Saturday, September 27, 2008

Remnants of a Wolverine

Up until the late 1960s to early 1970s, part of the Avondale landscape included a wooden shed built by J J Craig in the late 1890s at his brickworks on St Georges Road, now known most commonly as Glenburn. In those days, if a supply of teak and oak timbers came floating into Auckland harbour and was there for the salvaging, why not take advantage of it, buy a stack of it, and then reuse it to increase output in what was then Auckland’s largest brick and pipe making operation?

The timbers came from a Royal Navy full-rigged corvette named Wolverine, launched in 1863. It was built from a composite structure of teak and oak planking, and was launched right when steam was rapidly replacing sail as the motive power for ships. As such, although she was a sailing ship, she also had a steam engine aboard. The ship served in both the West Indies and Australasia. In 1893, the aged Wolverine was retired by the Royal Navy and sold for £2200 to one Peter Ellison.

Under her new ownership, she was converted to a cargo ship, intended to convey coal, tallow and copra from Australia and the south seas. Her first voyage in her new role was to prove her last. Sailing from Sydney on 24 February 1895, a Tasman gale caused her to start leaking in more places than could be adequately repaired.

The Wolverine was diverted to Auckland in distress, and limped into the Waitemata Harbour. The news here from the shipbuilders who inspected her was not good – the old lady was beyond repair. Ellison sold the hulk to Devonport shipbuilder George Niccol for £1000, and she was broken up for salvage.

Along with J J Craig’s purchases for his Avondale brickyard, many of the ship’s girders were used in building the Shaw Savill & Albion woolstore close to The Strand in Parnell. Furniture and several small boats were built from her timbers as well. Once everything valuable had been stripped, the remains of the Wolverine were allowed to slowly decay into rust.

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