NORTHERN STEAM SHIP COMPANY LTD.
This company was formed in Auckland on 11 May 1881 to take over the steamers and trade of the Auckland Steam Packet Company, an association of steam ship owners under the management of Captain McGregor. For the first few years the Company struggled, but in 1887 Charles Ranson - an accountant by profession - was appointed as Manager and the Company forged ahead.
The Northern S.S. Co., became the lifeline of the North and their ships could be seen in just about every river, creek and bay. When Charles Ranson retired in 1921, the Company's fleet had grown to a total of more than forty vessels, but with the development of road and rail transport over the next couple of decades, the passenger trade dwindled and eventually became uneconomic. Cargo carried on though and during WW2, the Company's coastal fleet played an important role, with two vessels - Ronaki and Tuhoe - being taken over by the American War Administration for operation in the Pacific War Zone.
After the War, the Company expanded its operations to the South Island commencing with the purchase from the United Kingdom of the Goldfinder which was renamed Apanui. Further second-hand tonnage was acquired and then in 1953 began a building programme beginning with the Maranui (739grt) from the Dutch shipyard of J. Bodewes. Other vessels built by this yard were Maunganui (860grt) in 1955, Poranui (892grt) in 1956 and Tawanui (891grt) in 1959. Attention was then turned to Hong Kong yards, from which the Moanui (975grt) came in 1961, followed by the similar but larger Awanui (1,185grt) in 1962. These ships were the first on the N.Z. coast to have bipod masts. As these vessels came into service the older tonnage was sold off, although Hotonui which had been acquired in 1950, lasted until 1967.
Launch day for the Poranui at J. Bodewes Scheepswerven, Hoogezand. 14 July 1956.
Photo courtesy of B. Romeling
The move towards containerisation saw the advent of the Seaway Princess (1,053grt), a roll-on/roll-off ship built in Hong Kong in 1967. Designed for a weekly service from Onehunga to Lyttelton, she was doomed from the start when the Auckland Harbour Board backed down from their promise to build a linkspan for her at Onehunga. This meant she had to operate from Auckland sharing the only available likspan with ships of the Union Company which had priority. Consequent delays and losses saw her sold to the Holm Shipping Company in late 1969.
The demand for South Island bulk grain in Auckland and Tauranga gave the Company a welcome reprieve which saw the Bay Fisher chartered for this trade in 1967. Moanui of 1961 was sold to Australian owners in 1966 and Poranui was sold to Capt. A.R. Rusden of Port Vila in October 1969. She was wrecked only a month later on Jouan Reef 100 miles north of Noumea, fortunately with no loss of life.
Not so lucky was the Maranui which sank in heavy weather off Mercury Bay on 13 June 1968 with the loss of 9 of her 15-man crew. She was on passage from Lyttelton to Auckland when her cargo of wheat shifted allowing water to enter the ship via uncovered and unplugged air pipes.
Maranui at Lyttelton, 7 February 1967
Photo: © N. Kirby
Late in 1969, the Company purchased the Dido from the Bristol Steam Navigation Co., especially for the South Island bulk grain trade. Larger and faster than other ships of the fleet she was able to maintain a much better turn-around schedule.
1970 opened with the fleet standing at five ships - Awanui (1962/1,185grt), Bay Fisher (1958/1,289grt)(chartered), Dido (1963/1,589grt), Maunganui (1955/860grt) and Tawanui (1959/891grt). Of these, the Awanui and Tawanui were engaged in general cargo services, the rest carrying bulk grain from South Island ports to Auckland and Tauranga, although shipments were also carried to Wellington, New Plymouth and Wanganui.
On 14 February 1970, the Dido arrived at New Plymouth after her delivery voyage from Amsterdam via Panama and Papeete. After discharge, she went to Auckland for a refit prior to entering service. She sailed from Auckland for Bluff on 15 April on her first coastal voyage. During this period, The Bay Fisher which had been on charter from the British firm of James Fisher & Sons Ltd. since 1967, was purchased and renamed Moanui on 3 March. Auckland replaced Barrow on her stern as the port of registry.
Photo: I. Lovie
For the first time in its history, the Company placed one of its ships in an overseas trade when the Dido sailed from Auckland on 25 June 1970 for Brisbane. Larger and faster than other ships in the fleet, she made 10 voyages to Australia - 8 to Brisbane and one each to Newcastle and Cairns - before arriving back in Auckland for survey on 2 December. The Maunganui made her last voyage in 1970, Bluff to New Plymouth in early November, arriving in Auckland for the last time on 11 November. She was sold in February 1971 and renamed Zeehan.
