Grafton Francis Bothamley


The following is Commodore Pedro Morgan’s address to the ship’s company of HMNZS Olphert and members of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club on the opening weekend of the 2018 Winter Series.

Good morning. My name is Pedro Morgan, I am the Commodore of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club.

LT CDR Wybrants Olphert

We’re very pleased to have as our guests the ship’s company of HMNZS Olphert, the Wellington Division of the Royal New Zealand Navy Reserve, on the occasion of HMNZS Olphert’s 90th birthday.

I’d like to extend a special welcome to Lieutenant Commander Kerry Molony, commanding officer of HMNZS Olphert, and Captain Maxine Lawes, Acting Deputy Chief of the Navy.

HMNZS Olphert was formed on the 12th of March 1928, a little over 90 years ago. Her first commanding officer was Commander Wybrants Olphert, after whom the Wellington Division was later named, the only Reserve Division named for a person.

But this morning I’d like to talk to you about another Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve officer. His story, and one or two others that I may explore shortly, speak of the links between the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club and the Navy, and with the Navy Reserve in particular, and to the history of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club and high performance sailing in New Zealand.

LT CDR Grafton Bothamley

Grafton Francis Bothamley, nicknamed “Bot”, was born in Wellington in 1880. He began his education in Wellington, and completed it at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich

After a short time living in Christchurch, Bothamley returned to Wellington in 1906 and worked at Parliament. He ultimately rose to become the Clerk of the House of Representatives. This was perhaps a family tradition, with his father and brother both serving as Clerk of the Legislative Council at various times. But were not here to speak of Bothamley’s parliamentary career.

Bothamley had been a good friend of Alexander Turnbull, and during the 1890s had raced and cruised on board Turnbull’s now famous yacht, Rona.

Bothamley had sailed with the Te Ruru Sailing Club and the Thordon Dinghy Club, and later was an active club member of the (then) Port Nicholson Yacht Club, acting as handicapper, secretary and treasurer at various stages before serving as Commodore from 1913-1915.

When war broke out in 1914, Bothamley, like many yachtsmen, joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In fact, we understand that 54 of the Club’s then 130 members saw service overseas during the war.

After training, Bothamley was commissioned as a Lieutenant and posted to patrol and escort work in the North Sea. Later promoted to Lieutenant Commander, he was present at the battle of Jutland.

The Battle of Jutland plays an important, if somewhat incidental, role in our story as the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet, which participated in the battle, was commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. Jellicoe was later appointed First Sea Lord in 1916.

Admiral of the Fleet Earl Jellicoe

In retirement, Jellicoe was created Viscount Jellico in 1918, promoted to Admiral of the Fleet in 1919, and became Governor General of New Zealand in September 1920.

And it was in New Zealand that Lord Jellicoe and Grafton Bothamley’s paths crossed.

In 1921, Lord Jellicoe snaffled the 14 footer Iron Duke, built and designed by Gladwyn Bailey, and raced her in Auckland. The leading Otago 14 footer, Heather, challenged Iron Duke to a best-of-five race series in Auckland in 1921. The prize was the be the Sanders Cup, named for Lieutenant William Sanders, another New Zealander serving with the Royal Navy Reserve.

Sanders was appointed to command a topsail schooner, HMS First Prize, in 1917.She was named First Prize as she was the first ship taken as a prize on the outbreak of the war. In April 1917, HMS First Prize sank a German U-boat, and for his conspicuous gallantry in that action, was awarded the Victoria Cross, the only New Zealand to win the Victoria Cross in a naval action. HMS First Prize, by now renames simply, HMS Prize, was sunk by another German U-boat with the loss of all hands in August 1917.

Iron Duke

The series between Iron Duke and Heather was a great success. Otago’s entry, Heather, won the regatta and it was agreed the event would be held again in 1922 at Dunedin. In the interim, other provinces were encouraged to provide champions for the contest.

Bothamley took up the opportunity to organise a competition for selection in Wellington, and in Iron Duke, won the right to represent Wellington with her, though it’s fair to say that the competition was against inferior boats.

Lord Jellicoe had done his best to help Bothamley. During the regatta, he send a telegram to Bothamley with advice about how best to sail the Iron Duke. He wrote:

Am informed on reliable authority that recent experience in racing fourteen footers at Auckland shows that it pays to carry whole sail in heavy weather and that in heavy weather back off the wind carrying spinnaker or leading jib gain considerable advantage by easing sheets and keeping away in heavy squalls as it causes them to plane at high speed. When squall is over they can luff back to course. I think our experience at Wellington confirms this.

This information only reaches me today. It may be of use to you. Am sorry you had no better luck today but feel sure that given good weather conditions Iron Duke and her men will win a victory.

Unfortunately Bothamley made a bit of hash of his Dunedin campaign and came away empty handed. Despite this, Bothamley and Jellicoe remained friends and corresponded long after Jellicoe’s return to the United Kingdom.

Bothamley was a great supporter of the development classes, and supplied trophies for local P and Z class racing. He was made a life member of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club in 1937, and passed away in 1956 in a motor accident.

And finally, to complete the story, it was through Lord Jellicoe’s influence that the Port Nicholson Yacht Club gained its royal warrant, and became the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club in 1921.

As I reflect on Bothamley, Jellicoe, and Sanders’ stories, and those of the 54 Club members who served overseas during the First World War, I’m struck by the extent of the historical connections between the Club and the Navy.

Of course times have changed, and the circumstances which led to those connections no longer exist, and I hope will never exist again. Certainly, no one would ever hope for a time where nearly half of our membership should again be asked to serve overseas in the defence of our country.

But perhaps the circumstances can exist in peacetime for renewed connections with the Royal New Zealand Navy Volunteer Reserve, and with HMNZS Olphert in particular. That is certainly my hope.

And so in conclusion, and on behalf of the members of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club, I wish HMNZS Olphert a happy birthday, and wish her and her company the very best for another 90 years in the service of New Zealand.


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