Stowaways aboard ships were not uncommon in the Edwardian period. Local newspaper reports reveal a number of court proceedings against those who were caught avoiding the payment of fares and seeking a free passage on the Wimmera.


In August 1905, 36 year old Thomas Seamer, a merchant seaman, was convicted in the Water Police Court of travelling from New Zealand to Sydney without having first paid his fare. He was fined £5 in default one month’s hard labour.


Twelve months later, on 23 August 1906 the Evening Post (Wellington) reported that:

“A stowaway by the Wimmera from Sydney yesterday named John Britton was to-day fined by Mr. W.G. Riddell, S.M., £1 and ordered to pay £3 15s, the amount of the fare, in default fourteen days’ imprisonment.”

On Wednesday 28 November 1906, Otto Schultz, a labourer, faced the Water Police Court in Sydney on the charge of “evading payment of his fare on the steamer Wimmera, from New Zealand to Sydney.” The amount of the fare was £3 15s. Schultz pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined £7 10s, with the alternative of three months’ imprisonment.


Nearly two years later, in October 1909, Robert Gower was handed over to the police in Auckland, having been found aboard the Wimmera after leaving Sydney. He was charged and convicted of being a stowaway and remanded in custody while police undertook to find Gower’s brother who was stated to be working on the Takapuna tram lines. A separate report records that a Henry Preston, with several aliases, was charged with both drunkenness and having stowed away on the Wimmera on the voyage from Sydney to Auckland. In this case Preston was only fined 5s, in default 24 hours imprisonment – a far leaner sentence than those convicted of going the other way.

In Lyttelton on Monday 22 November 1909, Robert Tate appeared before Mr. W. Radcliffe, J.P., charged with “having travelled on the s.s. Wimmera from Wellington, with intent to avoid payment of the fare.” Tate pleaded guilty and was fined the sum of £1.00, with the alternative of 14 days’ imprisonment.


At the Police Court in Gisborne on the morning of 12 May 1913 two young men were charged with being stowaways. The men, John Patrick Cox and William Henry Goodall alias Wilson had ‘travelled between Napier and Gisborne on the s.s. Wimmera on [the previous] Saturday morning without paying their fares of 17 shillings. According to the Poverty Bay Herald:

Detective Mcleod said the accused were found on the boat on Saturday morning, and refused to pay the fare.
Accused Goodall said he came to Napier from Tutira, and got on the drink. He met Cox, and they thought they would come to Gisborne. They never had a shilling in their pockets.
Accused Cox said he would pay the fare if he was given time.
Mr Florance said it was a mean thing to get on a boat in such a way without paying anything.
Accused were each fined £1 and costs 2x, and order to pay their fares 17s, in default one month’s hard labor.


The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) reported on 26 May 1914 that:

Bertram Cooper (32), Percy Albert Newman (30), and Robert Dodson (23), were charged at the Water Court with “stowing away” on the Huddart, Parker Company’s steamer Wimmera from Hobart. The evidence showed that all the accused were found on the boat on Thursday night, and refused to pay their fares. The magistrate fined each defendant £3, in default 21 days hard labor, half the fine in each instance to go to the owners of the vessel in part-payment of the passage money.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald’s report the fare which they avoided to pay was £1 13s.


At Lyttelton in mid-January 1915 two stowaways faced Mr G.C. Smith J.P.:

“Murdy McCusher and James Miller were charged with travelling on the steamer Wimmera between Wellington and Lyttelton without first paying their fares, thereby attempting to evade payment. Each defendant was fined 10s, and ordered to pay the amount of the fare (13s 6d), in default seven days’ imprisonment.”

In a little over one month later, on 20 February 1915 Mr D.G.A. Cooper, S.M. was faced with a further two stowaways at the Magistrate’s Court in Wellington:

“Herbert Alfred Hardy and Albert Pentland, stowaways on the Wimmera, were both fined the amount of the fare from Hobart to Wellington (£4 11s), in default ordered to spend 14 days in gaol.”

© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021