The paddle steamer ‘Emu’

On 1 May 1860 an 80-foot long paddle steamer, Emu,  started to offer a regular ferry service between Devonport and the CBD. Prior to that time, North Shore residents were reliant on an open sailing ferry boat to get to the city, which had to be rowed by the passengers when winds were light.

The Emu‘s service in the Waitematā harbour was unfortunately short-lived. On 20 October 1860, she was hired by Motutapu Island owner Robert Graham to take a party of Parliamentarians to his home on the island for a picnic. Fifty-five people turned out for the event and had an exciting day, feasting on ‘turkey, chicken, duck, ham, tongues, beef,  tarts and pies’ and playing a variety of games including throwing stones at bottles, running races and leap frog.

Reid homestead, Motutapu Island-2
The Reid Homestead at Home Bay, Motutapu Island, close to where the Parliamentarians picnic was held in 1860 hosted by Robert Graham.

On the way home disaster struck when the ferry came to pick up a group who had walked back to the southern end of the island near Islington Bay. As the ferry neared land a squall hit and the vessel came to a juddering halt. Water rushed into the bilges and it was clear that Emu had hit a rock. Luckily there were no casualties but the ferry was a complete wreck.

Emu rock-2
Emu Rock off Motutapu Island was named after the steamer that struck the rock and sank in 1860.

The rock on which the steamer hit, the bay where the disaster occurred and the nearby point have all been named in memory of Auckland’s first ferry (Emu Rock, Emu Bay and Emu Point respectively).

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