Volume 9

A Bridge Too Far? The Burke Street Harbour Project that Bankrupted the Thames Borough

David Wilton

(... well, not exactly a bridge, but I suppose a wharf can be regarded as a bridge with only one end?) The ill-fated Burke St wharf project undertaken by the Thames Harbour Board, and financially under-written by the Thames Borough Council, in 1927, resulted in the Council being unable to repay the loans obtained for the project. This resulted in an Act of Parliament in 1932, that put the Council under the control of a commissioner; a state of affairs that lasted until 1947. To a large extent, the failed venture is analogous to the Muldoon government's 'think big' energy projects of the 1970s and early 1980s; which were intended to counter the effects of steeply-rising oil prices. In many instances, the resulting installations were never used, or later became uneconomic when oil prices dropped again.

Figure 1: Burke St Wharf (originally known as the Goods Wharf) as it is today. Apart from Shortland Wharf, that is still intact and in use, this is the only visible wharf structure remaining in Thames or Tararu.

From the Beginning ...

The story of the Burke Street wharf effectively begins with the opening of the Thames Goldfield on 1st August 1867. Thousands of miners flocked to the field, along with the myriad of supplies and business staff required to support the venture; and, often, their families. The only realistic mode of transport to 'The Thames', as it became known, was by sea, from Auckland.

A major problem with sea access to Thames was the shallow water and tidal nature of the Firth of Thames. Eventually, four wharves were built in Thames and one at Tararu. Shortland was the first used, as the Kauaeranga River outflow meant there was a natural channel. However, it was still only usable around high tide, so more were required to handle the volume of boats coming in, over about a three hour high-tide period. Grahamstown (later named Curtis') wharf was known as the 'passenger wharf' and was at the end of Albert St (hence the Wharf Hotel - now called Lady Bowen - which is still there). Holdships wharf was known as the 'timber wharf' and was at the end of Cochrane St, next to Holdships sawmill. Burke St Wharf was originally known as the 'goods wharf' due to its proximity to Prices Foundry, Big Pump and most of the highly productive mines (Caledonian, Manukau, Tookeys etc). Tararu wharf was built because the firth was deeper further down the coast and the first railway into Thames ran from Tararu wharf to Grahamstown Station, which was actually at the end of Williamson St, not Cochrane, as shown on the existing Lions Club sign.

Figure 2 Map showing Thames and Tararu wharves
(Unknown cartographer c1868)

It is not the purpose of this article to delve into the detailed history of all the Thames wharves; however, brief details that were discovered on some of the others (i.e. not Burke St) will be presented.

As noted, the first landing used by Europeans in what became the Thames borough was at the mouth of the Kauaeranga River, which had a natural channel, caused by the river current (especially during floods, as the Kauaeranga has a catchment of over a hundred square kilometers and a rainfall of over 3m a year). Initially, passengers transferred to small boats to land, and some were even carried on the backs of boatmen to save getting their feet wet! Shortly after the opening of the goldfield, a rudimentary jetty was built, which was enlarged to a proper wharf; it was modified over the years, and still remains in use by commercial fishing boats and private pleasure craft.

From the early days of the goldfield, there was pressure on the Auckland provincial government to provide a wharf:

New Zealand Herald, Volume V, Issue 1295, 9 January 1868, Page 2:

THE THAMES. The Colonial Government p.s. Sturt, Captain Fairchild, arrived in harbour last evening at half-past ten o'clock from the Thames, with the following passengers —His Honor the Superintendent, Dr. Pollen, Mr. Wynn, Mr. Commissioner Naughton, Dr. Sam, Mr. J. Home, and Mr Murphy. We understand that at a meeting held yesterday afternoon at Butt's hotel, it was decided that a wharf should be erected at Shortland Town. A deputation waited upon his Honor the Superintendent during the day, who, we believe, promised to give something towards the wharf. A subscription has already been made at Shortland, and a good sum subscribed. The want of a wharf for landing passengers has long been felt. Passengers will now be able to land without getting wet.

