Watt’s Index of NZ-registered ships
(revised and updated 16 September 2006)
“Watt’s Index” is not actually the proper name but a short informal title by which it widely, almost invariably known. However, you won’t find it in library catalogues under that title. The full formal title is the Index to the New Zealand Section of the Register of All British Ships 1840 to 1950 (inclusive), Compiled by M. N. Watt, M. B., Ch.B., NZ Ship and Marine Society, Wellington c.1962. Three lists of revisions and corrections have been circulated and are bound into some sets of volumes. It is still possible to obtain copies in microfiche format (details at end of item).
The Index deserves to be better known
internationally as it is of wider than
The word “Index” in the title is a classic understatement. It is much more than a simple one-line-per-ship checklist. It is an “index” only in the sense that it a summary of key information from the sets of records once held on each ship by the former Marine Department. The information provided about some ships is pretty basic because that is all that is available but it may well provide 20 or 30 pieces of information about a ship covering up to half an A4 page right down to listing every time it went aground or collided with something and who was in command at the time.
Primary sources have
been lost since “
name, official number, rig, tonnage, dimensions, year and place built, name of
builder, port registration details (including ports outside
2,882 ships are documented in the Index.
65% were built as sailing vessels and 35% were built as steam or motor vessels
65% were built in
20% were built in the
262 (9%) were built in
138 were built in
were built in
were built in
were built in
were built in
was built in
166 (6%) were built in the
709 (24.6%) were registered in
259 were built in
204 were built in the
125 were built in
were built in
28 were built elsewhere
26% of the total have Māori names
40% of those built in the
One quarter of the powered vessels were owned by the Union Steam Ship Company
More than 400 of the 2,882 were still registered at the end of the 1960’s. Of these, 139 exceeded 100 tons gross, of which no more than 24 were still registered in NZ in 1991.
The aggregate net tonnage of the 2,882 ships is 582,000 tons –
roughly equivalent to the whole
One third of the 2,882 had carrying capacities equivalent to no more than two standard modern shipping containers
15% had carrying capacities equivalent to no more than one standard modern shipping container taken as 12.8 tons (1 ton = 100 cubic feet = 2.83 cubic metres)
* preliminary figures subject to revision.
ship in the Index is the brig Lord Hobart built in Devon in 1805,
steam ship in the Index is the Aphrasia ON(Brit): 31610, a paddle
steamer of 94 tons built in
The earliest steam ship built in New Zealand in the Index is the Governor Wynyard ON(Brit): 32202 of 18 tons, built in Auckland in 1851 (Watt lists her as a schooner, later registered as a paddle steamer in Melbourne in 1853 but other sources indicate that her boilers were constructed in Auckland and that she sailed under steam on Auckland harbour on 19 January 1852.)
The earliest ships listed in the Index as oil engine vessels are the Thistle II ON(Brit): 157770 of 8 tons and the Tot ON(Brit): 136880 of 6 tons, both built in 1895 but neither was registered until much later which leaves a question mark over whether these were their original engines. The next was the Tawera ON(Brit): 102290 of 44 tons, built in 1896 and registered in 1897.
ship listed in the Index as a motor
vessel is the Kaipara Kate of 1894
but it is unlikely that this was her original engine. Several launches built in
the 1902-1906 period are more reliable candidates but they are not explicitly
indicated as motor or steam powered. Two ships built in 1906, the Robey ON(Brit): 153969 of 6 tons and the
ship listed in the Index as a sailing
ship with an auxiliary engine is the Medway
ON(Brit): 40232. The Medway was built
The largest ship
in the Index is the Awatea ON(Brit): 157650, 13,482 tons
gross, built in the
sailing ship in the index is the Rewa
Revision and Update
I am working on
For details click here Revised Index of NZ Ships.
Addenda and Corrigenda
Three sets of
Addenda and Corrigenda were issued, the first of eight pages by Watt soon after
publication, the second of four pages by Watt in 1965, and a third compiled by
R. J. McDougall in 1984. The second was based on access to
Other corrections and additions have been identified subsequently, not least because additional information sources have become available that were not available to Watt. For example, I have been able to identify the official numbers of several ships for which he knew only the port registration.
Accessing Watt’s Index
Cyclostyled copies of the Index, bound in varying numbers of volumes, are to be found in major public and maritime libraries. Typically, the 770 or so pages detailing the ships in alphabetical order are bound into two or three volumes and the remaining material into a third or fourth but not all libraries have the remaining material in this format (the Wellington Public Library for one). Part 2 (the supplementary material) documents ownerships, a separate list of Māori ownerships, Builders, Masters and the Addenda and Corrigenda. Copies have been seen including the first set of Addenda and Corrigenda but not the others (the Wellington Public Library set contains none of them).
You should have no difficulty in accessing a copy in any major public or genealogical libraries or at the major maritime museums.
You are most unlikely to be able to buy a copy of the printed version as none has been sighted on the second hand market in years of looking. However, it is still available in microfiche format and widely known and used by genealogists in that form.
The complete version (including the three sets of Addenda and Corrigenda) was microfilmed in 1989. The microfiche version is also widely available in libraries and often more convenient than the original. Microfiche are widely regarded as obsolete technology but fiche readers and replacement parts are still readily available and widely used within genealogical circles.
Purchase on microfiche
“Watt’s Index” is available for purchase on very reasonable terms as a set of seven microfiche including the three lists of Addenda and Corrigenda. As far as I know the price is still NZ$28.00 which includes GST and postage within NZ and airmail postage overseas. Converted into US dollars or pounds sterling that is an incredible bargain. Payment is required with the order. The vendor is not able to accept credit card payments.
Phone +64 9 625 9778
Fax +64 9 625 9379
Gould Books of Adelaide handle BAB Microfilming products and are able to accept credit card payments so may suit Australian and other overseas purchasers better. Refer www.gould.com.au
Most of BAB Microfilming’s other products are of interest to genealogists rather than maritime historians. However, they also sell microfiche of White Wings by Henry Brett ISBN 0-908989-38-5 for NZ$22.00 on the same terms, including indexes to persons and ships named, arranged alphabetically by volume. Details are:
Volume1. Fifty Years of Sail in the New Zealand Trade, pub 1914. Contains information about the voyages of many ships that brought immigrants to NZ, 1850-1900.
Volume 2. Founding of the Provinces and Old Time Shipping, pub. 1928. Describes European settlement and has further information on ships.
Other microfiche publications of interest to national and international maritime historians are sold through the NZ Society of Genealogists. Look under Sales at www.genealogy.org.nz (select Microfiche, then Shipping).
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