SS Penguin was a New Zealand inter-island ferry steamer that sank off Cape Terawhiti near the entrance to Wellington Harbour in poor weather on 12 February 1909. Penguin's sinking caused the deaths of 75 people, leaving only 30 survivors. This was New Zealand's worst maritime disaster of the 20th century.
Penguin departed Picton on 12 February 1909 en route to Wellington in good conditions. However, by 8 p.m. the weather conditions had changed, with very strong winds and bad visibility. At 10 p.m Captain Francis Naylor headed further out to sea to wait for a break in the weather. Unfortunately, as the ship turned, she smashed into Thoms Rock, and water started to pour in.
Although women and children were loaded into the lifeboats first, the rough seas dragged the lifeboats underwater. Only one woman survived, but all the children onboard Penguin were killed. Other survivors drifted for hours on rafts before reaching safety. As the Penguin sank, seawater flooded the engine room. As the cold water reached the red-hot boilers a massive steam explosion violently fractured the ship
Following the disaster, a half-day holiday was declared in Wellington to allow the many funerals to be held.
About forty of the people who were killed were laid to rest in Karori Cemetery, where a self-guided walk now wanders past their grave sites.
A court of inquiry found the ship struck Thoms Rock, near the mouth to Karori Stream in Cook Strait. The captain maintained that it had struck the submerged hull of the Rio Loge, lost the month before.
On the 100th anniversary of the sinking, Wellington's mayor unveiled a plaque remembering the disaster at Tongue Point, near the site of the wreck