Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 3, April 1965

By J. W. Silcock

Long before Europeans came to these shores the Waihou River was used extensively by Maoris who paddled their canoes for long distances. The first white men to enter the estuary were Captain Cook and his crew in 1769 his ship being the forerunner of timber ships and whalers. Then Missionaries came and after them the first white settlers established their isolated homes, the river being their one link with civilization.

Steady progress and prosperity during the first 75 years of European Settlement in Thames Valley District was in a large measure due to water transport via the Waihou River. This navigable highway during that period carried enormous traffic economically, feeding settlers and towns from the Firth of Thames to Matamata.

After the opening of the Thames Gold Field in 1867 and prior to and during the "Ohinemuri Rush" in 1875, several paddle steamers were plying between Thames and Paeroa, because of the phenomenal number of gold-seekers needing transport. Names such as "Lalla Rookh", "Alert", "Effort", "Pearl" and "Luna", were then familiar on the river.

In 1880, about the time the Te Aroha district was declared open as a goldfield, three steamers were trading from Thames to Te Aroha. They were the S.S. Waitoa with the late Wm. Bettis as master and owned by Messrs. Bettis and Holmes, the S.S. Despatch (Captain Rowe), (owned by Thames River Navigation Co. and built by A. and G. Price, Thames) and P.S. Patiki (Captain Moore) also by A. and G. Price, Thames. These vessels carried passengers and cargo, each running two trips a week. The latter vessel (S.S. Despatch) conveyed the English Lincolnshire party of settlers from Thames to Te Aroha, where they took up the piece of land which had been allotted to them under the Group Settlement Scheme of that day. Their settlement is known as Shaftesbury. During this period practically all settlers and passengers for the district came to Thames by steamer and were then transhipped to the "Despatch", "Waitoa" or "Patiki" and landed at their new home on the Waihou River.

Another vessel trading on the river at the same time and conveying cargo only, was the S.S. Kotuku, owned by the late Mr. Firth of Matamata with the late Wm. Sullivan as Master. This vessel ran a direct service from Auckland to Stanley Landing, Matamata, and freighted goods and manure for the Firth Estate. Back cargo consisted of large quantities of wheat and wool, all grown on the Estate. The wheat was used in Mr. Firth's flour mill which he had established in Auckland and is now known as the Northern Roller Mills. Another well known steamer was the P.S. Te Aroha. In the year 1888, when the railway was opened to Te Aroha from Auckland, the river service between Paeroa and Te Aroha was discontinued, but a brisk trade was still in progress between Paeroa and Thames.

Also, a direct passenger and cargo service to Auckland was commenced with the S.S. Ruby, owned by the Hauraki Steamship Co. with the late Captain Battis as Master and MR. E. Adlam as mate. The latter was later Master of a vessel trading on the river between Paeroa and Te Aroha and employed by the Northern Steamship Co. The S.S. Ruby was principally engaged in carrying passengers from Auckland to the Wharf Street Landing, Paeroa. The cargo trade was, to a large extent, still in the hands of the Thames Merchants and the P.S. Patiki was a busy trader, supplying the wants of settlers between Thames and Paeroa. Many settlers had taken up land on the banks of the Waihou River and their only road was via the waterway. The butter, eggs and pork were taken to Thames by the P.S. Patiki and traded for goods. Fourpence per pound was then the ruling price for the farmers' butter, so one can realise that the return in flour and goods was often very little indeed.

The P.S. Patiki was, from 1890 to 1900, frequently chartered to run excursions on the Ohinemuri and Waihou Rivers; Captain E. Adlam was then her Master. Her accommodation for excursionists was over 300. Happy times were spent aboard her when a moonlight excursion or picnic party was taking place: there was space aboard for dancing and a brass band usually livened the outing.

About the year 1890, the river trade between Paeroa and Te Aroha was recommenced by the late H. Adams of Thames and until taken over by the N.S.S.Co., this gentleman carried on the trade with a barge and launch, lifting cargo brought by the S.S. Ruby from Auckland and also from the Northern Steamship Co.'s vessels trading between Paeroa and Thames.

