshine.
Jock Stevenson remembers the Navy stepping in to assume control and people's reaction.
Ben Jackman describes rescue work undertaken by the Navy at Nurses home. It was terrible - shakes all the time - frightening seeing roads open.
Jock Stevenson believes the number of deaths would have been higher but for the sailors.
Ron Giorgi tells how they left Hastings for his parents' home in the country. A bridge was broken in the middle and impassable. They met someone heading the other way and swapped cars. When they arrived at his family's home he found they had evacuated to the hills due to fear of tidal wave. From their vantage point they could see how the sea had receded, fortunately it returned quietly.
Harry Popplewell talks about the following quakes and the difficulties of fire fighting in Hastings
Joan Morrissey got to work helping hospital patients and injured people from town, administering morphine and lining them up ready to be taken to other hospitals. She went with a bus load of patients to New Plymouth and on return found she had 5 or 6 cracked ribs herself.
Stuart Mackenzie talks about the amount of effort it took to get him to hospital. He had been injured at the school and was put on the back of an open lorry with another injured student. They were taken to the race course to be triaged. Doctors attempted to treat his leg but did not have enough anaesthetic so he was sent to Palmerston North. It took two days to get to the hospital - first by ambulance and then by wagon and train.

Harry Popplewell recalls there were no services immediately following the earthquake: no power, water, phone, law and order. The mayor set up a committee to establish law and order. The town was cordoned off and patrolled by wardens. Popplewell was a fire warden. The only light at night was fires. He transferred the contents of his shop into rail wagons at the shunting yard. It was done with volunteer help by fire light. An eerie scene.
Jock Stevenson remembers quake's effects on his home. They had a walk in pantry; the preserves had to be shovelled out. His brother's heavy German piano in lounge went across the room, through the wall and ended on its back in the kitchen. The chimney was down. All pictures on the walls hung back to front. He says this was what left the biggest impression on him - how far the walls must have leant over in order for the pictures to swing around.
Jim Donovan recalls the scene from the wharf. The sea had receded and could see the seabed. He heard that the area had risen 18 feet and subsequently settled to 7 feet.
Jock Stevenson talks about the fear of a tidal wave. Their property was on the hill and many people slept that night on the lawn. He remembers men shaving and women washing in a dirty fish pond in his back yard because there was no other water. The men made fireplaces out of bricks and the women cooked outside and they sat in the gutters eating meals. There were many things they wanted back inside the houses but everyone was too frightened to go back into the houses.
Harry Popplewell speaks about people's fears. They walked down middle of road instead of foot paths and were scared of going indoors. There was no entertainment so local Hastings swimming club arranged weekly swimming carnivals. The pools were in good order and people came in their thousands to get a break from earthquake matters.
Joan Morrissey returned home to Waipukurau 14 days after shake. Her father was home as she walked in the gate and did not appear surprised to see her. Her mother and sister were out at the time. Her mother had thought she was dead as they had heard nothing.

Ben Jackman says the HMS Veronica was left high and dry when the water receded and there was some doubt as to ship would get out.
Jim Donovan tells how they got the Veronica out of the harbour
Mary Eames went to collect her suitcase from the Nurses' Home. There was a sailor on guard with orders to shoot on sight any who took anything.
Jock Stevenson tells of man who took cigarettes from a shop window to give to friends who laughed as they were shop-dressing dummy ones.
Stuart MacKenzie returned to Napier after eight months and recalls what he found.
Dennis Pinfold, Director of New Zealand Standards Association, says at the time of the earthquake the Association did not exist and therefore there were no universal building standards. He reflects that buildings in subsequent earthquakes, such as Ingangahua, have withstood much better.
Harry Popplewell recalls the spirit of Hastings people who adapted very well to such hardships as living mainly outdoors and queuing for food.
Jock Stevenson recalls similar spirit in Napier. Wealth was not an advantage, so it was a great social leveller.
Warwick Smith, Earthquake expert comments on further earthquake possibilities in Napier.
Alex MacDonald, Civil Defence Controller of Hastings comments on the same subject.

Favourite item:

Request information

Reference number 24531

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits RNZ Collection

Duration 01:12:31

Date [1981]

We use cookies to help us understand how you use our site, and make your experience better. To find out more read our privacy policy.

Whakamahia ai mātou ngā pihikete ki te rapu māramatanga ki te āhua o tō whakamahi i tēnei paetukutuku, ki te whakapai hoki i tō whai wāhi mai. Ki te rapu kōrero anō pānuitia te kaupapahere tūmataiti.