Tairawhiti Museum and Art Gallery
Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history
Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history Poverty Bay - taonga maori
Tairawhiti Museum and Art Gallery

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Rich in Gisborne, East Coast history

Poverty Bay - taonga maori

Hopper Dredge Steering Wheel


Paul Dobson, great grandson of John Townley, poses with hopper dredge wheel.

It was a special day for the museum when a great grand-daughter of Gisborne’s John Townley, Mrs Gillian  Poulier, wrote from Australia, offering to gift the museum a local treasure she wished to send ‘home’. The item is a ship’s steering wheel and it had been presented to her great grandfather.  It is from a hopper dredge, the John Townley, which had been built in 1901 in Lyttleton and arrived in Gisborne in February 1902. 

Mr Townley was the long-serving Chairman of the Gisborne Harbour Board at the time and he also assumed innumerable other civic responsibilities in his long life, including Mayor of Gisborne.  His cheery face appears in many photographs in the museum’s Photographic Archive.

Gisborne grew at an exponential rate early last century and the dredge was in constant use, battling the constant flow of silt in the channel from the Turanganui River, to enable port activities to continue apace.  A harbour basin separated from the river was a distant dream, as were efficient road and rail systems. All transportation, whether of people or freight, of any significance was effected by boat, to and from the wharves on the riverbanks.

The dredge was eventually scuttled off Young Nick’s Head but the wheel, with a brass inscription, was presented to John Townley.

The museum was delighted to accept Mrs Poulier’s offer, also that the family kindly paid for the wheel’s journey ‘home’.  We are also thrilled that Eastland Infrastructure Ltd, the current incarnation of Mr Townley’s Gisborne Harbour Board, is caring for the wheel at its Reception Desk.  Thus this fine piece of Gisborne’s history is on view for visitors to admire.


Further reading: Gisborne’s Battle For A Harbour.  Philip Whyte, 1984