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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 14, October 1970

By CLIFF FURNISS

Some of the passengers crossing Auckland Harbour in the Devonport paddle-ferry soon after six o'clock on the evening of Wednesday, 23rd April, 1896 may have noticed an unfamiliar steamer heading down-harbour. She was of about 250 tons and 100 feet long, a wooden ship with a dark green hull and a long poop deck painted white outside down to the level of the bulwarks enclosing a short well-deck forward. There was no raised forecastle-head. The white band of the poop was dotted with a line of port-holes, indicating roomy passenger accommodation. She had two nicely raked masts, and a long dark plume of coalsmoke rolled away from a funnel painted in the familiar colours of the Northern Steam Ship Co. Ltd. - white, with a black top. Her decks were piled high with timber, and with some 150 tons of cargo in her holds she was drawing (if the watchers were close enough and interested enough to notice the draft figures) 5 feet forward and 6 feet aft. If they could read her draft, they could also read the name in yellow letters on her bow and stern "WAIMAREI" (Quiet Waters).

Under the experienced command of Captain William Sullivan, the brand new "WAIMARIE" was setting out on her maiden voyage down the Hauraki Gulf, the Firth of Thames, and up the Waihou River to deliver passengers and cargo to Paeroa, 70 miles by water from Auckland. The passengers grouped under the she1ter awning right aft or around the steering position at the break of the poop included Mr. C. Ranson, Manager of the Northern Co., Mr. Trevithick, to whose design Robert Logan had built the ship, Captain Anderson, a Northern. Company director, and even Mr. Fenn the electrician who had installed the new-fangled electric light in the steamer, had managed to get in on the act. Mr. Fenn and Mr. Trevithick must have been particularly keen that all should go well. If the electric light behaved itself, then it would probably be installed in other ships of the fleet, and if the design of the ship proved satisfactory, then it might be used to build a running-mate for the "WAIMARIE" in the growing Paeroa trade. A great deal, one way and another, depended on this first trip.

By seven o'clock the "WAIMARIE" was passing Brown's Island, and a compass course - due East - was set. This carried her down the channel between Ponui Island and Pakihi, passing the Sandspit Light high on its iron stilts, like Bean Rock Light, at about 9-15 p.m. Here the course was altered by a full point to E x S, which took her down to Orere Point, where the uplifted spine of the Pokeno Range thrust out towards the Gulf. Here, at 9-50 p.m., the last change of course was made to SE x E ½ E, which would take her over the last lap down the Firth to the mouth of the Waihou River in another three hours. The lights of Thames began to loom, fine on the port bow, brightened, and drew slowly abeam as the watchful red eye of the Fairway Buoy blinked a warning at the edge of the river channel.

Then she was coming gent1y alongside the wharf at Kopu, and the tricky river passage had begun. Tricky, and worrying for Captain Sullivan, who knew full well that the river was in an abnormally low state after a dry autumn. And the fresh southerly wind they had been steaming into all the way down the Gulf was no help at all, for it would retard the tidal flow into the river. It was the last straw, thought Captain Sullivan, that with a new and heavily loaded steamer to hand1e under these conditions, he should have all the big-wigs on board into the bargain. Well, he would take no chances until he saw how the "WAIMARIE" performed in turning the tight bends of the shallow river. So with Captain Sullivan himse1f at the wheel, and the engines turning easily at "Slow Ahead", the "WAIMARIE" cautiously set about "Working River Ports as required". A few bags of mail at Turua, a passenger or two and a few slings of cargo at Puriri, Wharepoa, Hikutaia, and Netherton. Much to the Captain's relief, she proved to be a perfect lady, handling easily in the difficult conditions brought about by the drought and poor tides. The electric light was declared to be a great success, though "rather blinding on the wide expanse of the water".

Perhaps Sullivan was a trifle over-cautious, losing precious time nosing slowly up river as the ebb tide streamed away ever more strongly. The ship was, ironically, only five minutes' steaming from Journey's end at the Junction Wharf, where the Ohinemuri joined the Waihou, when she came gently but inexorably to a standstill. The propellers churned up the mud to no avail; the "WAIMARIE" was there to stay "at a point opposite the residence of Dr. Forbes" until the incoming tide banked up enough water to float her.

So the morning passed, with the V.I.P.'s twiddling their thumbs and probably revising prepared speeches about the "regular and dependable service provided by this progressive company". During the morning a punt was brought alongside and a start was made discharging timber and general on to it with the ship's gear in an attempt to lighten her. The rising tide helped their efforts and at long last the "WAIMARIE" moved up to the wharf to land her Paeroa passengers and complete working cargo. In the afternoon both discharging and loading were finished, the gear clewed up, and for the first time the heading "From Paeroa Towards Auckland" appeared in the ship's log. A quarter-century of service to the district by the "WAIMARIE" had begun. And the big-wigs could not have been too displeased with their trip: two years later the "WAIMARIE" 's near sister, the "TANIWHA" appeared on the scene. She, too, was built by Robert Logan, Mr. Fenn installed her electric light, and Captain William Sullivan was appointed as her first Captain. Like the "WAIMARIE", she had a long, useful, and quite eventful life, covering a span of forty years on the Paeroa run.

(Further episodes to follow).


OUR CONTRIBUTOR: CLIFF FURNISS spent his early years on the Hauraki Plains and an unformed Road bounding one side of their former property at Torehape is shown on maps as "Furniss Road". Cliff had a changing career till after World War II when he joined the Waterfront Industry Commission in Auckland - first in the pay office now in the Contracts Section (Stevedoring Accounts Div.) where he has served in various capacities and has become an authority on marine historical matters.