Bruce Comfort
on Google Maps
I'm a retired engineer. I ride a 400cc Suzuki Burgman motorscooter and I live in Oamaru, South Island of New Zealand. I have two adult daughters. My interests (if you haven't worked it out) include New Zealand's heritage of engineering works, snapshot photography of the built environment and recording pastoral farming activities around here. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- PLEASE NOTE THAT MANY PHOTOGRAPHS ON THIS PANORAMIO SITE HAVE BEEN TAKEN BY ACCESSING HERITAGE BUILDINGS, STRUCTURES, AND ENGINEERING ARTIFACTS WHICH LIE ON PRIVATE LAND. PUBLICATION OF PHOTOGRAPHS ON THIS SITE DOES NOT IMPLY ANY PUBLIC RIGHTS OF ACCESS. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- PLEASE ALSO NOTE THAT A FEW PHOTOS ON THIS SITE ARE NOT MINE, AND THAT MANY ARE TAKEN INDOORS AND ARE OF MACHINERY AND THAT THIS APPARENTLY CONTRADICTS THE TERMS OF USE OF THE PANORAMIO WEBSITE. I HAVE HAD THE SITE MODERATORS' APPROVAL FOR USING THE SITE THIS WAY AS ALL SUCH PHOTOS LINK IN SOME FASHION TO MY OWN PHOTOGRAPHS OF PLACES IN NEW ZEALAND WHERE ARTIFACTS OF ENGINEERING OR PASTORAL OR INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE CAN STILL BE FOUND. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- MY INTENTION IS NOT TO USURP THE RIGHTS OF THE HISTORIC PHOTOGRAPHERS NOR OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS, AND CREDIT IS GIVEN WHERE I CAN. I have made an endeavour to contact copyright holders of material published on these pages and where appropriate, permission is still being sought for these items. Where replies were not received, or where the copyright owner has not been able to be traced, or where the permission is still being sought, I have decided, in good faith, to proceed with publication. I would be happy to hear from copyright owners at any time to discuss usage of item. IF YOU GO TO THE PLACES WHERE MY OWN PHOTOGRAPHS HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED BY THE MODERATORS TO BE IN THE PHOTOS LAYER ON GOOGLE EARTH, MY HOPE IS THAT THE OTHER HISTORIC PHOTOGRAPHS (which will not have been accepted by the moderators of Google Earth but which appear on these pages) WILL STIMULATE YOU TO THINK ABOUT THE ENGINEERS, ENTREPRENEURS, INVESTORS, THE WORKERS AND OPERATORS AND ALL THE PEOPLE, NOW GONE, WHOSE LIVES WERE INEXTRICABLY TIED TO THESE PLACES AND THESE ENDEAVOURS. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- MY E-MAIL ADDRESS IS AND I WELCOME INPUT INTO THIS WORK -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Bruce Comfort's conversations

Salvaged pretty much complete from the Islington freezing works, this machine which started its life in Derby UK as a dry air machine (refrigerating compressor without refrigerant) was converted to an ammonia compressor once the cost of ammonia came down and the technology for welding pipelines instead of screwing them together (leaks were a problem) was in place.

The works are described like this, on the NZETC web pages. NZETC has digitised The Newzealand Cyclopedia of 1903.

THE FREEZING WORKS (the Christchurch Meat Company, proprietor), Islington. It may be said that the frozen meat industry in New Zealand was begun late in 1881 and early in 1882. The first shipment left Port Chalmers on the 15th of February, 1882, in the Shaw, Savill Company's ship “Dunedin,” and the New Zealand and Australian Land Company, under the auspices of its general manager, Mr. Thomas Brydone, was the shipper. The success of the shipment led to the establishment of the New Zealand Refrigerating Company at Dunedin, and of the Canterbury Frozen Meat and Dairy Company at Christchurch. Other companies were afterwards established, and the progress of the industry has been such, that the total value of the products of meat freezing, and preserving and boiling down works increased from £543,878 in 1885 to £3,834,891 in 1900. Canterbury stands at the head of this great industry, on account of the superior quality of its meat, which commands the highest price in the Home market. The Christchurch Meat Company, which has helped in a large measure to develop the industry, started in 1889, and its promoters, seeing the possibilities connected with by-products, devoted special attention to this branch, with the result that the company now annually turns out about four thousand tons of manures and fertilisers, manufactured from the offal, viscera and blood. Another most important branch of the business is in the manufacture of table delicacies and tinned meats, such as sheeps' tongues, corned, boiled, roasted, spiced and curried mutton, with the same varieties of beef, lambs' feet, liver and bacon, brawn, potted head, meat extract and stock for soups. The buildings at Islington, about eight miles south of Christchurch, on the main south line, cover five acres of ground, and have a freezing and killing capacity of 10,000 sheep per diem, and a storage capacity for 140,000 carcases of frozen mutton and lamb. Over 500 persons are employed at the works, and the various departments are presided over by thoroughly experienced and competent men. The whole of the buildings are lighted with electric light, and there is telephonic communication throughout the various departments. The engines in use are of the very latest design. There is a splendid system of hydrants throughout the building, with an unlimited supply of water; and there is also a fine ice plant capable of manufacturing five tons of crystal ice per day, from pure artesian water, obtained at a depth of 100 feet, and carefully purified previous to freezing. This ice is sold at a nominal price to the shipping, the households and hotels in Lyttelton, Christchurch, and throughout Canterbury. The Christchurch Meat Company is further referred to at page 79 of the general introduction to this volume, and also at page 325 in the section devoted to the meat trade. At its works at Islington, Smithfield and Picton the company put through 1,305,132 head of stock in the year 1902.

