Saturday, October 19, 2013

Angelo Parigi -- an early Auckland waterman

Official Bay just to the left of Point Britomart in the centre. Copy of an oil painting by Samuel Stuart showing Auckland waterfront. Ref 4-509, Sir George Grey Special Collections

A descendant of one Angelo Parigi (also recorded as Paragee, Paragei and other variants) told me via email a few months ago that he was an early Auckland waterman, essentially a water taxi proprietor. The watermen were an important part of harbour operations in the early days before even the imposing Queen Street Wharf stretching out from the Commercial Bay reclamation. With mud and shallows between immigrant and cargo ships and the port itself, the boats of the watermen were one of the main ways of conveying items and people ashore.

To the Editor of the Southern Cross.
Sir, Will you be kind enough to insert this in your next publication, as we are of opinion that we labour under a grievance, which may be remedied if publicity be given to our complaint through the public press. What we complain of is that on the arrival of a vessel in this Port, the Harbour Master's Boat is generally tendered for the conveyance of Passengers and Luggage on shore, although at the same time there are a number of Watermen very often standing idle for want of a Fare. This we consider is tantamount to taking away in a great measure our means of livelihood. We think that it is the exclusive privilege of Watermen to take Passengers to and fro' in the Harbour, and that although at present no Local Act has been passed to protect them in their avocation, yet we are of opinion, they are protected by implication from any infringement on their rights. Perhaps (and we hope it to be the case) the Harbour Master is not aware of the use made of his Boat, at all events we think that should this meet his eye he will put a stop to a proceeding which we assure you, Mr. Editor, has been for some time a serious loss to us. In conclusion we beg to observe, that there are a number of us who endeavour to obtain a livelihood as Watermen (and in these somewhat dull times not a very lucrative one), therefore any encroachment on (what we conceive to be) our exclusive privileges must, you will perceive, be rather sensibly felt by ourselves and families. We remain yours &c. The Watermen. Auckland, October 1st, 1847. 

Southern Cross 9 October 1847

Angelo was originally from the island of Malta, from the Tarxien district. He must surely have been one of the first immigrants from that island to New Zealand, if not the first. His span of existence here in Auckland was brief, likely little more than seven years, and his death raises questions to this day for those who claim him on their family tree.

He was also one of the city’s earliest competitive rowers, taking part in the sport at the annual regattas, during the days of the first Waitemata Boating Club.

The earliest possible trace I’ve found of him goes back to early 1847, when the New Zealander reported on the anniversary regatta that had just taken place: “The last race was of wherries, three of which started, and the race was won by Mr Thatcher's Mirage, jun., rowed by Angelo.” (6 February)

If this was him, by the end of the year he seems to have broken away from rowing other men’s boats, and was in business for himself, setting up at the “water place” in Official Bay – the Wynyard Pier, where ships came to take water from the Wai Ariki spring piped to the jetty. The Fear Not (later spelled "Fear-nought") was one of his boats, right through to nearly the end. Oddly, he advertised that it was for sale – or, he may simply have passed the name onto another, later boat.

FOR SALE, THE 'FEAR NOT,' a Waterman's Boat, with Anchor and Cable, pair of Ash Paddles, Rudder and Yoke, and Spread-sail complete. She is about nine months old, copper-fastened and roughed, and is in excellent repair. Apply to Angelo Paragee. Auckland, Dec. 13, 1847.

New Zealander 15 Dec 1847

He was still in business early the following year.

NOTICE. THE Undersigned informs the inhabitants of Auckland that he has a WATERMAN'S BOAT ready at any hour, Day or Night, at the Watering Place, Official Bay. ANGELO PARAGEE. Auckland, 14th Jan. 
New Zealander 15 Jan 1848

It could be said that Angelo was a man who didn’t shy away from a contest. Here he set up a swimming or diving challenge (it isn’t known at present whether anyone took him up on it.)

CHALLENGE. Swimming and Diving. THE UNDERSIGNED hereby challenges any person in the Port of Auckland to take him up in a match of either Swimming or Diving, on Wednesday Next, the 31st Jan., for the sum of Five Pounds a side. The distance and particulars to be arranged between the parties. Angelo Paragee, Waterman, Official Bay. 

New Zealander 27 Jan 1849

Family sources state that he married Roseanne McMullen on 4 July 1849, a 16 year old daughter of one of the Fencibles who had arrived with her family on the Ann not long before and lived at Otahuhu. They married, apparently, at St Patricks cathedral. A year later, their 8 day old daughter Mary Ann died from a bowel complaint, 31 July 1850. The death registration reveals that Angelo was illiterate.

Next, we see him taking part in the 10th anniversary regatta in January 1850, his British Queen bearing a flag with a red cross on white background. (Southern Cross 29 Jan 1850) He won the race, pulling a pair of sculls, but objections were raised. (New Zealander 2 Feb 1850) He responded in what may have been true Angelo Parigi fashion – with a challenge.

