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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 68

A Synoptical Account of the Making of the Harbour at New Plymouth

Front Cover

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A Synoptical Account of the Making of the Harbour at New Plymouth.

Printed at the Tabranaki Hebald Office New Plymouth

1888 page break
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To the Honorable the Minister for Public Works, &c., &c., &c., and the Members of the New Plymouth Harbour Board.


Referring: to the reports contained in the Taranaki Herald of the 18th January, 1888, and the Daily News on the following-day, in reference to a deputation which waited upon the Mayor, requesting His Worship to call a public meeting re New Plymouth Harbour matters, and likewise referring to the reports and statements which have from time to time been made on this said harbour matter, I deem it right, being a member of the New Plymouth Harbour Board, to give a synoptical account of the origin of this harbour work, the action I have taken from the very first, the cause of the deplorable and costly sand difficulty, and how far it can be effectually cured and prevented from lessening the depth of water in the harbour, or barring the approach thereto.

Preluding, I may observe that in the year 1840, and after having had nearly fifteen years constant experience on the Ordnance Trigonometrical Survey in England and Wales, and considerable practice in Topographical Engineering Survey Works, Deline- page 4 ation of Country and Modelling of Ground, &c., I was applied to by the then New Plymouth, New Zealand, Company, and induced by them to accept the appointment of Chief Surveyor to a settlement they were about to establish in New Zealand, the site of which was to be determined by myself, after conferring with Colonel Wakefield in Wellington. The terms offered me were very liberal, and the prospects brilliant, I therefore (acting under the advice of the then Master General of the Ordnance, who was one of the Directors of the Plymouth New Zealand Company) resolved to resign my Ordnance appointment and forego all claim to pension, and accepted the Chief Surveyorship of the said Company. I arrived in New Zealand in 1840, and after conferring with Colonel Wakefield, I found that I was deterred from selecting the site for the New Plymouth settlement until the whole of the Wellington settlement had been chosen. When this was done I was informed that I was at liberty to determine the site for the Plymouth Company's settlement, wherever I thought proper between the 38 and 43 degrees of latitude. In this undertaking I was courteously aided by Colonel Wakefield placing at my disposal the barque "Brougham," by which means I visited the range of country I was entitled to select from, and I finally determined to fix the site of New Plymouth where it now stands.

Early in the year 1841, forty-seven years ago, I made a survey of the Sugar Loaf Islands and coast adjoining, which I sent to the Managing Director of the Plymouth New Zealand Company, for the purposed showing what could be done in the way of makings first class harbour, safe and accessible at all times and seasons. I afterwards made a more minute surveys of these islands and the coast, which I took with me to England in 1844, together with samples of the rock and stone from the various islands and coast nearto, which I submitted to the inspection of Sir John Rennie the eminent engineer, and Sir Roderick Murchison, the great geologist. Sir John was so much pleased with that which I showed and imparted to him, that shortly before my return to New Zealand he entered into an arrangement with me to construct the entire harbor page 5 works on terms which, if they had been carried out, would have proved most advantageous, not only to New Plymouth, but to the whole colony. From circumstances which I could not control, this arrangement was frustrated.

From that which I am now about to state, in reference to the making of the New Plymouth Harbour, it is, perhaps, right that I should further show how and where I was professionally occupied from the time I left New Zealand, in September, 1843, until my return to the Colony in July, 1857—fourteen years—in order that it may be known that my life has been devoted to my profession as a Topographical Engineering Surveyor, and, as such, that I am fully and specially qualified to decide upon the most judicious sites and lines of engineering works, as is also borne out by the medal awarded me and many gratifying testimonials I hold from some of our most eminent engineers and other distinguished persons. I therefore beg leave to say that, during the fourteen years I was away from New Zealand, I was professionally employed in England, Scotland, France, Belgium, and America, making many and various kinds of surveys, delineating and modelling ground, showing proposed engineering works in miniature of railroads, waterworks, and harbours, for the purpose of elucidating to Committees of the Houses of Parliament and Courts of law disputed engineering questions which arose between rival engineers and other contending parties which, otherwise, could not be made clear to members of committees and other personages by plans, lections, and cross sections. Some of these models and Topographical sketches was requested to send to Buckingham Palace for the inspection of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, who, himself in Buckingham Palace, personally complimented me upon them. I have also been visited in my studio, in London, by the Premier, the Commander-in-Chief, and many distinguished personages, who, one and all, expressed themselves in a most gratifying way to me. The Times, and other leading journals, have noticed my works in a very complimentary way.

