Sunday, January 21, 2007

AWOL in Wellington

© David Eldred
View of Wellington hillside.
Wellington was one of several ports of call on the Eastwind's journey to Antarctica. New Zealand is a prominent player in Antarctica, and a key partner in Operation Deep Freeze. Other NZ ports frequented by the Eastwind included Aukland and Port Lyttleton.

Wellington is also the setting of an Eastwind tale that is still told by former crewmembers:

The two United States seamen, Ivy Lee Boswell (second from right) and Daniel B. Merrow (right), who broke from custody aboard the icebreaker Eastwind at Wellington early on Sunday Morning, are about to be put into a car after being found in Wellington this morning. At left is Inspector A. Childs, and next to him is a constable who took part in the arrest.

Tuesday, October 31, 1961
New Zealand Press Association
WELLINGTON- The two seamen who escaped from custody aboard the United States Navy icebreaker Eastwind at Wellington early on Sunday morning are now in cells at the Central Police Station waiting to be handed over to the American authorities.
The 18-year-old seamen, Ivy Lee Boswell and Daniel B. Merrow, described by the United States Navy officials as "desperate and dangerous," made no effort to escape when a lone constable apprehended them.

Sitting on Bank
They were captured walking up Ngauranga Gorge at 11:30 a.m. to-day after an Evening Post photographer and a reporter found them a few minutes earlier sitting on a broom-covered bank overlooking the Gorge highway opposite Wright Stephenson’s wool store.
One of the seamen was carrying a knife, but police said early this afternoon that they did not consider them dangerous.
They were arrested by Inspector A. Child and taken to the central station in a police van carrying dogs from Trentham which were to have been used in the search for the men. The newspapermen, J. J. Short and N. J. Harfield, were travelling up Ngauranga Gorge about 11:10 a.m. to-day to report a police search for the men in the Newlands area. Mr. Short noticed someone squatting in the bush as the car passed Wright Stephenson’s store. When they returned, they noticed the same person sitting there.
The two men walked through thick broom to a clearing on the hillside and saw two young men sitting there. They had a canvas duffle bag beside them.
The newspapermen greeted the two young men and Mr. Short said: "Wonderful day, great day for a living."
"Yeah," replied the man with the blonde hair (Merrow) in a definite American accent.
Mr. Harfield called the police and kept watch until they arrived.
The two seamen apparently intended to sail more than a hundred miles in an open rubber raft in their attempt to abandon the ship near Pitcairn Island.
Trouble for the young sailors began when the ship was sailing 100 miles south of Pitcairn Island, the captain of the Eastwind Commander Naab, said in Christchurch to-day.
Boswell and Merrow had thrown one of the ship’s rubber lifeboats overboard, intending to leap after the raft, and escape from the ship.
Second Thoughts
The water was choppy at the time and, as the lifeboat drifted quickly away from the ship, they evidently thought better of it and decided to stay aboard the Eastwind, Commander Naab said.
When the attempt to abandoned the ship had become known, Commander Naab said, inquiries revealed that the pair had told several people they intended to leave the ship near Pitcairn Island.
"I guess they intended to live on a desert island for a time," he said.
In Brig
When Eastwind reached Wellington, Boswell had spent five or six days in the ship’s brig awaiting court martial and Merrow had been heavily fined and was confined to ship.
The Wellington escape was made at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, while the Eastwind was tied up at Clyde Quay.
Commander Naab presumed that Merrow released Boswell from the locked brig. No guard was posted on the brig at the time.
The two men were recognised at the gates of Clyde Quay by a ship’s officer and told to return to ship. Instead, one of the escapers pulled a knife and threatened the officer before making off.

(Editor’s note: The Eastwind was a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, not a Navy icebreaker. The New Zealander term "broom" is synonymous with American English "brush," meaning bushes. The "Evening Post" was a Wellington daily newspaper, now defunct. The captain of the Eastwind was Commander J.W. Naab -ME)


Christine said...

Mike, I enjoyed this article. How did you find out about this? Chris

Mike said...

This was from a newspaper clipping in "the archives." Crewmembers at "Fred's Place" (follow the link on the blog) often make references to the incident.

Christine said...

Ah. Just checked out Fred's Place. I can see that is a good source for stories and details. Sounds like they are enjoying the pictures too. --Chris

Russ said...

I remember this occurance - scuttlebut was they were cooks who did such a bad job of feeding the crew during the continuous heavy weather they thought they were were going to get lynched

Ray said...

This is fantastic! I recorded a bunch of my dad's Eastwind stories a couple of years ago before he died and he told me about these two. Great to see some confirmation.

Here it is in his words (Try to imagine an old East Boston hard case accent):

"...and then, then we had two guys, first trip going down the antarctic. Bosworth and uh, he was a bosuns striker, and another guy, what the hell was his name, Bosworth, he was a seaman bosun striker, and another guy was a cook's helper, he was gonna be a cook. Well they decide, what they gonna do...they got no charts or nothing but they gathering all this food and shit, they're stashin' it, and they're gettin' navigation equipment, what they gonna do they gonna steal a life raft and jump ship and go to one of them Pacific islands.

Hey, that's the truth, them is two screwballs, awright? You guys is gone screwy! I dunno if they went screwy from the heat or what. But the night they're gonna escape, they're gonna go overboard they got caught! With the liferaft inflated and everything. And all the food and all the shit, and somebody caught em. Y'now. Down there in the ship's brig, and the ship's brig is right above the engine room that I worked in, I hadda pass em every time I was going in the engine room. "Hey Ray, gotta cigarette?" "Naw, I'm not allowed to give you nothin'."

And...I dunno. Whatever possessed these two guys to think they'd jump ship in the middle of the goddamn Pacific. You know how big the Pacific ocean is? Guys go screwy out there man. I mean, it's a long trip from, I think it's 28 days from Panama to Wellington, I mean Christchurch New Zealand. Long time in that heat. You know, going down across the surface. So maybe the heat got to em I dunno. But they court martialed em and everything, both of em. And I figured they was gonna be thrown out, they didn't get thrown out, they kept 'em in. And I met 'em later, they was, they turned out to be pretty nice guys, but that, that was stupid, they didn't know what the hell they was thinkin', y'know."