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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago & Southland Provincial Districts]

Union Steam Ship Company Of New Zealand, Limited

Union Steam Ship Company Of New Zealand, Limited . This company's head office is in Dunedin, New Zealand, and it has forty-three branches and agencies throughout Australia, New Zealand, and the East, and offices in London and Glasgow. The Company was established in Dunedin in July, 1875, for the purpose of taking over the business and plant of the Harbour Steam Company, a small local proprietary which had been in existence for some years, and whose trade, originally confined to the carriage of passengers and cargo between Dunedin and Port Chalmers, had afterwards been extended to ports of the Middle Island. The steamers taken over consisted of the “Maori,” a small vessel of 118 tons register, which made monthly trips from Dunedin round the Middle Island, calling at Bluff, Martin's and Jackson's Bays, Hokitika, Grey-mouth, Westport, Nelson, and Lyttelton; the “Beautiful Star” (146 tons) and “Bruce” (460 tons), both of which traded between Dunedin, Akaroa, Timaru, and Lyttelton, each boat making one trip per week. In addition to these, there were two steamers which had been ordered from Messrs W. Denny Brothers, of Dumbarton, a few months previously, in view of extending the Company's operations to the North Island. These steamers, in size, speed, and accommodation, were of a class far in advance of anything then employed in the coastal trade of the colony, and many persons were of opinion that the Directors of the Company were over sanguine in expecting remunerative employment for boats of such excessive tonnage—720 tons gross register each. The first to arrive was the “Hawea,” which reached Port Chalmers on the 10th of June, 1875, and she was followed by her sister ship, the “Taupo,” on the 2nd of July. These at once took up their running in the new trade, each making a fortnightly trip from Dunedin to One-hunga and back, via Lyttelton, Wellington, Picton, Nelson and Taranaki, and at each port they visited on their initial trips they attracted a large amount of attention and admiration.

Such was the fleet taken over by the Union Company, and with which it commenced operations. The first meeting of the Provisional Directors was held on the 31st of May, 1875, and on the 12th of July, the Certificate of Incorporation of the Company was issued. The nominal capital of the Company was £250,000, divided into 25,000 shares of £10 each; and its first Directors were Messrs George McLean, E. B. Cargill, Hugh MacNeil, Henry Tewsley, J. R. Jones, and James Mills (managing director). Of these up to the latter part of 1903, four still held seats on the Board; namely, Messrs McLean, Cargill, Jones and Mills. Mr, Tewsley was removed by death in 1879, and Mr. Mac-Neil retired in 1885. The former was succeeded by Mr. A. W. Morris, and the latter by Mr. J. M. Ritchie. Mr. E. B. Cargill, who was a son of Captain Cargill, the first Superintendent of the Province of Otago died in August, 1903, and Mr. J. R. Jones retired owing to ill-health in October, 1903. The vacancies were filled by the appointment of Mr. John Roberts, C.M.G., and the Hon. A Lee Smith, M.L.C. These are the only changes that have taken place in the personnel of the Board since the formation of the Company. Mr. George McLean was its first chairman, and Mr. James Mills its first managing director, and both gentlemen fill these positions at the present time.

The increasing prosperity of the colony, and the additional facilities placed at the disposal of traders, kept the “Hawea” and “Taupo” fully employed, and it was decided to order another vessel of the same class. Meantime the Companay had received its first check in the loss of the “Bruce.” This vessel, which had proved itself admirably suited for the trade in which it was employed, was wrecked at Taiaroa Heads on the
S.S. “Aparima, 5704 Tons (1903), And S.S. “Maori,” 174 Tons (1875).