The Lower Karori Dam is listed here

And the Upper Karori Dam is listed here

Both are very important items of civil engineering heritage

There is some chance that the kiln was here and is covered up by detritus. It would require some high levels of permission to excavate this area as it is a Geological Reserve but the lower visible escarpment and the vertical height to the quarry (above it at top of pic) does suggest what would have been a good situation for a small kiln. We will see?

These are the springs that took up the shock in the harpoon line when a harpoon had struck a whale and was fleeing.

I gather they were replaced at the winter servicing of the steam whale chasers as a matter of course.

The Hydraulic Power System of The Wellington Harbour Board, New Zealand.


The Wellington Harbour Board’s hydraulic network power system was seminal to the operations of this important New Zealand port, from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries.

It was the most extensive of a small number of purpose built water based hydraulic networks, constructed and utilised by New Zealand local authorities and the communities they served, during the late 19th Century.


William Ferguson

Biographies of Ferguson can be found at;

and a tribute to him appears in the Appendix. This tribute was made on the occasion of the presentation of a portrait of him, from the Wellington Harbour Board to the National Art Gallery, 25th May 1939.

Ferguson was appointed Engineer and Secretary to the Wellington Harbour Board (WHB) in 1884 and later he became its Treasurer. He quickly gained the confidence of the Board, and he was paid the very generous sum of ₤1000 per annum.

Ferguson quickly began to enhance the Port of Wellington’s machinery and infrastructure, until the facilities he had installed made the wharves and their equipment the envy of other New Zealand ports. At the core of the Port of Wellington’s success, was its brilliant and extensive hydraulic power system. The pumped hydraulic power system was initiated in 1887 and was fully operational by 1889.


The distribution of centralised hydraulic energy, using water as the transfer fluid, was first exploited for commercial purposes by Sir William Armstrong in Newcastle on Tyne, and items of commercially available hydraulic machinery from Armstrong's Elswick Works were most probably utilised by WHB in the early stages of the development of their hydraulic system.

By way of contrast, distributed electric energy came much later in time, and really only with the advent of AC generators and motor devices. A brief discourse of the subject as it pertained to New Zealand will possibly help place the hydraulic network in better context.

The first industrial application of electricity in New Zealand was commissioned in 1886 at the Phoenix mine in Central Otago where a genuine Pelton wheel drove a pair of Brush dynamos, and power, taken some 2 miles by overhead conductors, was used to drive gold-bearing quartz ore crushing machinery - again using Brush generators running as motors.

This and other schemes that used the distribution of high voltage DC were often limited to a couple of motors close to each other and relatively close to the generation plant, with connection generally by large diameter copper wires. This was not a system suitable for use on wharves, where both the workers and conductors were inevitably exposed to salt water.

Distributed AC in New Zealand was undertaken quite early, by international standards, often also initiated by local authorities and private companies and individuals. The Crown's first foray into distributed AC and associated hydroelectric generation was in 1915 at Lake Coleridge in the South Island.

Wellington had some experimental DC lighting made available from a mains water supply driven Pelton wheel generation plant by 1867 and distributed AC available to consumers for lighting (from both reciprocating steam engines and a Curtis vertical turbine) by 1907.

Of course WHB could have been a customer, and was, quite early on for lighting and other minor purposes,

However the the steam powered DC generation plant in Wellington was pretty much committed for lighting and for the city-wide network of trams which were first introduced in 1902. As the hydraulic system built and designed by Ferguson consumed more energy than the private generation operators could supply, it remained steam driven and independent of electricity until 1945, serving the port for another couple of decades after the introduction in 1929 of 230V AC in sufficient quantity to have been possible to use it. It was actually long after the introduction of widespread reticulated electricity to the city that the system became electric powered.

Distributed steam energy was rare world wide and distributed pressurised gas - mainly air, had limited uses in dangerous mining situations. (note for Editor - I am not an expert in this field - I know steam at low pressure was distributed for area heating but I think not at pressure for power)


The WHB hydraulic power system eventually serviced most of the Lambton Harbour waterfront, from the north at Railway Wharf, through to the main wharf, Queens Wharf, and subsequently to the Taranaki Street Wharf at the southern side of the harbour, a distance of roughly 3km. By implication, it is probable (in the absence at this time of layout drawings) that piping may have extended for 5 or 6 km in total length to service all of the long wharves, wharf fingers and on-wharf sheds and stores. In time the network was extended north and eventually came to "cover" some dozen large wharves and many acres of wharf space and buildings.

The map shows the extent of the wharves in Wellington at BBBBB and I have drawn in what the network looked like - in principle. Many of the wharves that existed and were serviced by the network are extant at 2012 and nearly all are either still working wharves or accessible to the public.

Wellington's waterfront is now an attractive and popular place and few if any, of its current users would be aware of its long history of innovative engineering.

I have taken the liberty of including a number of Internet links in this brief and sadly detail-deficient paper in order that readers familiar with the Internet might acquaint themselves with the city, the port and the extent of the extant hydraulic network artefacts, as the photographs I have taken are not of good enough quality to warrant publishing except on the Net.


