The Timaru Landing Service Building

Timaru's Landing Service & Building

First bay built in 1871 - third bay built in 1876. Has a hipped corrugated iron roof.

"One great drawback to this place [Timaru] is there is no harbour for ships, otherwise, no doubt, it would become an important place." wrote Henry Shepherd in 1863 on arriving in Timaru on the Lancashire Witch.  New residents and their belongings had to be loaded on small boats and brought to shore from the vessels. It was a process Mr Shepherd recorded as taking all day.

Today, down towards the railway station at the foot of George Street, Timaru stands an old two story bluestone building, the Landing Service Building now the Information Centre.  For three decades ships anchored in the Timaru roadstead at mooring bouys placed by the Canterbury Provincial Council in 1859 and boats, rowed by men, from one of the landing services, transported goods from the sailing ships to the beach and vice versa. The outer moorings for large vessels were a mile off shore and the inner moorings for coasters was mile out.  Note the three double doorways for drawing the boats inside. New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Co., Ltd was founded in 1865. Successor was Dalgety & New Zealand Loan Ltd.  For 99 years the "Loan and Merc" and then Dalgety Ltd stored goods in the building, which is now 400 in from the sea. The sides of the landing service building were hidden for over a century by buildings. Once they came down it exposed the wonderful old stone building with the saw tooth roof. The Timaru Civic Trust was formed in 1987 to save the historic Landing Services Building. It purchased the building from the council for $1 to save it from demolition.

The railway station to the left on Station St. Dalgety's, a stock and station firm with the darken arched doorway facing George St. Atlas flour mill in the background.

Henry John Le Cren The Rhodes brothers from the Levels Station for want of necessity operated their own landing service but didn't have the time to maintain this service and wanted improved facilities for off loading stores and stock and loading wool and grain.  George Heaton Rhodes negotiated with Henry J. Le Cren of the firm Longden and Le Cren of Lyttelton to operate the first commercial landing and shipping service and promised Le Cren a quarter-acre section to erect a store at the foot of Strathallan St., Timaru.  Le Cren accepted the offer and asked Captain Henry Cain to manager the business.  Cain arrived in Timaru 10 March 1857 with a small cargo of goods to open a store. He lived in a cob house. There were five homes in Timaru by 1858.  Le Cren followed 17 October 1858, arriving at Timaru on the s.s. White Swan.  The Landing Service established by Le Cren in May 1858 became the first commercial enterprise for Timaru, was purchased by the Government in the mid 1860s. Cain started off by using whaling boats with Maori workers to load and unload everything by hand.  Ships started to call in en route between Lyttelton and Port Chalmers. The Canterbury provincial government service performed badly and had high fees so the Timaru Landing and Shipping Company was set up further along the beach at George Street one year later. The company leased the this two-storeyed, hip-roofed building from Peter McRae a publican. In 1875 McRae sold it to the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Company, which made additions at the rear.

Next, wooden surfboats with a deadweight capacity of 10 tons were utilized and hauled up on to the beach by manpower using a capstan, cable and wooden boatways. "With the increase in shipping came a demand for more experienced men to handle the surfboats.  It was a time of great unemployment in England.  James Edward Fitzgerald, Canterbury's first superintendent, addressed some of the 800 unemployed residents of Deal, most of them fishermen, urging them to emigrate to Canterbury where there was a great need for steady, industrious men. The six, and their families, who eventually found themselves in Timaru reached Lyttelton on the ship Mystery early in 1859 and a report stated that Le Cren offered these men the use of hiStrongwork Morrisons boats at a moderate rental, assisted them and their families on the journey south and offered to sell them land for occupation. They began work in May 1859 under Strongwork Morrison, beach master and coxswain.  The men engaged were John Wilds, Morris Corey, Robert Boubius, Henry Clayson, William John Roberts and John J. Bowles.  Morris Cory and Robert Boubius drowned off Timaru - October 6, 1860.  Clayson was drowned soon after his arrival and was replaced by Phillip Foster, also from Deal." Reference: Page 149 Oliver A. Gillespie's book South Canterbury A Record of Settlement.

Later iron boats capable of carrying thirty tons were winched ashore using a steam engine.  Cables were attached to bouys about 100 fathoms offshore and the cables ran through chocks and the men pulled or the little steam engine hauled the boat along the rope.  Into the water bow first and returned stern first.

All the surf boats in use here, except one, have been towed from Dunedin, Lyttelton, or Akaroa. Was there ever any difficulty in towing them? Empty surf boats will tow safely at eight or ten knots an hour.

Otago Witness September 2nd 1865 page 12
The "Timaru Herald" reports that "the steam machinery for the purpose of hauling up the boats into the shed, and for facilitating the shipping and landing of cargo, arrived from Dunedin inn the Geelong on Saturday last, and was all landed safely the same day. The engine for driving the machinery is of twelve power."

