Shipbuilding on the Pacific frontier

“When he sees the combined exertions of the smith and carpenter create so huge a fabric as a ship, his mind is filled with wonder and delight; and when he witnesses the moulding of iron at the anvil, it excites his astonishment and emulation.” Augustus Earle 1827

One hundred and eighty-nine years ago, Augustus Earle described the hustle and bustle of New Zealand’s earliest European shipyard, but today the many activities that once occupied the land have long since disappeared. With only a couple of days left to excavate, we continue to dig deep into the timeline of events that was the ‘Deptford shipyard’ or ‘Te Horeke’).

Shipwrights constructed three vessels during the active working life of the shipyard, but exactly how these ships were built is unknown. What we do know, however is the ships were constructed between 1826 to 1830 and ranged between 40 to 390 tons. With help from Forbes and Jackson (n.d) statistical tonnage comparison, we have calculated the ships’ length and breadth to be:

Ships Name Tonnage Year built Rig Year lost Length Beam
Enterprise 40 1826 schooner 1828 14.6 metres


4.1 metres


New Zealander 140 1828 brigantine 1836 22.7 metres


6.2 metres


Sir George Murray 39264/94 1830 barque ? 33.2 metres


8.7 metres


With this in mind, we expected to find material associated with early nineteenth century shipbuilding and the possible slipway on which these vessels were constructed. To date, four large trenches averaging 5 metres (m) in width by 10 m in length have been excavated to a depth between 300 mm to 650 mm near the road and so far we have uncovered a range of ship related artefacts…

Keel bolt
PTM of the keel bolt, showing scarring from hammering 

Keel bolt, which would have been used when laying down the keel. This bolt has evidence of shearing off during the construction process, which may have led to its deposition on site.

Copper ship bolt.jpg
A range of ship-related fasteners

Copper sheathing tacks, used to fasten the copper sheathing on to the outer hull for protection against marine organisms. These tacks have been found across the site and suggest the use of copper sheathing on the some of New Zealand’s earliest built vessels.


Lastly, a possible rigging-thimble used to help protect the wire or rope used in the rigging.

While there might not be evidence of a slipway (just yet), the above indicates ship building activity and one that reflects the period that Earle once described. With the countdown on, we continue to dig deep into Horeke’s past and try to understand how these ships were built.




Earle, Augustus 1827 A Narrative of a nine month’s residence in New Zealand in 1827.

Forbes P. Jackson G. nd, How Big is a 100 ton Brig.  Academia



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