This concept was apparently not Ferguson's idea.

At a Board meeting on the 8th March 1883, a Board member, Mr W V Jackson first raised the concept of utilising water power to move cargo around on the wharves. He was obviously aware of the use of jiggers in the UK and he had possibly read the seminal 1852 English language book "Power of Water" on the use of water power, by Joseph Glynn FRS., an engineer who had been involved in pumping, and machinery to move water and or extract energy from flowing water, for much of his working life. Glynn is credited with draining the Fens - which he clearly had a significant hand in, by designing and installing numerous steam powered pumps.

The meeting of that day is recorded in part in The Evening Post - Wellington's largest circulation newspaper of the day.

Jiggers— labour-saving appliances used in the stowage of wool— formed the subject of a discussion that was initiated by Mr. W. V. Jackson at yesterday's meeting of the Harbour Board. Mr. Jackson produced plans of the jiggers, of which he spoke strongly in favour, and urged the Board to order two of the machines from England. He said the estimated cost of two in London was £220, to which £50 would have to be added for a supply of hydraulic piping. The jiggers were worked by water-pressure, which he pointed out could be obtained from the Wainui-o-mata waterworks, and one machine could be placed at each end of the wool store. With the help of these, only two men would be required for stowing purposes in place of the ten or twelve men required for the same kind of work at present. Moreover, the work could be accomplished in one-third of the time, and, in Mr. Jackson's opinion, the cost would be covered in one season. The Board agreed that the jiggers would be a splendid investment, and Mr. Jackson was allowed to move without notice that two of those machines be immediately ordered from Home. The motion was carried.

Note however that the "water pressure - from Wainui-o-mata" refers to the utilisation of Wellington's public drinking water supply which by 1883 was coming from both the Karori Stream (virtually in the city with civil works undertaken 1877) and by pipeline from the Wainuiomata River - some 20 miles (31 km) away - providing quite significant volumes of water at possibly 100psi in town. The proposal was therefore to just connect to, and use, the public water supply - exactly as Armstrong first did in Newcastle-on-Tyne.

At that time, the Board did not have a salaried engineer and it used contractors and professional advice as necessary. Occasionally it found itself on the wrong end of a fabricated account from its engineering consultants and was clearly in the mood for the appointment of its own engineer when, on 14th December 1883, it found it had been grossly overcharged for commission on the purchase and installation of the two jiggers approved in March. The bill was just £10-10-00 but the true cost of £2-5-00 incensed the board and clearly made the appointment of a professional engineer, as an employee, very pertinent.

Ferguson's appointment was a turning point in the properly designed and professionally managed provision of sophisticated goods handling and in the building of wharves and wharf sheds etc., however the intuition of councillor Jackson should not go unrecorded.


The central pumping station was built of brick and it was a moderately impressive building. Nicknamed Ferguson's Castle by the wharf workers, it stood on a prominent site opposite the Wellington Railway Station until the late 1970s when it and a clutch of workshop and maintenance buildings that had grown up around it, were demolished and the land made available for other port related activities.

A single accumulator was housed at the north end of the former Wellington Harbour Board wharf offices on Queens Wharf (which were at one end of a very decorative building also serving, somewhat incognito, as a cargo shed for wool bales) This building now houses a ballet school and a number of premium apartments, in one of which, on the first and second floors, the cross head weight guide rails form decorative elements in the living spaces.

A second accumulator was located in a tower at the north end of Shed 21, built in 1908.

This building was a wool store which incorporated wool dumping presses ("dumping" squeezed two bales of wool into the space generally occupied by one) It was a more prosaic brick building but it too has been preserved and re-fitted as apartments with the accumulator tower forming a stair well with the guides for the ram head and weights still extant.

In this Shed 21 accumulator tower space, the head weight guides (steel shod kauri beams) terminate at floor level and are worn nearly to floor level, leading to the intriguing possibility that the ram was set below grade and that it may still be in place below the modern concrete floor.

The Harbour Board went out of existence in October 1989 and its records were then archived by the Wellington City Council. These were well enough catalogued to have supported David Johnson's magnificent book "Wellington Harbour" about the harbour and its Board, but photographs and engineering materials are not well sorted nor catalogued so a modicum of speculation is needed, until that happens, to recount the history of the installation.

In particular there is sadly no information available to the author at this time on the steam engines or pumps which were initially installed to drive the system, however it must be made clear that this information gap is the result of the author's keenness to get this paper prepared and he is certain that details will later come to light - certainly there is no doubt that the engine(s) and pump(s) will be items of great interest to heritage engineers.

It is recorded that in 1920 a new Babcock boiler was installed along with two new Worthington hydraulic pumps - and I assume these were replacements for the main water pumps.

Throughout its long working life, the WHB hydraulic network was effective, low maintenance, economic and very safe and it took a long while for it to be replaced by individually powered electric machines.
The steam engines that initially powered the network were however replaced two sets of Fielding & Platt AC motors and pumps ordered in 1943 but not delivered until 1945. The network will have been one of the last major users of steam engines in Wellington.

Thus probably, in its initial stages, the hydraulic network was a total-loss system, drawing its water from the public supply, however that supply came under strain as the population of the city grew. Water for the city was sourced from a relatively small stream in the hills above the township (where a state of the art earth dam and associated valve towers and reticulation headworks were built in 1877)

see IPENZ reference

and citizens often raised concerns about the "waste of water at the wharves".