I returned to New Zealand in 1857, and on the 29th October, 1858, nearly thirty years ago, I wrote to His page 6 Excellency Governor Gove Browne, and under the same cover was enclosed a letter from myself to the Right Honorable the Earl Shaftesbury, to whom I was personally known, with desire that it should be submitted to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the New Zealand Government, which was graciously complied with. On referring to this said enclosed letter I find that, together with other important matters then touched upon, I made reference to our harbour question. The following is an extract from the letter:—"Does not philanthropy remind us of the noble works which, have been executed at Portland, Holyhead, and other parts of the kingdom, chiefly by means of convict labour; and does not charity tell us that these works were performed by men who toiled against hope, who, when they had made expiation for their offences, went forth from their prisons with heavy heart, knowing that they were the marked men of a superabundant population, with little chance of future employment, who, though they had resolved to lead a new life, found themselves foiled in every effort by the stigma they bore? These are the men to whom I would call the special consideration of all good men, and all who are in heart the humble followers of Him who was the friend of sinners. Instead of the indiscriminate convict system which was pursued in Van Dieman's Land and New South Wales, I would suggest the employment of those who, by their probationary conduct at Home, have shown themselves deserving, and are desirous of amending their lives. In no part of the world that I have seen could this kind of labour be more judiciously and humanely employed than in this colony. The difficulties and expense attending the making leading roads and bridges in this country are greater than I have met with in other parts of the world where I have been. It is fallacious to think that any ordinary taxes levied upon the settlers will be sufficient "to lay out and construct the requisite roads and bridges required to civilize, commerce, and govern this country; and, unless something such as I have suggested, be devised and carried out, generations will pass away before New page 7 Zealand becomes a civilized country, or we become acquainted with the vast mines of wealth which now lie hidden within our reach."

From time to time, as opportunity offered, I never failed to urge the advantage to be gained by constructing a harbour of refuge by means of convict labour, which, had it been done, would have obviated the necessity of a tax being levied upon the settlers, who, in that case would have derived immense benefit from the large expenditure necessitated in erecting and carrying out so great and beneficial a work. My efforts, so far as I know, were unheeded by all, save one man, and that man was Mr. Chilman, the then Collector of the Customs here, who did all in his power, up to the time of his death, to aid so good and righteous a cause; and when officially called upon to give his opinion on the financial prospects of the undertaking to Messrs. Doyne and Balfour, Marine Engineers, he stated that the direct pecuniary loss to the community from the want of a proper harbour here, was as estimated by him fifteen thousand pounds during the year 1864.

Nothing, however, of importance was effected towards the making of our harbour until 1873. In October of that year I received a letter from the then Premier of the Colony, Sir Julius Vogel, telling me that—" In present circumstances Taranaki is unable to take advantage of the immigration scheme to the extent designed." This was at a time when people were coming to New Zealand by thousands; it was therefore clear to me, I being the Superintendent of Taranaki, that I should write to Sir Julius, and state—" Nothing less than a harbour at the Sugar Loaves would enable us to have a fair share of the advantages administered to the other provinces," and I followed this letter up with an interview with the Premier, in Wellington, when I showed the way and the means by which our harbour could be constructed without the cost being felt; in fact, I made it manifest, that it would put money into the Colonial Treasury. I said that we were now acquiring, and were about to acquire, large tracts of land, and if it were sold without the prospect of a harbour page 8 it would realise little more than half its value; if, on the other hand, an endowment in land were given for the purpose of making a harbour at the Sugar Loaves, two thirds of the land would, in my opinion, realize more than would the whole without the prospect of such harbour. The truth of my opinion can now be verified by referring to documentary evidence, which will show the price at which the land in Taranaki was sold before the harbour endowment was given, and the price at which it has since been sold. I truly believe, if fairly gone into, it will be found that the colony has gained considerably in money by giving the endowment to enable the making of the New Plymouth Harbour.

To return to my narrative, my interview with the Premier was very satisfactory, and when, in the House of Representatives, in August, 1874, I moved the second reading of the New Plymouth Harbour Board Bill, which was strongly supported by Major, now the Honorable Sir Harry, Atkinson, and Mr. Kelly, the Premier stated that—"The Government had no objection to allow the Bill to pass." The Bill provided that one-fourth of the land fund of Taranaki might be appropriated for the purpose of making a harbour, when ratified by a Bill to be passed by the Provincial Council of Taranaki, which was done.