New Zealand Herald, Volume V, Issue 1371, 8 April 1868, Page 2:

WHARF AT SHORTLAND TOWN. From almost the earliest days of the Thames gold-field the cry has been for a wharf. When the Superintendent visited the locality for the first time in October last, the first thing represented to him as needful was a landing wharf. It was stated that the only place available for landing would soon be useless by reason of the shelving of the sand which would be pushed into the channel, and an injury occasioned by neglect of the necessary precaution, which would not be easily repaired. The Provincial Government, though perfectly willing were not then, nor it would seem, have been since in a position to comply with so reasonable a request. Since then the place has grown with prodigious rapidity, the tonnage has greatly increased, and the general trade to and from the place forms at this moment a considerable part of the business done in this province. The necessity for such accommodation has become manifold greater than at any time previously, but we are happy to say the want is likely to be supplied by private enterprise. The various details must, of course, be the subject of arrangement, but the mode in which the need of so large a community seems to be the most legitimate that could be devised We understand that Mr. MacNeill, who is favorably known in this Province as the contractor for the Wharf Extension, Panmure Bridge, and other well-known works, has made an offer to the Provincial Government to build a wharf at Shortland Town provided that the Government will guarantee him the receipt of the tolls under stipulations, and for a term, we presume, to be mutually agreed to. We believe that Mr. Mac Neill has made a survey of the coast line between Shortland Town and Tapu with the view of, ascertaining the most convenient and central position for such a structure. It would appear as the result of these observations that the only place at which a wharf could be constructed beside deep water—unless by carrying over a mud flat extending beyond the beach, an iron road, or a stone foundation which could only be effected at an immense cost —is at Shortland Town. The same observation has struck many others who cannot pretend to engineering skill, for in front of the land flat right away from Shortland to beyond the Kuranui is one vast deposit of tidal mud extending from thirty to forty chains outwards to the gulf when the tide is out. It is not improbable too, that the town may extend southward as well as north but the deep water at the confluence of the gulf, channel, and creek, would seem to be the most favourable place for a wharf. Of course the terms upon which the privilege asked by the projector as the reward of his enterprise, with the extent and limitations, will be the subject of arrangement between him and the Provincial Government. The proposal is a very important one, and so needful is the accommodation to be supplied that rather than any obstacle should prevent its being carried out, we would not object to see Very liberal terms offered to the projector, care at the same time being had that the accommodation would be sufficient and complete.
Figure 3: Shortland Wharf in the 1900s.
Photograph by William Archer Price.
Source: National Library of New Zealand 22756457

It appears that the Auckland provincial government took a 'wait and see' approach before committing funding for large capital works in Thames - that is, to see if the goldfield was actually going to be economically successful. Also, to be fair, Auckland was somewhat in the economic doldrums at that time, following the transfer of the national capital to Wellington in 1866. However, pressure continued to mount at the Thames end, especially after a major 'strike' by Hunt's party at the Shotover claim in August 1867.

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIV, Issue 3359, 22 April 1868, Page 3:

ROADS, LANDINGS, AND BRIDGES AT THE THAMES GOLDFIELD. (FROM THE [THAMES] ADVERTISER, APRIL 18.) A correspondent in Tuesday's issue called our attention to the negligence of the authorities in not taking steps to secure for this place what is absolutely necessary to ensure its growth and prosperity, namely, roads, landings, bridges, and means of communication with the various claims. In treating upon this important subject, it will perhaps be necessary first to show what benefit the Government or Governments are deriving from the diggings then, on the other side, to set forth the utterly insignificant returns they make. The Provincial Government some time ago promised a reward of £4, 000 to any person -who should discover a payable goldfield, thereby proving that they were fully alive to the numerous advantages and pickings to be secured from such a source they have secured the goldfield, and any discoverer, or the digging, may whistle for the £4,000 from the Provincial chest. The diggings are now only to be looked upon as an enormous milch cow to be milked dry, if possible, to sustain and keep alive a bankrupt Provincial Government.

Local dissatisfaction reached such a height that a committee was formed to attempt to progress works related to transportation infrastructure by any means possible.

