The Mahurangi Magazine

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Pages 157–161in printed edition

Casey’s empire

Rose Casey

Casey’s Empress: The Rose Casey, Jeremiah Casey’s finest and final steamboat, named for a daughter, departs Queen Street Wharf—possibly for the Mahurangi Regatta, judging by her packed decks here—she was known to sail for the regatta with 300 aboard. The Rose Casey served the Mahurangi from 1878 until 1905, and 10 years later was wrecked on D’Urville Island. image Auckland Libraries

After these three abortive starts, the honour of establishing the first lasting steam service to the Mahurangi fell to the paddle steamer Lady Bowen. Her owner was the Irish entrepreneur, Jeremiah Casey, born in Cork in 1820, son of a farmer. Around 1845 he married Anne Millbank, daughter of a shipowner. He became an experienced master mariner, in command of ships out of Liverpool to the West Indies and the Mediterranean, before bringing his family out to Australia. According to Pulham, Casey first appeared on the Mahurangi around 1850 as skipper of a ship loading Combes and Daldys’ timber for Australia. In fact, he was master of the barque Eugene, out of Melbourne. After several voyages, he brought his family to Auckland to settle, in about 1855. In that year a Casey applied unsuccessfully to be pilot at Manukau Heads. If it was Jeremiah, the failure was fortunate for his career. He went into lightering and harbour board contracts. He first appears on the Auckland ship register in 1859 as owner of the cutter Shamrock, and subsequently of six other small sailing vessels, which he used in the upper-harbour trade.

Seeing the future in steam, Casey bought the steamer Gemini to inaugurate a regular service to Riverhead. He set up on No.2 Tee of Queen Street Wharf in his ‘Red Shed’, which served as office and goods shed, and remained the hub of his future empire in steam.

Casey made his first move into Rodney in 1868, when he had the Weiti River cleared of snags at his own expense and began a service with the Gemini. The river was widened at the wharf to allow for swinging her.

In that year, he bought the new paddle steamer Lallah Rookh, but sold her next year in favour of the more powerful Lady Bowen. This was a new Niccol ship of 1868, of 42 tons and 81 feet, with two 25-horsepower engines. She was also schooner rigged. (Almost all steamboats of that time were hybrids between sail and steam). Early in 1871 the front page of the New Zealand Herald announced:

Lady Bowen. Steam to Mahurangi and Hot Springs. Paddle steamer Lady Bowen, Captain Adams, will leave Queen Street wharf Saturday 11 am. Mahurangi Monday 9 a.m. For freight or passage apply to J. Casey.

The disregard for tides indicates that like the Wonga Wonga, the ship at first served the Mahurangi Heads and not Warkworth. It was already serving Thames twice weekly, and this profitable run subsidised the new venture. By 1874 Kasper, former cutter captain of Mahurangi, was her captain, and by 1875, perhaps earlier, she was running to Warkworth and carrying the mails.

Her paddle wheels were put to odd purpose in the search for the body of John Pilkington, last seen near Red Bluff, while returning from Southgate’s Hotel in a rowing boat, with a tipsy companion:

Captain Kasper took the paddle steamer Lady Bowen through the inner or North channel, thinking that the motion of the paddle-wheels would cause the body to rise, but without success. The new steamer Minnie Casey will make her trial trip about the end of this week, and may be expected in Mahurangi about the end of next week. The rocks opposite the wharf are being removed to admit of the steamer being turned, and the whole expense is being paid by Captain Casey. Mr John Southgate is the contractor, and is fast proceeding with the work. Some delay will be caused in arrival owing to her greater draught, as she will not be able to pass over the rock at Mr Wilson’s and a like impediment at Morrison’s Creek. The inconvenience will not long exist as Lady Bowen will again be in the trade in a few months, Messrs. Sims and Brown having received instructions to push on the work of lengthening and refitting her with all possible speed.Auckland Weekly News 4 September 1875

