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Sinking of the ship Dolphin | by Archives New Zealand
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Sinking of the ship Dolphin

The fishing boat Dolphin was sunk by the shore battery guarding Lyttelton's inner harbour on 12 October 1939. On entering the harbour and finding no examination vessel at the entrance, a local fishing trawler, the Dolphin, stopped in front of the guns on Battery Point in accordance with the regulations at the time and awaited a signal to proceed. The Dolphin's crew claimed no signal was given in their direction and they continued to proceed into the inner harbour, resulting in a warning shot being fired from the battery. Rather than missing the boat, the shell hit the engine room of Dolphin, leading to the ship sinking and the death of its captain, Frederick James Brasell. Due to wartime censorship, the full details of the incident were not reported.


The records presented here are accounts from the surviving sailor on the Dolphin and the Lieutenant Commander in charge of the battery based in Lyttelton. The account of the Lieutenant details the events of October 12, claiming that the Dolphin had refused to stop at the request of the Battery Duty Officer and included details on the shell that was fired, "In reply to my question as to whether a warning shot was fired, he replied "That was the warning shot".


The other document is the account of the surviving sailor, William Henry Willman. In his report he states that the Dolphin didn’t receive a signal to stop entering Lyttelton harbour and that the warning shot came as a total surprise. Archives New Zealand also hold the Coroner's file for Frederick James Brasell, which includes a piece of shrapnel from the incident -


The Marine Department file can be accessed in our Wellington Reading room: ADOE 16612 M1 965 13/2427


And so can the Navy Department file: AAYT 8490 N1 16/2/5A


The Fort Record Book held at Archives New Zealand's Christchurch Office documents the wartime operation of the shore battery in detail.


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Material from Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

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Taken on September 11, 2013