Wednesday, 1 October 2014

s.s Rangiriri, P.N. Russell & Co. and Hamilton - 150 year Milestones

Waikato River Kirikiriroa or Hamilton - Photo ASB 2007
Arriving back from overseas at the end of August, found that Hamilton had just celebrated 150 year milestone on 24 August 2014. Yes - 150 years ago on 24 August 1864 the first European Settlers landed on the banks of the Waikato at place then known as Kirikiriroa. Captain Steele and members of the 4th Waikato Regiment Militia who were to be those first settlers were aboard the steamer s.s. Rangiriri.  Steele Park in Hamilton East, popular for decades as a venue for hockey and cricket is a reminder in its name of Captain Steele.

Captain William Steele - Photo in

The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand, Vol 2, Auckland Province. Christchurch: Cyclopaedia Company Limited, 1902.

 A milestone also for s.s. Rangiriri – 150 years old - for this paddle steamer that started out voyaging on the Waikato River as part of the New Zealand Wars in February of 1864. Some have referred to these Waikato river gunboats and transports as a first navy of New Zealand. (Baille H, 1921) For many years Rangiriri
lay a sad- looking rusted hulk at the edge of the river bank near Parana and Memorial Park- forgotten by many as to her purpose - including that of my own children who enjoyed playing in these two parks as youngsters. Until 2009 when a major upgrade and refit of Rangiriri took place.

Refit of  s.s Rangiriri Begins 2009 on the shores of the Waikato River  - Photo ASB 2009

 Another almost 150 year milestone in 2014 for the site of the  Hamilton Hotel upon the western banks of the Waikato River. There have been three over the years - the first one opened in March 1865 by Captain William Turner who was Captain of the Rangiriri when the settlers were landed at Kirikiriroa in the August of 1864 - six months previously.


Page 1 Advertisements Column 3 New Zealand Herald, 2 March 1865

EXTENSIVE ADDITIONS TO BE MADE TO A WAIKATO HOTEL.' The Hamilton Hotel, in Victoria Street, Hamilton... [truncated]  New Zealand Herald, Volume LXVI, Issue 20328, 8 August 1929, Page 6 courtesy Papers Past National Library New Zealand

The steamer s.s. Rangiriri along with what is known as her sister ship s.s. Koheroa were  designed by James Stewart C.E. a Civil Engineer , not long emigrated to New Zealand from Scotland. Stewart travelled to Sydney, Australia in October 1863 to supervise the construction of the stern wheel ,iron built  Rangiriri and Koheroa. Both these vessels were shipped back to New Zealand as prefabricated sections aboard Beautiful Star. The first to arrive was Koheroa with Rangiriri on a further voyage.

s.s. Rangiriri in Public Domain
Also in

Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868-1961 Art. III.—The First New Zealand Navy; with some Episodes of the Maori War in connection with the British Navy. By Herbert Baillie., from Volume 53, 1921

Rangiriri and Koheroa were both constructed in the yards of P.N. Russell & Co. for the New Zealand Government.

Peter Nicol Russell  had formed a partnership in 1855 with John Russell, George Russell and J. W. Dunlop. The firm flourished during the next decade and with extended premises in Sydney, received contracts for the manufacture of all types of engineering work. Railways - the transport technology of that era were being established in Australasia requiring bridges and rolling stock, flour mills and with gold discovery both in Australia and New Zealand gold mining companies needing steam dredges and stamper batteries.

It is known that as well as Rangiriri and Koheroa being built by P.N. Russell and Company, other works bound for Thames New Zealand were :-

  • a boiler manufactured for Mr. Samuel  Hague- Smith's steamer p.s. Royal Alfred from plans prepared by James Stewart. ( Lawson,Will 1909 p52 ) Royal Alfred was a popular paddle steamer on the Thames Trade run - Auckland to Thames return during those very early years of the Thames Goldfield.
  • ironwork supplied for Russell and Company's Battery at Tararu Thames. The New Zealand Herald reported in November 1869  
    " On the arrival of Mr. George Russell, of the firm of P. N. Russell and Co.,  Sydney, and one of the proprietors of the machine, these alterations were at once set about and carried out under his immediate superintendence, and the result is that a most satisfactory start was attained on Friday last." 
                                                      ( The New Zealand Herald 02/11/1869 )

QUARTZ CRUSHING MACHINE BY P. N. RUSSELL & Co., SYDNEY, ERECTED AT HILL END FOR MESSRS, PULLEN AND RAWSTHORNE. Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier Monday 8 July 1872

 Peter Nicol Russell besides founding the company P.N. Russell & Co. and known for his engineering expertise as an iron founder, is also known today in 2014 as a donor and benefactor of the Sydney based Faculty of Engineering, University of Sydney. In 1896 Russell made a gift of  £50,000 for the Department of Engineering. Eight years later in 1904, the Department was the recipient of a further £50,000 - both gifts carrying provisions amongst them that the Department be styled " The Peter Nicol Russell School of Engineering."

Darling Harbour Sydney in 2013 the view looking toward the Australian National Maritime Museum  - Photo CRB 2013 the harbour where the firm  P.N. Russell & Co expanded to in the 1800's

In those  beginning days of the Russell & Company Battery in 1869 near Tararu, Thames was one James Bramwell Steedman who was Manager of Messrs.Brown, Campbell, and Co battery, also at Tararu. Steedman  had trained as a  railway engineer in his birthplace of Scotland, arrived in New Zealand aboard the Joseph Fletcher in 1859 as did James Stewart, and was assistant to Stewart near Waikato Heads (Putataka) in the building of the Koheroa and Rangiriri once the prefabricated sections had arrived from Sydney. Steedman was to remain in the Thames area  for many years also being confidential adviser to Messrs. Brown, Campbell and Co., in their mining business.
In The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand, Vol 2, Auckland Province. Christchurch: Cyclopaedia Company Limited, 1902.
James Stewart was to describe  the screw steamer Rangiriri - his own design -  later in a paper he read to the Auckland Branch, New Zealand Institute in1869  as :-
  " hideously bluff at the bows, straight in the sides, and square in the stern." 
(NZ Institute, Stewart J, 1869)

S.S. Rangiriri - about the steamer and designer 2010 photo CRB
The stern of s.s. Rangiriri 2010 Photo CRB
Renovations of Rangiriri in 1910 - photo CRB
The Bow of s.s. Rangiriri 2010 Photo CRB
 In 2014 Rangiriri today has been restored - the ceremony to mark the restoration held in 2010. This iron vessel sits on the Eastern Bank of the Waikato - a reminder of iron work 150 years ago. Rangiriri was used as transport to bring both goods and people up and down  the river. In hindsight she was designed as Stewart said " hideously bluff at the bows, straight in the sides, and square in the stern." - however as a transport no doubt would have been practical and useful in navigating the Waikato River and landings on the river banks.

No doubt there are many people who could tell many stories of s.s. Rangiriri , PN Russell & Co, and Hamilton over the last 150 years - all three a relevant part of the past New Zealand History.

Reference Source:
         Note : There are variations in various archives for the spelling Steedman sometimes AKA Steadman


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