S.S. “Aparima, 5704 Tons (1903), And S.S. “Maori,” 174 Tons (1875).

page 401 15th of October, 1875, after having been a little more than a year in the colony. The extension of the Company's service to the North Island had brought it into conflict with the New Zealand Steam Shipping Company, a Wellington proprietary, which had for some years carried on the coastal trade of the colony, running steamers from Wellington northward to Onehunga, and southward to Port Chalmers. After a short period of competition a friendly arrangement was made with this company by which the Union Company purchased the steamers “Phoebe' (587 tons); “Taranaki” (443 tons); “Wellington” (383 tons); and “Ladybird” (421 tons). The “Rotorua,” which was ordered before absorption of the New Zealand Steam Shipping Company's fleet, arrived in the colony in December, 1876, and, not being required in the coastal trade, she was placed in the intercolonial trade, in which she ran between Port Chalmers and Sydney, via Manukan, and subsequently via Auckland, in conjunction with the steamer “Wakatipu, via Wellington and Cook Strait. The “Wakatipu” belonged to a separate proprietary, but was placed under the control of the Company, as were also the “Waitaki” and “Samson” in the Dunedin-Oamaru trade. Both the “Waitaki” and the “Wakatipu” were subsequently acquired by the Company. The “Taiaroa,” a new steamer engaged in the Timaru trade on account of the Albion Shipping Company, was taken over by the Union Company about the same time, and not long afterwards ran for a period a mail service between Sydney and Noumea, under contract with the Government of New Caledonia.

The next important step taken by the Company was the purchase in November, 1878, of Messrs McMeckan, Blackwood and Co.'s intercolonial fleet, comprising the “Ringarooma,” “Arawata,” “Tararua,” and “Albion,” which at that time ran a weekly service between Melbourne and New Zealand. This acquisition strengthened the Company materially, as it completed the chain of communication between Melbourne, New Zealand and Sydney, and practically placed the entire coastal and intercolonial carrying trade in its hands. As Sydney was to a large extent a free port and offered a good market for New Zealand produce, the Directors decided upon procuring a steamer superior in every way to anything hitherto seen in the colony, and in September, 1879, the splendid steamer “Rotomahana,” soon to be known as the “Greyhound of the Pacific”—a name which she has enjoyed to the present time, although in size and accommodation she has been surpassed by subsequent additions to the fleet. It is worth noting that this steamer was the first trading vessel built of mild steel; and as this material was the means of her escaping serious damage on the occasion of one or two mishaps in her earlier career, the fact was widely chronicled, and led to a revolution in ship-building, mild steel being now almost universally employed in the construction of the most valuable steamships.

At this period the Directors thought it advisable to seek the sanction of shareholders to an increase of the nominal capital of the Company to £500,000, and also to a proposal to establish a London Board to represent the Company at Home. The authority was duly given at a general meeting of shareholders held on the 15th of September, 1879, and confirmed at a subsequent general meeting held on the 27th of October following. Accordingly an office was opened in London and a local Board appointed. Death and other causes have brought about changes in the London Board, which now (1904) comprises Mr. J. H. Gibbs (Acting-Chairman), and Colonel J. M. Denny, M.P.

The “To Anau,” a sister ship to the “Rotomahana,” but of less power, arrived in the colony in February, 1880, and both vessels being, in style and speed, far in advance of anything before seen in the colonies, they rapidly made a name for themselves, and hastened the development of the passenger trade between New Zealand and Australia. The “Hero, a favourite steamer trading between Auckland and Australia, was acquired in 1880, and in quick succession followed the arrival from the Messrs Denny's yard of the “Manapouri” (June, 1882), “Mahinapua” (July, 1882), “Wairarapa” (September, 1882), “Omapere” (October, 1882), “Hauroto” (December, 1882), “Tarawera” (February, 1883), and “Waihora” (April, 1883).

Impressed by the probability of developing a remunerative trade with the South Sea Islands, the Directors purchased, in 1881, from the Auckland Steam Ship Company, the steamer “Southern Cross” engaged in the Auckland-Fiji trade, and speedily replaced her by a larger and better style of boat. Early in 1883 they embarked in the Melbourne-Fiji trade, taking over the steamer “Suva,” which had opened up the line and carried it on till then. After some time the Melbourne-Fiji service was discontinued, and replaced by a service joining Auckland and Sydney, via Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, and in succeeding years the trade with Fiji and the other islands grew to such proportions as to require the employment of vessels of much larger tonnage specially designed for trade in the tropics.

The only further addition made to the fleet in 1883 was the “Takapuna,” which arrived from Home on the 12th of October. This steamer was specially built to run an express service on the coast to enable business people to move backwards and forwards more freely, and without the detentions that necessarily attended the movements of the regular steamers working large cargoes and carrying large numbers of passengers. It was thought an express steamer running up and down the coast would make a trade for herself, and on the “Takapuna's” arrival she was placed in the running between Lyttelton and Manukau, connecting with southern ports by train from Lyttelton.

