Armstrong pattern hydraulic cranes - Wellington waterfront

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Bruce Comfort on September 28, 2011

This photo from the 1950s shows at least six Armstrong pattern hydraulic cranes - running off the hydraulic network first established by the Harbour Board in 1887 under its Engineer William Ferguson.

The pumps were initially steam powered (to be researched) and would have changed over to electricity by the time of this photograph, possibly soon after mains power from the Evans Bay power station and from Mangahaou became available in 1924.

The three cranes in view were slewing and travelling cranes - the structure you can see them mounted on straddled railway tracks laid on the wharves and the cranes had coils of flexible steel and rubber pressure hoses which coiled and uncoiled automatically as the crane traversed along the wharf - each crane for just a few metres.

Sadly none of these hydraulic cranes have survived, and the engine shed too has gone, however other parts of the hydraulic network are still extant (see Shed 13 pictures)

Bruce Comfort on October 29, 2011

This week I learned that Wellington also had at least one building with an hydraulic system.

The Government Buildings in Lambton Quay were designed by and built in to the very highest specifications and the building included an hydraulic lift spanning the floors and basement with automatic opening doors at each level.

The lift was for taking firewood and coal up into the building to feed its BBB fireplaces and to emove ash. It was subject to many modifications over its lifetime - including modifications to limit the height of the cage to prevent staff (youths) from travelling in the lift for fum.

Interestingly it was powered off Wellingtons mains (drinking water supply) which if the sysem didn't have any pressure reducing valves (unlknown at this time) would have run at 200psi (from a reservoir with its level at 150MASL.

At this time it I suspect it may have been unique and simoly because the building was so highly specified, buyt it may not have been.

The ram is still preserved in the building.

Bruce Comfort on February 25, 2012

And and unexpectedly, a range of other Wellington businesses were also hydraulic powered in the late 19thC.

Most notably the Government Printing Office and The Evening Post - the daily newspaper established by Blundell. Both these were large enterprises and both apparently at some time totally hydraulically powered. One has to suspect that, printing machinery being rotative, that the power came from turbines, but it may not! Burtt Brothers Dunedin was recorded as having made the machinery for The Evening Post and Burtt Brothers also made the water engine that drove the refrigeration compressor in Oamaru's early freezing store. That was a reciprocating engine, so it is possible that the Post was driven by a large reciprocating water engine too.

Bruce Comfort on February 25, 2012

Papers Past carries a number of articles about water power in Wellington City including announcements (of new machinery being installed), advertisements and a few stories about prosecutions of individuals ( book binder, baker, jeweler and a pastry cook) who had been found to have used water for energy whilst deliberately disabling the water metering devices. It is reasonably clear therefore, that the access to water at say 150psi in quantity, provided a power supply option for small businesses that was only otherwise able to come from steam engines. Water would have been very attractive to small operations.

There may have been other towns in NZ in the 1890s that had urban reticulated water at pressure and thus a range of water engines and water motors chugging away doing work, but and whilst Oamaru was a surprise find, Wellington was or should have been obvious. No other towns except Dunedin come to mind as having the potential. So far no evidence has emerged of any Dunedin enterprises that were hydraulically powered.

Bruce Comfort on June 8, 2013

When Newcastle [New south Wales Australia] was first settled, Carrington, as we know it today, didn't exist. It was a low lying tidal island that was known to the local Aboriginals as "wuna - r tee" and was known to be abundant with fish, mud crabs and oysters. Originally named Chapmans Island during the convict era, then later Bullock Island, it rose from the mud from 1859 when extensive dredging commenced in Newcastle Harbour to help alleviate flooding (probably following the 1857 floods) with the spoil spread over the tidal flats gradually raising the island above the tidal influence. Then during the 1860's Bullock Island became a ballast dumping ground for the visiting coal ships and as the demand for coal continued to grow, more expedient methods were sought on the loading of the colliers with Mr. E O Moriarty, the Chief Engineer of the NSW Steam Navigation Board, expanding Bullock Island to accommodate the growing coal trade. In 1874 Mr Moriarty commissioned the British based Armstrong Hydraulic Machinery Factory to design a hydraulic crane delivery system for the Bullock Island site. James Barnet was commissioned to design the Power Station to accommodate the new fangled equipment and so in 1878 Newcastle led Australia when the £20,000 ($16 million) Carrington Hydraulic Power Station began operations with the first load of coal dispatched using this new system on the 18th March 1878. It wasn't until 1916 -17 that electricity replaced the steam pumps and in 1964 the last of the internal machinery were removed from building for scrap. Recently the building has been purchased by the NSW State Government which intends to restore this excellent example of 19th century industrial architecture to its former glory after nearly 50 years of disgraceful neglect. (information courtesy of John McCulloch)

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on September 26, 2011
  • Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
    by Bruce Comfort