Skip to content

The Mullogh

What have an early steamship and an early steam locomotive got in common? Viv Head explains . . .

First the steamship, ‘The Mullogh’, which actually began life as a 46 ton sailing ketch with an auxiliary steam engine driving a single screw. She was built of iron by Coates & Young in Belfast (a forerunner of Harland & Wolfe) and launched in 1855. She sailed first to Melbourne where she traded for a couple of years before arriving in Lyttelton in New Zealand in 1859. She had been purchased by a local merchant and used for coastal trading. There are only a couple of blurry black and white photos of ‘The Mullogh’ and none under sail. However, there is a small illustration of her sail plan which allows a sketch to show us what she might have looked like in her pomp.

Sketch of ‘The Mullogh’

Lyttelton is a deep water harbour and served as the port for the emerging town of Christchurch, indeed it still does. But in those days, cargoes and supplies for the town were ferried around the coast by smaller vessels, then unloaded at a wharf in a large shallow estuary close to town. This would have been an easy short voyage were it not for the notorious Sumner Bar at the narrow entrance to the estuary. Over the years, dozens of ships and many lives were lost getting across the shifting bar. Indeed, on 14 March 1863 ‘The Mullogh’ was approaching the bar following the 20 ton ketch ‘Marie Elizabeth’ when the forward vessel struck the bar and sank. Fortunately, her two crewmen were safely picked up by’The Mullogh’. Then in August 1865, when loaded with barrels of liquor, ‘The Mullogh’ herself made it across the bar only to be blown onto the beach at Sumner through a big surf. It was an event that led to many of the local people suddenly developing an interest in beachcombing!

The 60 foot long ‘Mullogh’ was pulled off the beach a couple of weeks later, only to sink in mid-channel. However she was soon raised and re-launched within a couple of months. ‘The Mullogh’ performed many different duties in her time; cargo vessel, tug, explosives and fishing vessel, she has been described as the doyen of Lyttelton. On 5 May 1863, ‘The Mullogh’ took on one of her more interesting challenges. The steam locomotive called ‘Pilgrim’ had been built in Bristol by Slaughter (Grunning) & Co, and shipped to Melbourne aboard the ‘Zealandia’. There she was trans-shipped to the schooner ‘Choice’ for the voyage across the Tasman Sea. At Lyttelton the locomotive was lowered onto a barge and taken in tow by ‘The Mullogh’. Despite having to shelter overnight in a neighbouring bay, ‘Mullogh’ and ‘Pilgrim’ successfully crossed Sumner Bar together to arrive safely at the estuary the following day despite considerable anxiety about the weight and instability of the tow.

‘Pilgrim’ was New Zealand’s first steam locomotive and busied herself for several years shuttling along the four mile stretch of railway between the wharf and Christchurch. ‘The Mullogh’ continued trading for another 30 years after her sinking before having her masts removed and being converted into a trawler. By 1916 she was 61 years old and a derelict. She was ordered out of Lyttelton Town Harbour and was retired to Governors Bay. A plan to take her back to Belfast for restoration as an historic ship sadly came to nothing. She ended her days dumped in a curious graveyard of ships behind Quail Island in 1923.

Little remains of her now except the broken outline of her 150 year-old hull and her massive boiler which for the last 85 years has been exposed to the elements and appears indestructible.

Contributed by Viv Head

This tale by Viv Head was first published in the OGA Newsletter, Gaffers Log, June 2010.