The initiation of the direct service between New Zealand and London brought about a further increase in general cargo traffic on the coast on account of transhipment work, and two coastal cargo steamers—the “Ohau” and “Taupo” were ordered from Home and arrived in January, 1885; and, later on, the “Tekapo,” a large steamer purchased for the intercolonial trade, also arrived and took up her place in the regular service. The growth of the intercolonial trade resulted in the appearance in colonial waters, in November, 1885, of the Company's splendid steamer “Mararoa.”

Guy, photo. Ocean Beach, Dunedin.

Guy, photo.
Ocean Beach, Dunedin.

At this date the existing contract between the Governments of New Zealand and New South Wales and the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company of New York, for the carriage of the San Francisco mails, expired, and, the Pacific Mail Company being desirous of retiring from the work, the Union Company took up the contract and carried it on in conjunction with the Oceanic Steam Ship Company page 402 of San Francisco. The first trip from the colonies under the new contract was made by the “Mararoa,” which was diverted for the purpose immediately on her arrival from Home, and her appearance in San Francisco created a most favourable impression and proved a good advertisement for the colony. This contract was carried on by the two companies for a period of sixteen years, when, on the renewal of the contract, the arrangement between the companies was not continued, the subsidy contributed by the United States Government being confined to American owned ships, and the contract was then taken over by the Oceanic Company alone. The Union Company thereupon took an interest in the Vancouver mail service carried on by the Canadian-Australian line, and its new steamer “Moana” replaced the “Warrimoo,” which was purchased by the Company from the Canadian-Australian line, and placed in the ordinary intercolonial running.

One of the most important features of the New Zealand coastal trade is the carriage of coals from the West Coast of the South Island, and with the rapid development of the West Coast mines the Directors found it to the interest of the Company to pay the closest attention to this branch of the Company's business. In order to place themselves in the best possible position to do this, they took over, in 1885, the business and plant of a Wellington company known as the Black Diamond line. This purchase comprised five small steamers—“Mawhera,” “Koranui,” “Grafton.” Manawatu,” “Maitai”—a small mine at Westport, known as the Koranui mine, and some other property. Two years later the Westport Coal Company, of whose coal the Union Company was a large purchaser, finding its steamer plant inadequate for its growing business, made a friendly arrangement with the Union Company, which agreed to obtain all its New Zealand coal supplies from the Westport Company, in return for the carriage of all the Westport Coal Company's freight. In accordance with this agreement, the Company took over three colliers belonging to the Westport Coal Company—the “Wareatea,” “Kawatiri,” and “Orowaiti”—while the Westport Company took over the Koranui mine. Subsequently the Company made a somewhat similar arrangement with the Grey Valley Coal Company, taking over its three colliers. For the growing needs of the New Zealand coal trade and for the coal trade with New South Wales, which forms an important branch of the Company's business, steamers of steadily increasing size have been added almost every year since then to the fleet.

