Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997
By J A T Terry
Before the coming of the railway to Paeroa in December 1895 there was an extensive river traffic on the Ohinemuri River to a council wharf at the end of Wharf Street. The proposed railway line called for a bridge over the river below the wharf and as early as 1887 concern had been raised that the bridge would interfere with river traffic. (Waikato Times 17/2/1887.) To remedy this on 13/4/1887 the Public Works Department drew up a plan to divert the line away from the town to cross the river above the wharf. Although this plan was dropped, residents objected to a fixed span bridge wanting a swing span so that river traffic would be unimpeded. (See my article 'The Railway Bridge at Paeroa', Journal 38.)[see Journal 38: The Railway Bridge at Paeroa - E]
In December 1894, to satisfy local demand, the P.W.D. prepared plans for a wharf a short distance below the proposed rail bridge.
At the June 1895 meeting of the Ohinemuri County Council, it was resolved that a letter be sent to the P.W.D. pointing out that the proposed wharf and approaches did not meet with Council approval and as their present wharf would be rendered useless by the erection of the bridge, they requested that the new wharf and approaches be under their sole management and control. Council suggested the Government obtain a fresh site below the bridge outside the railway reserve and the wharf be erected there. Failing that, Council retain their present wharf and the centre span of the bridge be a swing one. (N.Z. Herald 11/6/1895)
No reply had been received by Council's July meeting but in the meantime the P.W.D. had suggested the Northern Steamship Company and all other shipping companies trading to Paeroa should hinge the masts and funnels of steamers to enable them to pass under the bridge. The Council wrote again to the P.W.D. stressing the point that it was distinctly understood that when the bridge was built the wharf accommodation to be provided would place the district in just as good a position as they occupied previous to the erection of the bridge. The real point made by Council was that it required absolute control of the wharf and approaches. As to the suggestion regarding the steamers, it hardly needed to discuss its impracticability. (N.Z. Herald 8/7/1895)
As will be seen later, whatever resulted from correspondence between Council and the P.W.D., Council was evidently under the impression that in respect of the wharf, it would be in no worse a position.
The wharf, constructed under the co-operative labour principle, was completed and ready for use before the opening of the line. Railways first move was to see it produce revenue and the question of charges was considered.
On 14 December 1895 the General Manager was informed by the Traffic Manager at Auckland that neither dues, tolls nor wharfage were levied at the Council wharf. He also reported that the Northern Shipping Coy. intended charging 6d per ton per day on goods stored in their shed. He considered Hellensville railway wharfage rates would be suitable.(1) To this the General Manager agreed and, except for minor changes, the Hellensville charges applied. A copy of the charges was sent to the Minister, Mr A J Cadman, who was also M.P. for the district. The Minister thus had more than a passing interest in the matter of wharf charges. He telegraphed the General Manager on 28 December, pointing out the amounts were so excessive that little or no cargo would come to the wharf once another wharf was erected at the Junction, and if the charges had not already been gazetted, to hold them over until he could speak to him. However the telegram was too late, the charges effective on 23 December 1895 had appeared in the N.Z. Gazette of 19 December.
In conveying this information to the Minister, the Assistant General Manager said there were reasons why goods from Auckland to Waikato should go by rail and it was not anticipated local business for Paeroa would be landed at the wharf. If wharfage rates were imposed, it would have a tendency to keep the Waikato business to the through railway route. If there were no charges it would have the opposite effect.(1) He was soon to find out how strongly the Paeroa residents felt on the matter.
The published charges drew a response from the Chairman of the County Council. Writing to the Minister (17/1/1896), he pointed out his Council had raised no objection to the fixed railway bridge as the Government had been willing to provide a wharf which would put the Council and the public in just a good as position as before the bridge was erected. However, they were much worse. Their wharf and approaches were now rendered practically useless by the erection of the bridge; control of the new wharf was completely out of the hands of the Local Body and with the prohibitive wharfage and storage charges, very little or any goods had been landed at the new wharf since it was opened. To the great inconvenience of the public, all goods and passengers had to be landed at the Junction wharf. Furthermore the Council never charged wharfage and gave every assistance to keep down shipping charges.(1)
A hurried exchange of correspondence between the Minister and the General Manager resulted in a new scale of charges. (N.Z. Gazette 30/1/1896) As from 3 February 1896, merchandise goods not carried by rail landed at the wharf, would be charged 1/6 per ton instead of 3/- and goods consigned to mines outside the town of Paeroa to be stored three days free of charge.(1)
Despite the Council considering the hinging of masts and funnels to be impracticable for steamers, on her first trip to Paeroa the owners of the SS Ngunguru had made the necessary alterations to allow her to pass under the bridge to land cargo at the old wharf. (Ohinemuri Gazette 25/1/1896) In his 'On Dit' column of 1 February 1896, the writer stated that the steamer that came through the bridge to the old wharf deserved public support. However it is doubtful if the Ngunguru used the old wharf for any length of time. At its February meeting the Council granted permission for its owners to erect a storage shed at the Junction. (Gazette 8/2/1896) On March 14 the Gazette, reporting on the activity at the Junction wharf, said there were no less than five steamers, including the Ngunguru, discharging their cargoes. A photograph taken not long after the railway wharf was opened shows that steamer lying at the railway wharf.