The new Minnie Casey, a twin-screw steamboat by the same builders, passed her trials on the Waitematā with flying colours the next week. Her 25-horsepower engines from the local Phoenix Foundry of Fraser and Tinne, pushed her smoothly to 10 knots. She took over as the Lady Bowen, was duly cut in half and had another 20 feet added. Renamed the Anne Millbank in honour of Casey’s recently deceased wife, she was back on the run by February, with W Parker as master. The increase in length was a success; a correspondent said:

Our favourite steamer Anne Millbank arrived yesterday evening after a splendid run of four hours 20min.Auckland Weekly News 1 April 1876

By May 1876, the service had improved and been extended to take in most of the Rodney ports:

Steam to Hot Springs, Mahurangi, Matakana, Kawau, Little Omaha.

Paddle steamer Anne Millbank, Captain Kasper. For Mahurangi Thursday and Saturday at 11am.

From Mahurangi Wednesday and Friday at 10am., when tides allow.

At that time, Casey was also running the steamboats Lily and Gemini to Riverhead, Minnie Casey on the Kaipara, and the Lily to Thames.

Casey was a stayer. Known as “old Jerry”, he was a colourful character. Shrewd and abounding in energy, he was famed for his wit and the directness of his language. His engineer on Rose Casey, John Breese, referred to him as “the Irish lord”. He was not one to suffer fools or be dictated to. Dissatisfaction surfaced from time to time among his customers. A letter to the editor complained that a shilling telegram from the owner, when the ship was delayed by weather or otherwise:

…would enable settlers who have to travel 10 or 15 miles to return to their homes, instead of waiting in vain until midnight (as frequently has been done) for their mail and goods.Auckland Weekly News 18 September 1875


A meeting of what is known as the Steam-boat Committee was held here, and a sort of dictatorial letter was forwarded to Captain Casey, the consequences of which has been that he has given instructions to issue no more return tickets to or from Mahurangi by Lady Bowen.Auckland Weekly News 26 June 1876. Note: the journalist is still using the old name of the vessel.

The Anne Millbank arrived at Warkworth:

…having not a solitary passenger leaving Auckland for Hot Springs, Matakana, or Mahurangi, a rather bad ‘spec’ for the new steam-boat company.

“Old Jerry” had a benevolent side. A special meeting of the Warkworth Library Committee received from him:

…a donation of twenty volumes, handsomely bound in calf, amongst them a complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.Auckland Weekly News 26 May 1877

Casey was drawing passengers from well beyond Warkworth. The breakwater at Mangawhai was “almost a ruin”, and passengers for the “regular” cutter Alarm might have to wait for 10–12 days for a favourable wind on the bar:

Travellers prefer going overland to Mahurangi and thence by steamer to Auckland.Auckland Weekly News 1 April 1876

Passengers also came in from Port Albert, Wellsford and Maungatauhoro. The Anne Millbank was coaled in Warkworth with Kawakawa coal, then the major source in New Zealand:

Arrived (Warkworth) on Saturday, the cutter Eleanor from the Bay of Islands, with 50 tons of coal for Captain Casey.Auckland Weekly News 19 May 1877

In 1878 Casey commissioned his last and finest steamboat, the Rose Casey, named, like the Minnie Casey, for a daughter. She was built by Fraser and Tinne at Mechanics Bay (132 tons, 103 feet, twin engines and screws, 109 horsepower). She was also schooner rigged, although it seems doubtful that the sails were much used by this time. Of his eight steamboats, only the City of Cork had no mast. The Rose Casey under Captain Somerville became an institution in the region. (The Anne Millbank went to the Coromandel trade. It was finally smashed against the Auckland wharf in a gale in 1885.)

