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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 45

The Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand (Limited)

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The Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand (Limited).

Remarkable illustration of the vast results that are sometimes evolved from small beginnings is furnished by this Company, the progress and success of which is unprecedented in the history of shipping corporations. The Union S.S. Company, which now possesses one of the finest steam fleets in the world, is only a "four year old," for it was not until the month of July, 1875, that it was incorporated and assumed its present title. Still it had a hard-working and industrious old mother in the Harbour Steam Co., who raised herself to a very respectable position through careful management and prudent foresight. A slight outline and a brief sketch of the life and antecedents of this old lady may prove interesting to the inquisitive reader. The "Golden Age," which commenced plying in 1861, may be called the pioneer boat of the Company. In that year the late Mr. John Jones, one of New Zealand's most enterprising colonists, became principal proprietor of the first boats, and began to take an active interest in the working up of the concern. Business extended rapidly, owing in a great measure to the impetus given to trade by the opening up of the gold-fields, and in due order the following boats were added to the company: "Peninsula," "Lady of the Lake," "Bruce," "Wallace," and "Geelong." The P.S. "Bruce" will long be remembered on the West Coast, for she was looked upon as the most successful tender that ever traded across the Hokitika bar. The P.S. "Wallace" commenced her first operations outside the harbour of Dunedin in 1868, and succeeded in establishing a capital trade with Oamaru. In this year Mr. James Mills, who had been engaged since his boyhood in page 2 Mr. Jones's private business, became connected with the Harbour Steam Company, and assumed active control of the concern. Outside operations were vigorously pushed forward and the venture began to realise the most sanguine anticipations of the shareholders. At Mr. Jones's death, which occurred in 1869, Mr. Mills became largely interested in the business, and the sole control was entrusted to his charge. The Oamaru trade having by this time become a great success, attention was directed to more extended operations, and in July 1869, the "Maori" was purchased. A trade with Timara and Lyttelton was opened up, and in 1870 the "Beautiful Star" was added to the Company's fleet. The paddle boats were now being gradually superseded by screw steamers, and the trade increased so rapidly that further provision for the extension of the line was deemed necessary. In 1872 the "Wallace" was found to be too small for the increasing trade with Oamaru, and the "Samson" was purchased to run between Dunedin and that port. The trade with Lyttelton also rapidly increased, and the management thought it advisable to take steps for the further extension of the concern. With that object in view, Mr. John Darling was sent home to get a vessel specially built for these new operations, and the fine screw steamer "Bruce" was constructed for the Company, the paddle steamer of the same name having been previously disposed of. This was the inauguration of the policy of having boats specially constructed for the New Zealand trade, a scheme which has worked most successfully up to the present time. The attention of the proprietors was then directed to the general coasting trade of New Zealand. They perceived that improved and extended facilities were required in order to keep pace with the growing prosperity of the colony, and decided that the increasing trade warranted further development. With commendable enterprise they resolved to infuse a new spirit into the concern. About this time several new shareholders joined the concern with a view of still further extending the operations of the Company. The then shareholders decided to procure plant as their means would allow, and in 1874 Mr. Mills proceeded to England for the purpose of carrying out the page 3 desired object. That gentleman was enabled to arrange for the building of the "Hawea" and "Taupo," and also succeeded in inducing several Home capitalists to become interested in the Company. Up to this period the proprietary was limited in number, the more prominent members being Messrs J. Mills, J. R. Jones, John Darling, and Captain Malcolm. The three last-named gentlemen were all along associated with Mr. Mills in the active management of the concern, and assisted him in impelling the company through its several stages of progress. Although termed, for the sake of convenience, the Harbour Steam Company, the business was up to this time a private proprietary to all intents and purposes. The trade grew so extensive, however, that it became apparent that further capital was now required to meet the growing demands of the business, and the Management determined upon giving the concern a more extended proprietary. Accordingly, on the first of July, 1875, the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand (Limited) was incorporated under the Joint Stock Company's Act. The following gentlemen were the first, and are still the Directors of the Company:—George McLean, Esq., Henry Tewsley, Esq., Hugh MacNeil, Esq., John R. Jones, Esq., John Cargill, Esq., and James Mills, Esq. The latter gentleman occupies the position of Managing Director. About this time the "Hawea" and "Taupo" arrived from Home, and the Management commenced to take a wider survey of King Neptune's swelling prairies. A coastal service extending from Dunedin to Manukau was opened up, and a profitable trade between the Northern and Southern ports was the result. It may be mentioned here that the new Company did not take over all the boats belonging to the Harbour Company. The Union Company commenced business with the "Hawea," "Taupo," "Bruce" (new), "Maori," and "Beautiful Star." The "Wanaka" and "Rotorua" were ordered for the fleet, and further plant was still needed to keep pace with the increasing trade. In July 1876, the "Taiaroa" was purchased from the Albion Shipping Company, and in the same month the "Phœbe," "Taranaki," "Wellington," and "Ladybird," were acquired from the New Zealand S.S. Company. The entire coasting trade of the colony was now page 4 practically placed in the hands of the Union Company. The "Rotorua" arrived in 1876, and the "Wanaka" in 1877. Attention was then directed beyond the New Zealand waters, and a trade was opened up with Sydney. The "Rotorua" was placed on the Australian line, and this event marks an important epoch in the history of the Company. Large additions from various sources were at this time made to the subscribed capital of the Company, for the opening up of so many new lines of traffic had rendered such additions necessary. The Company from being a purely New Zealand concern, had become an Australasian institution, and the Management resolved that no