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIV, Issue 3365, 29 April 1868, Page 3:

(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.) Shortland, April 27.
The Shortland and Waiotahi deputations met in the theatre adjoining Captain Butt's hotel this afternoon, for the purpose of reporting to the meeting the conference that took, place with his Honor the Superintendent. Dr. Sam proposed, seconded by Mr. Swan, that Captain Butt take the chair. The Chairman, after briefly alluding to the object for which they had met, called upon Mr. Mitchell to read the report of the deputation. Mr. Mitchell said that the Superintendent is not in a position to grant any assistance from provincial or other funds for the making of roads and streets, or building wharves in this district ... Mr. Mitchell moved, first, 'That a committee be appointed to watch the proceedings of the Native Lands Court respecting the passing of the certificate of native titles, having power to take steps to place this district or township under the Highways Act.' Secondly: 'That the same committee be instructed to take measures to secure to the inhabitants of this township, under the Marine Act, the collection, and expenditure of all dues leviable at the wharves at Shortland.' Thirdly 'That the committee have power to take any steps considered necessary in the interests of the township, with respect to the proposed concession of a tramway between Shortland and Kuranui.' [Carried]

The meeting even considered the possibility of setting up an independent County structure, which would enable it to collect rates, and utilise income from the goldfield, to spend on public infrastructure.

Mr. Beetham rose to express the dissatisfaction he felt at the trivial manner in which this place was treated by the Government. He had travelled over New Zealand for the last seventeen years, and more contempt he had never witnessed than was shown by the Superintendent in the refusal of granting assistance for the building of a paltry wharf. We are told that Auckland is in difficulties, that officers' salaries had to be paid. No doubt they had to be, but certainly not out of the revenue from the Thames. When we ask for the money they have taken away from us we are refused. The Government have called for tenders for the construction of a wharf, but a month may elapse before any one of them will be accepted. The expenses of building will then be much higher than they would be if the wharf were commenced at once. We must show to the Government that we are entitled to some attention and consideration.

It was, therefore, necessary that the committee should go further than the resolutions read by Mr. Mitchell allowed them. The Westland Act was well adapted for this place. There was a clause in that Act which provided for the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, wharves, and other public works within the said county, and which should be deemed at law to be under the control and management of the Board of the district and it should be the duty of the Board, out of any moneys in its hands available for such purposes, to maintain, form, and cleanse such roads, wharves, drains, water-course, and ditches. The Act from which he read this clause was peculiarly applicable to the Thames if modified under the circumstances by which they held the land. When the Superintendent refused the small amount asked for, and then advertised, on his own account, to build a wharf, it was time they should act for themselves.

It was apparent that parochialism was alive and well before the goldfield had even been in existence for eight months! However, local pressure finally prevailed.

New Zealand Herald, Volume V, Issue 1385, 25 April 1868, Page 3:

His Honor the Superintendent was a passenger yesterday by the Tauranga to Auckland. Before leaving the Thames, Mr. Williamson issued a notice calling for plans for the erection of the much needed wharf at Shortland Town.

By now, the provincial government seemed to have accepted the need for development of the goldfield:

New Zealand Herald, Volume V, Issue 1398, 11 May 1868, Page 2:

HIS HONOR'S VISIT TO SHORTLAND. PUBLIC WORKS. On Thursday last his Honor the Superintendent, accompanied bv the Provincial Secretary and Mr. Dignan, visited the Thames Gold-field. The object of the visit was to ascertain the requirements of that populous district, and to take steps to initiate such public works as might be deemed to be necessary. It is known to our readers that the Provincial Government, in their anxiety to develop the Thames Gold-field, had invited tenders for the construction of a wharf at Shortland, and of a bridle track from Shortland to Hastings, which is better known as the Tapu. These works will, doubtless, be proceeded with, when the tenders have been considered, if the money at the disposal of the Provincial Government be sufficient for the purpose. But however necessary a wharf at Shortland and a bridle-track to Hastings may be in themselves, they cannot satisfy the wants of the mining communities settled on the Karaka gold-field. The Provincial Government, we are informed, impressed with this conviction, have had under consideration the advisability of laying down a line of tramway, uniting the port of Shortland with the new township on Waiotahi Flat, and thence to Tararu Point, where a wharf may be built for a moderate sum into deep water. The province has bought and paid for a large quantity of iron rails and rolling stock, for the construction of a line of railway between Auckland and Drury. There is, at least, ten miles of rails lying at Newmarket worse than useless, which might be turned to good account at the Thames. ...