Some twenty months after this, at an interview between the Honorable Mr. Bowen, the then Minister for Justice, and the members of the New Plymouth Harbour Board, which took place on the 26th April, 1876, and after well considered discussion, resolutions were passed and agreed to by both parties, that prison labour should be employed in making the harbour at New Plymouth. The general terms of the agreement were that the Harbour Board should make over to the Government its 25 per cent. of the land fund, and all its endowments, the Government on their part agreeing to carry out the work, irrespective of the money coming in from the land sales, so that in no case should there be any delay for the want of funds in carrying out the works. On the same day, 26th April, 1876, the New Plymouth Harbour Board met and ratified page 9 the above named agreement. Land for a prison site was purchased by the Government at Moturoa, close to the New Plymouth harbour site; plans and estimates for the proposed prison were made, and tenders called for; but while this work was in hand certain persons in this town and country around, were greatly perplexed and alarmed at the prospect of a prison being erected here, through the silly and misleading statements made, and by letters which were published in our papers predicting the most fearful consequences if the convict prison work, as determined, was carried out; in fact every means in the power of those who were the agitators in this matter, was, I believe, used with little compunction, to the now trying and pecuniary cost of the people of this district for years to come. Instead of having a noble harbour of refuge constructed, and without a rate, as was always my aim, we must now be content with what we have got, and for this lamentable mistake we have to pay a tax—a harbour rate.

Had the Harbour Board's agreement, of making over its endowments to the Government, been carried out, we should not have had occasion to go to the London market for our loan of two hundred thousand pounds, and consequently should never have had a harbour rate. Moreover, the Government would have ultimately carried out the work to its entirety; most unquestionably to the extent authorised by Parliament, viz., three hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Thus the additional expenditure of £150,000 would enable us to continue the building of the concrete breakwater until we reach a depth of 38 feet at low water, thereby making New Plymouth harbour a harbour of refuge to all ordinary vessels.

The New Plymouth prison agitation was not lost sight of by the opponents of the work in the House of Representatives, and on the 23rd of August, 1876, Mr. Whitaker moved in his place in Parliament—"That, in the opinion of this House, the tenders should not be accepted for the central gaol at New Plymouth till this House has had an opportunity of re-considering the question of the site of a Central Penal Establishment." This motion, page 10 after full discussion, as may be seen by reference to Hansard, Vol. 21, page 549, was carried by a majority of thirteen in a House of 63 members present.

Thus, through the want of discernment, discrimination, and foresight, narrowmindedness and uncharitable feeling, shown by certain individuals in this place, towards poor unfortunate convicts, we are deprived of a port from which, otherwise, we would have been able to trade direct with any sea port in the world.

In 1878 Sir John Coode was here, and confirmed the harbour plan and works as proposed by Messrs, Carruthers and Blackett, the Government Engineers. The modus operandi for carrying out the work at this time was to have a rubble breakwater, and to bring the stone from Paritutu on an inclined plane, to be deposited in the water in the very place where the concrete breakwater is now built. This Paritutu rubble work idea was, towards the end of the year 1879, abandoned, it being alleged that stone could not be obtained there in blocks sufficiently heavy to resist the action of the sea. Sir John Coode was therefore consulted on the matter, in Loudon, and he agreed to the proposed alteration being made from rubble to concrete.

On the 1st March, 1880, 1 addressed a letter to the New Plymouth Harbour Board making suggestions consequent on the alteration from rubble to concrete, which, had they been attended to, would have prevented the sand difficulty arising, and would have saved, in my opinion, which I derived from careful personal observations, a very large amount of money which has been spent on sand dredging. My suggestions were offered with desire to lessen the action of the sea upon the structure, by causing the heavy western waves to strike the work obliquely, to prevent the possibility of sand drift, and to have obtained an area of .some seven or eight acres more harbour water than we now have. (This seven or eight acres of water is now in part lost, being filled win sand and debris from the road works and quarries, to the depth of 1 or 2 feet to some 15 feet—which sand will follow the breakwater and bar the entrance if not properly attended to.)

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My letter of the 1st March, 1880, was read at a meeting of the Board on the following day, when I laid upon the table a plan which I had made in order that I might elucidate all that I had suggested; my letter, plan, and suggestions were listened to at that meeting, and a vote of thanks given me for the same, but no action has been taken on all that I then and have since offered.

