George Dibbern: His Life and Quest

Adventurer ~ Sailor-Philosopher ~ Free Thinker ~ Self-declared Citizen of the World

Born March 26 in Kiel, in the north of Germany.

After completing school, went to sea as ship’s apprentice.

1909 –1914
Jumped ship in Sydney, Australia; worked odd jobs; travelled to New Zealand, back to Germany; returned to Australia, then NZ where his movements were restricted at the outbreak of WWI.

1914 — 1918
Lived in Dannevirke, NZ among the Maori till internment on Somes Island, Wellington Harbour, 4 June 1918.

Deported back to Germany.

Married Elisabeth Vollbrandt; purchased farm at Stocksee, Schleswig-Holstein. Birth of son Jens Rangi; death of Jens at 5 months.

Birth of daughter, Frauke Wahine

Birth of daughter, Elke Maata

1925 — 1930
Sale of Stocksee. Birth of daughter, Sunke Tai (1925). All attempts at business ventures / employment failed; relocation to Berlin. Publication of short stories, mostly accounts of NZ experiences.

1930 — 1932
Intention to sail to NZ aboard 32 foot Te Rapunga, establish self there with help from his Maori spiritual mother, then bring out his family. Departure from Kiel aboard Te Rapunga with nephew Günter Schramm, Albrecht von Fritsch and his sister Dorothée von Fritsch as crew. Took paying passengers in Mediterranean.

1932 — 1934
Atlantic Crossing. Panama Canal. Arrival of Dibbern and Schramm aboard Te Rapunga in San Francisco, USA after 101 days without touching land. Heroes’ welcome. To Honolulu, Samoa.

Arrival of Te Rapunga in Auckland, NZ. Mother Rangi dead. Refusal of Elisabeth to risk coming. Trans Tasman Race, Auckland to Melbourne, with crew of Schramm, Fred Norris, Austin Vaile, Noel Tattersfield. Te Rapunga won over only other competitor, John Wray’s Ngataki.

Winner of Melbourne to Hobart Race. Return to NZ. Decision to be, with Te Rapunga, a bridge of friendship. Departure with Maurice Black, Roy Murdock and Eileen Morris for extended voyage. Rarotonga, Tahiti.

1936 — 1937
Honolulu. Creation of Dibbern’s Flag. First port arrival with new flag, Victoria, BC, Canada.

1937– 1939
Sailing Gulf Islands in summer. Dictating of Quest in winter. Purchase of land for artists retreat/commune. Dibbern denied residency; referred to as “Man without a Country”.

1939 — 1940
Seattle. San Francisco. Appearance on radio program We the People in New York. Manuscript to publisher in NY. Creation of passport. To Honolulu. Revision of Quest. Return to NZ.

1941 — 1945
Hurricane. Arrival of Te Rapunga, George and Eileen only, in Napier. Seizure of Te Rapunga. Dibbern interned on Somes Island (12 February 1941), a second time. Publication of Quest (March 1941). Receipt of first letter from Henry Miller (June 1945). Dibbern interned till October 1945.

Dibbern not free to sail till December when Te Rapunga was returned to him to defend his title in Trans Tasman Race. Race ultimately cancelled.

1947 — 1949
Major overhaul of Te Rapunga in Takapuna, NZ. Birth of George and Eileen’s daughter Michela Lalani. George’s family struggling in post war Germany. Henry Miller and friends helping out. Te Rapunga to Rarotonga, then Penrhyn to work on next book. Aitutaki. Return to Auckland.

1950 — 1953
To Hobart, Tasmania to visit nephew Günter Schramm. Won £10,000 in Tatts lottery, but gave half to the chap who presented him with the ticket for covering his work shift. Purchase of Satellite (Woody) Island, followed by purchase of Partridge Island. George and Eileen farmed Woody Island for 3 years. George assembled all-female crew for 1954 Trans Tasman Race.

1954 — 1957
Parting of ways with Eileen. Finished last in Trans Tasman Race, but made his point of equal opportunity for women. Woody Island up for sale. Voyage with young crew to NZ. Te Rapunga hit by rogue wave, dismasted, washed ashore near Greymouth, NZ. One man lost in rescue attempt.

Repairs to Te Rapunga in Greymouth, Wellington. To Auckland.

Departure from Auckland to Brisbane with restored Te Rapunga and new crew of young men. Dismasted in hurricane. Towed back to Auckland by Japanese freighter. Flight to Hobart in anticipation of sale of island. Stuck in Tasmania for a year.

1960 — 1962
Return to Auckland for repairs to Te Rapunga. Working odd jobs. Plan to return to Germany to visit family, to “close the circle.” Died of heart attack in Auckland, June 12, 1962. Henry Miller visited Elisabeth Dibbern in Munich; initiated translation of Quest.

Quest appeared in translation under the misleading title Unter eigener Flagge [Under his own Flag] (Hamburg: Claassen, 1965).

Publication in June 2004 of Erika Grundmann’s Dark Sun: Te Rapunga and the Quest of George Dibbern

Publication of first reprint edition of Quest.

May 2
Death of Eva Menkin. Her mother was married, for a short time, to Albrecht von Fritsch who sailed with Dibbern from 1930-1934
July 23
Death of Dibbern’s eldest German daughter, Dr Frauke Wahine Dibbern Ploog, in Wasserburg at age 91