By September, construction of the Shortland Wharf was progressing:

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIV, Issue 3492, 24 September 1868, Page 3:

... The driving of piles for the new wharf goes slowly ahead. When completed it will be the most useful public work in Shortland. At present the landing of passengers from every boat is attended with danger, especially so in the case of women and children. That a wharf has not been erected long ago, to abolish this crying evil, is a disgrace to the Government. ...

An exact completion date for the initial Shortland wharf construction was not able to be determined; however, it was reported to be complete by December 1868:

[Lyttelton] Star , Issue 188, 18 December 1868, Page 3:

THE THAMES GOLDFIELDS. (From the Thames Advocate.) The land that was thought dear in one lump at £2500 yields an annual rental of more than £7000; and the frontages that would not let at any price are often eagerly bought at £1 to. £5 per foot annual rent. Many of the buildings rival those of Auckland, and it may be said that no goldfield of a like age could ever before show so many permanent buildings in so short a time. The estimated value of the buildings and machinery now upon this field is over £100,000. A fleet of eight steamers plies almost daily between this place and Auckland, besides the large fleet of cutters, schooners, and other small craft. The Provincial Government has constructed a wharf at the landing-place at Shortland, while Mr Robert Graham has run out a jetty, five hundred feet long, at the town called after himself. Amongst the projected public works is a tramway uniting Shortland and Graham's town with the fine deep-water landing at Tararu point. ...

The government-funded Shortland wharf project was actually bypassed (in time) by a private enterprise scheme initiated by Robert Graham, the leaser of land and creator of the settlement known as Grahamstown, adjoining Shortland to the north.

New Zealand Herald, Volume V, Issue 1436, 24 June 1868, Page 5:

(FROM A CORRESPONDENT. Shortland, June 22.
A number of piles have been brought from the coast for the new wharf at Graham's Town, and a commencement has been made.

New Zealand Herald, Volume V, Issue 1441, 30 June 1868, Page 4:

THE WHARF AT GRAHAM'S TOWN. The work of erecting the wharf at Graham's Town has been commenced in earnest this week by Mr. Hector McKenzie, the sub-contractor, from plans prepared by Mr. Weaver, late Engineer to the Provincial Government. The wharf will commence at the beach in front of .Albert-street, and extend to a length of 460 feet. It will be 10 feet wide, with a T at the end 40 feet by .20 feet. The depth of water at high -tide will be 13 feet, the soundings taken on the 27th. of April last showing from 4 feet 6 inches to 13 feet along the proposed line of extension. There will be a line of rail on the right-hand side, for tram wagons, in order to facilitate the discharge of goods. The steamers at present trading to the Thames will always be enabled to run alongside and unload, together with the numerous coasting vessels now employed in this trade. There will be hand-railing along the .sides for the better protection of passengers. The uprights are. to consist of ten inch timbers, morticed, in to bed-plate, with cross pieces to strengthen the structure. The cross pieces are be 10 by 5, with seasoned kauri planking 9 -by 2. The uprights will be scarfed and riveted. -The work is now being proceeded with, and is expected to be handed over to the inhabitants of this growing township in the course of a few weeks time.

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIV, Issue 3518, 24 October 1868, Page 4:

THE GRAHAM'S TOWN WHARF. An adjourned public meeting was held on the evening of Wednesday last, in the Royal Hotel, Brown Street, Graham's Town, to receive the report of a deputation appointed at a public meeting recently held. The deputation had been instructed to confer with Mr. Robert Graham, and to ascertain his views respecting the extension of the present wharf. Mr. O. F. Mitchell was called to the chair. Mr. Graham said the wharf was now finished to a length of 500 feet, and he was quite willing to facilitate its extension, should it be deemed desirable to extend it, in any way that ha could. The present wharf gave 6 feet 6 inches of water at neap, and about 8 feet 6 inches at spring, tides. If the extension were carried on, there would be an additional depth of 16 inches, according to the levels taken by Mr. Anderson that day. This would enable steamers and other vessels to be alongside for say two hours— one hour before, and one hour after the top of tide. ...