Misfortune befell the Company early in 1971 when at 0230 on the 24 January whilst off Cape Palliser there was an engineroom fire on board the Dido. A broken fuel pipe leaking diesel oil onto a hot exhaust pipe caused the fire. The Engineroom was sealed off and filled with carbon dioxide to smother the flames. After about 15 minutes, the Engineroom was opened to disperse the gas and the Chief Engineer was found unconcious. Attempts to revive him failed and after the broken fuel line was repaired, the ship put into Wellington at 1020 to land the body and effect permanent repairs. The Dido resumed her voyage on the 3 February, arriving at Timaru the next morning on the first of her many visits to that port (61 in all). At the end of February 1971, the Tawanui was withdrawn from the general cargo trade and adapted for use as a grain carrier, taking her first departure from Auckland in that role on 10 March when she sailed for Timaru. This left the Awanui as the only vessel not engaged in bulk grain work and she was carrying cargo from Onehunga to Bluff, returning to Onehunga with timber from Jackson Bay, a remote settlement on the West Coast of the South Island. This trade came to an end in December 1971 and she too was adapted to carry bulk grain.
Dido at Wellington
Photo: I. Lovie
The Dido was in the news again in 1972, first on the 22 January when she broke down 40 miles out from Timaru necessitating a return to that port for repairs. This delayed her six days, finally clearing Timaru on the 29 January for Auckland. The second incident occurred in Lyttelton on the 18 June when a crew member fell overboard at about 0220. His body was recovered by Police divers about an hour later.
A dispute over leave for seamen on coastal grain ships delayed first the Tawanui and then the Awanui at Lyttelton in February 1973. The Tawanui had arrived on Friday 9th and was ready to sail Saturday afternoon, but her seamen refused to sail in protest at a breakdown in negotiations over leave. The Awanui arrived on Saturday 10th and was to have loaded on Monday but the Tawanui still occupied the grain berth. She was shifted to another berth on Tuesday allowing the Awanui to load, but once finished her seamen also refused to sail. The dispute was finally settled and both ships sailed on Friday 16 February, the Tawanui going first for Tauranga, followed ten minutes later by the Awanui for Auckland. Perhaps ironically, after only two more voyages the Tawanui was laid up in Auckland in March and sold in June, being renamed Tung Ho 1. The fleet was now reduced to three ships - Awanui, Dido and Moanui - all running in the grain trade. In early October came an announcement that the Company had purchased the 1562 ton Kalmarland from Swedish owners and hoped to take delivery in December, renaming her Tainui II. Her carrying capacity was almost as much as both the Tawanui and Awanui, the latter ship being sold in December 1973 to Singapore owners.
Tawanui with a decent sized cargo
Photo: I. Lovie
Tainui II duly arrived in Auckland on 11 January 1974, immediately undergoing reconditioning to adapt her to the Company's needs as a bulk grain carrier. The outlook was not looking good however. There was a poor grain harvest in the South Island and at the end of January all three ships were idle, Tainui II undergoing her refit, Moanui under survey and Dido laid up at Marsden Wharf. Things improved though, Dido resumed work in February, sailing for Timaru on the 5th, making four voyages on the coast before sailing across the Tasman again. Moanui finished her survey in March and resumed work, but the Tainui II was idle until 17 July when she sailed for Timaru, putting into Tauranga the next day for engine repairs. She carried only two grain cargoes and after discharging steel at Lyttelton from Auckland, she was despatched to Westport to load coal for Whangarei. The Dido was in the wars again in September. She was sailing from Brisbane on the 4th when she struck Pinkenba Wharf after an engine malfunction. Repairs were made at a Kangaroo Island shipyard, eventually arriving at Lyttelton on the 29 September.
The end was in sight though. First to be withdrawn was the Tainui II. She arrived at Auckland on 6 November from Whangarei with coal from Westport. Next came the Moanui, berthing at the Viaduct on the morning of 18 November having arrived in the Stream the evening before from Dunedin. Last came the Dido. Under the command of Captain J. Turner, she berthed at Marsden Wharf on Sunday 8 December 1974. There were no more cargoes after that and the ships were put on the sale market.
Dido and Moanui found buyers fairly quickly. On 10 May 1975, the Dido sailed for Sydney then onwards to the United Kingdom. Moanui went on 19 July for Hobart and a career based in Singapore. The Tainui II stayed for another year until sold in May 1976 to the Ayo Shipping Co. of Florida and renamed Koral. Still in her Northern Company colours, she sailed on 24 May for the Caribbean, the last of a long line of ships that had served the North for 95 years.
