New Zealand Coastal Shipping  


Nicknamed "the black funnel fleet", this company had it's beginnings in 1904 when three men met in Christchurch to form a new shipping company to trade between South Island ports and those in the lower North Island. Two were brothers - A.H. Turnbull of Christchurch and D.C. Turnbull of Timaru - with Captain Hugh Monro, a master mariner, as the third partner.

The company bought a near-new 405 ton Dutch built coaster named Storm (405grt) from Pile and Company, shipbrokers of London and this ship arrived in Dunedin on 23 October 1904. With two exceptions, all the ships owned thereafter by the Canterbury S.S. Company were named after elemental forces. In it's lifetime, the Company owned three ships named Storm, three named Gale, two named Breeze, two named Calm, one Ripple and one Squall. The other two were Petone and Foxton, neither of which were in the Company for any great length of time.

The Storm entered service on 25 October 1904 in the Dunedin - Wanganui trade with calls at Timaru, Lyttelton and Wellington. In this, she was quite successful and it wasn't long before another ship was required, but the Company was not in a position to finance it. It was at this point that the Union S.S. Company came into the picture. Ever mindful to protect it's own interests, it saw this as an opportunity to gain some control over the activities of the Canterbury Company. The end result saw the Union Company take a half share in the Company, a deal kept in complete secrecy virtually right up to the end.

Over the years, the Canterbury Company acquired or had built some fine ships, notable amongst them the twin sisters Breeze and Gale of 622grt built by Scott & Sons of Bowling, in 1933 and 1935 respectively.

mv Breeze laid up at Lyttelton 1964

At the outbreak of World War 2, the Company was running three ships - Breeze, Gale and Storm (756grt). Storm had been built in 1920 as a steam ship and was bought by the Canterbury Company in 1924. She was converted to a motor ship in 1938.

In October 1940, Gale was requisitioned for war service, refitted at Port Chalmers as an auxiliary minesweeper and commissioned in April 1941 as HMS Gale with the Pennant No. T04. In October 1941 she became HMNZS Gale. Much to the Company's dismay, the Breeze was requisitioned in March 1942 and after a refit also at Port Chalmers was commissioned as HMNZS Breeze on 24 October 1942 with the Pennant No. T02, later changed to T371. The Storm was left on her own to shoulder the burden of the Company's business until early 1945 when both Breeze and Gale were released from wartime service.

In September 1948, the Company ordered what was to be the first of the last from Scott & Sons of Bowling. The Calm (787grt) was delivered in September 1950 and arrived at Dunedin from Liverpool on 10 December 1950. She very nearly came to a premature end when on 14 July 1956 she stranded at Waiwarenui Point, Taranaki. She was refloated on 18 July seriously damaged and headed for New Plymouth where temporary repairs were made before she proceeded under escort to Port Chalmers where permanent repairs taking more than three months were undertaken.

Calm laid up at Lyttelton in 1967
Photo: © S. Reed

The increasing age of the fleet (Storm was over 30 years old by now) saw the Company order another ship in late 1954. Coming from James Lamont & Sons Ltd., of Port Glasgow, the Squall (817grt) was an improved version of the Calm. Launched on 1 February 1956, she arrived at Napier on 3 August 1956 after a stormy voyage lasting 48 days and was placed on the Dunedin - Wanganui - New Plymouth run. Her arrival saw the sale of the Storm in December 1956 to the Crescent Corporation of Panama who renamed her Rose Pearl.

Squall berthed at Lyttelton in 1967
Photo: © S. Reed

The Company's fleet now stood at four ships, but there was still concern at the advancing ages of the Breeze and Gale. Although well maintained, ships become more and more expensive to operate the older they get. The best course of action was to order another ship, but the Company was strapped for cash. The Union Company came to the rescue, seeing the Company as still being a good investment - it also meant that they could for the first time hold a majority shareholding.

The way was now clear for the Company to order another new ship and this time they returned to Scott & Sons of Bowling. The Storm (931grt) was delivered in March 1961 and was in effect a streamlined and lengthened Squall. Although trade at this time was still reasonably bouyant, things changed dramatically with the introduction of the Cook Strait rail ferry Aramoana in August 1962. Tonnages shipped fell away and Gale was sold in December 1962. The Breeze followed suit two years later - both without replacement. The Calm was laid up for a time in 1967 before being placed in the South Island bulk wheat trade. Also in 1967, the Squall was chartered to the Holm Shipping Company for four months and then to Richardson & Co., for ten months, following which she too entered the bulk wheat trade, leaving only the Storm in the general cargo trade.

Storm at Wanganui in May 1967
Photo: © S. Reed

Matters worsened when the Union Company introduced the roll/on-roll/off Hawea into the coastal trade and by the time 1969 rolled around, the writing was on the wall. The Union Company recommended that the fleets of the Canterbury Company and Richardson & Co., be amalgamated with that of the Holm Shipping Company, with management of all the ships being placed with the latter company. The Company was left with no alternative and the transfer took place on 30 September 1969. Ownership of the ships remained with the Canterbury Steam Shipping Company until 1972, when the remaining ships (Calm had been sold in 1971) were registered to the Holm Shipping Company, with management passing to the Union Company.

Storm at Lyttelton in Holm colours, 1974
Photo: © N. Tolerton

The Canterbury Company ceased as an operating entity at this point and in 1974, the Company's registered office was transferred from Christchurch to the Union Company's head office in Wellington. Finally, on 17 July 1978, the affairs of the Canterbury Steam Shipping Company were wound up with the Registrar of Companies being requested to strike the Company off the register.

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