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The Triple Screw Steamer  MAORI II   1907 - 1951

Initially operated by numerous vessels owned by the company, the over-night inter-island express service between Wellington and Lyttelton, was one of the most important routes taken up by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand.


The most innovative ship to be introduced was the the vessel ordered as a replacement for the Rotomahana (1879) and in anticipation of the increased passenger traffic as a consequence of the completion of the main trunk railway between Auckland and Wellington.

BUILT:     1906 by William Denny & Bros at Dumbarton, Scotland

TONNAGE:     3,399 gross

DIMENSIONS:     350 x 47 feet (106.7x 14.3m)

SERVICE SPEED:     17 knots, top speed 20.5 knots

PROPULSION:     Geared turbines driving triple screws.  Fitted with a bow rudder for astern berthing.

ACCOMMODATION:     630 passengers in two classes.

1906     May 11     At a cost of £108,848, the first purpose built vessel for the inter-island passenger service, the Maori was launched in the presence of the Premier of New Zealand; Sir Joseph Ward. She crashed in to the opposite bank of the river, and on her trials she ran aground (below), having to go into dry-dock for repairs.

On her second trial run, she collided with and sank the Kintyre, a small coaster, with the Maori going back into dry-dock for more repairs.  At the start of her delivery voyage, the vessel ran aground again, this time without suffering damage.

1907     November     Above: arrived at Port Chalmers, New Zealand.

During her regular service she would arrive at Lyttelton at 6.40 a.m. on alternate days, departing for Wellington at 8.30 p.m. the same evening. If the Invercargill express was late arriving in Christchurch, then she would wait for the arrival of the passengers and mails, setting off at high speed for Wellington, where she would always arrive at 7.00 am the following morning. Here she would wait all day for the passengers from the South bound express train from Auckland.


1907     December     Above: sailed from Lyttelton Heads to the Wellington Heads in eight hours and eighteen minutes, reducing the 175 miles service by more than one hour.

1907     December 27 Set a new record of eight hours and twenty three minutes from wharf to wharf, a record that would not be broken for fourteen years.

1909     October     The New Zealand government expressed an interest in purchasing the vessel and a price was set at £128,000. However there was political opposition to the plan and the sale did not proceed.

1913     October 24     Maori sailed for Wellington and the new Wahine for Lyttelton.  At last the Company had two vessels that could match one another and run to a timetable that might be the envy of any railway department.  Both vessels could make good connections with the railway expresses both in the North and South Islands and could ensure that mail posted in Wellington by 5 or 6 p.m. any evening except Saturday could be delivered in Christchurch on the following morning, and vice versa.  But this happy state of affairs lasted for only a week because of a water-front strike that threatened the economy of the country.

1913     November 1     The strike ran to a rather familiar pattern: first the waterside workers came out, and then the various maritime unions in sympathy.  Every effort was made to keep the Wellington-Lyttelton ferry service going, and at the start railway-men handled the mail, which was taken ashore by Union Company shore staff.  There was great jubilation amongst the seamen when the crew of the Wahine gave notice, but for a while the Maori's men remained loyal.

As a precaution against pickets attempting to prevent the Maori's lines from being released, the ship's officers were provided with hatchets so that they could cut the ropes from the ship without having to go ashore; but in the end, union pressure became too great for the Maori's men and on the 10th of November they too came out on strike.

1913     December 20     The strike was called off and normal services were resumed.  With Captain Manning in command and while departing from the Queen's Wharf at about 11.30 p.m. the vessel struck the Ruahine a glancing blow abreast of the bridge before she herself could get clear.  Five of the Ruahine's plates were damaged and the Maori's stem was twisted.  However, Manning decided to anchor the vessel out in the stream for the night and after an inspection of the ship's bow had been made in daylight, she sailed for Lyttelton at 5 a.m.  Subsequent reports showed that the damage was not serious and although she was dry-docked at Lyttelton a few days later for six or seven hours, her normal timetable was not affected.  When interviewed by the press after her return to Wellington Captain Manning said that the cause of the collision was not as stated by the papers. "It was an accident, pure and simple."

1916     June 7     Maori first berthed at the newly transformed Wool Jetty, from then on to be known as the Lyttelton Ferry Wharf.

1916     A war time crew shortage caused the cancellation of sailings.

1922     A maritime strike caused the vessel to be withdrawn from service.

1923     Converted from coal to oil fired boilers.

1931     Maori became the relief ship when Rangatira entered service, then returned to full-time service during the war years.

Left: at Akaroa on the first of January, 1931.

1932     April 6     Maori became the first paying customer to use the Wellington Harbour Board's new floating dock, the Jubilee.

Maori (right) and the Wahine of 1913 at Wellington in 1932.

Maori on a busy day at Wellington with the Wahine behind her.

1936     February     Hastily recommissioned when the Rangatira spent eighty eight days in the floating dock at Wellington after striking rocks near the entrance to the Harbour in a Southerly storm.

1940    December 29    She was again called on to resume the inter island service when the Rangatira with 750 passengers aboard and Captain George B. Morgan in command the vessel ran into a fog bank and went aground at Pigeon Bay, near the entrance to Lyttleton Harbour. Rangatira was subsequently sent to Port Chalmers for repairs.

1944     January     Laid up again at Wellington.

1946     June     After two and a half years idle, she was sold for £100,000 to the United Corporation of China Ltd.

1946     August 22     Departed Wellington, going first to Sydney, then to Shanghai.  Renamed Hwa Lien, which means 'China connection' and with her newly painted Black and White funnels, she was intended to operate on the China coast and the local populace considered her the last word in luxury.

1946     December     Departed Shanghai for Sydney, carrying 523 passengers, 303 were Jewish refugees who, with the rise of Hitler, had fled Europe to find haven in the 'open city' of Shanghai.

1947     January 10     The Hwa Lien radioed that she was running short of food and water, and had to divert to Darwin, arriving there on the 14th of January.  The town turned out in style to welcome the ship carrying the refugees from China.  Restocked and replenished, the voyage continued.

1947     January 26    Arrived at Brisbane.

1947     January 28     Berthed at Sydney, where the passengers disembarked and then returned to Shanghai.

1947     The advance of Communist forces on Shanghai brought her coastal service to an end and she was used to ferry Nationalist troops to Formosa (Taiwan).

1950     Sold to the Chung Lien Steam Ship Company and laid up in Keelung Harbour.

1951     January 13     During a hurricane she dragged her anchors, grounded and then sank.

1951     May     Raised and sold to ship breakers.  However, a section of the hull was converted into a barge and had an 80 ton crane fitted, serving in Keelung Harbour for many more years.

Above: Detail from the painting by Jack Ephraim Hobbs, 1911-1979.
(Museum of Wellington City and Sea, New Zealand).


Thanks to Mattew Smith and also to Marcus Castell

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