Sunday, 10 January 2016

George Turnbull Niccol - Shipping Vessels owned and built, places with links

Tairua Harbour - A Port of call for many of the Niccol Vessels - Photo Chris Ball November 2015

On 27 September 2015, The MV Tuhoe came to a final resting place, run aground on a sandbar at the Waimakariri River Mouth having just returned from  a major $200,000  restoration work at Lyttelton. Declared unsalvageable, the ninety six years old  Tuhoe was broken down where it was stranded, ending working life for this historic schooner.
Tuhoe , a 97-foot, 186 ton gross, two-masted auxiliary schooner, was launched on 7 April 1919 from the yard of ship builder George Niccol. Tuhoe was built by Niccol for the Northern Steam Ship Company ( NSSCo) with the object of withstanding rough bar work, enabling work in the shallow harbours of the East Coast and rivers of Firth of Thames.
MV Tuhoe was one of many vessels to be built in the yard of George Turnbull Niccol. A review of  Papers past newspaper advertisments record the many East Coast Ports of call amongst them: - Tauranga, Whakatane Opotiki, Tairua Mercury Bay Paeroa Te Aroha Turua Kopu, Wharepoa, Hikutaia, Puriri, Coromandel.
AFTER THE DELUGE.—The sunshine yesterday after Tuesday's "in was a good opportunity for sail drying.... [truncated] Auckland Star, Volume LXIV, Issue 51, 2 March 1933, Page 9
Photo courtesy Papers Past National Library NZ
For almost 100 years the name of Niccol was at the forefront of shipbuilding  during the settlement of the Auckland province. George Turnbull Niccol, born at Parnell, Auckland in  1858, continued the occupation of  his father Henry Niccol, learning this trade from his father.  Henry Niccol began shipbuilding soon after arrival aboard the Jane Gifford in 1842 with his wife Sarah and newly born son Thomas. Henry Niccol was son, George Turnbull Niccol grandson,  of Thomas Niccol, a well- known and prolific shipbuilder in Inverclyde, Scotland.
 The 1900's saw the shipbuilding yards of George Turnbull Niccol well established in Freeman's Bay. It was an ideal location for a wooden vessel shipbuilder - located close to the big timber mills, namely the giant Kauri Timber Company and the smaller Leyland and O'Brien Timber Company. 

Looking south west from the foreshore of Freemans Bay showing Kauri Timber Company (centre), G T Niccol's Shipbuilding yards ( left), Leyland O'Briens Timber Company (right), Parker Lamb Timber Company (extreme right) and small craft at anchor
Photo Courtesy Sir George Grey Special Collections, AucklandLibraries, 4-5337'

From records and various archive records it could be said that George Turnbull Niccol was also a well-known and prolific ship builder - scows and wooden steamers being his speciality suitable for the New Zealand coastal waters. Typical of many of the ship builders of that era, Niccol was also known as a ship owner. A number of these were recorded in Papers Past newspapers as calling on Ports on the Coromandel Peninsula including Tairua and inland up the rivers on the Hauraki Plains :-

Ports of the Coromandel Peninsula in the 1900s - L Top Whitianga Mercury Bay, R Top Tairua, B Left Turua, B Right Tairua- Photos Chris Ball 2015
 By 1905 George Turnbull Niccol was established as a director of the coastal shipping company - Northern Steamship Company.  In 1906, there was a change to carrying of cargoes that had an influence on the type of vessel, particularly scows. This saw the formation in August 1906,  of  The  Federated Shipowners’ Association. Edwin Mitchelson, Charles Ranson, D. Gouk, George Niccol, J. Cardlaw, Alexander Alison, R. Reynolds, Ernest Ford, A. Jagger, E. Craig, F.B. Winstone, and Captains J. Hull and G. McKenzie. The appointed  officers of this organisation were  W. Smith (secretary), Thomas Henderson (treasurer) and M. McGregor (solicitor) .
Sails of Scow Ted Ashby NZ Maritime Museum - photo Chris Ball January 2015

George Niccol was there on this new " heavy weight organisation" along with Edwin Mitchelson and Alexander Alison. Edwin Mitchelson and Alexander Alison also had connections with the Coromandel Peninsula via shipping , timber, gum and gold. They also were owners/directors of the Tairua Broken Hills Gold Mining Company at the beginning of the 1900s. This mine was near Hikuai where George Turnbull Niccol was to buy land in 1912. The Thames Star reported the purchase of land to George Niccol .
"  Faithful , McConnell and Co. have sold their splendid farm, as well as the leasehold, to Mr Geo. Niccol, of Auckland, -who has a party of surveyors cutting them into farms of 200 to 300 acres" ( Thames Star 14/09/1912)
It was also reported that a Norman MacLean had sold his farm to Niccol - also in the Tairua Valley near Hikuai.

