The First Ships Project

Welcome to The First Ships Project a multi-year project 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), 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 the excavation of the shipyard that we will be able to find archaeological evidence of how the yard was laid out and to discover 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 also how Pākehā and Māori interacted through the process of building ships their at this time.

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.

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