Monday, September 17, 2012

An Historic Vessel–The history of the Phenella , built by Samuel Middlebrook

Samuel Middlebrook, my 2x Great Grandfather was a fairly well known identity in Katikati which he had a hand in founding, by being the one to lead George Vessey Stewart into the area with his group of Irish Settlers. He remained living in the area until not long before his death and for many of the latter years of his life lived aboard his boat the “Phenella”

Here is a layout that recounts the history of the boat, both during and well after Sam’s death.


Journalling on the layout reads:

Built on the Uretara River in the early 1900s by Sam Middlebrook with help from his friends William Mulgrew and Noble Johnston, the 28 foot long Phenella was a well known vessel in the Kati Kati area. It was Sam Middlebrook's second boat, the first having been wrecked by a stray kauri log in a flood on the Tuapiro River. It was built as a houseboat and in fact Sam did live on the boat for more than 20 years in the latter part of his life. Most of the hardware on board including the “Union Engine” was salvaged from the wreck of the previous boat, the Monuwai. It was fitted with a Mast and Sails and often was sailed on the harbour.
Sam used Totara for the hull, and Kauri for the upper works of the boat.
Sam was an excellent and experienced boatman with an expert knowledge of the Tauranga Harbour; and on one occasion was responsible for saving the lives of a party of excursionists caught by a storm on the harbour. When Sam “retired” to Waihi, the boat was sold to a Mr Blomquist, the Chairman of the Tauranga Harbour Board who renamed it the “Whanganella”. During World War II it was designated a rescue craft in case aircraft flying off the Mount Maunganui aerodrome crashed into the harbour, but it was only once called out due to its mooring on the Uretara River and it could only get out to the harbour on the high tide. On one occasion one of the RNZAF planes made a mock dive bombing attack on the Whanganella when it was out on the harbour.
When Mr Blomquist died the boats ownership was passed to a Mr Claude Hume. By this time age and years had caught up with the old vessel, but its totara hull was still sound , though the kauri upper-works had to be entirely rebuilt by a professional boat builder.
Mr Hume kept the boat for 20 years on the harbour near his home at Matahui, and he cruised in it extensively, going as far afield as the Bay of Islands. He renamed it the Kotuku and then this name was retained when the boat was once again sold to a Mr Lomas who took ownership in 1971.
When Mr Lomas had a minor collision with a wharf, the boat builder who repaired the boat said the hull was as sound as the day it was built over 50 years before.
In fact the timber in the hull where two planks needed repairing was so hard that he could not saw out the damaged pieces, and they had to be burned off.
I wonder if the old boat is still sailing now. It certainly would have some stories to tell .

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, I'm a descendant of Claude Hume and would be very interested in having a chat to you about some of the info from your post. You've done some great work on laying out your family history so well. If you could email me at I would be very greatful