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIV, Issue 3533, 11 November 1868, Page 4:

GRAHAM'S TOWN. A great feature in Graham's Town is the wharf, the extension of which has been now completed so as to enable steamers to come alongside without fear of a ducking, which there is some danger occasionally when travelling ashore from the watermen's boats on the backs of the boatmen. It was made use of for the first time this week by the 'Tauranga,' which came alongside, and discharged her living freight and cargo. The wharf is protected by a wooden handrail on one side, and is provided with a tramway.

Mr Graham later attempted to recoup his expenditure on this wharf by trying to sell it to the provincial government.

New Zealand Herald, Volume VI, Issue 1564, 28 November 1868, Page 5:

November 27. A deputation beaded by Robert Graham, Esq., waited this morning on the Superintendent for the purpose of asking his Honor to take over the wharf known as Grahamstown Wharf, or in other words, to recoup Mr. Graham the amount of his outlay. His Honor, who received the deputation courteously, said the wharf had been built on land belonging to the Government and without the permission of the Government, and they considered it now their property. He declined on the part of the Government to enter into any terms.

The wharf was later sold or leased to Mr Robert Curtis, and became known as Curtis' Wharf.

Planning and construction of the Goods Wharf did not commence until 1871. This was an auspicious year for the Thames goldfield, being the year of maximum production of gold bullion; mostly coming from the rich bonanza of the Caledonian claim. By this stage, the provincial government was obviously convinced about the long-term viability of the field. This was doubly ironic, in that goldfield production declined steadily after 1871, but also because of the fact that the provincial government itself ceased to exist after 1876, due to the abolition of the provincial level of government in New Zealand. The following PapersPast extracts provide a brief timeline of the Goods Wharf's development:

New Zealand Herald, Volume VIII, Issue 2393, 26 September 1871, Page 2

Tenders are required for the erection of a goods wharf at Grahamstown.

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXVII, Issue 4417, 21 October 1871, Page 2

We believe that the estimates for building the goods wharf at Grahamstown amounted, to about £4,500, a very large sum, but deemed necessary by the contractors to carry out the plans prepared by the Government engineer. Those plans provide for a most substantial erection, as indeed it would require to be to stand the heavy goods traffic there would be over it. The high price of the tenders caused the Government to hesitate, but we presume that the promises of assistance from private parties will be effectual in having the work carried out. —Advertiser.

New Zealand Herald, Volume VIII, Issue 2423, 31 October 1871, Page 2

We are glad to learn that arrangements were completed on Saturday by the Goldfields Secretary, with the contractor (Mr. John Taylor), and the members of the deputation who waited upon the Government at Auckland, and that the long-talked-of goods wharf is, at length, about to be commenced. The contract has been signed, and the work will be started immediately. The Tramway Company have undertaken to extend the beach road to the wharf, and to continue the Grahamstown and Tararu tramway, so as to form a connection with the goods wharf.— Advertiser, October 30.

New Zealand Herald, Volume IX, Issue 2580, 2 May 1872, Page 2

The last pile of the new goods wharf at Grahamstown was driven yesterday afternoon, and very little more remains to be done before the whole structure is fit for the use for which it was built. There still remains a portion of the tramway to be laid, and a few mooring piles to secure, before it is handed over by the contractors to the Government.

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXVIII, Issue 4584, 3 May 1872, Page 2

According to our correspondent's description of the new goods wharf at Grahamstown, the Government has amply redeemed its promise to provide shipping accommodation commensurate with the trade of the port of Thames. The wharf extends from Burke street for a distance of 885 ft and has a T on the south side of the end 215 ft. long. The breadth of the main structure is 25ft. and of the T 40ft. There is berth-room for 16 average-sized vessels of the class of those mostly engaged in the Thames trade. The wharf is very substantially constructed, and is not wanting in conveniences to facilitate discharging and shipping cargoes. Two cart-roads, with raised channels for the wheels to run on, extend from the shore end to the T, and on the north side of there is an iron tramway, from which a branch line, with ramifications, will extend along and around the T. As the shore shelves away with comparative steepness at this part of the beach, there is a fair depth of water during the best half of the tide round the T. The minimum depth at high water neap tides is between nine and ten feet. The wharf is completed all but a few finishing touches, which will be given to it during the next week or ten days, and then it will be handed over to the Government, and be put to the uses for which it was built. The total cost of the contract is between £3,000 and £3,500, but a supplementary expenditure of a hundred or two will be needed to provide movable cranes for lifting cargo. There is to be a weigh -bridge placed just outside the entrance gates. The plans of the wharf were drawn by Mr. Millett, the Government Engineer, who has generally superintended the work, the immediate supervision of the contract being entrusted to Mr. O'Brien.
Figure 4: The area around Prices Foundry, looking towards the Burke St Wharf (originally known as the Goods Wharf). (Dunnage No 72 Sir George Grey Special Collection, Auckland Libraries, 35-R1458).