In the year 1891, sea-borne traffic to Paeroa and Te Aroha via Thames and also direct from Auckland was increasing rapidly. This was due to gold having been found in the district, also at various points on the river timber mills and flax mills were in full swing. A flour mill and condensed milk factory were also operating on the Ohinemuri River.

To cope with the increased river traffic the Hauraki Steamship Co. replaced the S.S. Ruby with a larger vessel which was named the "Paeroa" and in opposition to her the Northern Steamship Co. which was trading between Auckland and Thames with the "Rotomahana" and "Enterprise" and between Paeroa and Thames with the P.S. "Patiki" built a vessel which was named the "Ohinemuri" to run direct between Wharf Street, Paeroa and Auckland. With these two vessels in the Auckland-Paeroa trade and increasing cargo and passengers for the Te Aroha and Thames Valley district, the opposition fight became very intense. This was fired somewhat further because the gentlemen managing the local business for the Northern Steamship Co. (F. Cock Esq.) and Hauraki Shipping Co. (Edwin Edwards Esq.) were prominent and well known figures throughout the district. Passengers to and from Auckland were carried by the Hauraki Steamship Co's vessel "Paeroa" for 2/6 return, meals 1/6 and by the Northern Steamship Co.'s vessel "Ohinemuri" free with meals included. The fight continued for about 8 months and one can realise that a large number of passengers travelled and took advantage of the opposition fight between the two companies. Finally the Hauraki Steamship Co. was bought out by the Northern Steamship Co.

For some years after 1891 the trade was carried on with the S.S. Paeroa and S.S. Ohinemuri and other vessels, also a considerable business was still being done between Thames merchants and settlers on the Waihou River. In fact the P.S. Patiki continued in the Thames-Paeroa river service until the year 1901.

In the year 1895 trade between Te Aroha, Thames Valley and Auckland had increased to such an extent that the Northern Steamship Co. decided to build the S.S. Waimarie. This vessel was then considered a large one for the river trade. She commenced trading in 1896 with Captain W. Sullivan as Master. The headquarters of the shipping was then removed from Paeroa Township to the Junction, and for another two years, trade was carried on with the S.S. Waimarie, Paeroa and Ohinemuri, Passengers and freights were freely offering, large quantities of heavy mining machinery was carried on the Waimarie; outward freights consisted chiefly of wool from Te Aroha, fibre and timber from the Paeroa Mills.

About this time the McGregor Steamship Co. commenced trading between Paeroa and Auckland in opposition to the Northern Steamship Co; a very fine steel steamer named the "Kia Ora", and built on the Clyde, was engaged in the trade, but on account of her draft she was not suitable for the trade and was finally bought by the Northern Steamship Co. and later wrecked on the West Coast when trading between Onehunga, New Plymouth and Hokianga.

As the goldfields further advanced in Ohinemuri, the sea-borne traffic continued to increase, and in 1898 the Northern Steamship Co. built a sister ship to the Waimarie, the Taniwha. The late William Sullivan took command of her and the late William Bettis the Waimarie. These vessels did not trade very long to the Junction Wharf and in 1901 the shipping was removed to the Puke Landing. Both vessels were kept very busy in a growing mining and farming district. Trade to and from Te Aroha (where Mr. S.L. Hirst was in charge) via barges connecting at the Puke with the Taniwha and Waimarie was now well established, and besides the cargo service, large numbers of sheep were shipped on two decker barges from Richmond Downs, Fancourt Estate to the Tamaki near Auckland. Occasionally bad weather was met with when the sheep vessels reached the mouth of the river. In such cases the loads, which consisted of 600 per lighter, had to be run ashore and attended to until the weather moderated.

Prior to the railway being opened between Paeroa and Waihi, the river was also extensively used for the conveyance of coal for mining purposes. Large hoppers holding 600 tons each were erected at the Puke. Scows from Whangarei discharged their loads into the hoppers and the coal was then run into 8-horse waggons and conveyed to the Waihi, Waikino and Karangahake and Komata mining mills.

From 1903 onward the river continued to be a transport highway, daily freights being carried between Te Aroha, Paeroa and Auckland. The banks of the Waihou River right from Turua to Te Aroha were dotted with prosperous and well kept farms and a navigable waterway created by nature and running through their midst, no doubt, helped considerably in their making.