Timaru Herald. Friday March 30 1866
Taranaki Herald. Duncan Cameron and the crew of the late mail boat left yesterday by the Airedale for Timaru having been engaged by the Provincial Government of Canterbury for the boating service.

Timaru Herald. Friday March 30 1866
The Government to take charge of the landing service at Timaru and place it under the management of Captain Beswick, the Harbour Master. Captain Gibson, the Port Office for the Province is at present in Timaru for the object, formally taking possession of the service on behalf of the Government.

Timaru Herald Friday April 6 1866
On Tuesday last the landing service of Timaru was handed over to the Government, who have purchased the working plant, from Messrs LeCren and Co. An Act, authorising the levying of enormous tolls on boats landing for any purpose whatever, near the present landing place, was passed in the last session of the Provincial Council, and thus private enterprise has been prevented from interfering with the monopoly now in the hands of the Government. 

North Otago Times, 28 June 1866, Page 3
Timaru, 25th June, 1866.
One of the large surf-boats, lately built in Akaroa, was left by the newly-appointed Taranaki boatmen just about highwater-mark, and in the morning was reported as "missing," having been earned away by the sea. Messrs Cotton and Chapman, who first heard the news, proceeded at once up the Ninety-mile Bench, and "found the " lost one " about eight miles from the place, and not materially damaged, one of her planks on the left side being stove in, and having about two feet of shingle in her. They with some little difficulty got her on the beach, made her last, and then proceeded to inform Captain Beswick (our Beach-master) of her capture, and claiming salvage for the same, which I hear is to be settled to-day. There must be some gross neglect in some quarter to allow a valuable boat to remain on the beach, liable to be washed away, when a few minutes' work would have left her high and dry in the boat shed ; and especially as there is an engine newly erected, for the purpose of hauling up the cargo, boats, &c. Such events never occurred in bygone days, when the old capstan only was used, and no loss of Government material could then be reported. By-the-bye, peaking of that, another little disagreeableness has taken taken place here about the appointment of the new boat's crew. It appears that some few years ago a party of Deal boatmen wore sent for from England, who had charge of the boat service here. Three or four of them were unfortunately lost in were severe gales : their places were filled up by worthy hardworking seafaring men, and the working of the boats was conducted in a most praiseworthy manner, the crew being under the captainship of Mr S. Morrison (the pilot here). However, the late Government of Canterbury substituted Captain Beswick as Beachmaster, in the place of Mr Woollcombe, and. strange to relate, appointed a crew from Taranaki, displacing the old hands, who had settled down and given the greatest satisfaction, without assigning the least possible reason. But it is of no use fighting against Government. All I can say is, that no boat worth 1,300 was negligently lost by the predecessors of the new hands, and we seldom meet with better than those we have lost.

1866 - The Government Landing Service at the foot of Strathallan St. formerly LeCren's. Note the flagstaff on the top of the 30 feet high cliff.  

Timaru Herald 10 November 1873 Page 3
New Whale Boat. On Saturday afternoon lust the ceremony of naming and launching the new passenger boat for the use of the Landing und Shipping Company's Service took place. The boat having been placed at the water's edge, and her crew stationed at each side with oars erect, the sprinkling was performed in the orthodox fashion, the name given her being the "Timaru." She was then launched, crew and passengers numbering eleven, pulled out as far us the barque Sylphide, back to the Beautiful Star, und thence to the starting point. Although the waves were not high there was just sufficient unevenness of water to test the capabilities of the boat, and the whole of the party were unanimous m the opinion that she behaved admirably. She bridged the seas in fine style and proved herself to be the fastest and perhaps the most comfortable boat for passenger purposes in use at Timaru. The boat is built of cedar, copper fastened, in thirty-one feet in length, six feet beam, two feet two inches in depth, and curries six oars. She is strongly put together, well finished, and a credit her builder, Mr Sutherland.


Merchants were dissatisfied with the Government Landing Service and formed the Timaru Landing and Shipping Co. at the foot of George Street which began operating in January 1868 with a thirty-six feet landing boat. The directors were G.G. Russell, Fredric Le Cren, Richard Turnbull and J. Mendelson.  When Cain returned from England he became manager of the Timaru Landing and Shipping Service at the foot of George St.  In 1870-71 Peter McRae of the Club Hotel, owner of the Club Hotel, had one bay of Landing Service Building erected and leased the building to the Timaru Landing and Shipping Co.  The boats were pulled inside through the arched portals.  The second bay was added and by 1876 the third bay was constructed.  Bullock wagons unloaded and loaded at the building. Then the railway line was built between the Landing Service Building and the sea. The Timaru Landing and Shipping Co. ceased operation in 1881 due the construction of the north mole (wharf) which caused the accumulation of shingle and sea borne rocks to be trapped behind the breakwater covering the slipways and making it possible to reclaim land now covered with industrial buildings like the large wool stores.  The Government Landing Service ceased operations in 1886 as the artificial harbour was functioning.  In 1872 Green and Maxwell started another Landing Service called the George Street Service. The car park to the south was the site for George Rhodes home in, the first house in the area built in 1851.

