Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 21, June 1977


I ran away from home, down in the King Country, just at the end of the First World War. I wanted to join the Navy and go to sea but was too young so joined the Merchant Marine instead. During this period (approximately 2 years 9 months) I served on both "Taniwha" and "Whakatere".

The "Whakatere", running between Auckland and Thames was my first ship and on going aboard and reporting the Skipper, Captain Stevens, I was told to report to Mr. Lyons (First Mate) on the Wharf at the time. I looked over the side and said "Who - that fellow there with braid on this hat?". The old man with a fair supply of blood in his eye, roared at me, "Eees not a fellow, Eees what we call an Hofficer".

I had signed on as "Brassy" there were three of us on the old "Whaka" and our job was not only polishing brass, but handling all the deck cargo, this mainly composed of barrels and barrels of beer. There were about 30 pubs at Thames and they got through some beer. We also handled explosives for the mines, and quite a mixture of other merchandise. We three brasseys, Ray Wangford, Jack Lowell and myself then nicknamed King Country (that was my so called home port, later changed to Hami., when my people shifted to Hamilton), were a team who had to work hard but who also created their own fun. Pay was £1.0.0 per week and keep while aboard ship.

One night in Thames when returning to the ship after a trip to the pictures, Ray Wangford and myself caught up to Mrs. Tucker (Stewardess) a hefty sort of woman, known by all as Ma Tucker. As we approached the old wharf, I noticed Ray edging old Ma over my way and knowing there was a very slippery patch ahead (where the fishermen landed their catch) I tried to reverse the action, we hit the edge of it and poor old Ma nearly turkeyed out, but I managed to save her, only to be soundly abused after by Ray for spoiling the fun. The old Whaka was my first ship and later was my last having shipped on her twice.

Sometime in 1919, I shipped in S.S. Taniwha under Captain Farquer, again as "boy" and on one trip the Saloon Steward and I got permission from the Captain to lower the after boat and row up the river towards Paeroa. Somewhere in the wilderness we located some apple trees which we promptly raided and loaded a swag of them into the boat. On the way back, Tom Silver, (I think that was his name) asked me if I could swim, and pulled the plug out, water spouted aboard and Tom pretended to throw the plug away and promptly did so by accident. We rowed after it as it was wood and floated. We recovered it but not before the boat was awash with the apples floating away. By the time we got the boat empty of water we did not have many apples. In the facle or (forecastle) on the old Taniwha in a seaway, it was not what could be called comfortable. As "boy" I got the wet bunk and many a time got a good doucing of cold water from a leaky port-hole - everything would be awash on the deck. Nevertheless, she was a good old tub and a happy ship.

I also shipped on Ngapui running to Tauranga. I learnt another lesson not to whistle on board. The Chief Engineer was a small dour Scotchman, known to all the crew as old "Bonny Doon", that is the only name I can remember him by. One day in port, I was proceeding down the starboard alleyway past his cabin, whistling like a canary or so I thought. His door opened behind me, and his boot collided with my butt end with great force to be followed up with a string of Scotch abuse and instructions not to whistle while on board ship. So, one learns the rough way!

Later, I again served on the "Whakatere". We boys were kept in order by a fine old Seaman, George Quintal A.B.S. (Able Bodied Seaman). He kept a long cane along side his bunk and if one of us started a "rough house" or misbehaved in any way, we felt it and no mistake! My life at sea finished when after a trip to Sydney and Newcastle on the old "Maheno", I was granted Ordinary Seaman status but was too young to serve in that capacity. I then left the sea and went to work on the Ngiotapu dam then being constructed in the Waitakere Range.