The two hazards to navigation mentioned above, were discussed by the Rodney Council on 27 November 1878:

The Chairman (Henry Palmer) called the attention of the Council to two bars which impeded the steamer and caused a delay. The bars were sandstone, not more than three feet wide with deep water at each side. The steamer would arrive an hour and a quarter earlier if they were removed. It would be a great benefit to ‘the out-districts’, enabling the mailman to get away so much earlier. He thought £30 would cover the cost. He moved ‘that the Council call for tenders’.Auckland Weekly News 7 December 1878

In discussion, Mr Shepherd thought the Highway Board could do it, and then as a member of the Provincial Council, remembered that he believed government money was voted for it. The motion lapsed unseconded. I believe the bars are still there, having myself bumped an outboard by the cement works.

The Cruickshank brothers of Matakana seem to have had a running feud with Casey. On 19 December 1877, David Cruickshank was awarded £3 19s in a suit against Captain Kasper for damage done by the Rose Casey to a pile of the new wharf he was erecting. Alex Cruickshank, storekeeper at Matakana, complained to Casey that rats in the ship’s hold had perforated his sacks of grass seed, and that Kasper had been uncivil to him and had refused to load his stock (which he admitted had arrived late at the wharf). Jerry Casey listened with restraint, but showed little inclination to discipline his vessel’s master.

Casey was considerate to social occasions in Warkworth, often holding back the departure of his ships until midnight, to allow festivities to run on. At 11.30 pm:

…the well-known voice of Captain Kasper would be heard, announcing the departure of the steamer in half an hour.

Pūhoi had a weekly service of its own by 1877, from the Holmes Brothers ss Effort. In 1881 it was served by ss Waitoa, and in 1885 by ss Ruby.

Casey’s services to Rodney remained a sideshow for him, compared with his fleet of six ships on the Kaipara. Early in 1878 a well-heeled settler, Colbeck, who owned 20 000 acresin the Kaipara, teamed up with city men to launch, in competition, the Kaipara Steam Navigation Company. Casey wryly observed in a letter to the editor:

I have now hanging up in my office a list of 32 bankrupt steam navigation companies — When the company is formed, I hope they will build good boats as, in that case, when the concern gets on its last legs, an offer may be obtained from your most obedient servant, J. Casey.

In fact, only three months later, Colbeck offered £15 000 for the whole Kaipara fleet. Casey could not refuse, and bowed out.

Casey had made a shrewd decision. Colbeck’s enterprise struggled and soon died. The country was sliding into its longest depression. By 1879 Casey was feeling the pinch. His engineer on the Rose Casey, John Breese, protested that his wage of £3 per week was inadequate for the long hours. He got a rise to £4, but when it was cut back to £3, he quit.

A meeting of the Rodney Council on 17 July 1880 accepted the tender of contractor, William McElroy sen., for construction of a wharf at Mahurangi Heads, at £490. Shipbuilders Rufus Dunning and John Darrach, also feeling the pinch, tendered unsuccessfully. The work was completed by March 1881, but not without problems:

Captain Casey informed the Council that he had to discontinue using the wharf, as his boat received so much damage in doing so.

The contractors bill for extras was considered and sent to arbitration. There was no more “in kitty” anyway:

As the vote for the wharf is exhausted this Council cannot recognise any further expenditure.

The Rose Casey apparently came to terms with the wharf. It was reconstructed in 1899, when the tee was extended and the shed enlarged—early photos show its roof oddly covered, half in shingles, half in corrugated iron.

Jeremiah Casey died in 1881. A courageous entrepreneur and memorable character had departed from the ‘Red Shed’ on the Auckland waterfront. He had made a major contribution to the development of the Kaipara and the Rodney coast. Although the firm was latterly known as Casey and Son, his son did not carry on. Ownership of the Rose Casey passed briefly to his three unmarried daughters. It continued its normal schedule, managed by Henderson and Macfarlane.

At this time the local schools were in the habit of combining to hire the ship for an annual picnic to Kawau, Hot Springs or Tiritiri Matangi. The pupils of Mahurangi Heads School, set to write an essay for the inspector in 1883, told of their trip to Mansion House Bay, where they were graciously received by Sir George Grey and invited to return.