“As for the depths themselves, the greatest yet discovered … was the Penguin Deep, discovered by the British vessel Penguin (in 1896) north of New Zealand where a depth of 5,155 fathoms was found.” (New York Tribune, January 25, 1920) (Four years later, the USS Nero instruments registered a depth of 5,269 fathoms – almost six miles.)
HMS Penguin was an Osprey-class sloop (United Kingdom, later Australia.) Launched on 1876, Penguin was operated by the Royal Navy from 1877 to 1881, then from 1886 to 1889.
She was 170 feet long, had a beam of 36 feet, a draft of 15 feet 9 inches and had a displacement of 1,130 tons. The propulsion machinery consisted of a single engine that gave her a top speed of 9.9 knots and a maximum range of 1,480 nautical miles (1,700 mi.) (She was also Barque rigged.) The standard ship’s company was 140-strong.
After being converted to a survey vessel, Penguin was recommissioned in 1890, and conducted survey work around the Western Pacific islands, New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef until 1908, when she was demasted and transferred to the Australian Commonwealth Naval Forces for use as a depot and training ship in Sydney Harbor.
After this force became the Royal Australian Navy, the sloop was commissioned as HMAS Penguin in 1913. Penguin remained in naval service until 1924, when she was sold off and converted into a floating crane. (The vessel survived until 1960, when she was broken up and burnt.)
In addition to finding the deepest bottom of the ocean (at the time, as noted above,) Penguin was involved in finding other ocean bottoms – one happened in Hawaiʻi.
Let’s step back a bit.
Hawaiʻi is the world’s most-isolated populated-place. In round numbers, we are 5,000-miles from Washington DC, New York, Florida, Australia, Philippines, Hong Kong & the North Pole; 4,000-miles from Chicago, Tokyo, New Zealand & Guam and 2,500-miles from Los Angeles, all other West Coast cities, Samoa, Alaska & Mexico.
While, today, technology keeps us constantly and instantly in touch and aware of world events, the same was not true in the past. Prior to the beginning of the 20th century, you had at least a one-week time lag in receiving “news” (that arrived via ships.)
At the time, Great Britain and its possessions were spread across the globe. Communicating between these holdings created challenges.
Step in Sir Sandford Fleming, a Scottish-born Canadian engineer and inventor. Among other feats, he proposed worldwide standard time zones, designed Canada’s first postage stamp, and, in 1862, Fleming had submitted a plan to the Government for a trans-Canada railway.
In the same year, he was appointed Chief Engineer of the British-Australian Telegraph Company. Fleming was one of the staunch advocates for a Pacific telegraph cable.
A Colonial Conference held in Sydney in 1877 passed resolutions concerning a Pacific cable, one of which sought subsidies from the US Government for a cable running from the United States to New Zealand.
In 1879, Fleming wrote to the Telegraph and Signal Service in Ottawa about the railway and cable: “If these connections are made we shall have a complete overland telegraph from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast.”
“It appears to me to follow that, as a question of imperial importance, the British possessions to the west of the Pacific Ocean should be connected by submarine cable with the Canadian line. Great Britain will thus be brought into direct communication with all the greater colonies and dependencies without passing through foreign countries.”
The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, and with it a telegraph line across Canada, strengthened Fleming’s position. The decision to extend the railway to Vancouver in 1886 helped even more. (atlantic-cable)
At the 1893 Australasian Conference held in Sydney the Postmaster General of New South Wales suggested laying a cable from New Caledonia (already linked to Australia by cable) to Fiji, Honolulu and San Francisco.
That brings us back to the Penguin. She was commissioned to make soundings and survey areas for suitable cable routes and station locations.
That brought her to Hawaiʻi.
“The Penguin left Sydney on April 10, proceeding by way of Suva Fiji to Palmyra Island, where a party was landed to observe the tides. The steamer then proceeded to the north and made an accurate survey of Kingman reef, which was found to be sixty miles due north of Palmyra Island. (The Sun (NY,) July 30, 1897)
“The British survey steamer Penguin, which arrived (in Honolulu) yesterday, has just completed the preliminary survey for the Australian-British Columbian cable. She ran a line of soundings from Palmyra Island to a point 300-miles to the southward of Honolulu, finding and average depth of 2,700 fathoms. After spending three weeks here in receiving general repairs the Penguin will return to Palmyra Island and run a line of soundings southwest to Sydney.” (The Sun (NY,) July 30, 1897)
The Penguin made another discovery here.
“The Penguin … must await stores and advices before resuming her survey work, but in the interim will make an accurate survey of the shoal discovered to the southward, sailing from here on the 12th for that purpose, and returning again later.” (The Hawaiian Star, August 7, 1897)
“HBMS Penguin will leave at daylight tomorrow to survey a shoal near this group, expecting to be back Sunday morning.” (Evening Bulletin, August 11, 1897)
“Although the officers aboard the Penguin were loathe to give any information it was learned that at about 10 o’clock on Tuesday night (July 20, 1897) and while about 30-miles of the Island of Oʻahu, the ‘tell-tale’ of the ship showed that a shoal 26-fathoms below the surface of the water, had been struck.” (Pacific Commercial, July 22, 1897; Clark)
The name of the shoal appears to have varied early names.
“The steamer JA Cummins went off fishing with a party of excursionists this morning. The steamer will cruise about Kamehameha shoal (the new reef discovered by HBMS Penguin) and return tonight or early tomorrow.” (Evening Bulletin, September 11, 1897)
“The Albatross started from Honolulu on July 9. She first went dredging at the Penguin shoal and went from there to Puako, on Hawaii.” (Evening Bulletin, July 29, 1902)
Today, it’s more commonly referred to as Penguin Bank.
Penguin Bank (about 20 miles long and 10 miles wide within the Kaiwi Channel) is the eroded summit of a sunken volcano, now a broad submarine shelf off Molokaʻi Island with depths of less than 200 feet deep. It is capped with sand and fossil corals. The Bank is generally too deep for most live corals and is a relatively barren habitat compared to shallower waters nearby. The base rock is lava of the same kind that forms Molokaʻi Island. (Grays Harbor)
It was one of the seven principal volcanoes (along with West Molokaʻi, East Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, West Maui, East Maui and Kahoʻolawe) that formerly constituted of Maui Nui.
The top of Penguin Bank and other banks and shelves throughout the Pacific basin are found at similar depths, because these banks were formed by an interplay between reef growth and past low stands of global sea level. (Agegian)
Penguin Bank is noted for highest concentrations of humpback whales during their winter sojourns in Hawaiʻi. While in Hawaiʻi, Humpback Whales are found in shallow coastal waters, usually less than 300-feet. The average water depth in Penguin Banks is around 200-feet, but water depths can range from about 150-feet to 600-feet. (NOAA)
It’s also one of Hawaiʻi’s premier fishing sites. “Yachts May Cruise – The yachtsmen are thinking of making a cruise starting Saturday and returning Monday night, Monday being Labor Day. Two plans are at present being discussed. One is to go to Waianae and remain off that place fishing. The other plan is a more extensive on. It is to go to Penguin Shoal on the west coast of Molokaʻi to fish, returning Monday via Rabbit Island, where the yachtsmen may stop for a day’s rabbit and bird shooting.” (Evening Bulletin, September 1, 1904)
In 1902, when the first submarine cable across the Pacific was completed (landing in Waikīkī at Sans Souci Beach) linking the US mainland to Hawaiʻi, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji and Guam to the Philippines in 1903. (The first Atlantic submarine cable, connecting Europe with the USA, was completed in 1866.)
The image shows the Penguin. In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.