Through newspaper articles, they were reminded - over and over - but forgot just as often it seems, that a large part of the Board's water use was for provisioning the fresh water tanks of ships in port, however it is probable that after a few years of operation, the system was changed to flow and return to save water. The small loss of energy occasioned by the return path would not have been an issue if the pipes were dimensioned accordingly, and Ferguson was a consummate engineer. At any rate, photographs of the hydraulic cranes taken in 1900 show twin pipes serving the devices.

The initial components of the system were ordered from the United Kingdom and very probably from Sir William Armstrong's works. This equipment included 3 fixed wharf cranes, 3 movable cranes, 3 moveable winches, a wool press, 6 railway wagon traversers for use inside in storage sheds and 6 jiggers (whims) used for storing at heights.

New Zealand has never had a pipe making capacity (except for cast iron pipes) and so the wrought iron pressure pipes were sourced in the UK.

It should be noted also that for many years, only non-slewing cranes were seen on the wharves and loads were transferred horizontally with ropes, by wharf labour.

On the Te Aro reclamation a crane capable of lifting 35 tons was installed.

Subsequently the WHB purchased hydraulic equipment from the Hydraulic Engineering Company (Chester) and Scott Brothers, a Christchurch (NZ) foundry, Glenfield and Kennedy of Kilmarnock, Tannet Walker and Co. Leeds, A&T Burt Foundry of Dunedin in New Zealand and from Edward Seager & Co a Wellington foundry. As Wellington based engineering firms like Luke and Sons and William Cable and Company cottoned on to the business potential, they too manufactured hydraulic plant for the Board. Slewing and ultimately travelling cranes were built and erected as the port's business, which included large volumes of frozen meat for the UK, increased.

The costs of the total network will be difficult to analyse but a newspaper report of 1904 put the cost of the work to extend the network north onto the old Railway wharf at £14,340.
It is likely that the whole network and its machinery was hugely expensive, but the port handled vast quantities of goods and, particularly in its trade in frozen meat to the UK up to the early 1960s, the system was often reported as being well and truly justified.

By 1930 the system had probably reached its most complex and The Evening Post of 27th March 1930 reported that the network drove 241 hydraulic machines of one sort or another including 76 cranes and 146 fixed jiggers in wharf sheds. Many capstans traversers and the nine double dumping wool presses are listed. By any standard this was a comprehensive installation and a significant vindication of the ideas of Sir William Armstrong.

It was, to use the descriptor of the modern cultural movement and fad "a Steampunk paradise"

Hydrants were provided for the occasional connection of portable equipment, like winches and some cranes. Permanent connections were made to static equipment such as cranes, lifts, traversers, capstans, jiggers and presses for wool and flax.

In the 1920s the first of the self mobile cranes were installed and these had flexible pressure tubes fitted to relatively large diameter coiling drums in the legs of the cranes. When drawings are found, we will learn if the uncoiling and recoiling of these twin lines, which just trailed out behind the cranes as they moved and were laid near the bollards at the edge of the wharf, was effected by a water motor - perhaps with a slipping clutch, or a by a recoiling "clock" spring.

The hydraulic system proved very cost effective.

Ferguson was well aware of and concerned by the cost of the insurance faced by WHB with its (initially) significant number of individually engined steam cranes, as each boiler was a fire hazard on the dry timber wharves, with their deep cracks between planks.

As a result of the installation of the hydraulic power system coal consumption was greatly reduced and insurance premiums were correspondingly lowered by 30 per cent because of the reduced fire risk.

In addition, the cranes cut unloading time by as much as 30 per cent and meant fewer employees were required.

The last of the hydraulically powered equipment was withdrawn from service at the port in 1954.

It is possible that some of the pressure mains still lie under the wharves and reclaimed lands and that the cylinder and possibly the ram of both accumulators are still in place, because it appears that both might have been installed below grade with the whole length of the cylinder below ground.

Regrettably no cranes have been kept although the harbour features a Stoddart and Pitt level luffing crane and a tripod crane of 1970s vintage on static display.

What does remain, and is in remarkable preservation and completeness, is an unaltered hydraulic hoisting system in one of the more permanent wharf sheds.


is a listed building and was completed in 1905.

Installed at one end of the building and flanking a large set of cart doors are two whims (jiggers) complete with their hoisting cables (wormed and parcelled but not served) the overhead static wires supporting the lifting sheaves and the hoisting wire to which is fitted 10 hoists on each side.

Compared to what is extant in Sydney, Melbourne, London, or Manchester etc. this hydraulic warehouse hoisting system is a treasure beyond belief. It is protected and appreciated for its value by the harbour management authority, The New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the building tenants (Mojo Coffee Roasters) and in fact their pallet shelving for huge bags of coffee, mimics in many ways what the building may have looked like in its hey days. No makers name can be found on the whims.

The sheaves and ropes are presented in good condition and stored tidily but in a way in which their utilisation can be imagined. No doubt with a very small effort, the system could again be made to run. Mojo allows visitors inside the building and the hoisting system can be seen and appreciated.

On first seeing the jigger system it is immediately obvious that the operation of such an integrated single-power-source hoist must have required some degree of coordination by the store labourers. When the jigger (whim) collapses, all the lifting ropes and/or hooks will fall to or near the floor, and when water is admitted and the ram expands all the ten lifts occur at the same time and to the same extent. No doubt a system of shouts or whistles was used to signal pending lifting or lowering - the building is nearly 51 metres long.


