The Loftsman
Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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Home Ships Built in Leith 1918 to 1939 MV PORT WAIKATO - Yard No 113 - Motor Vessel - Capt. A.F.Watchling, New Zealand - Built 1929

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MV PORT WAIKATO - Yard No 113 - Motor Vessel - Capt. A.F.Watchling, New Zealand - Built 1929



 The Motor Vessel 
 This great old ship shown here
 Leaving the Port of Otago in
 New Zealand
 from a photograph from the
 collection of D.Wright 



Owners    Capt A.F.Watchlin, New Zealand
Registered     Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Motor Vessel Cargo Launched    01/10/1929
      Handed Over    01/11/1929
Ship Details          
Length Overall     Launch Details    
Length B.P.    180' 0" Weather    
Beam    28' 9" Time to Water    
Depth Moulded     13' 3"      
G.R.T.    668      
Props    1      
Speed    8.5 knots      
Other known names        
Current Status   Broken up in Hong Kong 1961    
As info becomes available it will be updated here. 

The motor vessel PORT WAIKATO was named after a river in the North Island of New Zealand.
Meaning Flowing Water in Maori.

For more information on the river visit

Ships History

Once a ship had been built and launched she then had to be out-fitted, and then complete sea trials
before being handed over to her new owners, who would look to have that ship at sea, as long as possible to
pay for her build costs and of course to make the company good profits.

To this end one company may have had no requirement for a particular ship after a time and would then sell her
on just like any other disposable commodity.

(Port Waikato under way off the Coast of New Zealand.)

Hence a ship may have had a few owners and would go through many changes and names during what was
hoped for a long and successful working life.

This ship had a very interesting history and she even took the longest time ever to build a ship at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb, a total of nine (9) years, but first let me clarify.

The ship was originally laid down in 1920 as ship No 15 at the Dublin Shipbuilders Co Ltd in Ireland, but for some reason was never finished, it could have been that the company went bust or it could even have been due to the troubles at the time between Ireland and Britain, she however did end up in Leith, and she must have been transported to there in bits as her frames were re-assembled in the yard as Ship No 113, built up from scratch again on the berth at Leith, and she was launched from the Leith yard in 1929.

She was an order for Captain A.F. Watchling of New Zealand, and was the first of many ships that were to be built for New Zealand, so the break through into this lucrative market for Henry Robb came through the mis-fortune of others.

She mainly traded between Auckland to Dunedin but was also used for the Trans-Tasman service over to Australia.

She was taken over by the Union Steamship Co of New Zealand 1n 1939 when the Watchling line was purchased by the company, sailed under charter for Holm & Co and was put on the Chatham Islands run.

War Service

M.V. Port Waikato was given the responsibility of providing the only means of communication between the Chatham Islands and New Zealand during World War II.

Sailing in somewhat dangerous waters where the threat of enemy submarines was a constant danger.

 She survived the war and went on to continue serving the Chatham Islands for another 13 or so years, before she was taken of the run in late 1958, and subsequently sold to new owners in Hong Kong, only to be broken up there a few years later in 1961.

So ended the amazing story of the ship that was built twice, she worked the seas of the Southern Oceans for almost 33 years.

We try here to give as full an account of her history as time and research permits, if you know of missing info
or you have any photographs of her, then please get in touch and we shall update her story as we go along.

Tales from the Ship

Here you will find the stories from the men and women who sailed on the ships, what was it really like to be working on a ship in a raging sea and in the pitch dark of night, the real stories some funny some sad, some good and some bad.
(This great photograph shows the PORT WAIKATO at Port Melbourne in Australia in the early 1930's.
The photograph was taken by the late Allen C.Green and is in the Victoria State Library, kindly donated for use here by Clive A. Fisher from his private collection.) 
Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

The following is from a story as told by Trevor Gibson who served on the PORT WAIKATO for 2 and a half years just after world war II.

Trevor Gibson 1947 to Christmas Eve 1949

I joined the Port Waikato as an Ordinary Seaman in May 1947 working my way up to A/B then leading A/B (Bo’sun) sailing onboard her for 2 and a half years trading to the Chatham Islands and all around the New Zealand coast.

During this time many adventures were to be had and changes were happening on the somewhat isolated Island around two days sailing distance from N.Z.

With one of the biggest jobs on the Island, being the widening of the road from the wharf to the township of Waitangi. Prior to this it had been easier to walk along the rocky foreshore as the road was full of mud. The Ministry of Works was the contractor with an overseer by the name of Kennedy.

The Wharfy was Bosun Day, and the unloading crew were Ron & Graeme Seymore, Denise Day, Andy Hough and Arthur Grennell.