On referring to my diary of 9th April, 1880, I find that on that day the Honorable Mr. Oliver, Minister of Public Works, Mr. Blackett, Government Chief Engineer, Colonel Trimble, Mr. King, Chairman of the Harbour Board, and seven other gentlemen, accompanied me to the proposed harbour site, and when on the ground, with Sir John Coode's plan in my hand, which was referred to by all, I pointed out the importance of attending to that which was stated in my letter of the 1st March, 1880, and the consequences if not attended to. I regret to say that my predictions are now verified.

Before the Honorable Mr. Oliver and Mr. Blackett left New Plymouth, in April, 1880, and before the building of the breakwater was commenced, I gave them copies of the Taranaki Herald of the 5th March, 1880, which contained a copy of my letter of the 1st March of that year, and I urged their consideration to my suggestions, as contained in my said letter, and likewise to the suggestions which I made to them when on the ground at the harbour site.

It being determined to make the change from rubble to concrete, which was agreed to by Sir John Coode, and to abandon the idea of the inclined plane and the getting of the stone for the making of the breakwater from Paritutu, which, so far as I know, was not agreed to, considered, or even made known to Sir John, a difficulty arose, and that difficulty I will now point out.

Paritutu rock being ignored, other and nearer quarries were to be operated upon, involving a deep and heavy cutting before they could be reached by road; so soon as I knew this to be the case I saw Mr. King, the Chairman of the Harbour Board, on the matter, and together with him and the then Engineer of the Works, Mr. Rees, and page 12 on the ground, on the 16th of October, 1880, I asked what was going to be done with the twenty-seven thousand yards of sand and dirt which would be excavated in making the road to the quarries? The Engineer gave me to understand that it would be thrown over the hank, meeting the high water! I was positively astounded, and remonstrated, and told both Mr. King and the Engineer that if that was done it would ultimately be all carried into the harbour. I pointed out that the full force of the western gales and our heaviest seas came direct into this little horseshoe bay, and would beat upon it and drive the whole mass of excavated waste sand and dirt through the narrow pass, 6¾ chains wide, between the Mikotahi Island and the salient point of the mainland, now block yard wall, against the breakwater, and would, I feared, follow the work out as it progressed to the great detriment and cost of the harbour work; the Engineer replied, saying it would spread itself all over the bay, and would not lessen the water more than an inch or two. I did all I could to prevent this costly folly from being done, and as I could prevail nothing, I immediately, on my return home, recorded in my diary the following words, as said to me on that occasion by Mr. King, and backed by the Engineer, as truthfully as I possibly could, viz.,—"Mr. King and Mr. Rees both expressed themselves strongly that there would be no good in again directing Mr, Blackett's attention to this matter, he had evidently made up his mind, being backed by Mr. Carruthers and Sir John Coode." This objectionable work has been done, and, together with the debris from the quarries, is the entire cause of our sand trouble and costly dredging, as can be clearly shown on visiting the ground.

I now again say that the sand difficulty in our harbour is caused by the way the work has been carried out in abandoning the inclined plane and Paritutu rock, which was approved by Sir John Coode, and by making a road to other quarries which, I cannot bring my mind to believe, was ever sanctioned by Sir John. Indeed, I feel convinced that if it had been proposed to him, he would have condemned it in the strongest terms. It has been a page 13 most painful tiling for me to witness, and has been a mental torment to me for years, seeing that I could not prevent such deplorable doings. I am however, happy to say that our sand drift trouble can be greatly remedied at moderate cost, and I am willing to show how, in my opinion, it can be done, but if neglected the harbour will be barred, and the harbour water considerably shoaled, and in course of years will only be fit for vessels of less draft than at present trade here.

before closing this letter I shall mention a few more facts out of the many I can adduce, showing the unheeded efforts I have made to obviate the difficulty we have now to contend with.

