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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 2, June 1967

"Ships & Sailormen"

"Ships & Sailormen"

page 13

The lecturer began his most interesting and instructive address by recalling a visit he had from a former Nelsonian, Mr. Arthur Sheat. Mr. Sheat was a descendant of the late F. J. Thompson who was a surveyor and had paid the N.Z. Company for 201 acres of land before leaving England. In company with his shipmate, J. W. Barnicoat, he later surveyed much of the land in the Wairau and Waimea Plains. Other interesting first class passengers who sat at the captain's table on this voyage out on the Lord Auckland were Mr. and Mrs. A. G. Jenkins, Mr. and Mrs. F. Otterson and Mr. Alfred Fell who kept a diary which has since been published. By no stretch of imagination could this voyage be called a wholly pleasant one, but they kept their minds exercised with periodic debates and other cultural activities. The master, Captain Jardine, did not make things any easier either; he was not at all popular and absolutely forbade any first class passenger to fraternise with the immigrants between decks. Still they survived and after a trip that started on 25th September, 1841, they finally arrived at Nelson on 23rd February, 1842.

"It is interesting to note that in February, 1842, 764 immigrants were landed at the port and by the end of the year the number had reached 2000. And while I pondered on this," said Mr. Kirk, "I thought it might be interesting to find out just how Nelson was faring with other ports of New Zealand during this early period of colonisation. I was amazed at what I found. During 1842 at least 12 immigrant ships arriving direct from England while Auckland had three and Wellington five. In the first four years it was Nelson 31, Auckland 8, New Plymouth 5, Wellington 15 while Lyttelton and Port Chalmers had none. During 1858, sixteen years after the founding of the settlement, Nelson was still holding its own when the figures in the same order were: 52, 66, 54, 78, 37 and 28, and although Nelson's figures tapered off in later years, the interesting fact remains that sailing ships scheduled to travel from Britain to Nelson direct, kept coming till a little past the turn of the century.

"During this particular period of maritime history, there were some remarkable performances put up by many of these ships and some equally remarkable captains. Outstanding amongst these was Captain Petheridge who became a regular visitor to Nelson in such vessels as Maori, Napier and the Countess of Kintore. He took the Maori as a brand new ship to Nelson in 1851, again in 1853 on a passage of 88 days; but in the barque Napier he put up an all time record by covering the same distance in 83 days. This was in 1863 and it was on this same trip that he brought 70 pairs of starlings, skylarks, blackbirds, thrushes, goldfinches for your provincial Government.

page 14

"Other interesting vessels to make direct trips were Edwin Fox, which has so recently burst into the news again, in 1878; the Halcione with five visits, 1887–94; May Queen, 1885 and 1886, later wrecked at Lyttelton Heads in 1888; Lutterworth, 6 visits 1876–94; Hermione, 4 visits 1895–1904; Helen Denny, 4 visits 1876–94; Asterion, 10 visit 1887–99; and Mataura, the first N.Z. Shipping Co. vessel to carry frozen meat io U.K., 1875. There was keen competition between the rival companies for the honour of carrying the first cargo of frozen meat to England and in the end, it was the Shaw SaviN's Dunedin thai won the race. On the other hand it is also recorded the Maiaura did in fact try out her freezer first when on her outward journey to N.Z., a strange fish was caught in mid-Atiantic and kept in good condition till the vessel arrived in Lyttelton when it was handed over to (he Canterbury Museum—a fact that has been confirmed by Dr. R. A. Faiia, now in charge of the Dominion Museum. The fish turned out to be a bona fide tuna.

"Another notable vessel to visit Neison in 1905 and 1906 was the ship Westiand. Under the indomitable Captain Kelly she made history in winning many of the wool ship races but her most notable performance occurred in 1894. She was the last of 20 sailing vessels to leave New Zealand loaded with wool, yet she reached the Old Country 22 days ahead of any of the others, making 330 and 340 miles on several days and completing the distance in 72 days. In cases like this it could well be asked: 'Well, was it the ship or the master that was responsible for such performances'? The answer is dearly, 'both', with perhaps a little more emphasis on the master. Some masters are gifted in knowing just how much they can get Out of a vessel and this combined with their scientific knowledge of currents, tides and weather can make them more successful than others.

"There was another interesting ship that had special significance for Nelson, she was the Queen Bee. After making 10 trips to N.Z. and one to Nelson, she was bound for Nelson direct on her eleventh voyage when she stranded on Farewell Spit and became a total wreck, in the rescue operations that followed the well known steamships, Lady Barkiy, Lyttelton and Manawatu took part,

"What about the coastal and Tasman trade to and from Australia? For a long time Nelsonians had to be satisfied with schooners, brigantines and ketches., including the little schooner, Comet, that made so many trips from Sydney to Nelson direct with sheep and cattle between 1848 and 1853; similarly with the barque Henrietta Nathan which carried out like missions and the Lady Mary Pelham which on one occasion brought 1,000 ewes and seven msres across from Launceston. It was a great achievement to have done this with so few losses.

page 15
S.S.A. Co. barque Asterion being towed through old Entrance by Anchor Co.'s Charles Edward (about year 1890).—Tyree Collection.

S.S.A. Co. barque Asterion being towed through old Entrance by Anchor Co.'s Charles Edward (about year 1890).
—Tyree Collection.

page 16
Cutters, ketches and two topsail schooners at Waitapu wharf, Golden Bay (about year 1880).Can ony reader identify these vessels?—Tyree Collection

Cutters, ketches and two topsail schooners at Waitapu wharf, Golden Bay (about year 1880).
Can ony reader identify these vessels?
—Tyree Collection

page 17

"The first steamships to arrive at Nelson were from Her Majesty's avy. The Inflexible, 1847, was the first steamship to enter the port and while this was followed by Havannah, Calliope and Pandora, it was H.M.S. Acheron that carried out the first survey of Nelson harbour from 24th August to 5th September, 1849. This turned out to be a most valuable piece of work and although further surveys have since been made, this was, at least, a start.