Tainui II on her only visit to Lyttelton 1974
Photo: © S. Reed
mv Tainui II - Her Service In N.Z. Waters 1974
Delivery voyage via Guam
Auckland 2300 11 Jan
(Refit) Jul 17 1441
Tauranga (Engine repairs) 1450 18 Jul 19 1056
Timaru 0630 22 Jul 22 1800
Auckland 2000 25 Jul 31 1624
Timaru 1645 3 Aug 6 1000
Auckland 1150 9 Aug 24 1751
Lyttelton 1516 28 Aug*2 0819
Westport (3 Sep 5)
Whangarei 1520 7 Sep 11 1818
Westport (14 Sep 15)
Whangarei 0145 18 Sep 20 1105
Westport (23 Sep 25)
Whangarei 1326 28 Sep*2 1010
Westport (4 Oct 6)
Whangarei 1805 8 Oct 10 1810
Westport (13 Oct 14)
Whangarei 1317 17 Oct 26 1821
Westport (29 Oct 30)
Whangarei 1245 2 Nov 6 1330
Auckland 2130 6 Nov
Crew paid off, Ship laid up
Note: Arrival/Departure dates for Westport are indicative
only. This Port has a Bar at the entrance and ship
movements can only be undertaken safely at High Tide.
The Company's Head Office in Quay Street, Auckland
Photo: © D. Shepherd
Where Did They Go?
1,185grt. 236' 4" x 37' 2" x 12' 6"
Built 1962 by Pacific Islands Shipbuilding Co., Hong Kong for Northern Steam Ship Co. Ltd.
13 Dec 1973: Final sailing for Northern Steam, Bluff to Auckland with wheat, arriving 17 Dec.
Dec 1973: Sold to Unique Shipping & Trading Co., Singapore, renamed Bonawind.
28 Dec 1973: Sailed from Auckland for Singapore.
1982: Sold to Concorde Marine Pte Ltd., Singapore, renamed Concorde Angel.
1986: Sold to Mekong Trading Inc. S.A., Panama, renamed Mekong Express.
Mar 1993: Trading between Vietnam and Singapore. Reported owner was Jium Hong Shipping Inc., Panama.
1995: Sold to J&A Maritimes Services, Singapore.
9 Jan 2007: Mekong Express sinks in Cua Tieu sea, southern Tien Giang province, Vietnam after water seeped into the hull. The crew of nine (including a Vietnamese naval pilot) were rescued by Vietnamís Centre for Maritime Search and Navigation Rescue on 10 January. The ship was on a voyage from Saigon port to Cambodia.
At Lyttelton 23 April 1967
Photo: © N. Kirby
1,589grt. 261' 0" x 39' 10" x 16' 9"
Built 1963 by C. Hill & Sons, Bristol, for Bristol Steam Navigation Company. Sold to Northern S.S. Co. late in 1969.
8 Dec 1974: Laid up at Auckland and put on sale market.
May 1975: Sold to S. Wm. Coe & Co., Liverpool. Sailed 10 May.
3 Jun 1975: Put back to Fremantle for urgent machinery repairs. (She had sailed from there 1 June)
1978: Renamed Gorsethorn after the amalgamation of her owners with Metcalf Motor Coasters, London, forming Coe Metcalf Shipping Ltd.
Sailing from Auckland
Photo: © D. Brigham
1980's: Converted into some sort of oceanographic research ship. Additions were made to her superstructure aft. (In my opinion, they looked downright ugly).
1990: Sold to Marine Services Convoyages, La Rochelle, France. Renamed Deesse de la Democratie and converted to a radio station.
17 Mar 1990: Sailed from La Rochelle.
13 May 1990: Arrived in Keelung where it was planned to take on supplies and transmitting equipment.
15 May 1990: Taiwanese Ministry of Defence placed an armed guard on the ship plus a dozen police. The project was in disarray.
1990: Attempts to have the broadcasting equipment fitted in Japan came to nothing and she was abandoned in Taiwan.
Apr 1991: Sold to a Taiwanese businessman who intended to turn her into a museum in memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. The ship was by this stage moored at Anping port in the southern city of Tainan.
Sept 2003: Scrapping of the ship began after the owner was ordered to remove the ship to make way for harbour expansion. Work was expected to take about 70 days.
