Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Steel, F. M. 2008, 'Women, Men and the Southern Octopus: Shipboard Gender Relations in the Age of Steam', International Journal of Maritime History, vol. XX, no. 2, pp. 285-306.


A montage by prominent Port Chalmers ship photographer David Alexander de Maus memorializes Miss MacQuaid, Mrs. McDonald and Miss Grinrod, three stewardesses of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand (USSCo.) who died in the wreck of Wairarapa, a steamer that struck Great Barrier Island in the far north of New Zealand on 29 October 1894. De Maus photographed a painting of the shipwreck by E.B. Hayward and superimposed three individual portraits of the stewardesses and a photograph of a Dunedin memorial erected to the trio, inscribing under each in white ink. In the tradition of the oceanic sublime, Hayward's painting depicts a foreboding and rugged seascape. Fog closes in around the dark cliffs; Wairarapa is almost completely submerged, battered against the rocks by rough seas; and the rigged masts jut out in a final futile gesture, emphasizing tragic human fallibility in the face of turbulent nature. In the upper half of the image the perfectly spherical head-and-shoulder portraits of the stewardesses are suspended above the wreck, suggestive of their passage to the afterlife. They are frozen in formal poses, haloed by the stark studio backdrop. Their collective feminine stillness and poise contrast with the unruly, violent energy of the ocean beneath. The superimposed faces and stone memorial weirdly crowd the original painting, yet this enforces an eternal, concrete human presence on the scene, subverting the sense of fleeting passage and erasure conveyed by the broken, submerged ship.