This beautiful steamer was a favourite, described as “Auckland’s fastest and most comfortable excursion steamer.”
Built in 1897 in Scotland, Duchess arrived in New Zealand in 1930, and began the Kawau Island run for the Circle Line.
Bought by Watkin & Wallis, Duchess started coming to Matiatia in December 1931, and continued in the summer seasons until 1940, when she was sold to the Navy. Duchess was used as a minesweeper, boom defence vessel and ferry until 1946.
The appeal of Waiheke has in many ways, remained unchanged. “During the ‘thirties, hiking was a favourite sport and the Dutchess was used to run ‘Mystery Cruises’ which involved a sea journey to Waiheke and an ‘opportunity to take part in an organised tramp through excellent scenery of Waiheke,” writes David Balderston in The Waiheke Ferries of Auckland (Grantham House Publishing, 1991).
Just before being requisitioned by the Navy, the Duchess had one war-time inconvenience. A boom defence had been put across the Waitemata Harbour, between North Head and Bastion Point, and ships were not allowed to enter or leave the harbour at night, except via the Rangitoto Channel. One December evening, Dutchess was stuck in the mud alongside Matiatia Wharf, and left late. The ferry was stopped off Emu Point (the white cliffs of Motutapu Island), and ordered to take the long route to Auckalnd around Motutapu and Rangitoto. “Fortunately in this case it was a fine night and her 400/500 passengers seemed to enjoy the extra trip: and after all, there was a war on!” David Balderston writes in The Waiheke Ferries of Auckland (Grantham House Publishing, 1991).
It was thought the “dainty, two-funnelled steamer” could then return to the Waiheke run but, writes David Balderston in The Waiheke Ferries of Auckland, she was “found to be worn out.”
Fred Alison, then still a director of the ferry company argued passionately for the refurbishment of the Duchess, instead of them buying the Muritai – but to no avail. Alison was further upset when the company bought another unsuitable vessel, the Ruawai – and old Kaipara Harbour ferry, which never made the trip to Waiheke.
She was scrapped and the hulk run ashore at the ships’ graveyard on the northern shore of Rangitoto Island in June 1947.
Hull: SS steel
Builder and date: Mackie & Thomson, Glasgow, Scotland, 1897.
Gross tons: 308
Engine: One triple expansion steam engine, Muir & Houston.
Speed: 11 knots
Passengers: 1029 (river limits) or 577 (extended river river limits)