19th century ships at Mangawhai

By: Bev Ross

The picture (below) shows where the McInnes shipyards were situated in Mangawhai from the mid 1850s until the late 19th century. Work shavings were still to be seen there in the 1940s and stub remnants from the slipway were photographed in the 1990s. I don’t know what our folk at that time called the little cove, but I call it ‘Shipyard Bay’ for easy reference. It is situated between the Heather Street steps and Bullet Point.

Experienced shipbuilders from the Nova Scotian settlement at Waipu came to Mangawhai estuary and set up shipbuilding yards at Shipyard Bay. They built several cutters and schooners. There were other smaller craft created for river use, but their main orders were for cutters, which ranged in sizes up to 32 tons. Schooners could be as big as 92 tons.

‘Shipyard Bay’, Mangawhai

Donald McInnes and Donald Hugh McKenzie designed and built the shipyards.  They chose Mangawhai due to the ready availability of labour from retired members of the 58th Regiment. The men were living near the river on land they had received as gratuity for their services, prior to the disbandment of their regiment in 1858. All ships built were registered by Donald McInnes. Another shipyard at Freemans Bay, Auckland, was also in Donald’s name.  Ships built for local and overseas customers were:
1862 -     ‘Three Brothers’ – cutter – 18.9 tons – built for Capt. Robert Seymour, coastal trader
1862 –     ‘Abeona’ – schooner – 44.57 tons – built for Messrs Rattray and Matheson                               
1863 –     ‘Daring’ – schooner – 31,14 tons – built for Master Phipps of the Kaipara             
1864 –     ‘Stag’ – cutter – (built at Freemans Bay) – Master E. Beaver   
1865 – ‘Maid of Erin’ – schooner – 72.97 tons (built Freemans Bay) – Capt. Robert Seymour
1867–    ‘Alarm’ – cutter – 30.2 tons – built for Capt. Robert Seymour                                 
1872 –     ‘Dolly Varden’ – cutter – 20.48 tons – built for Capt. Williamson of Bluff    
1872 –     ‘Columbia’ – schooner – 46.42 tons – built for Master Roderick McLeod              
1874 –    ’Jessie Henderson’ – schooner – 92.06 tons – built for Mr Williams and
Capt. Robinson
1875 –     ‘Leo’ – cutter – 32.34 tons – built by Donald McInnes at Mahurangi                      
1877 –     ‘Tangihua’ – cutter – 31.05 tons – the last ship ordered by Capt. Robert Seymour and the last registered by McInnes as being built at Mangawai.

The schooner ‘Daring’.

A pencil drawing of the schooner ‘Daring’ is the only known depiction of a boat that was built at Mangawhai during those early years. It was sketched by Edwin Brookes in 1863 (the sketch above is courtesy of the Edward Halfpenny family).

Bev Ross, Mangawhai Museum


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