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The Cruise of the Rosaura

The Cruise of the Rosaura
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With nearly a hundred cruise ship visits to the Auckland of 2017, we're currently beset by our bureaucratic spin doctors' assumptions on just how popular their alleged world-class super-city has become as a port-of-call.

However, such hyperbolic acclaim is reduced to a mere shade of a much earlier era when internecine war between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan, which included the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons, put paid to the Far East as a destination for the cruise ships of the 1930s.

And so it came to pass that the fashionable landing-places of the South Seas enjoyed a prosperity that would not be repeated for eight decades, for in that earlier time the sight of three or four cruise ships lined up along our wharves was not uncommon, with even the Oil Wharf at Freemans Bay called into duty as a passenger terminus.

However, this particular tale doesn't concern those ships, but rather about the first of the large Passenger Yachts to call, which was to be seen at the Oil Wharf in February 1935. Well we might goggle at the floating gin palaces that flaunt their owners' brazen wealth in the environs of what is now called Viaduct Harbour, but when 55 year old brewing magnate Wally Moyne brought his entourage of through-and-through posh persons to town aboard his 83 metre Rosaura, few gobs were left unsmacked among the more impressionable our forebears.

Also known as Lieutenant Colonel Walter Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Moyne, DSO & Bar, said Wally was cruising for four months on his new boat - he'd sunk her predecessor, the equally gargantuan Roussalka, when she ran on to a rock in thick fog off the Irish coast 17 months earlier. On that occasion all of the passengers and crew were rescued, as was his pet Panamanian monkey. Named Gandhi (to whom it bore a peculiar resemblance), the antics of the securely chained beastie were now amusing the colonial beau monde, whose eyes had never bulged further from their sockets.

Eight en-suite staterooms provided accommodation for up to a dozen guests, but by the time the graceful craft arrived at the farthest reach of her 52,424 kilometre cruise, there were only three passenger aboard. First was Wally's lady friend Vera, better known in the gossip mags as the estranged wife of the Baronet Sir Henry John Delves Broughton, who is chiefly remembered for, (although acquitted), murdering the Earl of Erroll (an event that was the basis of the 1987 film White Mischief).

After their wining and dining the Governor General and his missus at Wellington, 43 year old Vera Broughton, that big game hunter and intrepid sports-person, thrashed Viscountess Bledisloe at tennis before flying from Rongotai aerodrome to Auckland's Hobsonville in an open two seater biplane, from whence she made an amphibian flight to the Bay of Islands for a spot of big game fishing.

Also aboard was Terence Philip, with just a touch of Attila the Hun around the jaw line, Philip was excruciatingly handsome, charming and a well-heeled London art dealer, who specialised in flogging expensive British pictures to rich Yanks. He was also a good mate of the last passenger's 'æsthete' cousin by marriage. She was the 50 year old Mrs Winston Churchill, who would seem to be having a sorely needed break from the frenetic lifestyle of her manic-depressive husband and the rough-and-tumble of his more dubious chums.

So far we've recounted not much more than bowdlerised version concerning the toffs swanning around our coasts on their floating realm of conspicuous wealth, but for rat’s arse connoisseurs of lascivious titillation, let us digress to a tad more dishing of that most fiercely spiced of dirts...

Mr Pug, who'd lead us a decade later to a two-nil victory in the final round of that spot of bother we had with the Boche, had finally outgrown his rambunctious predilection for batting for the other side - that virtually ubiquitous rite of passage among his caste, (among whom it was reasoned that such experience went a long way to making a enlightened sort of cove more fun for an eventual better half when it came to bedroom sports). So exotic matinee idols that looked like Tarzan, but talked like Jane, gave way to an heterodoxical sort of bit on the side named Doris.

Emanating from the wrong side of the tracks, the Viscountess Castlerosse had taken life by the scruff of the neck and screwed her way to the top in her role as outrageous enchantress on the international society circuit. Legend would have us believe that she bewitched the naïve Winnie with the Cleopatra Clench. A talent for which technique she was said to share with a certain American divorcee, who would besot a king-to-be on a previous cruise of the Rosaura.

So while her husband was snuggling up with his notorious courtesan on the Riviera, darling Clementine fell head-over-heels for the only superficially eligible guest aboard the motor yacht. Unburdened by an overwhelming work ethic, or anything so shoddy as driving ambition, and so utterly unlike her husband in almost every respect, the suave Terence Philip, an homme fatale, with a reputation for witty drawing-room persiflage was "not the marrying kind" - as they used to say in those relatively well-mannered days before we all succumbed to politically correct gay-speak.

And so, after a fortnight on our coasts and laden with a couple of Komodo Dragons, a pair of Tuatara and two Malayan Sun bears in a deck cage, the Rosaura cleared Deep Water Cove in the Bay of Islands for New Caledonia, while a somewhat embarrassed and melancholic Clemmie, who'd been shaken to her core by Terence Philip's extravagant travesties of flirtation, moped around the ship's ultra-luxe music room and library.

Retold and embellished by subsequent generations, the past is said to be the only dead thing that smells sweet, so, of course there's a whole lot more to this tale of adventure, but this ain't gonna be the place for it. We'll just have to settle here for the eventual fates of those involved.

Named after Moyne's daughter, the Rosaura was the first to go; requisitioned by the Royal Navy the motor yacht struck a mine off the coast of Libya in 1941 and sank taking 78 lives with her.

At 64 the colossally rich, well-meaning, and intelligent bon viveur, Lord Moyne was assassinated at Cairo by Israeli terrorists in 1944.

Considered one of the best-dressed women of her time, the distinguished ethnographic photographer Vera Broughton never remarried, soldiering on to a timely demise in 1968.

Subsequently a life peeress in her own right, Baroness Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill, died at the age of 92 in 1977.

To have news value has been likened to having a tin can tied to one's tail and Terence Philip's place in posterity appears to be represented by no more than his friendship with Clementine Churchill. However, the alleged receiver of swollen goods is depicted by the actor Simon Williams in the 2002 TV movie The Gathering Storm, a biographical film about the Churchills in the years between 1934 and 1939. Other parts include Vanessa Redgrave as Clementine Churchill, John Standing as Lord Moyne and Albert Finney as Winston Churchill.

La penultima Dogaressa of the unfinished Palazzo Venier dei Leoni at Venice, Winnie's by then impoverished girlfriend Doris, whose Lion-hunting career among the denizens of deepest Belgravia might be compared to the ups and downs of a barmaid's knickers, turned out to be just another notch on some mighty fine bedposts. Exhausted, the grande horizontale succumbed to a drug overdose in 1942.

Winston had wanted every kind of love that was available, but couldn't find all of them in the same person, or the same sex. But like Rudyard Kipling, having at the end of the day probably come to the conclusion that a good woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke, at the age of 90 he faded away to a real bonzer send-off in 1965.

And the moral of the yarn? Like the more ostentatious of our current batch of gadflying Real Estate speculators, with a fondness for beige Leatherette - you'll never know how popular you are until you own an effin big motor boat.
Date: 2017-11-03 00:55:12

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