The First Ships Project


Welcome to The First Ships Project, a multi-year study that seeks to uncover New Zealand’s unique maritime past through archaeology. The first stage of the project involves the excavation of a pre-colonial shipbuilding yard at Horeke on the shores of the Hokianga Harbour. Commonly known as the ‘Deptford Dockyard’, this shipbuilding yard produced three ships between 1826 and 1830: the Enterprise (1827), the New Zealander (1828) and the Sir George Murray (1830).


Horeke Earle reduced

The ‘Deptford Dockyard’ as depicted by Augustus Earle in 1828. (Rex nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia. C18#T175 NK12/138).

Very little is known about these ships from the historical record and it is only through excavation of the shipyard that we will be able to uncover archaeological evidence of how the yard was laid out and the way in which ships were built there. This excavation will also reveal the living and working conditions of those individuals at the shipbuilding yard, and how the combined labour force of Pākehā and Māori interacted during the ship-building process.

The results of this excavation will be combined with other historical and archaeological research from around the country to form a PhD thesis investigating the pre-colonial shipbuilding industry in New Zealand from 1792 to 1840.

Feel free to have a look around this blog to find out more about the history of the shipbuilding yard at Horeke and the team who will be excavating the site. Once the excavation kicks off we will be posting daily updates, so check back regularly to follow our progress.