Also at that February meeting Councillor Edwards brought up the matter of the exorbitant wharfage levied by the Railway Department. This resulted in a letter being sent requesting the Council be placed in the same position as regards wharf accommodation as it was before the bridge was built.
To the Council meeting on 2 April 1896 was presented a petition in favour of a new wharf on a site offered by two residents 3½ chains below the railway wharf. The petitioners wanted Council to accept same and make a new wharf and road. It was resolved to send the petition to the Government in order to show what the people thought and that the wharfage fee be reduced to 6d per ton. (Gazette 4/4/1896)
On 17 April 1896, in forwarding the petition (in error to the Minister P.W.D. instead of Railways), the County Clerk pointed out it was a great pity that a good new wharf should be useless to the public owing to prohibitive charges.(1) The correspondence was forwarded to the General Manager of Railways who, in sending it on to his Minister, pointed out that the previous reduction failed to secure any business but he was agreeable to a further reduction. The Minister concurred. The new rate (N.Z. Gazette 14/5/1896) showed a reduction on most goods to 1/- per ton, effective 25 May 1896. However from 1 April the N.S.S. Coy. had given notice that free storage would be given for 48 hours on local cargo and for outlying districts, three days, after which a charge would be made. (Gazette 4/4/1896)
It was from an unexpected quarter that business was to come to the wharf. On 30 April 1896 the Traffic Manager at Auckland telegraphed the General Manager: "Owing to bad state of roads Paeroa station and wharf (goods) sheds blocked with traffic. Steamers now unloading at railway wharf and goods have to be stored outside. . ." The General Manager requested he confer with the District Engineer as to necessary accommodation which had to be of a cheap and temporary kind, easily removable without injury to materials. In addition road approaches to the station and wharf would be attended to.(1)
The Gazette (2/5/1896) commented on the need for more storage with increased rail traffic and the N.S.S. steamers landing goods on the railway wharf. The cargo landed at the wharf exceeded 300 tons per week.
The District Engineer acted promptly. The Gazette (9/5/1896) could report that groups of men were at work improving access roads to the station and goods sheds and to meet the demand of the N.S.S. Coy. steamers, a new goods shed, 40 feet by 23 feet, was being erected on the wharf opposite the existing shed.
To get goods from the Junction wharf into Paeroa town delivery was dependant upon the Junction Road. Early in March 1896 a public meeting had been held to consider a motion on the need to metal the road. The Chairman said that as the new railway wharf was a white elephant owing to the wharfage and storage charges demanded, and of no use except for light goods, it was necessary to metal the Junction road by winter or otherwise it would be impassable for drays or coaches and next to impassable to pedestrians. The seconder to the motion suggested that there should be a Harbour Board to look after the river traffic and the County should agitate to get possession of the wharf. (Gazette 7/3/1896) A deputation from the meeting waited on the Council whose Chairman was of the opinion the Council should get the site 3½ chains below the wharf and if driven to it, make a new wharf. (Gazette 7/3/1896)
A correspondent signing himself 'Consignee', in a letter to the Gazette (2/5/1896) stated the Junction Road was a sea of mud and the Junction wharf in a state of unutterable confusion.
On 12 June the new paddle steamer Te Aroha commenced her maiden run from Auckland by unloading cargo at the old Wharf Street wharf and the Gazette (17/6/1896) stated the N.S.S. Coy. had put an addition to their Junction wharf goods shed which was now 140 feet by 22 feet.
By July the Junction Road was in a worse state. The County Engineer reported to his Council (Gazette 4/7/1896) that the road was in such a fearful condition that it was next to impassable and therefore dangerous and he recommended that a notice be posted up at both ends notifying that it was not fit for traffic and that those using it did so at their own risk. Council did not appear to act on the notice recommendation.
Those great days for the wharf were not to last and soon the Junction wharf was back to normal.