Robert Graham also funded the construction of a wharf at Tararu:

Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXV, Issue 3772, 21 September 1869, Page 4

THE TARARU WHARF. The Tararu wharf, erected through the enterprise of Mr. Robert Graham, is now nearly completed, and will, doubtless, prove a great convenience to vessels discharging passengers and cargo for the Thames. It has been carried out 600 feet, and an end T, now being added, will give it an air of completeness, and add materially to its usefulness. We underline it is the intention of the Government shortly to complete the erection of another wharf in the neighbourhood, at a place beyond the one built to the order of Mr. Robert Graham. The wharf now erected will allow vessels to receive and debark passengers at least two hours before the tides are available at the present wharf. Advertiser, September 20.

The Tararu wharf was badly damaged by a storm in March 1871 (Daily Southern Cross 27 March 1871 p.3) but was repaired. In August 1871, a contract for a tramway between Tararu and Grahamstown was let (Daily Southern Cross 26 August 1871 p.2). This was completed by late November (Daily Southern Cross 10 November 1871 p.2)

The issue of wharf access to the town continued to be a point of contention, and a major storm in 1874 caused damage of some degree to all wharves then existing at Thames, but particularly at Tararu:

New Zealand Herald, Volume XI, Issue 3925, 11 June 1874, Page 3

THAMES WHARF ACCOMMODATION. A deputation from the Thames waited upon his Honor the Superintendent at noon yesterday, with reference to the want of wharfage accommodation at the Thames. It consisted of W. Davies, Esq., Mayor, and Messrs. Rowe, Souter, L. Ehrenfried, and Dr. Kilgour.—Mayor Davies said We have called upon your Honor with reference to the wharf accommodation at the Thames. Your Honor is aware that a public meeting was called last week, after our wharves were washed away, at which meeting a committee was appointed, with a view of waiting on your Honor and laying the matter before you. The meeting also passed resolutions, which were forwarded to you. The resolutions were as follows 'That the Provincial Government of Auckland will cause the Tararu wharf to be put in a sufficient state of repair to meet the requirements of the present passenger and light traffic between the Thames and Auckland, and at once to raise the wharf sufficiently to resist the swell of the waves, and also that the present goods wharf be lengthened 1200 feet.'—The other resolution was, 'That the Superintendent be requested to obtain the best possible opinion as to the best position for a permanent harbour for the Thames district, and that the necessary steps be taken to obtain funds for carrying out the work at once.'—Mayor Davies said that the [Tararu] wharf was considered too low to resist the force of the waves. They had a plan prepared, which they submitted to His Honor, by which the old wharf could be utilised at a very little expense. They proposed that two new piles should be placed at each side of the wharf, and the old ones scarfed and raised four feet higher. There was now no accommodation for vessels going to the Thames. It had been said that the goods wharf was silting up: but, in view of the proposed reclamation of the foreshore, this would be beneficial, and no detriment to the wharf. At present the wharf cost a great deal of money in standing repairs and was almost useless, but could be made to last for several years.

Repair work was undertaken with a degree of urgency, and the suggested extension to the goods wharf also commenced:

New Zealand Herald, Volume XI, Issue 4049, 4 November 1874, Page 3

The first piles were driven today towards the extension of the goods wharf. A second wharf, under private auspices, was to-day started upon, chiefly to receive mining timber [presumably this was Holdship's wharf, at the end of Cochrane St].

