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 1946 to 1984 JOHN WILSON - Yard No 478 - Bulk Cement/Cargo - Wilsons N.Z. Portland Cement - Built 1961

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JOHN WILSON - Yard No 478 - Bulk Cement/Cargo - Wilsons N.Z. Portland Cement - Built 1961



Self-Discharging Bulk Cement Carrier

Owners    Wilsons (N.Z.) Portland Cement Ltd.
Registered    Auckland, N.Z. Keel Laid    
Type of Ship   Self-Discharging Bulk Cement Carrier Launched    15/04/1961
      Handed Over    
Ship Details          
Length Overall     Launch Details    
Length B.P.    246' 0" Weather    
Beam    42' 0" Time to Water    
Depth Mld     18' 6"      
G.R.T.    1,675      
DWT    2,107 tons      
Engines   3 x Bellis & Morcom 22 Standard engines (5 cylinder, 11-inch bore x 15 inch stroke)      
Props    1      
Speed    11.5 knots      
Other known names   N/A    
Current Status   Broken up 1985    
Content on JOHN WILSON will be added as and when available. 

Seen here in her Portland Cement colours

(photo from oceania shipping forum)

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.
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.

The cement carrier JOHN WILSON was another specialised and complex working ship built at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb.

Ordered as a follow on vessel to the first ship (GOLDEN BAY) by the Wilsons (N.Z.) Portland Cement Ltd. This company was owned by Golden Bay Cement                                                      

A fine looking vessel built to do a particular job and by all accounts she did this very successfully for 20 years or so.

She had a lot of specialized machinery on her for the loading and discharge of bulk cement.

She originally traded from the Portland Cement Works to Auckland and Tauranga.

In 1974 the JOHN WILSON became part of the Wellington based fleet of the Tarakohe Shipping Company and served alongside the LIGAR BAY distributing bulk cement from Tarakohe.

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.

The above photo shows the JOHN WILSON departing Wellington empty for Tarakoha in the early 1970's from Tony Skilton.




JOHN WILSON from the new Golden Bay (built at the Dundee Caledon yard of the new amalgamated company of Robb Caledon as Henry Robb Shipyard was then known) shows the 'John's' port side as she turned around to depart, with a great cloud of oily engine smoke trailing from the funnel. Tarakohe was the port for the Golden Bay Cement Works in Golden Bay, at the top of the South Island of NZ.


All the Golden Bay ships from 1954 to 1979 were financed by Blue Circle Cement, London, who were the major shareholder in Golden Bay until 1989, when the company was sold to Fletcher Challenge Ltd, NZ's largest construction company.
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.

Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

As told by Tony Skilton

The Dear old 'John",

One of the most comfortable cement ships on the coast - the others all had a great propensity to roll, even in the dry dock.

The John was transferred from Wilson's Cement (which was owned by Golden Bay anyway), to the Wellington-based Golden Bay operation in August 1974, at which time she had carried 2,725,051 tonnes of cement, had steamed 299,212 nautical miles, and the running hours on the three main engines were 26,744/28,508/and 28,598 respectively.

By July 1984, operating from Tarakohe to Dunedin (Clyde Dam), Picton, Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Raglan, she had carried an additional 993,120 tonnes, steamed another 189,819 miles, and racked up another 19,700 (average) hours on each main engine.

I joined it as 4th engineer in 1975, and left it as C/E in 1982, to go back to the GB on the Aussie run.

The ship was cut up at the Auckland viaduct in 1985, after Golden Bay had proved her new propeller was functioning OK. The scrapping of the 'John' didn't start until the GB's new propeller had proven itself as reliable.

Here is a photo of the John Wilson being broken up at the Viaduct in Auckland in 1985 and I have many more taken as she was being broken up - and caught fire when the coating inside the chain locker went up as well!

Somehow, I managed to live in 5 different cabins on this old girl. 4/E, 3/E 2/E cabin when it was down below in the port fwd corner of the Poop Deck, then 2/E cabin after it was shifted up top on the Boat Deck, port side, aft of the C/E's cabin, then finally, in 1982, I popped across from the Golden Bay and had a short stint as C/E.

 The JOHN WILSON tow's the new GOLDEN BAY

In August 1984, on the way from Brisbane back to Nelson a blade snapped off Golden Bay's cp propeller when it was put Astern to test the gear. As a result, the 'John Wilson' was filled up with cement and fuel and became the 'company tug', doing an excellent job of towing us from Nelson to Wellington. Golden Bay assisted the John Wilson in getting the tow up to 6 knots using the Pleuger 'active rudder' propeller, then, slowly, the 'John' managed to find another 2 knots from somewhere inside those ancient, struggling Bellis & Morcom generators. The tow wire came from the Mt Robert skifield chair lift out of Nelson, and at the forward end was connected to a bridle that passed completely around the John Wilson's accommodation block, while the aft end was shackled to Golden Bay's anchor chain, which was then let out about half way.

Being at sea without the main engines running was a bit strange - you could hear every noise in the hull - noises you normally wouldn't hear because of the engine and propeller noise.

After arrival in Wellington the crews of both ships were paid a healthy bonus for successfully completing an 'evolution out of the ordinary'.




 The GOLDEN BAY being towed by the JOHN WILSON


Should you know of anyone who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch so that we can add the story here.




The John Wilson and her engines from Tony Skilton ex-engineer.

Regarding the John Wilson - she had unusual engines - most engineers I talk to have never heard of them. She had 3 x 5 cylinder Bellis & Morcombe diesel generating sets (used during WWII for powering searchlights I believe, but were first developed as bloody steam engines! And they looked it too!), and was single screw, with the propulsion motor being a double-wound set of windings all in the one motor casing (effectively, she had two propulsion motors, one behind the other, but on the same shaft). She was a very well-built and comfortable ship - definitely the most gentle in a seaway of all the cement ships I have sailed on.


Photographs from T. Skilton



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