In December 1896 railways had carried out a survey on the cartage of drapery, groceries and hardware between Auckland and Paeroa by rail and steamer. Rail compared most unfavourably. The Auckland District Traffic Manager said it would be a suicidal policy to attempt to take on traffic now going by steamer by making competitive rates. The N.S.S. Coy. allowed large discounts and gave credit up to three months. If the Department attempted to hurt the Company by lowering rates, the Company would retaliate by making a reduction on Paeroa goods.(1)
In September 1897 the question of wharfage rates for Waikato coal shipped from Paeroa to Thames was discussed. The Railways Department was anxious to foster trade in coal between Huntly and Thames so until the line to Thames was opened, Waikato coal, consigned by rail for transfer to Thames steamers, was free of wharf charges. Later (June 1898) the same policy was adopted for chaff sent to Thames via the Paeroa wharf.(1)
Presumably the Council had tried to gain control of the wharf for at its meeting on 20 May 1897 a letter was read from the Railways General Manager refusing to give Council control. (Gazette 22/5/1897)
On 1 October 1897 William Forrest, a Paeroa contractor, was granted a lease of the railway wharf with use of the railway siding at £13 p.a. It was a yearly lease terminable at any time with three months notice on either side. Also, on the same date at £15.12.0 p.a., he was leased a shed on a yearly basis terminable at one months notice.(2) Forrest was to advertise in the Ohinemuri Gazette as 'lessee of the railway wharf store'. Whether it was the temporary shed built in 1896 or the original wharf shed I have not been able to ascertain.
In February 1899 Messrs McLennan and Hope, contractors and forwarding agents, Paeroa, applied for a lease of the wharf and permission to erect a goods shed to store their goods. However as it was considered their business would be in opposition to the railway, the application was declined. As no mention was made of the wharf being leased it is possible Forrest may have, at that time, given up his lease of the wharf and siding.(3)
In May 1899 the Cambridge firm of W Souter & Coy. approached the General Manager seeking free storage on the wharf. The firm wished to encourage trade in produce (chaff, oats, potatoes etc.) to Coromandel. A trial shipment of eight trucks, recently sent to Paeroa, completely filled the steamer and the scow in tow. The firm found it difficult to load the whole consignment for one train and suggested in future it be sent a few trucks at a time and the produce stored in the wharf shed until the order was complete. All labour costs the firm would pay. The District Traffic Manager was not in favour, stating it took up to ten minutes to shunt the wharf and this delayed trains. He saw no reason why the firm could not send a complete consignment on the one train. The request was declined. However on the matter of wharf charges (not storage) the District Traffic Manager, writing to the General Manager on 6 June 1899, said the wharf was simply a dead letter and at present very rarely used. He recommended goods consigned to Paeroa be free of wharfage charges. He did not think it would affect the Thames trade. The General Manager did not agree.(3)
By October 1904, as Forrest had no further use for the goods shed, his lease was terminated on 31 December 1904. As it was thought more accommodation may be required when the line to Waihi was opened, rather than moving the shed to another station it remained in place.(4) The original goods shed was demolished in 1905(5), the material being used for train examiner and guard's room as part of additions to the Paeroa station building. The 1896 goods shed had been removed to the station yard and placed on packing. In May 1906 instructions were given for that building to be cut in two and used to construct two goods sheds, each 20 feet by 20 feet, for use at Waimauku and Swanson stations.(6)
By Proclamation in the N.Z. Gazette of 4 April 1895, effective 10 July 1895, the Ohinemuri River was declared a watercourse for mine tailings and debris. An editorial in the Ohinemuri Gazette of 25 May 1900 stated that at the present rate of silting up of the river, any of the steamers now running would not be able to reach the Junction wharf in a year's time.
In May 1909 the Paeroa stationmaster stated that, owing to silting, the railway wharf was used only when there was a fresh in the river, and apart from a recent shipment of pipes, coal and bricks were the only class of goods that had been put over the wharf since he had been at Paeroa. (Since October 1907) He said it was only a matter of time when the boats would not be able to use the wharf as the river was silting up fast. Eight years ago there was fifteen feet of water at the wharf, now there was only about three feet.(1)
In May 1913, with no wharfage charges having been shown in returns for some time, the General Manager enquired of the District Traffic Manager as to the traffic passing over the wharf. The reply was nil and that it was about three years since boats had used the wharf. In 1916 it was reported that no use had been made of the wharf since the 1913 enquiry.(1)
Following the report of a Royal Commission to investigate all problems of the silting of the Ohinemuri and Waihou Rivers (A.J.H.R. C 14 1910), Parliament passed the Waihou and Ohinemuri Rivers Improvement Act 1910. One of the works involved the construction of stopbanks. By May 1916 these banks had reached the railway boundary on the east side of the railway line at Paeroa and preparations were in hand for work on the opposite side. The level of the stopbank was two feet above main line level near the railway bridge and the P.W.D. wanted the siding to the wharf raised four feet.(7)
