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T.S.S. KENNEDY    1864 - 1929


Displacement:     Originally 149 tons, refitted to 174 tons in 1875; 189 tons in 1886; 193 tons in 1895and finally 226 tons in 1904.

Length overall:     136 feet. On four occasions she underwent extensive alterations and on one of these she was lengthened slightly.

Propulsion:     A single boiler provided steam for two engines driving twin screws.

Accommodation:     Thirty-one saloon passengers and sixteen steerage.


The year 1864 must have been a most exciting one for the partners of Nathaniel Edwards and Company of Nelson. It opened on a note of gloom and closed in an atmosphere of unprecedented optimism. The fledgling settlement of Nelson had been struck with gold fever. Getting to the Gold fields of the West Coast was an obsession with men convinced an easy fortune could be made. Edward's purchase of the Wallabi had been thoroughly justified and business was so brisk that the Company decided that a further steamship was essential.

Luck was with the Company when the partners again turned their thoughts across the Tasman towards Australia. It happened that a steamship of 149 tons had been built for the Australian Steam Navigation Co., Sydney, at their own shipyards at Pyrmont in 1864-65. Her name was Kennedy and she had been built for the Queensland river service. Much interest had surrounded the launching of this vessel as her propulsion system consisting of twin screws was something quite new in those days. The great advantage of this system was in facilitating a quick turnaround. But in spite of the new device, this didn't prevent the Kennedy from running on a reef quite early in her career, necessitating her return to Sydney for immediate repairs.

Her owners then began to have second thoughts about her suitability for this trade and finally arranged with John Young, merchant and ship-broker, to sell her. Negotiations with Nathaniel Edwards were successful with the result that the Kennedy arrived at Nelson on the 7th of October 1865, but by this time a new steamer was no novelty and this meant that her reception lacked the colour of that of her predecessors.

The Kennedy was a handsome vessel with a raked stem and a tall thin funnel stepped between her main and mizzen masts. She was painted in the Anchor company colours; Salmon pink to the water line, with a Black hull, the super-structure finished in White and the funnel topped in Black. Throughout her days at sea she retained the use of her sails, which under favourable conditions, gave her a turn of speed beyond the capability of her single boiler.

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If her owners had lived to see the turn of the century, they would have been amazed at the Kennedy's success. Never in their wildest dreams could they have guessed in 1865 that they had purchased such a money-spinner. She remained with the Company for fifty-four years serving on the Nelson to Hokitika route, in the early days literally packed to the gunnels with prospectors.

So the Kennedy joined the Wallabi in the regular service to West Coast ports, with occasional trips to Taranaki for cattle. But wherever they went, they usually carried full cargoes and complete complements of passengers.

As a passenger vessel she carried Gold seekers prepared to pay up to £10 for a berth on the 36-hour trip to Greymouth from Nelson. The less fortunate paid a lower price for standing room only. In those days safety regulations were scanty, and the Kennedy would leave Nelson with crowded decks, while those who couldn't get on board, bitten by 'Gold Fever', would try to jump from the wharf, sometimes landing in the water and clambering up the sides of the steamer. The Kennedy carried some colourful characters: Gold miners from the Australian and Californian gold fields, entertainers, traders and 'women of easy virtue' on their way to gold towns at Fox River and Charleston (below). On one occasion the Kennedy took the hangman to Greymouth, with his gallows and ropes stowed in the hold.

Constant Bay, Charleston, circa 1867, where the Kennedy would be moored to ring-bolts set into the rock in the foreground.

1867     In common with the other early vessels in the fleet she had her share of strandings. One of these occurred on the Hokitika Bar two years after her entry into the West Coast service. There she remained for two weeks and when she was refloated it was found that the her bottom was severely strained and since New Zealand at that time had no facilities for an overhaul, she was taken to Sydney, making the trip in eight days.

A few years later, with some of Nelson's prominent citizens on board, she was washed away from her mooring in the Mohikinui River and was headed into the rough waters of the river mouth without enough steam in her boiler to start the engines. Skilful seamanship saved the day, the passengers had no more than a fright and some anecdotal material for their return to Nelson.

A writer who observed the vessel in her later years recorded the scene thus: "Surging along with the seas boiling under her quarter, her weathered canvas drawing taut to the following wind and smoke flying free from her reeling stack, the Kennedy, like some visitant from the storied past, emerged from the swirling mists of the winter's day."

1918     The steamer had her last adventure, while trying to cross the Westport Bar after a mishap had swept away the coal feed pipe and the boilers were short on fuel. The master tried to make port and managed to get across the bar, but the Kennedy was swept out of the channel by the rollers sweeping up the river. The ship was manoeuvred back out to sea, minus a life boat and some deck fittings, which were swept away. Towards the end of the afternoon with waves crashing along the deck from stem to stern a second, successful bid for port was made, at the cost of an engine room half filled with water and injuries sustained by the mate, the second engineer and a sailor.

1919     Sold Manawatu Shipping Co. Ltd. Levin and Company of Wellington acted as her managers and she served on the Wellington to Foxton run for a further ten years.

1929     Dismantled at Wellington.

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1929     December     Hull towed to Wairau River mouth to form a breakwater. Her partly buried remains (above) can still be seen in the shingle and sand of the Wairau Bar near Blenheim.


Kevin Dekker of Picton and the Marlborough Express newspaper of Benheim.

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