At the turn of the 20th century the Melbourne-based shipping company Huddart Parker Limited was one of the largest operating in the new Commonwealth. It had its origins in the city of Geelong in 1876 through the partnership of James Huddart, a coal shipper and produce exporter, and shipowner Thomas James Parker in association with John Trail and Thomas Webb, who together formed the firm’s original board of directors.
By 1901, with a fleet of over sixteen vessels the company provided coastal passenger and cargo services from the east coast ports of Melbourne and Sydney to Adelaide, Fremantle, and Hobart. The company also ran services to the Gippsland Lakes region of eastern Victoria and pleasure excursions in Port Phillip Bay.
In addition to their Australian trade the firm also provided a trans-Tasman service to New Zealand. It was only eight years earlier, in 1893, that the company began a direct attempt to secure a portion of this market in competition with the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand which had been providing cargo and passenger services across the Tasman since 1877. The move led the Union Co. to engage in competition with Huddart Parker on its Tasmanian service. However, neither company could viably sustain competition on both services so their rivalry eventually turned to collaboration, with joint sailing schedules and transferable ticketing.
Huddart Parker and the Union S.S. Co. of New Zealand thus began to enter into a series of agreements regarding their passenger, cargo, coal, ore and other services including local and bay services. Their first Memorandum of Agreement was signed on 25 June 1892 whereby the companies, amongst other things, agreed to arrange alternate sailings of their steamers and have fixed rates of freight and passage. A further seven agreements were entered into between 1895 and 1906 and these set out various changes to conditions and services and trade and provisions of vessels on the various runs. They also described the pooling of gross earnings and the division to each company for each run/service. On 30 June 1916 the formal agreement between the two companies expired however it was agreed that it be extended until three months after the War’s end and that fares and freights for the period remain fixed.
The New Zealand Run
Huddart Parker initiated its trans-Tasman service with a single steamship, the S.S. Tasmania, which had been especially built and named for its service to that colony. However, when the decision was made to offer a new service to New Zealand, the Tasmania was selected as it was then the largest and regarded the most suitable of the Huddart Parker fleet to be employed on the run. During November 1893 she was thoroughly prepared for the inaugural service by entering Duke’s Dock in Melbourne. Her preparation for the inaugural service was reported as follows:
The steamer Tasmania was floated out of Duke’s Dock yesterday afternoon, after having undergone the usual cleaning and painting of the hull. The engines and boilers have been thoroughly overhauled, while the saloons have been redecorated. Altogether, she looks as trim as it is possible to make her, and between this and sailing day Captain M’Gee will no doubt put a few finishing touches which are requisite in order that she may take up her running in the New Zealand trade as spick and span as when she came out of the builders’ hands.
The Argus, Thursday, November 23, 1893
Under the command of Captain Thomas M’Gee the Tasmania sailed from Melbourne on Friday 24 November 1893 and proceeded to Sydney to take on further passengers and cargo. From there she departed on the first Huddart Parker service to New Zealand which was to take in the ports of Auckland, Napier, Wellington and Lyttelton. Her departure from Sydney on Wednesday 29 November 1893 was reported in The Daily Telegraph:
The steamer Tasmania sailed hence yesterday on her maiden trip to New Zealand under the auspices of Messrs. Huddart, Parker and Co.’s line, taking a number of passengers and a general cargo. She was in splendid order, and is expected to do some fast steaming on the run down. Auckland is her first port of call. The Tasmania cleared the Heads at 3.25 p.m. The Union Company’s well-known liner Rotomahana also left the port for Auckland yesterday, clearing the heads in company with Huddart, Parker and Co.’s liner…
The Daily Telegraph, Thursday, November 30, 1893
Within a year the Tasmania was joined on the run by the recently purchased and re-furbished Anglian (b. 1873), a veteran of the England-South Africa trade. At about the same time the Elingamite (b. 1887) was also placed on the run. In July 1897 the newly commissioned Westralia (which was designed and built for the West Australian coastal run) was placed into service as a replacement for the Anglian (which then reverted to the West Australian service). However, by the end of that month the Company met with its first loss in New Zealand waters when, on 29 July, the five-year old Tasmania, on route to Napier in rough weather struck rocks and sank.
Commercially, the loss of the vessel again put the company one vessel short in meeting the demands of the service. As a result the Anglian was returned to the trans-Tasman service and another steamer, to be built almost identical to the Westralia, was ordered and eventually arrived to take up the run in August 1899. This ship was the Zealandia.
A further vessel was ordered, again almost identical to the Westralia and Zealandia, and which was, again, intended as a replacement for the aging Anglian. This new steamer, the Victoria, was the first to be ordered by Huddart Parker after Federation and was constructed by Gourlay Bros. of Dundee. Ironically, it was during the Victoria’s maiden voyage to Australia that the company incurred it’s second and most tragic loss in New Zealand waters.
The 2585 ton steel, screw steamer Elingamite, which shared the N.Z. service with the Westralia, Zealandia (and Anglian} departed Sydney on a regular crossing to Auckland on 5 November 1902 under the command of Captain Ernest Attwood. By the morning of 9 November she had reached the waters off the northern tip of the North Island yet under foggy conditions and with her master’s reliance on charts which later proved to be incorrect, she ran onto West King Island of the Three Kings Islands group. The vessel quickly sank but her six lifeboats and two rafts were able to be launched and to take off the majority of the 136 passengers and 59 crew. Despite surviving the shipwreck the following days proved tragic as time passed and the depredation of thirst, hunger and exposure claimed a number of lives. Forty-five people were lost.
Within six months of the loss of the Elingamite, on 12 and 13 May 1903, a meeting of the Company’s Board of Directors was held. A long discussion took place on the provision of a new steamer for the Melbourne-Launceston trade “during which the Managing Director suggested the advisability of considering the building of two new passenger steamers.”
On the 9th of June 1903 a further, special, meeting of the Board of Directors was held; those being present were Messrs J. Traill (in the Chair), J. L. Webb and W. T. Appleton.
“The Managing Director reported that after consideration he recommended proceeding with the building of two new passenger steamers. After discussion it was resolved that Mr. J. L. Webb proceed to England toward the end of the month and call for tenders for the first new boat.”
In a subsequent meeting that month, the plans specifications for the new steamer were submitted and approved. The decision to provide Power of Attorney to Mr. Cummings to superintend the building and to act for the company in England was also made. Webb departed for London on the 30th June and Cummings left two weeks later on 14th July.
On September 3rd 1903, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed with Caird & Co., Shipbuilders and Engineers, of Greenock, Scotland for the construction of the new vessel. The agreed price for the purchase was £71,500 to be paid in five instalments at specified stages of completion.
Seven months later, at a meeting of the Board of Directors on Thursday 7 April 1904 the Managing Director reported the departure of Captain Free per Oceana to bring out the Wimmera.
© Ralph L. Sanderson 2009-2021