Thursday, 8 February 2018

ss Ngoiro, Devonport Steam Ferry Company and Tairua

ss Ngoiro arrival up on the hard Tairua Harbour 2000 - photo courtesy Chris Ball

December 2017 we were down at the newly established Tairua Marina. Up on the hard near to the office and restaurant complex sits the ss Ngoiro. Remember back in 2000, when mum rang up excitedly, to say the ss Ngoiro had arrived at Tairua Harbour. ( she had been there since 1999 but had undergone some carpentry work and refitting). Mum had travelled as a passenger aboard ss Ngoiro a number of times ,when she was a ferry. Mum had fond memories of those ferry trips aboard ss Ngoiro.

Tairua Harbour was to be the new home of s.s. Ngoiro, formerly a ferry steamer in the fleet of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company and later years as a floating restaurant and museum in Viaduct Basin, Auckland, New Zealand. ( that was until 1998 when the America Cup was to be raced in Auckland and they wanted the area for cup activity along with yachts and crews).

ss Ngoiro  up on the hard Tairua Harbour 2000 - photo courtesy Chris Ball

The Devonport Steam Ferry Company Ltd., led by brothers  Ewen William Alison, managing director and  Alexander Alison, general manager rose to be the largest  ferry company in the Auckland Province of New Zealand by the turn of the century ( 1900).

Back to beginnings  of the company, November 1881 and the first steam ferry launched for the Devonport Steam Ferry Co. Ltd., was the ps Victoria - a paddle steamer built by Charles Bailey Sen. ps Victoria operated between Devonport and Auckland as a passenger and mail boat.  

ps Victoria centre -Facing p 1067 In Ed. Garran, Hon. Andrew. 1892. Australasia Illustrated. Sydney: Picturesque Atlas Pub. Co. 

By the turn of the century ( 1900) paddle steamers were giving way to newer technology - double-ended screw steam ferries. One of these to be launched for the Devonport Steam Ferry Company Ltd., was ss Ngoiro from the ship building yards of Charles Bailey Jun ( son of Charles Bailey sen who built ps Victoria) This maritime event taking place, saw the traditional ceremony with Miss Joyce Duthie, daughter of David Whamond Duthie, director of the steam ferry company, christening her as she glided down into the water. Following a fitting of engine and boilers by A J Parker and Co. Along with sea trials for sea worthiness, this 26ft beam vessel of  6ft.6in draught was ready for the St. Heliers ferry service.

Looking south from the water showing a group of ferries by Ferry wharf, the paddle steamer 'Albatross' in the foreground, Queens Wharf (left) the Ferry Building (centre background), Quay Street (left to right centre). The ferries are (from left to right) Ngoiro, Peregrine, Condor, Eaglehawk (vehicular ferry), unidentified (obscured), Makora, Albatross, and Takapuna. Photo courtesy

 The machinery and boiler were said to be originally supplied from Messrs. Ross and Duncan of Glasgow,Scotland.( NZ Herald, 09/02/1914 p 9) ss Ngoiro became part of what was then no small fleet of ferries. 

When first started the steam ferry company's services  were run with small paddle-steamers.  Earlier boats were the Devonport, Birkenhead. Takapuna. Tainui, Alexandra. Tongariro. Victoria, and Britannia. Towards 1900 and fishing excursions aboard the ferry company's ss Admiral were advertised in the newspapers Ever growing passenger traffic saw these  replaced with modern twin screw vessels and by December 1922  company's fleet consisted of the Makora, Peregrine, Kestrel, Ngoiro, Albatross. Condor, Eagle. Osprey. and Kawau. the vehicular ferries Sparrowhawk and Goshawk, bug Young Bungaree and the launch Maxis.

p.s. Britannia - Photos courtesy Cyclopaedia NZ Auckland Province 1902

The Alison brothers  too, were no strangers to the Tairua Harbour, where one of their steam ferries, s.s. Ngoiro, has been sited.

The New Zealand Herald in 1896 recorded E.W. Alison as one of the directors of the Tairua Gold Mining Company (No Liability) formed by shareholders in the  Tairua Proprietary Syndicate (Matura special claim). Not far from the Tairua Broken Hills claim, the brothers also became involved with this Company also.

Both Ewen William Alison and brother Alex Alison, were involved in the syndicate which registered the  Tairua Broken Hills Gold Mining Company in 1899. ( the first directors of this gold mining company being Messrs H. T. Gorrie, John McCombie, H. H. Adams, H. A. Gordon. Thomas Morrin, E. W. Alison, D. ' G- MacDonnell, and secretary Mr J. B. Sheath)  

One of the first " tours" to the Tairua Mines, mixing business with pleasurable fishing activities was in March 1900. The steamer ss Admiral was chartered from the Devonport Steam Ferry Company and duly departed from Devonport for Tairua. Aboard were Messrs. William Frater, Donald McLeod, Alex. Alison,Hon Edwin Mitchelson, directors Messrs Henry Andrew Gordon ( also chairperson) and Henry Thomson Gorrie, along with several press members.

Newspaper accounts record that the weather on Coromandel's eastern seaboard coast worsened with the ss Admiral bar-bound at Tairua for several days holding up the return journey homeward.

On a calm day looking toward the entrance of Tairua Harbour and the notorious bar - photo 2018 courtesy Chris  Ball
 Added to a lifetime involved with ferries and shipping E. W. Alison along with interests in gold mining, was one of the founders of Taupiri Coal Mines, Ltd.,  holding office as chairman of directors for 44 years, retiring in 1943 at the age of 91.In that time he saw changes both in shipping and industrial unrest in mining.

As to ss Ngoiro launched in 1913 and said to be able to carry 836 passengers it was a long life also. The year the Auckland harbour bridge opened ( 30 May 1959) was the year ss Ngoiro ceased running.

Now in 2018, ss Ngoiro, on the hard near the Marina is a reminder of the ferries of New Zealand's past history, that plied the Waitemata. It is a reminder of the  era of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company and her owners - the Alison Brothers - who also came to the Tairua Valley in another era of history of this valley.

ss Ngoiro February 2018 - photo courtesy Chris Ball

Reference Source:
  • Cyclopedia Company Limited The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District] The Cyclopedia Company, Limited, 1902, Auckland
  •  Cyclopedia Company Limited The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District] The Cyclopedia Company, Limited, 1897, Wellington
  •  Chadwick, James. 1906. Men of Mark In the World of Sport in NZ. Auckland, NZ: Brett Publishing Company Ltd. Also on
  •  Papers Past National Library NZ
  •  Auckland Star 13 July 1899 Page 5
    New Zealand Herald 30 March 1900 Page 6
    Progress 1 September 1910 Page 5
    New Zealand Herald 16 December 1913 Page 5
     Auckland Star  18 December 1922  Page 7
  •  W. A. Laxon. 'Alison, Ewen William', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 9 February 2018)
  •  Graces Guide to British Industrial History
  •  TOROA Preservation Society Inc