The area was not an  unknown valley to Niccol, as there was knowledge of both the Tairua Sawmill activities and shipping to Tairua from the beginning days of Tairua settlement back in 1864 when the sawmill was first built.
It would appear that George McLaughlan Niccol ( son of George Turnbull Niccol), may  also have had an interest in the Hikuai farmland. The Ohinemuri Gazette  in 1916, reporting on the Thames County Council meeting, wrote that a letter of complaint had been received from Mr. Geo. T. Niccol, of Auckland. According to Niccol, he had been sued for rates owed by his son. George McLaughlan Niccol was away fighting in WW1 on the front somewhere in France.

George McLaughlan Niccol ( 1888 - 1918 )

 Captain,  Royal Field Artillery and recipient of the military cross, for conspicuous bravery, George McLaughlan Niccol, only son of George Turnbull,  did not return from the war. Gassed twice, he contracted pneumonia and died on 30 October 1918 in France.

Three years later in 1921 George Turnbull Niccol had sold his subdivided farms at  Hikuai, Tairua  Valley to the New Zealand Government.

Hikuai, Tairua Valley - photo Chris Ball 2015
Mick Lennan in an article - Hikuai- in the Ohinemuri Journal of October 1967 said:-

" ………  and when the First World War ended, almost the whole of Hikuai, now owned by George Nicol, Uncle of Ernie mentioned previously was purchased by the Government to be subdivided for the settlement of Returned Soldiers. "
This land purchase was  under the Land Settlement Act 1908 and the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act with the land being made available to discharged soldiers returned from WW1. January 1921 saw the Farmers' Cooperative  Auctioneering Company advertising a clearance sale of all livestock and farm equipment for George Turnbull Niccol.  The New Zealand Herald reported on the ballot held 26 October the same year and wrote:-

"SETTLEMENT AT TAIRUA. SECTION'S FOR EX-SOLDIERS. Two areas of land in the Tairua, district, part of the Hikuai. settlement, were balloted for yesterday at the office of the Auckland Lands Board. The land, which formerly was the property of Mr. G. T. Nicol, of Auckland, is situated about eight miles from the port of Tairua. The total area is 7129 acres, comprising 2014 acres of first-class land, divided into 15 sections, and 5115 acres of second and third-class land, comprised within four sections. The first-class land was available for discharged soldiers only, the other lands being available for general applicants, with a preference to discharged soldiers. For the first class land there were applications from 38 returned soldiers. Practically every applicant made an application for every section. There were three applicants for the four other sections." ( NZ Herald 27/10/1921)

Successful in the ballot were, JW Gribble, G Petersen, W Johnstone, JR McCall, WE Paterson, GH Hamblyn, FP Miller, W Phillips, EA Hammond, GE Coxon, WW Ogston, F Russell, IV Lowe, J Bruce, A Potts.
Also in 1921, Ernest John Niccol the nephew of George Turnbull Niccol  farming at Hikuai, was appointed to a Commission to inquire into and report on the kauri gum industry. Ernest was to remain in the valley farming for a few years until his retirement in Auckland.

The hills of Tairua Valley towering above Hikuai - photo Chris Ball October 2015
George Turnbull Niccol ( 1858 - 1940 )
As to George Turnbull Niccol , involvement with shipping companies and shipbuilding was continued. Managing Director  of the Kaipara Steamship Company and also prominently involved in the management of the Northern Steamship Company. Atua - his last vessel in 1932 - became the Northern Steam Ships Company's Waiotahi II. This also marked for Niccol, an end of the shipbuilding business, which was said to employ 80 in its heyday. Factors deciding this were Economic Depression Years, changed coastal transport with road and rail to the fore.

Niccol died September 1940, leaving two married daughters - Beatrice Mavis Carr and Kathleen Jean Hanna. ( Kathleen Jean sister - in -  law of Phyllis Edith Hanna ( nee Macfarlane - my first cousin) His death marking an end of an era which was a significant part of the past NZ History.

Reference Source:
           UPPER TAIRUA  Thames Star,14 September 1912, Page 1
           THAMES COUNTY COUNCIL Ohinemuri Gazette, 8 March 1916, Page 4
           Page 3 Advertisements Column 4 Ohinemuri Gazette,17 January 1921, Page 3
           BALLOT FOR LAND. New Zealand Herald, 27 October 1921, Page 5

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