"Then came the first commercial steamer in the shape of the S.S. Ann on Sunday, 28th August, 1853, after a voyage of seven days from Sydney. This gave the people of Nelson fresh ideas and for the next few years they were loud in their demands for steamships. But although there were half-hearted attempts to satisfy this demand, the fact remains that they had to wait for another five years before these steamships came regularly. In the meantime they had to be satisfied with brigantines and schooners."

Mr. Kirk referred to Superintendent Stafford's efforts to get steamer services for Nelson without much success and then continued: "But it just so happened that Nelson got its coastal and transTasman steamer services from a most unexpected source. A company styling itself with the impressive title of The International Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., entered the scene with its steamers Prince Alfred, Lord Worsley, Lord Ashley and Airedale, and what is more, Nelson became the first and last port of call for those that crossed the Tasman and was nearly always included by this company's costai vessels. All this started in 1858.

"Other companies entered the field and towards the mid-sixties, it seemed that Nelson had almost a surfeit of steamships and apart from the four already mentioned there were such familiar names as Wellington, Taranaki, Lady Bird and Stormbird. Then in 1875 the arrival of McMeekan and Blackwood's fine vessels Ringarooma and Arawata. In this same year the Union Steam Ship Company of N.Z was formed and its first contribution to the trade of Nelson was with the Maori 1, which completely circumnavigated the South Island every fortnight—tarting at Port Chalmers proceeding north via Oamaru, Timaru, Akaroa, Lyttelton, Wellington, etc. But although Nelson may have had to thank the Union Company for many blessings over the years, it was this same line that discontinued the practice of making Nelson the last port of call for Australia.

"In spite of difficulties, however, Nelson was still included in the long coastal runs which for many years followed the original pattern up the east coast of the South Island and then up the west of the North Island to Onehunga and return. In later years the Union Company inaugurated a very regular service between Wellington and Nelson via Picton and at the same time ran another two passenger ships right through to Westport and Greymouth with calls here on the way. How well oldtimers remember those popular vessels, Penguin, Mawhera, Mapourika, Arahura, Rotoiti, Pateena and others which served this port so well.

page 18

"In the year 1921, the Union Company began gradually to withdraw its passenger vessels from the Nelson run when the Anchor Company purchased the Mapourika and renamed her Ngaio. By 1925 when a similar bid was made by our Nelson company for the Arahura, the Union Company confined its service to cargo vessels. From that year till 1953 the steamer express service to Wellington was provided by the Anchor Shipping Company.

"Perhaps I should have mentioned the Anchor Company a little earlier in this recital; but I make brief reference to it now. I say "brief" because as most of you will realise, the record of this company is a story in itself. It did for the ports of Cook Strait, Tasman Bay and the West Coast much the same as the Northern Steam Ship Co. did for the Auckland Province. In fact the debt that the earlier settlers of the Nelson and Westland Provinces owe to the Anchor Company is immeasurable.

"Celebrating its centennial in 1962, the Anchor Company is now the oldest established shipping company in New Zealand."

Mr. Kirk then turned his attention to important sailormen who made notable contributions to the welfare of the district. He first mentioned Alexander Brown, that remarkable young man who came out on the Lyttelton and had arranged to be put ashore at Queenstown, Ireland, following the vessel's protracted and devastating journey down the English Channel; but the captain could not make this port so Brown came on to N.Z. "What a blessing it was for us, when you consider what Brown and the members of his family have accomplished in the field of engineering."

Captain T. W. Whitwell who was master of the Tasmanian Maid when she was engaged in the Maori wars, was a man who commanded most of the Anchor ships of his day but whose name will always be associated with the Charles Edward.

Will Rodgers, that versatile sailorman and shipping administrator, the man who swam ashore when the Murray was a near wreck at Hokitika, had to fight against wild dogs during his trek along the coast to Greymouth, made history in the Waverly when she went to the assistance of the Ruapehu stranded on Farewell Spit and also the man who miraculously became the master and pilot of the Helen Denny for a few brief hours.

Captain George Lambert, "Three Finger Jack," who brought the Arahura out on her maiden voyage to N.Z., a legendary figure around Nelson. Had the distinction of being presented by Arahura passengers with a pipe on which was inscribed, "In memory of Halley's comet. 19.5.10," and was so well written up in Doorly's book, "In the Wake."

page 19

Captain A. H. Davey of Awatea fame, who first visited Nelson when an able seaman in Frederick P. Litchfield, an American barque; who came out as chief officer of the Anchor Co.'s Alexander on her maiden voyage under Captain Thomas; who visited Nelson many times in Union Co. ships and became a life long friend of Will Rodgers; and because he accepted every situation in his nautical career as a challenge, has become one of the greatest New Zealand born sailormen this country has ever seen.

Mr. Kirk concluded his address by stating that his six years' experience as a shipping columnist had convinced him that the average N.Z. citizen was extremely nautically minded. Perhaps this is not surprising in view of the fact that in spite of the development of aviation, this country still depends very largely on the services provided by its ships. Nelson, in common with most other places in the Dominion, has had a most interesting nautical history and although the pattern of shipping was constantly changing, he was sure that the Port of Nelson would hold its own.


Brett: "White Wings."

Doorly: "In the Wake."

This article has been drawn from material used by Mr. Allan Kirk in a lecture given to the Nelson Historical Society on 29th September, 1965.