Being grieved to find that no notice was taken of all that I had said and written about our harbour, I determined to go to Wellington at my own expense, and sec if I could move the Government to attend to my representations, before the wrong doings at our harbour were commenced. I now, therefore, give extracts from mu diary of the 5th and 10th November, 1880, viz.,—"This day saw the Honorable the Minister for Public Works, Mr. Oliver, on the matter of the harbour works at New Plymouth. I asked him if he had considered the letter which I addressed to the New Plymouth Harbour Board on the 1st of March last, a copy of which I handed to him when he was in New Plymouth on the 9th April, 1880, and published in the Taranaki Herald on 5th March, 1880. Mr. Oliver said that he had consulted both Major Atkinson and Mr. Blackett on the matter contained in my said letter to the New Plymouth Harbour Board. He told me that Mr. Blackett's objection appeared to him to be the working in deep water at once. So far as lie could judge, it appeared to him that my suggestions, as offered in said letter, was what ought to be done, but the Chief Engineer must deride. I also had a like conversation with Major Atkinson, also a like result." Mr. Oliver and Major Atkinson both advised me to remain in Wellington and see .Mr. Blackett on this harbour question. I waited in Wellington until the 10th November, 1880, on that day page 14 I saw him in his office, and related the interviews which had taken place between Mr. Oliver, Major Atkinson, and myself, and strongly stated "My regret that the gap between Mikotahi Island and the mainland had not been joined. I pointed out the importance of so doing, and expressed a wish that he should sec it for himself, at once if possible. I urge all I can and tell all I can as strongly as possible." Mr. Blackett in reply told me—That he expected to be in New Plymouth very shortly, in about three weeks from the present time, He urged the commencing of the root of the breakwater at once. I left him with the assurance that he would be at New Plymouth in about three weeks." Mr. Blackett, I was informed, came to New Plymouth sometime after my interview with him, but he did not send for me, and I did not hear of his being in New Plymouth until after his departure. No notice or action was taken respecting my harbour suggestions, and I now truly declare that had my suggestions been attended to we would not have had any sand difficulty, or the now deplorable depreciation of our harbour, and consequently of our town property and country around.

Again, on the 29th May, 1882, I was so much distressed at seeing the 27,000 yards of sand and dirt, which had been excavated in making the road to the quarries, and the immense mass of debris from the quarries, all gradually working towards the harbour, that I called upon Mr. King, the Chairman, and told him what was taking place, and I urged the joining of Mikotahi Island to the mainland without further loss of time. The following day, 8th May, 1882, Mr. King and myself went to the harbour, and while on the ground we had a survey made and levels taken of the work required to effectually bar the sand and dibris thrown from the road works and quarries from injuring the harbour, the cost, as then calculated, was £1,750. It has not been done, hence our trouble, and it will now be more costly to do.

Seeing that little regard was given by the authorities to all that I endeavoured to do for the good of our harbour, I, in October, 1882, wrote as follows to the Board:—"Beferring to my letters of the 1st March, 1880, and the 16th June, 1882, and to all that I have from page 15 time to time written and stated in reference to the making of our harbour, and the indifference which has been shown to my writings and statements, induces me to make known to the Board that I feel myself called upon to retire from a position where my services are not valued. I therefore beg leave to tender my resignation as Treasurer of the New Plymouth Harbour Board. My resignation as a member of the Board I will forward to the Government." To the above letter was appended the following note:—" Connect Mikotahi with the most salient portion of block-yard by means of two sea walls, say from 45 to 50 feet apart, fill in the space between with the stone workings from the quarries, plant your new crane at the proper level on Mikotahi at a well con-gidered distance inside the point, run out your work in line for Waiwakaiho point, and you will quickly have a land-locked harbour; proceed as you are now doing, and you will I fear, fail in obtaining a harbour with the means you have in hand.—Fred. A. Carrington, Topographical and Engineering Surveyor, New Plymouth, 24th October, 1882."

In deference to opinions expressed to me I have continued on the Harbour Board to the present time, but baring done all the good I can hope to do for the cause I have so much at heart, I think that I should now retire from all controversy in connection with this, to me, most grievous, harbour question; but, in doing so, I consider that fair and honorable inquiry should be made into the whole matter, when I will show that if the original plan of the works, as projected by Messrs. Carruthers and Blackett, and approved by Sir John Coode, had been carried out, we would have been troubled with very little sand indeed; and that by changing the structure (the breakwater) from rubble to concrete was a wise step, had the work been projected as it should have been after this change from nibble to concrete was made. This remark in no way refers to the building of the breakwater as manipulated under the guidance of Mr. Rhind, our Resident Engineer. His work has been severely and thoroughly tested by piercing gales and heavy seas, and has proved itself a staunch and solid structure, but, unhappily it is built in the wrong place. The wharf, also, as framed by Mr. Philp, the contractor, under Mr. page 16 Rhind's supervision, is, so far as I have observed, very satisfactory.

I now close this letter by saying that I am still willing to go upon the ground and point out to competent engineers, what., in my opinion, can and should be done at comparatively small cost, to prevent the entrance of the harbour from being barred, the depth of water from being lessened, and to render this contracted, shoaled, and marred harbour, a boon to the whole community.

I have the honor to be,


Your most Obedient Servant,

Fred. A. Carrington,

Topographical Engineering Surveyor. New Plymouth, New Zealand, March, 1888.

Printed at the Herald Office, Devon-street, New Plymouth.