Small boats, under sail and later power, featured heavily in the history of Albertland. The founders of the settlement in 1862 put my great-grandfather, Thomas Inger, in charge of a sailing cutter shipping people and materials from Helensville at the southern end of the Kaipara Harbour to Port Albert.

George Bennett.

Thomas was a native of Nottingham, well inland. As far as I know, he had never seen the sea until he and his family boarded the Matilda Wattenbach at London Docks only a few weeks before. It did not work out well at first.

The first settlers established a shop at Port Albert just above the wharf on the English Industrial Revolution Co-operative movement model. John Shepherd ran the shop for some years and later bought it. From the early 1890s he serviced it with his own cutter Olive, skippered by T. Bridge who often took passengers on excursions. Around 1899 John Shepherd sold the shop to George Bennett, his daughter Mildred’s husband. Mildred Shepherd had been born just after arriving in Port Albert in October 1863 after an uncomfortable journey by dray on the rough overland portage from Riverhead to Helensville.

George Bennett was fascinated by boats and wanted a more substantial power boat as an adjunct to his shop. William Dudding of Maeneene Creek bought Olive to trade around the Kaipara but kept her at Port Albert.

The internal combustion marine engine had now achieved a high degree of reliability and affordability, particularly the U.S-built engines. The pre-eminent boatbuilders in New Zealand at the time were Logan Bros, Bailey & Lowe and Chas Bailey Jr. of Auckland. Each had gained a sound reputation as designers and builders of ‘settlers’ launches’ which were becoming the heavy trucks of farmers on the many lakes and waterways of New Zealand, from Riverton in the south to Parengarenga in the north. In 1901 Chas Bailey Jr. had designed and built the launch Milkmaid for J. Morrison of Hikutaia on the Waihou River on the Hauraki Plains for carrying milk and separated cream to the local dairy factory. Milkmaid was a straightstemmed, counter-stern, shallow-draught vessel with a simple petrol engine and a big carrying capacity. Soon afterwards, hundreds of the Milkmaid type were built by many boatbuilders in the country.

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Alf Bennett

In 1904, George Bennett chose Logan Bros of the Railway Wharf, Mechanics Bay, as the builders of a big launch, possibly influenced by boatbuilder Arthur Forrester at the mill at Whakapirau who had worked for the Logans and for whom he now spotted high quality kauri logs going through the mill. George’s launch was built of the very best quality kauri and probably had a triple skin diagonal hull, Logan Bros’ hallmark construction feature. She was of the same form as the Milkmaid type but larger at 45ft overall with a beam of 10ft and a draught of three feet.

The Logans favoured the Union engine built in San Francisco because of its reliability and certainly not because of its advanced features. In fact, the Union, throughout the range, was not very far removed from steam technology, with its open crankcase. Logans installed a 10hp twin Union supplied by W. A. Ryan & Co Ltd of Auckland at a cost which was probably equal to the hull and fittings. She was launched in October 1904, probably railed to Helensville.

George named her Ivy after his youngest child, Joy Ivy Bennett, born at Port Albert in July 1903. She was kept in constant use primarily to service the Bennetts’ store at Port Albert but also carrying goods and passengers up and down the harbour from Dargaville in the north and south to Helensville, towing barges and carrying excursionists on picnics and local regattas in the summer.

The barque Matilda Wattenbach.

A major attraction of a petrol-engined vessel was that there was no need to employ an engineer with a steam ticket. By 1906, however, a River Master’s and an Engineer’s certificate were required under the Shipping and Seamen Act 1903.

Ivy became so busy that George Bennett decided he needed another launch, as a feeder to Ivy, a smaller launch with a shallower draught to get right into the farmers’ landings. He had Belle built about 1909. I cannot find who built her. It was at a time when Logan Bros were about to close down. Arthur Forrester was building launches at Whakapirau but Belle is not on his list of builds. My guess is Brown & Sons’ yard at Te Kopuru. On the night of 24th November 1908 George was sleeping on “his launch” (Ivy or Belle?) which was on Browns’ slip for repairs when the yard caught fire and was totally demolished. Bennett’s launch was only slightly damaged.

Belle. (Albertland Heritage Museum).