As part of the research for this article it has been discovered that the Port of Greymouth (South Island New Zealand) also had a small steam powered hydraulic network that drove two Armstrong pattern cranes and a number of wharf capstans, rail wagon traversers and winches. Of this network just a single crane foundation base remains. Photographs of the cranes in operation show that they were designed to lift the whole "tub" off the bogies of special coal wagons, which were lifted into the holds and tipped and returned to the bogies back on the wharf.

Greymouth was generally seen as being the coastal port serving the historically largest coal mining district in New Zealand.

Of further interest to members it should be mentioned that Wellington was also one of the three or four New Zealand towns and cities (Dunedin, Oamaru and possibly Wanganui) that utilised their public water supply for hydraulic power.

A number of small Wellington businesses like bakeries and book binders, tobacco cutters, and sheet metal shops used water motors for motive power and the newspapers of the day around the 1890s report a few prosecutions undertaken by the police on behalf of the Wellington City Council, for wilful theft of water by disabling water meters.

In the historic Government Buildings,

there were two lifts (of which possibly a whim remains) for taking coal and wood fuel to, and ashes away from, the appropriately 200 fireplaces in that building.

At one time both The Evening Post newspaper and the Government Printing Offices were water powered and the Gulcher Company generated Wellington's first distributed electricity in 1893 by using the mains water supply to drive a Pelton wheel.

The history of mains drinking water supply based energy networks is itself well worth recording in the future. The history of the local authority hydraulic network of the township of Oamaru in the South Island is the most well researched and important because of its design and the fact that its use for power was not serendipitous as was Wellington's, but planned for and designed into the supply source, the reservoir and the reticulation system.

Readers may be enlightened by the author's Panoramio pages at;

where he is attempting to put all the above into graphic format with geocoded photographs so that anyone anywhere in the world (irrespective of membership in learned societies) can see what was achieved in colonial New Zealand.


The author harbours a desire (if the pun will be excused) to see an Armstrong pattern hydraulic crane displayed on the Wellington waterfront. This may involve the commissioning of the manufacture of one from scratch, however members are hereby canvassed to wrack their brains to see if one such exists anywhere in the UK or elsewhere, perhaps sitting unloved in a breakers yard still. Communication directly with would be appreciated.

References: The Evening Post - various dates (viewed on Papers Past) at;

Notes by William Pitt, pers com. . David Johnson, 'Wellington Harbour', Wellington, 1996
. J Gibson & M Pierce, ‘Remnants of Early Hydraulic Power Systems,’ Proceedings of the 3rd Australasian Heritage Engineering Conference, 2009


'People Politics and Power Stations' Published Dept. of Internal Affairs NZ Govt. 1991 . IPENZ and NZHPT records at;


Report on the presentation of a portrait of William Ferguson to the National Art Gallery.

The Evening Post 25 May 1939


A pleasing function took place in the boardroom of the Wellington Harbour Board last night, prior to its monthly meeting. It was the occasion of the handing over of a portrait of the late Mr. William Ferguson, painted by Mr. A. F. Nicol, of Christchurch. The picture was received by the Hon. W. E. Parry, Minister of Internal Affairs, a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Art Gallery, and Dominion Museum, who represented the chairman of that board, and the Rt. Hon. M. J. Savage. There were also present, in addition to a full attendance of board members, the Under-Secretary of Internal Affairs (Mr. J. W. Heenan), and Messrs' T. Forsyth and S. W. Fearn, all of whom are members of the Board of Trustees of the Art Gallery, Dr. A. D. Carbery and Mr. W. S. Wauchop. members of its management committee. Mr. W. D. Ferguson (a son of the late Mr. Ferguson) and his wife. Apologies for absence, were received from Mr. Savage and Sir Lindo Ferguson, a brother of the late Mr. W. Ferguson.

The chairman of the Harbour Board (Mr. C. M. Turrell), making the presentation, said that Mr. Wim. Ferguson was born in London in 1852, being the son of a scientific chemist of repute in England. At fifteen years of age he was apprenticed to a firm of mechanical engineers in Dublin, and on completion of his apprenticeship was appointed chief draughtsman to a firm of ironfounders there. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1873, graduating as a Bachelor of Arts I and first Respondent in 1877. Two years later he gained the degree of Bachelor of Engineering, with the highest honours granted in the school. Shortly after this the Board of Trinity College appointed him assistant to the professor of engineering, and for a time, during the illness of his chief, he acted as his locum tenens in the chair of engineering. Mr. Ferguson left the Old Country for New Zealand in 1883 and in May, 1884, was appointed engineer and secretary to the Wellington Harbour Board and a year later he took over the duties of treasurer. He retired in 1908.

During his long service with the board he showed an outstanding gift of organisation, a keen financial foresight, and sound engineering knowledge. He came to the board, in its beginnings, but with a characteristic thoroughness and vision he began building up a system of working and administration, and the preparation and planning of a programme of wharf and shed construction, to meet the development that he visualised for the future. He was instrumental in having the wharves equipped with hydraulic cranes and jiggers for the more rapid handling of cargo.

He was held in high esteem and veneration by those who worked under him, and it can be said that his example of carrying out his duties with impartiality and strict fairness has left a lasting impression. He took an active part in the formation, many years ago, of the Harbours' Association of New Zealand, and was its treasurer from 1904 to 1911.

