Sail on into MTG for some shipping history

Next time you’re visiting MTG Hawke’s Bay, we warmly invite you to wander down to the Linkway Gallery on the ground floor and immerse yourself in a snippet of Ahuriri and Hawke’s Bay’s shipping history.

Taking pride of place in this new exhibition ‘Steadfast Steamers: Models of Hawke’s Bay Shipping are four beautiful scale models of Hawke’s Bay steamers. The ‘Hawke’s Bay’ and ‘Marere’ steamers were commissioned specifically for the frozen meat market; the ‘Nora Niven’ as a fishing trawler and the ‘Tuna’ as a coastal steamer.

Shipbuilders created scale models to show prospective buyers how the full-sized steamer would appear, illustrating advanced building techniques and innovative features. After the ship was launched and delivered, the model was displayed prominently in the company boardroom, to showcase their sleek lines and superior construction.

The small steamer ‘Tuna’, was built and launched in 1885 by shipbuilders in Newcastle, England. On its delivery passage to the firm of Richardsons and Company of Napier, it was wrecked in the Red Sea. After a great deal of litigation and ill feeling the Richardson Company’s insurer paid up, and an identical sister ship, the ‘Kahu’, was built and arrived in Napier at the end of 1886. Richardson and Company did not receive a model of the ‘Kahu’ so instead used the ‘Tuna’ model as a showpiece in their boardroom.

The ‘Hawke’s Bay’ and ‘Marere’, were both sleek and fast, with reputations for delivering cargoes of frozen meat in the best possible condition. Owned by the Tyser Line Company, an English company operating out of Napier, they each made two trips per year to London, New York, Australia and New Zealand carrying Hawke’s Bay sheep and lamb carcasses, as well as pelts, wool and tallow.

Described as a fine sturdy trawler, the ‘Nora Niven’ had on board an ice-making plant, used to keep the catch fresh while out at sea. A huge trawling net connected to a powerful winch was coiled up on the port-side. A gas-lighting plant ensured continual visibility in case a catch needed to be winched aboard throughout the night.

Sadly all that survives of the four original steamships are these models: despite dedicated service, history has not been kind, as they either floundered and sunk or were sold for scrap.

 You will notice that the largest steamer, Marere appears more pristine that the other three: this model required intensive conservation work before it could be displayed. Conservator Detlef Klein from Manuwatu was commissioned to carry out this intricate work. We hope over time, as funds and priorities allow, to have the same work carried out one other model and the lantern.

On the opposite side of the wall are a series of paintings by Charles Basil Norton depicting steamers owned by Richardson and Company Ltd, a coastal shipping line based on exporting wool and meat. These steamers provided a regular service to sheep stations from Cape Runaway to Cape Palliser: delivering supplies and returning with wool and live animals to the Port of Napier. Isolated by lack of roads and railways, farmers were wholly reliant upon this coastal service for their livelihoods. The company also ran a fleet of lighters that transported wool from Port Ahuriri to ships anchored in deeper water, and a passenger and cargo service that sailed daily between Napier and Wairoa. A series of photographs alongside illustrate the conveyance of wool bales out to a steamer at Akitio.

In the small alcove situated next to the models, there is a projection of Fishing Industry of New Zealand: Trawling in Napier, from 1913. This film provides a great insight into the daily life of a fishing trawler and Ahuriri as well as a sense of quirkiness.

  • The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, one of the most beloved operas of all time, presented by Wanderlust. Century Theatre, Wednesday 28 March, 7:30-9:30pm. Tickets available through Ticketek.
  • Embroidery workshops with Jo Dixey, 7-8 April, 10:30am – 4pm, $50 per workshop. Suitable for beginners through to intermediate stitchers. Classes are filling up quickly – to book call MTG 835 7781 or email
  • The museum is open throughout Easter 9:30-5pm daily, free entry

Tuna Image

Image of the model of the ‘Tuna’

Gail Pope – Curator Social History, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 24th March 2018


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