Butter and cheese were shipped at Te Aroha from all the local factories, also fibre from the flax mills on the river, and conveyed by steamer and lighters to Paeroa, there transhipped, to the S.S. Taniwha (in charge of Captain J. Freeman) and other vessels, then on to Auckland. In all cases the dairy produce was landed in the best of condition, also practically all butter and cheese factories between Paeroa and the mouth of the river used sea-borne transport which was second to none in New Zealand. The annual value to the community in the saving of freight charges between Auckland, Te Aroha and Thames Valley District, compared with other centres the same mileage from a distributing centre such as Auckland, but having no water transport, was enormous.

Nevertheless it was inevitable that both rail and road transport would become strong competitors with that of the river. By the early 1930's, better roads to Auckland and the fact that motor vehicles were licensed to carry passengers, caused a falling off in the river trade. In 1932 the Northern Steamship Co. took the S.S. Waimarie off the run, and she was moored in the river about 200 yards above the Ngahina Wharf below the Bridge. She had given wonderful service in her 36 years of trading between Paeroa and Auckland.

Instead of six days a week passenger and cargo service this was cut down to three trips a week, and carried on by the S.S. Taniwha. By 1937 there were still plenty of goods but very few passengers, so that service was abandoned and the Taniwha taken off the run, and replaced by a V. cargo vessel. The old Taniwha had traded between Paeroa and Auckland for nearly 40 years and it was estimated that during that time over one million tons of cargo passed through her hatches. Once she sank at the Ngahina Wharf, but she was a grand old ship. Bob Fournier, the Chief Steward who was with her for many years still lives in Auckland. He followed D.C. Potts of earlier days.

For seventeen years cargo only was carried by the Company's motor vessels, among them the Toa, Clansman, Otimai, Ranginui, and the Tuhoe (Captn. George Mills) which was the last vessel to say good-bye to Paeroa Wharf. Motor vehicles had been granted licenses to carry goods from Auckland warehouses to retailers' shops in country towns and although more expensive, this was much more convenient, saving several handlings.

So ended, first the passenger and then the cargo services, given to the district by the Northern Steamship Co's vessels for over seventy years. Managers before my day were Messrs. Cock, Brabant and Penman. Who remembers those busy days on the river? I'm afraid only those of us who were born last century, and much water has flowed under the Puke Bridge since then.

MR. JAMES SILCOCK was born in Paeroa in 1883, his parents having settled at Pereniki's Bend (between Junction and Puke Roads) in l879. Later they bought 27 acres near present Station Rd. from Mr. Wick who then owned much of Paeroa. Because of its shape it was called "Pudding Hill" and this became the Quarry which supplied large quantities of metal for streets. Mr. Silcock (Sen.), a tenor singer was Choir Master at the Anglican Church. James Silcock began his career with the Northern Steamship Coy. and later was Manager for many years until the termination of water transport to Paeroa. He was already a member of the 6th Hauraki Regiment when he married Miss Rae Edwards, the daughter of Mr. Edwin Edwards (Sen.), in 1910. They went to Hokianga where he was in charge of the Shipping Office, and Lieu. of the Nth. Auckland Regiment. After 3 years he returned to take charge of the Paeroa Ship. Off. and rejoined his old Regiment. Early in 1915 he went to Featherstone Mil. Train. Camp with the rank of Lieu. and Platoon Com. of the 7th Reinf. of the 6th Hauraki. A serious Operation delayed his going Overseas, and he was trans. to Home Service as Adj. and then Capt. During the closing stages of the War he was sent Overseas till 1920 to assist demobilisation at Larkhill Military Camp, Salisbury Plains. Mr. Silcock was a Paeroa Borough Councillor for 12 years (1922 - 31) and was responsible for Domain and Sports Grounds improvements. He always took a keen interest in Football and is the only survivor of the 1902 West Club, as well as being the oldest male resident born in Paeroa. During the 2nd World War he was Captain and Com. of the local Home Guards. When his home on Puke Road was destroyed by fire he moved to a farm at Waitoki before retiring to Cullen Street. We are indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Silcock for many details of Paeroa's early days.