On 5th August 1910 George was drowned at Batley at the junction of the Otamatea and Arapaoa Rivers. Ivy was towing a barge loaded with railway trucks when it swamped in 8ft of water. Bennett laid an anchor for the barge with a small dinghy. After dark he went out in the dinghy again to lift the anchor, with the result that it capsized. George could not swim. He drifted away, calling to the boy on board Ivy, “Jack, I can’t hold out any longer.” The boy could not start the engine and George drowned.

Because of this tragedy, the Bennett family sold Ivy to A. E. ‘Archie’ Curel, who later married George’s daughter Clara. By early 1912 Curel and his brother Bill had set up a weekly service from Port Albert to Helensville. Over the years they added more vessels to their fleet including Kate, Te Tui, Thistle, and Betty (formerly Oban, Anzac and latterly Freedom). They had sold Ivy to E. Farr by 1924. Farr sold her to W.T. and M.L.C. Dick in 1929. When they came to register her as a British Ship, probably to enable them to borrow on the security of a charge on her, they found that there was another Ivy on the Register, so she became Ivy B. Little is known about her ultimate fate except that she was sold for shark fishing after 1945.

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George Bennett’s River Steamer Master’s Certificate
The two-cylinder 10-horsepower Union marine engine.

George Bennett’s son Lionel continued to run Belle for many years. His son Alf carried on with her from the mid-1930s. When the Bennett brothers’ shop down by the Port Albert Wharf was burnt down they rebuilt it further up the road in 1927. The same premises are now occupied by a fish and chip shop which has gained a wide reputation as a favourite not only of the locals, but also of car clubs and motor-cycle tourists. Like Ivy, I know little about her final days, except for a tale that she was sailed around North Cape to Whangarei where she was put ashore in leaking condition and eventually burnt on the shore.

These days, Port Albert is a much quieter tidal estuary, enjoyed by its locals, many, like me, descended from those first hardy Albertlanders of 160 years ago, with salt water in their veins.

My sincere thanks go to the Curator and staff of the Albertland Heritage Museum at Wellsford for the use of images and the sharing of information. BNZ

Gordon Hendriksen’s fine model of Ivy in the Albertland Heritage Museum.

THE ALBERTLANDERS

Albertland was a bold attempt to set up a carefully planned colonial town on the banks of the Oruawharo River on the Kaipara Harbour, centred on Port Albert. The Auckland Provincial Government had encouraged immigrants from England to provide a buffer of European settlement between the Maori tribes of Northland and those of the Waikato, where unrest was breaking out in the early 1860s. Similar settlements were organised at Puhoi with Germanspeaking farmers from Bohemia and at Waipu with Scots families from Nova Scotia.

The blessing and protection of two Maori chiefs, Paikea Te Hekena and Arama Karaka, were key elements in the success of the Albertland settlement. They saw that European settlement prevented a resumption of the musket wars between Ngapuhi in the North and Ngati Whatua on the Auckland isthmus that had depopulated the area in the 1820s. The land itself was poor and covered in scrub and fern. Much of the potentially valuable kauri timber had already been burnt in slash and burn agriculture.

The first wave of Albertlanders were non-conformists who arrived in Auckland in the barques Matilda Wattenbach and Hanover in September 1862. Many settled on their ballotted allotments at Port Albert, but many, like the Lidgard family, became disenchanted and stayed in Auckland or left for the Thames gold fields. Those that did proceed overland to Port Albert were ill-prepared for the challenges of being pioneers and had a hard life. However, through adversity, they developed a tight, hard-working, Godfearing community, with a culture that prevails today in the many descendants of those first ships from Home.

Ivy off Port Albert Wharf in 1905.

Farming, fruit growing, cropping and timber milling were the only industries, but communications were haphazard. The planned route from Auckland was around the west coast from Onehunga to the Kaipara, over two bars which proved to be dangerous and unpredictable. The alternative was a walking track from Te Hana to Mangawhai and thence down the more benign east coast by cutter. But the most practicable route was by small craft down the Kaipara to Helensville.

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In 1875 a railway line was opened to Helensville from Riverhead on the Waitemata. By 1909 the Government railway had pushed through from Auckland to Wellsford and there was a passable road to Albertland.