Map showing approx location of the Chatham Islands, 460 nautical miles east of Christchurch. The Islands have around 700 residents who are descendants of the Moriori, Europeans and Maori, with a lot more sheep than people now on the Islands.

Harvard aircraft from Ohakea (New Zealand air force base) on training were frequent visitors, flying over Waitangi and dropping newspapers from the Wanganui Chronicle and they would buzz the radio station as well, usually three aircraft in formation and sometimes they would use the ship as target practise buzzing her regular.


A Harvard Trainer of the type that used to buzz the Island and the Ship.

Beer was packed in 4 case lots, and the empty bottles were dumped behind a retaining wall on the foreshore as it was deemed to expensive to freight them back to the mainland.

There was the annual wool trip around the Island starting at Waitangi West, on to Wharekauri, Kaiangaroa, Owenga and Pitt Island. With extra trips to Pitt for sheep as well, all this work was done by surfboat, on one trip the surfboat got holed when it landed heavily on the exposed beams that made up the landing on a dray in the surf.

The hole was repaired with canvas and packing cases so that loading could continue, as the weather could change at any time. One bale did fall into the sea and overnight it became red hot, you could not put your hand on it, the bale was put back ashore so it could be repacked as soon as possible.

One morning while waiting at anchor for a berth, the anchor watch were fishing when they spotted a shark cruising around they called on me as the blacksmith in Lyttleton had made me a shark hook out of a 12" file with a short length of chain and a swivel which we baited with a bacon end from the galley.

No sooner it was in the water that the shark took, played with it then finally swallowed it. Once landed with the aid of the cargo derrick (the shark was 13ft 6 inches long) and 6 foot around the girth, it yielded 140 pounds of liver for which we got 14 pounds in cash for, very good money at the time as wages were only 24 pounds per month. Some of the Islanders stripped the flesh and smoked the shark which was identified as a Mako.


A Shortfin Mako Shark similar to the one caught by the crew of the PORT WAIKATO


 I remember days spent sheltering in Port Hutt and Ocean Bay anchoring in the kelp, in those days a case of fruit or vegetables or a few pounds of sausages was worth a sheep in exchange, as fruit and vegetables was regarded as a luxury on the Island.


Waitangi the main township on the Islands.  

 The hospital was taken over by nursing nuns from Canada as staff was so hard to come by due to the isolation, there introduction to the Island was a rough trip down then they had to climb over the side into a life boat to be rowed ashore as the ship could not berth on account of the weather and swell. There was also a new doctor and his wife for the Island on this trip.


Gives some indication of the sea on the way to the Chatham Islands.

 The fishing was extra good, 3 hooks into the water and you would have 3 fish when you pulled the line in with the occasional grouper on the line, you just had to watch out that if you got a blind ell on a line then it had to be cut and discarded as you would never get a fish on it after one of those had been on a line.

May 1948 we departed Waitangi into a stiff southerly which was not unusual for this time of year  5 hours later around 23:00 the mate Bert Keane bust into the forecastle shouting all hands on deck, there was a wire runner around the propeller, it was bar tight and we could not loosen it at all, the Bosun Tom Hay at daybreak went over the side on the end of a line but could do nothing. A mayday was sent out and answered by the fishing vessel "Manuka" came to us to stand by, in the meantime sails were rigged on the foremast and the mainmast using spare canvas and tarpaulins were hung where ever the could be put and with this arrangement the ship logged 1 knot.

Prior to sailing the Islanders had been full of woe and remorse as one of our passengers was an anthropologist from the Canterbury Museum who had been on the Chathams, fossicking about  and had a sack of bones from a remote burial site, they were not happy at all, one of the elders had said that the ship would not get back to the mainland as New Zealand was called without something happening or having to return to the Island.


As named above perhaps not the best practise at the time of running for home port with hatches open!

If this was a coincidence or not we shall never know, the Union Steamship Company sent out the Kamo to tow us home to Wellington, the sheep we had on board were unloaded at Petone for sale instead of Christchurch. 


At anchor off Pitt Island.


To be continued.


So if you know any of the men or women who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch and we shall add the story here. 


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0 #2 Susan Moore 2017-06-20 20:45
My Father was on the Port Waikato in the late 50's Ted Gilliver. I'm sure he would have some stories. Would you be interested in them?
0 #1 Barbara Caudwell 2017-02-14 20:23
New Zealand electoral rolls 1938
11734 Sullivan, Thomas, M.V. "Port Waikato," Auckland, fireman

Possibly Tom Sullivan, champion rower and sculling coach whose family lived in Alison Ave Devonport

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