enterprise should be lacking in order to make the Union line of boats worthy of such an important, trade. The East Coast of the North Island, had been always reckoned an unprofitable service by former companies, but the Union Company succeeded in making it a most valuable one. The Wanaka was laid on for that portion of the coasting trade, and the result was eminently satisfactory. The Company's first Sydney venture having proved very encouraging, the Company was induced to purchase, in 1878, the fine S.S. "Wakatipu," which had previously been engaged for a short time in the trade between Sydney and the southern portion of New Zealand, under the auspices of the Union Company, although not incorporated until the date stated above. In July, 1878, a very great development of the trade with Australia was anticipated, and the introduction of a superior class of steamers was resolved upon. Vessels of a very advanced type were ordered, and Mr. John Darling proceeded home to superintend the building of the "Rotomahana." In November 1878, the Union Company purchased McMeckan, Blackwood & Co.'s fine line of steamers, comprising the "Ringarooma," "Arawata," "Tararua," and "Albion," and with these boats a valuable trade with Melbourne was secured. The acquisition of this fleet placed the entire chain of connection between Melbourne, Sydney, and the ports of New Zealand in the hands of the Company, and the large intercolonial trade thus opened up gave the Union Company a still larger claim to be regarded as an Australasian line. There cannot be the slightest doubt of the fact that page 5 this arrangement proved highly satisfactory to the travelling public, for it stands to reason that a number of small companies not working in harmony with each other, have not the same facilities for making provision for the comfort and convenience of travellers, which are possessed by a large concern like the Union Company. Notwithstanding that the Company has now the command of the Australian and New Zealand trade, the utmost satisfaction with the accommodation is expressed by all who travel by its boats. The dietary scale furnished to passengers is not excelled for liberality by any other line of steamers afloat, and the comfort of travellers is an object of special attention. As indicative of the enterprise of the Company, we have only to point to the "Rotomahana," which has recently arrived from England after one of the quickest voyages on record. This magnificent boat is acknowledged to be one of the finest and smartest vessels of her tonnage that lias ever left the Clyde. Her hull and boilers are manufactured of steel, and her fittings and furnishings have never been excelled. Her great speed and splendid sea-going qualities have excited the wonder and evoked the praise of all who have bad the pleasure of inspecting her. The "Te Anau," a companion ship to the "Rotomahana," is expected to arrive at the close of the present year, and the management contemplate still further addition to the fleet ere long. An idea of the extent and importance of the Company's operations may be gleaned from the fact that they now own seventeen steamers, and have one chartered. This fleet covers no less than 55,000 miles each month, and affords employment to 650 men on monthly pay, afloat and ashore at the various ports Independent of these there are numbers of artizans and labourers directly and indirectly employed by the Company. The total consumption of coal by the Company is over 4,500 tons per month, of which about 2,000 tons are produced in New Zealand, and the remainder is the production of New South Wales. The Company has been very successful in bringing the New Zealand coal into repute for steam purposes, and it is hoped that ere long it will be still more extensively used by steam ships. The monthly expenditure of the whole business is £27,500. These page 6 figures are very important, as indicating what judicious management can accomplish. When we remember that the Company has grown into its present proportions in the short space of four years, we cannot but feel, as New Zealanders, a certain amount of pride in its extraordinary developement. Punctuality and despatch receive marked attention in connection with this line, and steamers run with regularity to and from the various ports of call. A boat runs every week from Melbourne to the Bluff, and during each month three of the steamers which take this route make a call at Hobart Town, the capital of Tasmania. A monthly steamer plies between Melbourne and the West Coast of New Zealand direct, calling at Hokitika, Greymouth and Nelson, and returning by the same ports to Newcastle and Melbourne. Three steamers per month trade between Sydney and the New Zealand Coast There are three services per week from Wellington to the Southern ports of New Zealand. A weekly boat is despached to the East Coast and another to the West Coast of the North Island. There is a service twice a week between Wellington, Picton, and Nelson, and twice a week between Dunedin, Oamaru, and Timaru. A special boat makes the circuit of the Middle Island every month, and a pleasure excursion round the Sounds is organised annually about Christmas and New Year time. The Company publishes a very complete pocket guide every month, detailing all the movements of the steamers, reliable railway time tables, and other necessary information. The question is sometimes asked: how can an undertaking of such magnitude as the Union Company pay at this side of the equator, and how has its success been brought about? The reply to this query is that the shareholders and directors have not rushed into this enterprising speculation with the idea of realising large profits in a brief space of time. Their first aim was to establish a line of steamers of which the colony may well feel proud, and they decided upon instituting a strong proprietary, formed of colonial and home shareholders, to carry out this object. The comfort and convenience of travellers was an important consideration with them; and they determined at the outset of the Company's career to eschew niggardliness, and to pursue page 7 a liberal policy towards their patrons, regardless of immediate profits. That they have succeeded, no one who has travelled in their vessels can deny, and they have every reason to look forward to the not distant future, for a just remuneration in return for their enterprise.

The agency for the Orient Line of steamers throughout New Zealand has been placed in the hands of the Union Company, and this arrangement will be found a very satisfactory one. Enquiries can be instituted respecting all movements of the above line, and reliable information can be obtained at any of the Union Company's offices. The Management and Directors of the Company wish it to be distinctly understood that they are desirous of giving travellers and the public every facility for obtaining information respecting shipping transactions generally, and their various offices will be found convenient centres of enquiry on all matters connected with maritime affairs.

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