Mr: Ferguson's other activities were many. He was a foundation member of the New Zealand Society of Engineers, being its president in 1919--1920. For four years he was chairman of the National Efficiency Board. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Philosophical Society, a life member of the Royal Dublin Society, and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

As an expression of appreciation of his great work and an enduring tribute to a great officer, the board decided to offer to the National Collection in the Art Gallery a portrait of him in oils, and commissioned Mr. Archibald F. Nicoll of Christchurch. He asked the Board, of Trustees to accept this gift portrait for its national collection.

The Hon. W. E. Parry, Minister of Internal Affairs, expressed pleasure, as representing the Government and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum, in accepting the board's generous gift. He expressed the Government's appreciation of the gift to the people. It would be hung among other treasured portraits of citizens whose work in public spheres merited such recognition. Although without personal acquaintance with the late Mr. Ferguson, he could not, as a public man, fail to know the distinction his work gave him. Not only were his attainments known and recognised in his service as the board's chief executive officer, but they were known and applauded in other avenues of public usefulness. The chairman had recalled some of his distinguished work for the port of Wellington. It was a record of service which would live. New Zealand cities owed much to the men in charge of affairs. The work of the Harbour Board and its officers in the progress of the city was, from all angles, singularly important.

One feature of the work of the board was the collection and care of records of the complete history of its undertakings, with paintings and photographs. He had been surprised at the amount of information contained in the board's archives. He had, on a previous occasion in the boardroom, realised the value to the Dominion of this side of the board's work. Coming generations would appreciate it.

If you look at the photo enlarged and at the aqueduct half way up Horse Gully Stream. Going up and down the gully involved 2600 metres of digging in easy ground, but it sacrificed just on 0.7 metres of altitude to do that. an aqueduct is smooth compared to a race (trench)dug into soil and a 400 metre aqueduct could have spanned the mouth of the Horse Gully Stream and only sacrificed perhaps 0.1 metres. The difference would have been reflected in the fact that the race thus had to go 2600 metres further up the Waitaki Valley for its intake to still be above the water level in the reservoir at Ardgowan. I hope you can get that!

On this map you can see two water races following a contour around the hillsides.

Without access to timber and other materials for aqueducts and with limited cash to build them, race builders (known as diggers here in New Zealand in the 19th Century) were forced to follow a contour right up into the gullies and back out again to maintain the desired fall and in doing so loos "altitude" in the gullies marked "a" where substantial streams flowed, the race would almost certainly have been designed to "pick up" water from the stream it crossed and bridging the stream lower down its watershed might have been counterproductive, but at the places marked "b" where no water would have been available, crossing the gully with an aqueduct would have saved digging and loss of altitude.

On the Oamaru Borough Race where there was no need and certainly no desire to pick up stream water along the way, every small stream was crossed with an aqueduct to keep the river water in the race uncontaminated.

The Engineer (McLeod) will have crossed the gullies at the most economic point - not too far up (just to get the aqueduct as short as possible) because loss of altitude was important to eliminate, nor not too near the mouth of the gully where the minimum altitude loss was to be had, because there the aqueduct will be the longest.

The balance would also be affected by the condition of the sides of the gully - if they were steep and rocky like at the Awamoko Creek then crossing right at the mouth was necessary - even if the aqueduct was long contrasted with Horse Gully Creek where the sides of the gully were gently and easy digging, and despite the loss of altitude, a short aqueduct right at the head of the gully was appropriate. Note too at Horse Gully that an aqueduct at the mouth of the gully would have needed to have been ten times as long at 400 metres as it actually is in the head of the gully.

On first sighting this long, ground-hugging aqueduct (and a few others like it) the need for such a structure is the first question that comes to mind. Since taking this picture and assuming the fluming was required to overcome ground conditions, I have confirmed this.

The land is owned by Paul and Linda Borrie and a search of Papers Past, a brilliant and very useful scanned and OCR processed newspaper image database tool available to researchers in New Zealand, has revealed that this was indeed the situation.

The Borough Race runs for a significant part of its 49km length, along the north-facing face of the hills which form the upland separation of the Waitaki River and Waiareka/Kakanui River catchments. These hills are mainly formed of weather rounded and wind distributed glacial Loess resting on and completely covering a spine of discontinuous basalt cills. The basalt is roughly 10 metres below the surface and was encountered in all the tunnels further downstream from this point.

The Loess is loosely consolidated and full of under runners - the local parlance for erosion formed caves and tunnels, often metres below the pasture surface, where rain accumulated as run-off in small streams and rills has carved down into the Loess and then escaped along roughly horizontal layers where the material is a bit denser. They are often filled with loosely packed vegetative rubbish and wind blown dust and are most often invisible at the surface. They are a serious hazard for pastoral farmer tilling the hillsides as they can collapse without warning engulfing tractors and stock and the farmers themselves. At this time and after extensive cultivation and stocking of the hillsides along with a shift in weather patterns to a dryer climate than might have existed a few thousand years ago when they were formed, most have filled and are stable and they rarely cause trouble, but in 1880 when the hillside was virgin and had not had machinery or animals on it, they would have been frequently unearthed by the navigators and labourers digging the race.

Even if they were not visibly intersected by the race channel, some may have been present just centimetres below the formed bottom surface of the race.

Such was the case at this location.

