The Minerva

A great read by Russell Ward
In my youth –well I’m still young ain’t I? – I used to admire a lovely old counter-sterned boat that used to moor in the Wade River. It is now not on the cruising agenda, but we quite often used to call in as part of a cruise. Sometimes if it was a really lumpy trip across to Tiri, we’d sneak down the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and sneak our way up to Stillwater to lick our wounds. There was a thriving motor camp and store there and at night the silence was profound.  Just nature all around. The tide was very strong and every day, about sunset, an old Labrador dog used to ease himself into the river and swim across to the Stillwater side. He would end up miles down river because of the tide and we never saw his return swim. Maybe he had a girlfriend or food source over on the other side. The term “dogged determination” sprang to mind.

But I digress. Moored just under the headland that is upstream of the WBC moorings was a fine old ship. She had the rather gracious name of  “The Minerva”.

(From Steamers Down the Fith by the late Bill Laxon).

Built as an Auckland harbour ferry in 1910, she was relatively shallow draft to cope with the creeks and estuaries. She was fitted with a coal fired scotch boiler and two 14 nhp compound engines made by George Fraser and Sons -a pioneer Auckland engineering company. This firm ran from 1862 -1955 and was a major builder of the heavy machinery a developing country needed especially when there was gold to be found in them there hills. For those interested, there is an early 1900 reference to the company at  The firm transmogrified into Tappenden Motors in the ‘50s and the asset stripping raids occasioned by Rogernomics sealed the company’s fate. It was under the spaghetti junction down from the University’s Owen Glenn Building.

The Minerva’s time on the Auckland Harbour came to an end in 1922 and she was taken round to the Kaipara (where her shallow draft was an asset) by Charles West to be converted to a tug for towing timber to the McLeod’s mills. As an aside, John McLeod was the first settler in Helensville. A sawmiller, he built his wife Helen a stately villa. And you always wondered why it as called Helensville.

The good ship steamed until the late 1940s. With an abundance of timber scraps, it had been good economics to keep her in steam. Now when I used to see The Minerva in the 1950>60s in the Waiti River, she had been diseasiled but I subsequently found out that her boiler went to a market gardener down south and one of her engines was left abandoned on the Helensville wharf up to the mid 1950s. As Bill Durham said in Steamboats and Modern Steam Launches “Come and get ‘em”. Alas the boiler has yet to be found and everyone seems to have forgotten her engine.  Anyone who knows where it is can happily contact me and all will be treated in confidence.

The Minerva’s time as a workboat came to an end in 1945 when she was converted to the pleasure boat I knew. Lewis McLeod retired and took her over to the milder east coast where I first met her. She went seriously downhill when she was sold for commercial fishing and even worse things in 1964. The Minerva presently lies under cover at Kerikeri somewhat north of here and a group is fighting to restore her.  As an aside Russell would love to know how she got the name The Minerva.

(as an aside, the writer Peter Gill, of the great story above in the ‘Bay Chronicle’ was a previous owner of my old girl Raindance, named Lady Gay (Gai?) in Peter’s day)


10 thoughts on “The Minerva

  1. This is probably good history to have if /when we get it plying the Bay. If you are prepared to get what you have into digital format I can talk to the Trust re $
    Thanks for the feedback


  2. I have a couple of minutes of 16mm monochrome film of Lewis McLeod and his father Eric working on structure of the “Minerva” in about 1946-46. Also colour film of a cruise about 1950.
    Myself Malcolm Smith and Mervern Williams were frequent visitors during reconstruction


  3. It looks like the same MINERVA that I saw tied up to a little jetty cum pile set up just as one enters Helensville from Auckland, in the later 50s 60s, & perhaps 70s era which I was told by someone was at that time powered by a Deutz Diesel & seemed to be hardly used — can anyone tell me if this is the same boat– it looks like her –KEN RICKETTS


  4. To get this post back to TSS The Minerva the Kerikeri Steam Trust would appreciate any information on the steam engines removed when she was repowered to Diesel


  5. I remember the boat beside the road at Albany, but it’s long since gone. I used to shudder every time I saw it. It was HORRIBLE.


  6. Hi Alan,

    Years ago a mate of my father’s, Peter Pinder, had a steam launch he attempted launch in the Whau Creek.

    Here is some data on it.

    Shindig’s Trailer

    Dad had a friend called Pete Pinder, we called him “Shindig”. Shindig had a passion for steam engines. He wanted to build a steamboat so he found a hull and installed a steam engine.

    He also built a wooden trailer to transport the boat on. On launching day, with the steamboat on the trailer, Shindig fired up the steam engine. He had a roaring head of steam, then he decided to “blow the boiler”, in other words, let off some steam to relieve the pressure. This worked, but the boiler was now dry and the heat buildup made the seams open and leak.

    So with a leaky boiler and steam hissing from all the cracks and pipe joints, Shindig attempted to launch the boat. He backed the trailer down the Te Atatu Boating Club ramp, and backed, and backed, the boat looked like it wasn’t floating off the trailer, in fact the trailer was floating.

    Marty and Louis hopped onto the trailer/steamboat unit and tried to free them. We loaded heavy things onto the trailer to sink it. Finally the steamboat floated free. Dad advised Shindig to steam upstream as the Whau River flow could drift him back to the boating club if things went wrong. Oh, no, downstream went Shindig.

    The steam stopped and the steamboat drifted onto the mud banks away downstream of the boating club. Shindig managed to ground the boat and tied it to an old stove he found embedded in the mudbank.

    For months afterwards Shindig tried to patch up the boiler and the copper pipe joints but to no avail.

    It was the very first steam powered boat on the Whau creek. And yes, owned by Shindig, operated by Marty. [Marty]

    Now the steamboat is retired and doing duty as notice board outside a craft shop in Albany.

    Can you believe this? – The house Andra and her ex-husband used to live in was owned/co-owned? by Peter Pinder (as they knew him). I described him, his accent, and his hoarding – and yes it was the same one!!!!! [Mell]

    Pete Pinder.

    The steam boat that Pete had was a heap of crap, as I was to witness for myself on that fateful trip down the Whau river which ended up on the mudbanks. I was the poor bastard who had to clamber out of the boat to tie it up to the old stove in the sludge. The most embarrassing thing about it all was the fact that so many spectators were watching the whole debacle, and Pete just wouldn’t listen to a single word of advice from anyone. In actual fact, we did steam upriver for a couple hundred meters before the steam began to die, then we more or less drifted back down towards the wharf where I hoped ( after having strongly suggested it to Pete ) that we would berth there and check out the problem. But no, Pete decided that a bump on the wharf would ruin the boat and despite shouts from Dad and all of the spectators, he steered past the jetty, onwards to the rendevous with a muddy stove.



  7. From archives it appears the boiler went to Esdale, 0wner E W Martel, I have found nothing further. Gavin Gault


  8. MINERVA was one of the ships that brought the Fencible troops to Howick in the 1840’s. Fencibles were retired soldiers who were sent out here to protect the settlers from raiding Maori. The name Minerva features in Howick to this day. THE MINERVA was built to service the (then) remote Howick area.Ships on occasion feature the word “The” in their name e.g. scow THE PORTLAND mouldering away in the deep south. George Fraser the engineer had a marriage connection with one of our Auckland maritime firms McCallum Brothers Ltd one of the brothers way back when married Catherine Fraser. They named a new scow they had built KITTY FRASER. I love nautical trivia. 🙂


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