Sunday, 26 January 2014

Eastern Coromandel Coasters and Cargoes

The cutter Janet, a typical coastal trader from Auckland.
Evening Post, Volume CXXVI, Issue 110, 5 November 1938, Page 24
courtesy Papers Past National Library NZ

Beyond the white
Of Maria Light
Where the long, green seas go tramping in,
And the red of Columbia Shoal,
Tramping in, stamping in,
With slow, resistless roll —
                                                 W Lawson

Beating the Coastal Route

Despite of the lack of roading on the Eastern Seaboard of the Coromandel, settlers soon adapted. Just as always from when the first peoples came to this area, the sea and coastal transport was turned to. By the early 1900's coasters had become a lifeline for those farming on the coast.

A stone wharf  was built at Whitianga thought to have been built way back in about 1838 and recorded by IPENZ  Engineering Heritage NZ   as being  the oldest wharf structure in New Zealand. It is said that Gordon Davis Browne ( AKA Brown), an early merchant of Sydney was placed by Captain Ranulph Dacre to supervise the cutting of spars to fill a contract for the English Navy. Browne built a stone wharf and established a timber mill. The stone wharf from local material aided loading and unloading of cargo. The wharf is still there today in 2014 - used by the local ferry to pick up and drop off passengers - now called Ferry Landing.

Ferry Landing ( Early Stone Wharf ) Whitianga ( also called Mercury Bay ) - Photo by CRB 2012

By mid August 1865 another large saw mill  was newly opened at Tairua. During the first seven months of that year the 21 ton cutter, Ringdove,  Poulgrain her master, beat the coastal sea route to and from Auckland carrying cargoes of mill machinery, bush tools for the new mill being built and passengers. The return cargoes from reading the shipping lists (papers past )were gum, beef and passengers. From accounts the owners of the sawmill were up to date with the latest (for 1865) of mill machinery - 

"These  mills, the property of Messrs. Seccombe and Bleazard, were opened at Tairua about two months ago, and promise to become one of the leading mills in the province. The spirited proprietors have, at a great outlay, imported machinery on the newest principles, the most useful of which is the band saw, and we think it deserving of a few remarks. This saw is of unusually large size, in one entire piece, and in the, short space of twenty minutes will cut 550 feet, or at the rate of 2000 feet per hour, any size from up to 60 inches in width. The boiler attached to the mill is one of Harrison's patent, of 60 horse power, and takes up 8 feet square room. The bush surrounding these mills abound with the finest description of Kauri trees, and of easy access to the workmen. Yesterday we saw some specimens of timber from Tairua, received by the Mapere, and it now lies on the Company's wharf, Custom-house-street. It is from 1 inch in thickness up to 12 x 36, and it is certainly some of the best we have seen. Mr. T. W. Brown is agent for this Company, and he announces the timber for sale."
                                                    THE TAIRUA SAW MILLS. New Zealand Herald,  19 October 1865, Page 4

Not long after the Tairua Saw mill opened, Captain White of the schooner Mapere reported the "commencement of the Tairua Wharf."
Looking towards Tairua and current wharf - photo by CRB 2014
The cutter Ringdove was typical of the coasters of the era - under sail and dependent on wind, sea and current. With the saw mills opened the coast saw cutters, schooners and brigantines beating their way to the small eastern seaboard Coromandel Peninsula settlements with cargoes.  
Coromandel Kauri gum was also considered good quality and in the early days   saw the cutters amongst them Mary Jane - Captain De Thierry; Tamatuiana - Captain Tamaki; Kate - Captain Nicholls; Margaret - Captain Kennedy; Ringdove - Poulgrain. Amongst the schooners were Boyd - Captain Neil; George - Captain  Ngakirikiri; Mapere - Captain White with cargoes of gum. The kauri gum coming from the valleys of Whangamata, Wharekawa and Tairua.

 Whangamata had no wharf built in those early days even though coasters were  bringing cargoes of kauri gum from Whangamata  and the first Whangamata store was opened in 1873. The  Whangamata Goldfields  opening date declared for 1873, saw enterprising J.S. MacFarlane, Agent for the Steam Packet Company announcing a special Anniversary Day trip of p.s. Enterprise up the Waihou River from Thames for the opening of the Whangamata Block. Throughout this year, J.S. MacFarlane also advertised that the steamer s.s. Southern Cross (by now doing a regular run Auckland, Whitianga (Mercury Bay), Tauranga, Opotiki return) would call at Whangamata (“if sufficient inducement offered “ ) 
Page 1 Advertisements Column 1 Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIX, Issue 4811, 27 January 1873, Page 1
courtesy Papers Past, National Library New Zealand
His deal must have been taken up for there are oral and written stories of the area passed down of the goods, machinery and passengers unloaded on the beach near the harbour entrance ( still no wharf then). From there it is said they were taken up to the gold mining and logging settlements up the Wentworth and Wharekawa Valleys.

Whangamata From the Air 1988 photo B Williams

James and Andrew Stewart, invited guests of George Fraser aboard the steamer  Rotomahana attended the new and upgraded Mercury Bay Saw mill opening, end of March 1883. By then regular steamer runs along the eastern seaboard coast were the norm.
The NZ Kauri Timber Company Prospectus of July 1888 reflected the mix of types of  coasters part of the purchase from the various New Zealand timber companies:

From Auckland Timber Company Limited, the steamers Terror, Yankee Doodle and Hokianga along with the schooners Mariner, Kauri and Rata.