The Government Landing Service at the foot of Strathallan St. After 1874. What year?

Timaru Herald, 18 June 1878, Page 3
The dire effects of the terrific sea rolling in for the last four days were but too plainly visible yesterday afternoon. At high water yesterday morning it made a clean breach through the wooden breastwork at the back of the Timaru Landing Service stores; washed away a mass of formation inside, and carried away about 40 cases of preserved meats and a number of casks of tallow. Some of these were picked up along the beach to the north of the town daring the day, but the majority sunk or were smashed to atoms. The, remainder of the quantity stored was removed as speedily as possible to a place of safety. The clay around and underneath the George-street store also suffered a great deal, and the building was beginning to look very "dicky" last evening. The sea was rushing with fearful force against the stone breastwork, and pouring far over the railway lines, where it deposited a great deal of shingle and debris. The lifeboat shed will be in some danger should matters not mend, as the beach to a distance of thirty feet at least has been washed away in front of it. The surf on the beach is heavier than has been known here for twelve or fifteen years past, and has encroached much further inland. 

1887 The Harbor Plant.

Otago Witness, 1 May 1901, Page 34
THE OLD SURF-BOAT SHED. This shed was recently demolished to make room for the new Custom House Building. In the good old days some stirring scenes were witnessed in the heavy surf which beat upon this spot, prior to the breakwater. Hicks, photo.

The Landing Service Building is barely visible - far right of photo.
Note the old landing service building to the right?

1873 - The Landing Service Building, George St. is barely visible - far right of  photo. "Lady of the Lake" beached.

10 Sep. 1873. The Lady of the Lake, s.s. 60 tons, built 1865, sprang a leak off Oamaru, but could not return, she made for Timaru.  The crew of eight were bailing and pumping all night, and, as the water gained it was near the fires, the vessel was beached to save her from sinking.  She bumped on the rocks coming.  She is insured in the South British Insurance Company for �1000, New Zealand Insurance for �1500, and Victoria Company for �500. Finding of Court of Inquiry :Vessel sprung a leak and was beached to save her. Master, Stephen Tall, acted judiciously. 

The Landing Service Building is barely visable - far right of photo.
1878 - The Landing Service Building, George St. is barely visible - far right of photo. 

1. NZ Historic Places May 1994 #47
2. Noel Crawford's write up on the building available from the Centre
3. Gillespie's book South Canterbury A Record of Settlement 1958
4. Andersen, Johannes C.  Jubilee History of South Canterbury 1916 
5. Timaru Visitor Information Centre, 2 George St., Timaru
Ph: 03 688 6163    Email:
6. "Shipping Arrivals and Departures Victorian Ports Volume 2 1846-1855", there is a section on captains
7. The photos can be viewed at the South Canterbury Museum and a permanent display 'At the Water's Edge' the harbour's story.
8. Charles Heaphy drawing

Star 3 May 1899, Page 1
One of the old identities of Timaru, Mr Philip Jarvis Foster, who was one of the Deal boatmen brought out in the early days of Timaru to work the surf boat service, died on Monday, at the age of seventy-three. He was a Channel pilot, and came to New Zealand in the Regina, landing at Lyttelton in 1859. After the harbour works had the boating industry Mr Foster on the business of sail and tentmaker incapacitated by failing health about, two years ago. He was a highly respected and valued member of the Wesleyan congregation. He leaves a numerous family.

[Philip Foster died Aug. 12 1914 aged 56 and his son the builder died March 18th 1938 age 82 years.]

Timaru Herald, 13 November 1872, Page 1
Phillip FOSTER; Sail and Carpet Maker, Opposite Messrs Hibbard and Cowans's. Dray, Waggon, and Horse Cloths made or repaired. All kinds of Canvas Work done.

Timaru Herald, 27 April 1882, Page 1
Tentmaker HORSE COVERS, TENTS, TARPAULINS, FOR THE COMING SEASON. P FOSTER, in returning thanks for the liberal patronage of the past ten years, begs to intimate to his patrons and the public of South Canterbury that he is prepared to SUPPLY HORSE COVERS, TENTS and TARPAULINS of the best material and workmanship at lowest current rates. Carpets sewn and neatly laid. P. FOSTER, Tent and Tarpaulin Maker, Next King's Stables.

tent 6ft by 8ft Foster, maker, Timaru

Timaru Herald, 27 December 1898, Page 2
The notice of the golden wedding of Mr and Mrs P. Foster will be found in another column, it was celebrated yesterday with a large and happy family gathering. The happy couple are in the enjoyment of good health, and are well known and widely respected throughout Timaru. Mr Foster was a Channel pilot and landed at Lyttelton in December, 1859, with his wife and four children. In 1860 they all came to Timaru, and during their lengthy stay have witnessed and taken part in a great many incidents and experiences.

White Aviation photo ATL. Oct. 1956.  1914 photo.


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