In the opinion of the Chief Traffic manager the railway wharf was of little utility either to the Department or the public. Writing to the General Manager on 8 July 1916 the Chief Engineer said it would be very expensive to raise the siding. The only use to which the wharf was put was to ship coal to the Gold Coy's dredge when it worked in the vicinity.(3)
It had been suggested that a 12 foot by 3 foot flood gate be fitted into concrete walls at the ends of the stopbanks. In times of heavy flood the gate would be placed in position across the sidings. However both the P.W.D. and Railways Chief Engineers did not consider the method satisfactory. The alternative was to abandon the wharf and shorten the siding. This would permit the bank being carried across the railway reserve without a break.(3)
On 31 July 1916 the General Manager approved of lifting the rails on the wharf.(3) On 22 August 1916 the Railway Land Officer gave notice to the Waihi - Paeroa Gold Extraction Coy. that their right, granted in 1911, to attach gold shutes to the wharf, was to be cancelled.(7) This upset the Manager of the Company and on 24 October 1916 he informed the District Traffic Manager at Auckland that to keep the wharf rights undisturbed, the Company was prepared to pay the total cost of putting in a flood gate. He pointed out that their dredging had so increased the depth of the river that in the near future they expected to use the wharf to rail flints and machinery to Waihi.(7) Both the District Traffic Manager and District Engineer at Auckland recommended this (3/11/1916) but it was to no avail, the lease being cancelled as from 1 December 1916.(7) In March 1917 the decision was made to abandon the wharf, the Marine Department having no objection.(7)
The Company tried again. In a letter (21/5/1917) to the District Engineer, an offer of £35 was made for the wharf as it stood and a rental of £3 per year for a six year period for the right to use the site. It was their intention to dismantle part of the wharf leaving the rest for mooring its launches and barges.(7) To the General Manager on 10 August 1917, the Chief Engineer said the value of the timber was £66 and dismantling £40 would leave a favourable balance of £26. He recommended the offer of the Company be accepted. The General Manager agreed. Effective 1 September 1917, the Company was granted a lease of the site for six years at £3 p.a.(3) When the Company ceased operations in 1918, the lease was terminated on 31 December 1918. So ended the Paeroa Railway Wharf.
Why did the wharf fail? Wharf charges must take the blame. As the Ohinemuri County Council had levied none for their wharf, by Paeroa terms any charge was excessive and by the time the first reduction had been made, the damage was done. The Minister was close to the mark when he predicted that little or no traffic would come to the wharf once the Junction wharf was in operation. That wharf was a much better proposition for the N.S.S. Coy as no storage charges were involved and with the winding nature of the river from the Junction to the railway wharf, there was a saving in time and fuel.
It was stated that the Steamship Coy. had deserted the railway wharf as the Government had broken a promise to give them a site alongside the railway reserve.(8) If this was correct we have both the Council and the N.S.S. Coy. aggrieved on account of alleged broken promises. At that time the silting of the river had not affected wharf operations.
Whatever promises the P.W.D. was alleged to have made, to me it seems most unlikely that Railways would have agreed to waive wharfage charges or looked favourably on a competitor, the N.S.S., building a wharf adjacent to theirs. The Department was not in business to help the opposition as was evidenced by refusal to lease the wharf to MacLennan and Hope in 1899.
It is interesting to note that before the railway wharf was opened, the N.S.S. Coy was in the process of building its Junction wharf shed, as the telegram to the General Manager on 14 December 1895 stated the Company intended to charge 6d per ton for goods stored in it.
By mid 1899 the District Traffic Manager at Auckland had said the wharf was a dead letter, and rarely used, and the fact that as early as October 1897 business was so poor that the wharf and siding could be leased, highlighted the damage wharfage charges had done.
100 years on it is easy to be wise. Although more costly than a wharf, possibly the wishes of the Council and residents should have been acceded to and a swing span built into the railway bridge (as was done at Te Aroha) with the Council wharf left to look after river traffic. When the river silted up and that wharf rendered useless, the railway loss would have been only the cost of the swing span and much adverse criticism avoided. With Railways always going to charge wharfage fees the wharf was doomed from the start, especially as an alternative site was so easily available to the shipping company.
- R3 04/2925. Wharfage Rates - Paeroa. Part 1 1895-1920 N.Z. R. General Manager's Office. Registered Files, National Archives, Wellington.
- A.J.H.R. D4 1898
- R3 16/3434. Proposal to Close - Paeroa wharf. N.Z.R. General Manager's Office. Registered files, National Archives, Wellington
- 204/7. Paeroa Goods Shed 1900-1978.N.Z.R. District Engineer's Office Hamilton. National Archives, Auckland reference A 558 238c.
- District Engineer N.Z.R. Hamilton. List of Asset write offs.
- R. File 3948. Swanson Goods Shed 1906 1974, N.Z.R. District Engineer's Office Auckland. National Archives, Auckland.
- File 10/3, Stop Banks Paeroa. Closed file N.Z.R. District Engineer's Office, Hamilton.
- Councillor Edwards to Ohinemuri Council on 5/3/1896 quoting remark made to him by secretary of N.S.S. Coy. Ohinemuri Gazette 7/3/1896.