From New Zealand Timber Company Limited, the cutters Fanny, Nellie and Gypsy, the barges Progress and Waitemata along with some punts and boats.

From Union Steam Saw, Moulding and Sash Door Company Limited.   the brigantine Aratapu.

From Messrs David Blair & Son the barques Grassmere and Killarney along with several boats, punts and rafting gear.

Steamers continued to make regular calls to Whangamata  dropping machinery, supplies and passengers, their entry into the Harbour dependent on the tide. During this decade of great interest, out at sea, off the coast was the reported in the Bay of Plenty times of “the somewhat unusual sight of a waterspout was this morning witnessed by those on board the Waiotahi when opposite Whangamata.” Fortunately the Waiotahi was not in its path. (Bay Of Plenty Times, 6 October 1897, p2)

Into a new century and a railway was opened at Waihi in 1905. This gave settlers and itinerants on the other side of the ranges a choice (still no roads). Either pack horse to Waihi and the railway, or use what had now become a regular coastal steamer call to Whangamata and Tairua. These were the steamers of the Northern Steamship Company and amongst those calling were Ngatiawa, Waitangi, Waipu, Waiotahi, Chelmsford and Daphne.

Schooners and cutters were being superceded and steamers well established, by the beginning of this new century. Other coasters appeared as regulars along the east coast - the “workhorses” of the coast (their sails giving way to motors). 

Over the 20th Century these scows, able to haul heavy freight,  carried cargo of logs, shingle, sand, machinery and livestock. Leyland & O Brien who had a contract up the Wharekawa Valley found the scow useful for their needs.

Rangi - One of three owned by Leyland & Obrien

 The bar at the entrance to Tairua Harbour was treacherous at times, Whangamata little better, especially in stormy weather, bringing high swells crashing against the rocky cliffs.

 Looking toward Entrance to Tairua Harbour across the bar. In centre rear of photo Motuhoa ( Shoe ) Island
photo by CRB 2014

 Cliffs Northwards of Whangamata Harbour Entrance - Photo by H M Stewart 1988


The 1860's  saw the sea claim at Whangamata - the cutter Annie Laurie, at Tairua -the schooner Mapere.

The sea continued to claim on this coast in the 1870s  - the cutter Eclair, schooner Onwards, cutter Brunette, brig Syren, cutter Glance at Tairua.

The 1880's  saw the sea claim the cutter Half Caste at Boat Harbour near Tairua, a boat said to have delivered illicit liquor to Port Charles and Opotiki.
Into the 1890's it was the Kauri Timber Company's cutter ( AKA ketch ) Nellie wrecked at Whenuakite ( Hot Water Beach ) 4th August 1894 along with the brigantine Aratapu in May 1898 ashore near Whangamata.
Whenuakite - Hot Water Beach -  Photo by CRB 2012


The sea was to claim the scow Surprise in 1907 with the loss of life and one survivor, who scrambled up the cliffs at Ohui to be rescued (exhausted) by local farming family, the McGregors’. Later years (1976) were to see the wreck of the scow Hipi at Papakura Bay (a rugged area between Whangamata and Whiritoa). 

Papakura Bay - Southwards of Whangamata
Photo by J M Stewart 1970's

On 3 February 1919 Captain Edward Sellars and his crew of six landed ashore safely but the s.s. Wairoa, a small steamer was run aground on the bar at Tairua. Newspapers noted that the bar was "at all times  treacherous.The engine block from s.s. Wairoa, today in 2014, remains at Royal Billy Point, Pauanui - a reminder.
Engine block of s.s. Wairoa wrecked on Tairua Bar 3 February 1919 - Photo by CRB 2014

In March 1926, the “locals “of Tairua awoke to find the biggest ship yet, run fast aground on The Slipper Reef. This was the s.s. Manaia, said to be 1100 tons. Shortly after this there was a change on this stretch of coast.

Farming began to take the place of gum and gold – in the beginning days farmers using both the road/rail transport and sea transport for their produce. My own memories are of the farmers of Slipper Island (Normans followed by the Needhams) ran a barge backwards and forward ferrying livestock and supplies to and from Tairua.

Another group of settlers established themselves at Whangamata and Tairua, lured there by the bounty of the sea – fish. These harbours were to see in the place of schooners, cutters and steamers - fishing boats, the wharves (now there) useful places to unload the catch and bait up for the next trip. Many of these fishing boats, although a more recent coastal heritage of this area, in fact had a long heritage of their own and that is another blog.

Wharf, Whangamata Harbour 1970's - Photo by J M Stewart
Reference Source:

  •   Cory Wright, Phyllis, “Jewel by the Sea”, Printcorp Ltd, Tauranga, 1988
  •  Ingram, Chas.W.N. and Wheatley, P Owen. Shipwrecks New Zealand Disasters 1795 - 1936. Dunedin: Dunedin Book Publishing Association, 1936.
  • Williamson, Beverley M, Whangamata – 100 Years of Change, Goldfields Print Ltd, Paeroa, 1988 Boat Day 
  • The NZ Kauri Timber Company Prospectus of July 1888
  •  Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967 Whangamata Stores by Jack and the Late Harry Watt Ohinemuri Journal
  •  Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 1, June 1964 WAIHI TO WHANGAMATA "LUCK AT LAST", WHANGAMATA -- By the late Mr. Ben Gwilliam Ohinemuri Journal
  • MERCURY BAY TIMBER COMPANY. New Zealand Herald, 3 April 1883, Page 6
  • Page 3 Advertisements Column 1 Auckland Star,  16 July 1888, Page 3 Papers Past National Library New Zealand