The Hamer Plan for the Port of Auckland

Friday, May 6, 2016
Freeman's Bay circa 1912

By Marleene Boyd

The year is 1904, the place is the Waitemata Harbour of Auckland and the plan is to design a port that will meet the ship, passenger and cargo needs of Auckland for the next 30 years.

Mr W. H. Hamer was appointed Engineer to the Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) in 1903. His previous position had been Resident Engineer, London and India Board, Royal Victoria and Albert Docks, London, UK. 

W. Hamer

Preparing his plan for the future construction of wharves and reclamations in Auckland Harbour took Hamer nearly three months. His recommendations included building the wharves with reinforced concrete instead of timber and reclamations of large areas in Freeman’s Bay, Quay Street and east towards Mechanics Bay, which would give valuable land to add to the AHB portfolio.

Queen Street Wharf had been built with timber. Over time it had been lengthened, with tees added and by the 20th century needed a lot of structural repairs. The wharf was not able to cope with the large volumes of passengers and cargo that were arriving at Auckland.

Queen St Wharf 1904

The Board members considered Hamer’s plan over several months and decided to adopt it only after asking two other engineers to submit their reports on Hamer’s plan.

Hamer plan 1904

The detailed drawing by Hamer was coloured to show the planned reclamations and future wharves.

The drawing was mounted on cardboard and stacked amongst other large format photographs in the Museum server room.  None of these items had been registered or catalogued.  I found the map in the room and decided that it would be a good object to use to illustrate how the AHB planned for the future of the port.  Although a little rough around the edges, it has been used as a show and tell item for group visits to the Bill Laxon Maritime Library for about 12 years. It is now catalogued and stored in a flat plan cabinet drawer, though still available for research and group visits.

To proceed with the plan the Auckland Harbour Board borrowed £400,000.00 in 1904, which was used in part to build the Railway Wharf, a portion of Queens Wharf, the ferry jetty and the western reclamation walls. Queen St Wharf was demolished as Queens Wharf was built alongside it to the east.

This was insufficient money to do all the work that the Board required. Steamships were much larger and carried more cargo and passengers, each ship needed more wharf space, more cargo sheds were required, a floating crane was needed and a Ferry Building needed to be constructed. Moving cargo by horse and carriage onto and off the wharves was no longer a viable option. Construction of railway lines were needed to connect the wharves to the railway network, along with cranes to load the ships.

By 1908 an additional £1,000,000.00 was borrowed to facilitate some of the additional works.

Quay Street was extended towards the east, land was reclaimed in Mechanics Bay for the railway yard, by 1912 the Ferry Building was completed, an 80 ton floating crane MAHUA was built on the end of Queens Wharf and a vehicular ferry landing was completed in Hobson Street.

Victoria Park had been reclaimed, using the human waste collected by the night carts and reclaiming Freeman’s Bay, north of Victoria Park had commenced. A grandstand was built in Victoria Park and Fanshaw Street extended along the northern edge of the park.

When World War I started in 1914 some of the original plans were set aside and Hamer did a revision of his plan which was published in the AHB Port of Auckland Official Handbook in December 1915.

1915 plan 

Book cover 1915

By 1918 at the conclusion of World War I hostilities trade through the port increased and there was a need for more wharf accommodation and speedier cargo handling facilities.  The Board again decided to borrow a further £1,000,000.00 to fast track reclamations to the east of the Railway Wharf and north of King’s Drive, begin Hobson Wharf construction, roads on the Freeman’s Bay reclamation, a ferry wharf at Devonport and a wharf at Onehunga on the Manukau Harbour.

Interestingly the Freeman’s Bay reclamation was originally planned to be allotments for the residents of the area. Instead shipbuilders’ yards and slipways were built and tanks for fuel and concrete silos sprouted up. The area became known as the “Tank Farm”.  By 1931 the whole Freeman’s Bay reclamation was an industrialised area with not a garden allotment in site.

Westhaven 1931

In the 1915 plan, Hobson Wharf was to be built to the west of Queens Wharf, however when it was under construction the Board decided to name it Princes Wharf after the visit of HRH the Prince of Wales in 1920.  Princes Wharf was completed in 1924 and the official opening took place on the 12th May 1924.

Princes Wharf opening 1924

Further reclamations and wharf extensions would take place into the 1930s but not on the scale of the period from 1904-1924. With the opening of Princes Wharf most of Hamer’s plans had largely been completed.


The ports of Auckland, New Zealand: a history of the discovery and development of the Waitemata and Manukau harbours / prepared by direction of the Auckland Harbour Board to commemorate its jubilee, 1871-1921 / by John Barr. Auckland: Unity Press, 1926.

Auckland Harbour Board: an historical summary / prepared for the Auckland Maritime Museum by Peggy Allen.  Auckland: Auckland Harbour Board, 1987.

Official handbook : containing information regarding the ports of Auckland (Waitemata) and Manukau, December, 1915 / Auckland Harbour Board. Auckland : Wilson & Horton, 1915.

Auckland Harbour Board Archives photograph collection

Auckland Harbour Board Archives plan collection