Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

MASSON, James

SS Zealandia

SS Zealandia ablaze after the bombing of Darwin harbour.


Able Seaman James Masson was born in about 1881 in Findhorn Scotland. According to the 1881 Scotland Census (taken on 3–4 April 1881), he was four months old and living with his mother, Elizebeth Masson (a seaman’s wife) and two year old brother, Thomas, in Kinloss, Moray.

A crew list for 22 April 1896 (New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826–1922) includes sixteen year old apprentice seaman Masson aboard the ship Ross-Shire of Glasgow arriving in Sydney from San Francisco, California, United States.

Masson can also be found on another passenger list (All Canada, Ocean Arrivals (Form 30A), 1919-1924) for the ship Athenia which arrived at Quebec on 5 June 1920. He was thirty-nine, married, living in Ontario (1910-1919) and was returning from Glasgow where he had been holidaying with his cousin.

He enlisted in the Australian Merchant Navy on 12 September 1939 and joined SS Zealandia. The Zealandia was the last vessel to be attacked by Japanese dive bombers and fighter planes during the raid on Darwin, 19 February 1942. One bomb landed down No. 3 hatch exploding in the hold; more bombs found their mark and dive bombers raked the ship at masthead height with incendiary and cannon shell. Every effort was made to extinguish the fires, but with the ship ablaze the situation became hopeless. Finally, ammunition in the hold and on deck exploded and the Master gave the order to abandon ship. The crew of 139 officers and men crowded into the remaining lifeboats and pulled away from the ship. SS Zealandia was settling by the stern, and at 1pm she sank.

According to the official log for the Zealandia, Masson was injured by shrapnel during the Japanese attack. He received medical attention from the ship’s surgeon and was then moved to the Hospital Ship Manunda for medical attention.  He died of wounds at 03:30  hours on 21 February 1942. He was buried at sea at 11 am. on 21 February 1942 at Lat. 12°37’ S Long. 128° 00’ E. . He was sixty-one years old.

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