Prior to 1900, there were some 1200 shipwrecks around the New Zealand coast and there were many heart breaking public appeals to raise monies for those lost or dependent. In 1902 the Mayor of Dunedin held a public meeting to set up a permanent shipwreck fund, rather than undertake individual appeals. From this meeting the Shipwreck Relief Society of New Zealand was formed and over the following 96 years it continued to play a unique, unobtrusive welfare role in providing immediate financial support to widows and families effected by shipwrecks and mishaps at sea around the New Zealand coast.
New Zealand based shipping and fishing companies, Port Authorities, and more latterly the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, as well as the general public, have provided much of the funding over the years. The Society, and its successor the New Zealand Shipwreck Welfare Trust from 1998, has given assistance to all the more prominent shipwrecks such as the Penguin 1909, Wimmera 1918, Manuka 1929, Niagara 1940, Holmglen 1959, Kaitawa 1966, Wahine 1968, and the Kotuku 2006, plus many smaller craft, mainly fishing vessels.
In addition to providing financial assistance to dependents the Trust gives prominence to the promotion of safety at sea, as well as creating awareness of safety issues amongst seafarers. Some years ago the Trust financed the safety video Crossing the Bar to emphasize the care needed in negotiating West Coast bar harbours. The loss of the Lady Anna in 2013, when crossing the bar at Greymouth prompted the Trust to act. Last year the Trust and Maritime New Zealand provided 113 light weight inflatable life jackets (80 from the Trust and 33 from Maritime New Zealand) to West Coast fishermen. This programme has been very well received by the fishing industry and West Coast safety organisations.