In December 1884 just four years after the race was commissioned, the Engineer had to report to the Borough Council that a serous break in service (5 days without water) had been occasioned by two "blow outs" in the race (this is a modern term coined in the 1900s) which had taken some time to repair and which were threatening to leak subside and flood the downstream pastures again. Silt and huge volumes of water pouring across adjacent land were a recurrent nightmare for the Council as the race leaked catastrophically in a number of places over its whole lifespan. A large and destructive blow-out on the land of Collie Hurst in the early 1980s, was actually the death knell for the Borough Race, prompting the (then) District Council to seriously consider abandoning the race and establishing a new alternative water supply for Oamaru, which they did.

The Engineer reported to The Council that the condition of the ground "on the Borrie property" over a 50 yard length of the race was so problematical, even after the two time consuming repairs, that he had set in motion the construction and placement of ground level box fluming (patterned no doubt on the overhead fluming of the aqueducts but less substantially built) "the structure to be set up resting on the bottom of the race" and thus isolating the water from further contact with the soil.

The extant substantial flume of concrete piers and half-round steel ducting will be the 1940s replacement for that "repair" It is a bit longer than 50 metres, no doubt to totally eliminate all risk of the race being in dodgy ground.

Without examining council archives (which I have not yet started to do as of April 2012) it cannot be asserted that this relatively modern structure directly replaced McLeod's 1884 repair - as there may have been other fixes set up in between those dates.

Thanks Karppanta Greetings Eva


In 1870, Oamaru was a pioneer town of just 3,000 people.

In the mid-19th century, wool was a much sought after commodity, particularly for military uniforms, and so wealthy families established very big pastoral holdings in North Otago. As there were no trees here, the land was immediately available for grazing sheep on the native grasses. Large flocks were introduced to meet international demand for wool. However the town soon needed some basic facilities before it could grow and become the town we see today, particularly before there was enough permanent wealth here to create our lovely limestone buildings.

The elegance of Victorian Oamaru's limestone buildings is well appreciated, but its 1880 public water supply, being out in the countryside and much less attractive than the white stone buildings, is not. It is however a work of considerable civil engineering competence which has its own elegance; an elegance which derives from its concept, design, execution and use. This use is a very unusual use but one which was central to the development of the town.

Water supply for the town, in 1870, comprised of wells and springs and a small ephemeral stream. Most households collected rainwater off their roofs.

The stream became polluted and muddy and the wells became unreliable. As the town grew, so did fire insurance premiums. A fire brigade with access to a reticulated town water supply became urgently needed.

Two factors influenced council decision-making: the effect of the poor water supply on health, and the cost citizens were forced pay for clean water. A reliable water supply would solve both these issues.

The hills close to and right above town had deep gullies which were suitable as reservoir sites. It was pretty obvious that any of these could, with just an earth dam, provide good water storage at a height above the town which would create a water supply delivering water at over 100psi. How to get water there, however, and where from, soon became one of the defining questions for Victorian Oamaru.

A few options were obvious, and some less obvious. A few ridiculous ones too, were proposed. Pumping from the Waitaki River with steam driven pumps was possible and there was coal nearby, but the cost and maintenance of this technology was daunting for the council. In the end, a gravity water race was decided as the best option. This decision started a complex process of selection and construction.

Commencing with what was, in effect a competition with a prize of £150 for a design, the council eventually appointed an engineering designer. They then commenced the appropriate fund raising, the publication of statutory notices, and tendering.

By 1876 a public water supply and distribution scheme had been designed and land was acquired, legislation passed, and the necessary finance raised on international financial markets in London and Scotland. Over the construction period, funding had to be increased twice to cover the final costs. By 1881 when it was finished, the race had cost £136,000 and servicing the loans bankrupted Oamaru for two decades.

Despite the fact that many of the town's citizens were unconvinced that it would work or was even necessary, this major public work needed careful and competent design.

As well as the physical remnants of the Borough Race which are illustrated on the panel adjacent, Oamaru still has the 70 sheets of original drawings created by the design engineer, Donald McLean. Duplicate copies (for the council and the engineer) are drawn on transparent linen in red and black Indian Ink and washed with water colours. The survey sheets are seminal to the project, and are remarkable. They are beautiful artefacts in their own right. The Borough Race, as it became called, is a fascinating item of New Zealand's industrial heritage. Not only was it well made and very functional as a town water supply, but also because the design, from the beginning, included 300HP of "spare capacity" to be available for motive power. This provision, required by the council, is what makes the race unique in New Zealand, and probably rare anywhere in the world.

The Borough Race is a long hand-dug channel with a very low gradient and its intake was a long way inland and at elevation. It terminated at a generous reservoir relatively high above town. The race traverses nearly 49 kilometres from its intake on the Waitaki River. It was carried over 19 streams or across substantial gullies encompassing small streams. This was done by constructing wooden trestle box aqueducts. Six tunnels were driven to penetrate a number of rocky ridges.
To protect supply quality, all along its route, there were comprehensive provisions to divert any small streams, watercourses and natural run-off generally over the race. This was achieved with wooden troughs called overbyes which were small aqueducts in their own right. They carried contaminated water away from the race. These structures also protected the race from over-filling and over-topping during heavy rain. If uncontrolled run-off entered the race in quantity, it would overload and over top the banks, causing catastrophic erosion. This happened a number of times in the history of the race.
The water in the balance of the race flowed at just walking pace.
The five tunnels have a combined length of 2.7 km and the 19 timber aqueducts have a combined length of 1.4 kilometres.
The tunnels are all still clear and they have a flat floor. Being over two metres high, they could be comfortably walked through to maintain them. They are partly lined with cut limestone and the arched portals are built from bolstered blocks. The aqueducts are on mixed wooden and limestone (block) piers and they have substantial timbers in their structure. For a water supply, some are quite big. One was very big. A few were rebuilt in the 1940s with concrete piers. The timber had to be sourced from outside North Otago and was tarred to make it durable. It was mainly kauri - huge planks! All the steelwork was made locally. The aqueducts were originally of rectangular box section roughly two metres by one metre, but all these flumes have been replaced over the years with half round steel. The fall was calculated to be 1:3964 (although the first four kilometres are steeper and three concrete structures were built to slow the water and break its force in that first section).