CHALLENGE. A DISPUTE having arisen out of the Race at the Regatta, between the boats British Queen, Red Rover, and Talyho, The Undersigned, in whose favour the decision for the prize was given, hereby challenges the same boats, to be rowed by the same men, to a Rowing Match, to start from the Albert Buoy, round Brown's Island and back to the Buoy, for Twenty Pounds against Ten. Angelo Peragi, Owner of the British Queen. February 4, 1850. 

New Zealander 6 Feb 1850

Again, no word on what outcome there was, if any. The following year, he issued another challenge.

CHALLENGE. I, ANGELO PARAGEE, hereby Challenge any Boatman or Amateur Rower in the Port of Auckland to a single handed match with sculls, either in two equal boats, or in one boat to pull a certain distance in a given time, for any moderate stake not exceeding seven pounds a side.

New Zealander 1 Feb 1851

His second daughter Susan was born 29 November 1851. At the twelfth anniversary regatta (1852), in race eight, waterman’s boats pulling two oars for a prize of £5, The “Robert” (Angelo) won. He also came second in the 11th race. (New Zealander 31 Jan 1852) In the 1853 regatta – he won the eighth race with his waterman’s boat, two sculls, Susannah, prize £5 5s.

Southern Cross 1 Feb 1853

Another mystery from around this time, linked with Angelo because he was apparently associated, is the first “Waitemata Boat Club”, which appears to have been involved somehow with the early regattas.

Waitemata Boat Club. THOS. WESTON & CO will Sell by Auction, THIS DAY, at the Victoria Pier, Commercial Bay, on account of the Waitemata Boat Club,
The racing gig "ALPHABET," with Oars, &c.
The racing gig SYLPH," with Oars, Masts, Sail, &c.
These Boats are in first rate order for the Regatta.
Also, THE BOAT SHED, situate in Official Bay.
The above may be seen any time previous to the sale, on application to Mr. Angelo Paragee, Official Bay, or at the Victoria Pier at 1 o'clock on the Day of Sale.

Southern Cross 27 Jan 1854

The Alphabet was a raffle prize for a competition at the Exchange Hotel in December 1850, with proceeds going towards “the Regatta Fund”. (New Zealander 14 December 1850) It, along with Sylph (which was raced by the Waitemata Boat Club) took part in the 1851 regatta. (New Zealander 29 January 1851)

In the last year of his life, Angelo Parigi took part in the 1854 regatta, but lost the ninth race (waterman’s boats) in his “Fear-nought.” In September, someone seems to have been mucking about with his boat.

The boat "Fear-nought" having been taken away from the Wynyard Pier, after 9 o'clock, on Friday night last and on looking for it during the night, I found the said boat unmoored under the Pier, with a few potatoes in the bottom of it. Whoever can give information as to who took the boat away off its mooring will receive the above reward. Angelo Paragee, N.N. Three bundles were found at the end of the Pier, the same evening. Sept. 11, 1854.

Southern Cross 12 Sept 1854

A month and a half later, on 29 October 1854, Angelo Parigi died at the Colonial Hospital in Auckland. The cause of death was given in the registration as “Irritative fever, the result of a severe burn.” How Angelo received so severe a burn that it led to a fatal inflammation and infection of his tissues, something like gangrene and tetanus, is not yet known. He was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Symonds Street Cemetery. Angelo’s third daughter Margaret never saw her father, as she was born January 1855. Later, in June that year, a set of by-laws were put in place by the new Provincial Council governing the watermen, concerning licences, fees, carriage of persons and luggage.

There is a family story that Angelo was somewhere in South Auckland in mid October 1854, helping to clear land with some “colonel friends” when he was badly burned, to the extent that his fingers were burned off. The names Balneavis, Haultain and Nixon are mentioned. However, there are no reports in either the New Zealander or the Southern Cross of any incident so severe – and in colonial times, something so horrific as the loss of fingers in the fire would have attracted some attention. Was there a fire near where he lived on Eden Crescent? Did one of his boats catch fire? Again, the newspapers and the records remain silent.

Angelo’s name had slipped into forgotten history long before a new Waitemata Boat Club started up in 1862, with no reference to the first club by that name. The days of watermen were numbered as the wharves and jetties extended out into the harbour, ferries began to appear, and cutters and scows handled most of the old ship-to-shore trade.

Angelo Parigi’s story, though, is intriguing. His descendants and I would love to know more.


  1. It is an intriguing tale. You usually have all the answers and corrections, but not this time.

  2. thanks "timespanner" for sharing our family story ... :)

  3. Did you find Angelo Paregin ancestry ? I m looking for the marriage of his parents, Giovanni Paregin and Caterina Parnis... then who their parents are.

    My email is