Another major storm in July 1875 meant that the Tararu wharf was again badly damaged (Star 6 July 1875 p.2). The Tararu-Grahamstown tramway was also badly damaged, as most of the embankment (which was only just above the high water mark) was washed away. This time the damage was so severe that the Tararu wharf was not rebuilt. A contract was let for its removal in May 1879 (Thames Star 12 May 1879 p.2) and it was reported that removal was complete by late June 1879. Following the abolition of the provincial government system in 1876, there was a major reshuffle of duties between central and local levels of government. Day-to-day operations became the responsibility of local bodies (cities, boroughs, counties) and statutory bodies were created to manage specialist functions - among these were harbour boards. The Thames Harbour Board was established by an Act of the General Assembly in 1876:

Thames Advertiser, Volume IX, Issue 2337, 7 June 1876, Page 3

THE THAMES HARBOUR BOARD BILL. 1. The following is the Harbour Board Bill drafted by Mr Whitaker: A Bill entitled 'An Act to constitute a Board for the management of the Harbour of the Thames.' Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Now Zealand in Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same as follows:— 1. The short title of this Act shall be 'The Thames Harbour Board Act 1876.' 2. A Board is hereby constituted for the management of the affairs of the Port of the Thames and such Board shall be a body corporate of the name of 'The Thames Harbour' Board' and by that name shall have perpetual succession and a common seal and shall have and enjoy all the rights powers and privileges which bodies corporate as such have and enjoy. 3. The Board shall consist of nine members of whom the Mayor of the Borough of the Thames shall ex officio be one and the eight others shall be appointed or elected as follows (1) The Mayor and Council of the Borough of the Thames shall elect two members. (2) The Waiotahi Road Board shall elect one member. (3) The Kauaeranga Road Board shall elect one member.; (4) The Parawai Road Board, shall elect one member. (5) And the remaining three members shall be elected by the persons who shall have paid port harbour pilotage and wharfage dues and charges in respect of the Port of the Thames to the amount of not less than £2 sterling during the year preceding the day of election.

There were changes of names announced for the Goods and Curtis' wharves in 1878:

Thames Star, Volume VIII, Issue 2874, 2 May 1878, Page 2

CHANGE OF NAMES OF WHARVES. The name of Curtis' wharf was changed to Albert Street wharf, and that of Goods Wharf to Burke Street wharf.

As the goldfield gradually petered out over the next few decades, wharfage continued to present a problem - still well entwined with a good dose of parochialism (see emphasis added below):

New Zealand Herald, Volume XV, Issue 5259, 24 September 1878, Page 2

Our Thames correspondent writes:—It is becoming absolutely necessary that steps should be immediately taken toward dredging our harbour near the end of the goods wharf. The harbour is rapidly silting up, and during the neap tides it is with the utmost difficulty the Rotomahana can get alongside or away from the wharf, even at high water. The schooner Mariner arrived here on Thursday last with a cargo of coal, but has not yet been able to take up her berth at the wharf, owing to there being not depth enough of water. She is now being lightened. If it is desired to stop our shipping trade altogether, no bolder or surer plan could be adopted than allowing the harbour to silt up us it is at present. Auckland owes a good deal to the Thames, and it is not asking too much of its Harbour Board to give the Thames Harbour Board the use of the dredge for a couple of months at a moderate charge. The owners of the Rotomahana are prepared to tow it down for a small fee, and a few weeks' dredging would soon remove any inconvenience which is experienced in berthing vessels at the wharf.

to be continued...


Grateful thanks to Althea Barker for supplying photos and articles from local paper editions not yet available from PapersPast.


  • Isdale, A. M. (1967). History of "The River Thames", County Chronicle Press, Manurewa.
  • O'Neill, L. P. (1973). Thames Borough Centennial: 1873-1973, Thames Star, Thames.
  • Unknown author (1902). The Cyclopedia of New Zealand (Auckland Provincial District), The Cyclopedia Company of NZ Ltd, Christchurch.
  • Unknown cartographer (c1868) NZ Map 4531 Thames Illustrated Mining Map
  • Weston, F. (1927). Thames Diamond Jubilee Souvenir: 1867-1927, Thames Star, Thames.


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