Construction work began in 1877. The race design comprises an open channel about two metres wide and one metre deep, pretty much following the hundred metre contour from the intake on the Waitaki River at about 126 metres above sea level to the reservoir at Ardgowan [above the town] where the water level is 97 metres above sea level.
The race was unlined and only puddled or plastered with cement in a few places. At first it leaked, but this eventually stopped as silt built up and the banks became colonised by water plants.

The race was maintained along its whole length by a team of about seven racemen who lived with their families in small houses along it. Their job was to clean and maintain the waterway and the land beside it. Each had a specific ‘beat’ to look after.

Because the race flowed slowly, it didn't naturally flush material down its length. While this was a boon for water quality, it required a team of dedicated racemen to keep it flowing and the banks free of build-up and growth. It was de-watered every Wednesday and the racemen would go into the watercourse to remove plants and contaminants like mussels and waste matter. Horses and drays were kept at two locations and a centrally located engineering shop and forge was used for maintenance and to create the required hardware. In later years, when the hillsides were more heavily stocked with cattle, the race needed full fencing on both sides for its whole length. This required around 150 kilometres of fencing.

Apart from small take-offs permitted for domestic drinking and stock watering along its length, the intake water was delivered in its entirety to Ardgowan. The race was not used for irrigation of pastoral land, but in the 1960s some irrigation of orchards and berry farms was permitted. As the water was reticulated right around the business area of the town and because it was over 100psi, it was quickly recognised as being ideal for running electricity generating turbines. The first electricity was generated from the town supply in 1887. It is thought that there might have been up to 100 independent DC generating plants in Oamaru at the peak of the technology. As soon as it was built, and the very large cast iron mains laid throughout the town, the spare 300HP designed into the race was put to work through water engines, turbines, Pelton wheels and other water motors. One water engine rated at 135HP ran a large Haslam refrigeration compressor for the local freezing works. The New Zealand Refrigerating Company had an built an abattoir at Eveline (near the outfall of Boundary Creek) in the late 1870s. Carcasses were taken into Oamaru for freezing on board specially provisioned refrigerated sailing ships and then shipped overseas. The ‘frozen meat business’ was seminal to Oamaru's later growth and wealth and is a whole story in itself.

The NZ Refrigerating Company, realising that ships could turn around more frequently (and profitably) if the carcasses could be frozen on land while incoming vessels were in transit, built a freezing chamber and store in Oamaru. The company was however, continually at odds with the council over its massive consumption of water and the rate it paid for it, and eventually its compressors were run on steam.

By about 1895, grain growing had overtaken sheep farming in North Otago, and large flour mills and grain stores on the waterfront dominated business. These too used the mains water supply to run water engines and turbines for motive power.

The first DC power was created using a genuine Pelton designed (patented) wheel connected to a Compton Bipolar generator, just three years after the Pelton wheel was patented in America.

When it was switched on, the Red Lion Flour Mill was lit by 23 electric light globes. Urban myth has it that on that evening Oamaru had more electric lights than London – and we still have the generator here in town!

By 1915 the borough council recognised the potential for reticulated AC electricity to be generated from the water in its supply pipes. It decided to build its own Pelton wheel powered plant running off the water delivered to the reservoir by the Borough Race. Although it took until the middle of WWI in 1917 to see the fruition of this vision, Oamaru became the fourth town in New Zealand to have council-supplied, fully reticulated AC power.

The race was in use for 103 years and was de-commissioned in 1983. Some of the remains of the race are still here and the tunnels and a number of the aqueducts survive. The bywash sluice gates and the fence that kept the stock out over the whole 50km (on both sides) can still be traced. Four of the racemans’ cottages are still lived in today.

Sadly all the easement land is now back in private ownership and the artefacts are slowly slipping into the past.

This water supply is an inspirational an example of Victorian engineering and is an achievement of Oamaru should be very proud.

The artefacts comprising the race are sort of protected by the Historic Places Act which makes it an offence to modify anything both created before 1900, and associated with our heritage. However many of the aqueducts have been demolished, some prior to the Act, and some after. Many of the demolitions can very easily be defended on the grounds of safety. Luckily some of the more remote aqueducts still survive in excellent condition for their age.

The Borough Race is not a listed (historic) item or place and is under-appreciated by the community. Many Oamaru people do not know anything about it and certainly not that it was used to generate electricity so early in New Zealand's electrification history.

However, many of the landowners with histories that intersect the place and the period when the race was operational are well aware of it and its stories, and that it had significant potential right up until the day it was de-commissioned.


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