Back in the U.K. as Gorsethorn
Photo courtesy of www.images-of-ships.co.uk
Deesse de la Democratie. Note additions to superstructure aft.
860grt. 209' 6" x 32' 1" x 13' 6"
Built 1955 by J. Bodewes, Hoogezand, Holland, for Northern S.S. Co.
11 Nov 1970: Laid up at Auckland.
Feb 1971: Sold to Coastal Cruising Co., Rotterdam, renamed Zeehaan. To be employed for service between eastern Australia and West Irian.
Feb 1972: Seized at Brisbane over non-payment of wages. Owners were listed as Coastal Cruises Pty Ltd., of Proserpine, Queensland. Released after eight days and put up for sale.
1972: Sold to Pacific International Lines, Singapore and renamed Kota Mulia.
1981: Sold to Overseas Shipping Agencies Ltd., Chittagong and renamed Saleem.
1996: Sold to Marine and Marine Ltd., Dhaka, Bangladesh, same name. Operated by Marine Services and Traders, Dhaka. She was employed mainly in carrying cargo from Chittagong to various inland river ports in Bangladesh. Regular short open sea voyages across the Bay of Bengal were also made.
2003: Managers reported problems with main engines which were requiring frequent repairs.
Jan 2004: Sold to Bangladeshi shipbreakers, with scrapping completed by March 2004.
Sailing from Lyttelton 18 December 1965
Photo: © N. Kirby
1,289grt. 220' 10" x 38' 1" x 16' 5"
Built 1958 by Ardrossan Dockyard Ltd., Ardrossan, for James Fisher & Sons Ltd., of Barrow as Bay Fisher. Chartered to Northern S.S. Co. in 1967 and purchased in March 1970, at which time she was renamed Moanui
18 Nov 1974: Laid up at Auckland.
July 1975: Sold to Crossworld Navigation & Brokerage Co. (Hong Kong) Ltd., Singapore. Renamed Chantala Fortune.
19 July 1975: Sailed from Auckland for Hobart and onwards to Singapore.
1977: Sold to Pacific International Lines, Singapore. Renamed Kota Pahlawan.
1984: Sold to Direximco Investment Private Ltd., Singapore. Renamed Pahlawan. Registered to ownership of Maritime Express Inc., Panama.
1986: Arrested at Galle, Sri Lanka in damaged condition.
2 May 1986: Left Madras under tow of Feng Nan for Singapore.
11 May 1986: Towline broke and vessel ran aground at Gravet Point, Galle, Sri Lanka. Abandoned as a total loss.
1 Feb 1989: Wreck broken up.
Passing Port Chalmers inbound to Dunedin 4 October 1974
1,562grt. 259' 7" x 39' 6" x 16' 8"
Built 1963 by Astano S.A. at El Ferrol, Spain for Sameiet Seagull A/S, Oslo as Seagull.
1964: Sold to Dr. Erich Retzlaff, Bremen, Germany. Renamed Ferdinand Retzlaff.
1970: Sold to Angbats A/B, Kalmarsund, Sweden. Renamed Kalmarland.
1973: Sold to Northern S.S. Co. Renamed Tainui II.
17 July 1974: Entered service after a lengthy refit at Auckland.
6 Nov 1974: Arrived at Auckland via Whangarei with a cargo of coal from Westport.
18 Nov 1974: Laid up at Auckland.
May 1976: Sold to Ayo Shipping Co., Florida. Renamed Koral.
24 May 1976: Sailed from Auckland still in her Northern Co. colours for a new career in the Caribbean.
5 Nov 1979: Sank as a result of a collision with a mooring dolphin 200 miles west of Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico.
Arriving at Auckland 9 August 1974
Photo: © D. Brigham
891grt. 209' 6" x 33' 2" x 13' 6"
Built 1959 by J. Bodewes, Hoogezand, Holland for Northern S.S. Co.
Mar 1973: Laid up at Auckland.
May 1973: Sold to Tung Ho Company (Private) Ltd., Singapore. Renamed Tung Ho I.
18 May 1973: Sailed from Auckland for Singapore via Cairns.
1974: Sold to Kowa Shipping Pte Ltd., Singapore. Same name.
1988: Sold to Government of Vietnam. Renamed Nha Trang 6.
1990: Sank at Quy Nhon, Vietnam. (Unconfirmed).
At Lyttelton 29 October 1966
Photo: © N. Kirby
The former Dido seen here on the River Thames on 26 May 1981 as Gorsethorn
Photo: © P. England
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