The year 1890 was a memorable year in the history of the Company, and also in that of the colony, which then found itself in the midst of the greatest industrial struggle that had yet taken place in colonial history. For some years the workers had been organising themselves. In connection with shipping, there were four powerful Unions in existence—the Engineers, Firemen and Seamen, Cooks and Stewards, and Wharf Labourers; and these embraced all the men engaged in these vocations throughout the colonies. From time to time these Unions had made demands on shipowners which had been conceded, and as the power of the Unions grew, their demands increased until the steamship owners entered into combination; and just a few weeks before the great struggle took place a Bond of Defence was signed by nearly all steamship companies in the colonies. The original incident out of which the strike of 1890 arose was the discharge of a fireman from one of the steamers of the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company, and the subsequent demand by the Seamen and Firemen's Union for his reinstatement. This demand the Company refused, and the Unions withdrew the entire crew. Then came a demand from the Officers' Association of Australia for increased pay, shorter hours, etc. Owners in Australia agreed to accede to these demands, provided the officers withdrew from affiliation with the other Unions. The officers refused, and gave notice of their intention to leave their ships, and, in support of the Officers' Association the Seamen's Union withdrew all crews from Australian steamers. The Union Company had no disagreement with its officers, but was drawn into the struggle by the action of the Wharf Labourers' Union in Sydney, which had withdrawn its members from the wharves in unison with the action of the Seamen's Union, leaving no union labour available to discharge cargoes. This necessitated engaging non-union labour to do the work, and, as one of the leading principles of Unionism is to decline to work with nonunion labour, the crews of the Union Company's steamers in harbour were at once withdrawn. This was followed by the withdrawal of the crews and cooks and stewards from all the Company's steamers in New Zealand, and of all labour at the wharves, as well as of all the officers who, as members of the Officers' Association in New Zealand, were affiliated with the Seamen's Union, and a general boycott of the Company ensued, except that the engineers remained loyal. Strenuous efforts were made to man the vessels afresh, and, within a week of the commencement of the strike the Company had eighteen steamers running, and had procured from 700 to 800 workers; and within a month thirty-four steamers were running, and the Company had 2140 free workers in its employment. Within a few weeks the strike had completely collapsed, and the Company's services were in full swing. One of the results of the strike was the introduction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which came into force in August, 1894. By its operation rates of wages and conditions of employment are fixed by the Court, after hearing the representations of employers, and employed, and strikes are rendered illegal.

In 1891 a most important step was taken by the Directors in the purchase of the plant and business of the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company. The property acquired comprised eight steamers, five hulks, freehold premises in connection with the Company's business in Hobart, Launceston, and other ports, and a valuable wharf property in Sydney adjoining the Company's own premises in Margaret Street. This necessitated an increase in the Company's capital to £1,000,000, which was duly authorised at an extraordinary general meeting of shareholders held on the 13th of July, 1891. The acquisition of the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company's business proved of great value to the Company, as, while the Company already held the premier position in the various trades from Australian ports to New Zealand, the purchase placed it in a similar position in the intercolonial trades out of Tasmania.

The next extension of the Company's business was made in 1896, when a regular service was established between New Zealand, the Cook Islands, and Tahiti.

Since then the Company has, year after year, continued to add to its fleet vessels of the highest type, and of steadily increasing size, and the very latest developments in machinery and in the art of shipbuilding are found in its steamers. At the present time (May, 1904), it is building a steamer engined on the turbine principle, to run an express service between Launceston and Melbourne. This will be the first vessel of the kind employed in the Southern Seas. To illustrate the facilities enjoyed by the travelling public now, compared with those at their disposal when the Union Company began business, it need only be mentioned that in 1875 the Company commenced its operations with three steamers, the gross tonnage of the largest being 460; to-day its fleet comprises fifty-three steamers of an aggregate tonnage of 98,432 tons: of these ten range from 2,000 to 3,000 tons, six from 3,000 to 4,000 tons, two from 4,000 to 5,000, and one has a tonnage of 5,700. The services originally embraced a few ports on the New Zealand coast, but now they spread like a net work over the Australasian colonies, and the South Sea Islands, and extend outside of these as far as India and Canada. The Company has in permanent employment 2,200 officers and men afloat, and 460 ashore, and its wages bill exceeds £600,000 per annum.

The following are the services of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand, Limited: Intercolonial: Weekly between New Zealand and Melbourne, via Hobart; New Zealand and Sydney, via Auckland; and New Zealand and Sydney, via Cook Strait. Coastal: Almost daily between the principal ports of New Zealand. Tasmanian: Weekly betwen Launceston and Melbourne, Hobart and Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney, Hobart and New Zealand; weekly between Hobart and Strahan, and Strahan and Melbourne; and regular and frequent services between north-west coast ports and Melbourne and Sydney. South Sea Islands: Four-weekly between New Zealand and Fiji; New Zealand and Sydney, via Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji; New Zealand, Rarotonga, and Tahiti. Foreign: Four-weekly Royal mail service between Sydney, Brisbane, and Vancouver, via Fiji and Honolulu (Canadian-Australian Line); regular cargo service between New Zealand, Singapore, and Calcutta—three times a year each way. To these services may be added the annual excursions to the West Coast Sounds of New Zealand. These have been run without interruption since 1877, and from small beginnings have developed page 403 into trips that attract excursionists from all parts of the world.