History of Tug Lyttelton


Permission of Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand must be obtained before any re-use any of the historic images on this page

It was hardly surprising that one hundred years ago ship-owners within what was then known as the British Empire, looked to the multitude of shipbuilders within the United Kingdom to meet their satisfy their needs when new vessels were required for fleet expansion or replacement, for the British yards were widely recognised as centres of shipbuilding excellence.

Paddle steamer “Lyttelton and the Royal Yacht “Ophir” June 1901

Thus it was that in December 1906 the Lyttelton Harbour Board  placed an order with the Ferguson Brothers for the construction of a twin-screw tug at their Newark Shipyard in Port Glasgow.  Named ‘Canterbury’, the tug sailed from the Clyde for her new home port on the 2nd June 1907 making the journey of over 12,000 miles under her own steam, although without electricity which was not installed for a number of years.  The coal-fired tug which was in the hands of a delivery crew of 19, called for bunkers at Algiers, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Fremantle and Melbourne en route, arriving at Lyttelton on the 10th September 1907.

Specifically designed for work in and around the harbour in Lyttelton, one of her regular tasks in those relatively early days was to locate and relocate the coal hulks from which coal-burning vessels replenished their bunkers.  Of course, the ‘Canterbury’ was also always on hand to assist in the movement of substantial passenger liners, cargo vessels, tankers as they began to distribute oil and petroleum products, and ships of His Majesty’s navy including, for a notable example, the 32,000 ton H.M.S. ‘Renown’.  On January 1st 1908 the ‘Canterbury’ escorted Ernest Shackletons ship ‘Nimrod’ out of Lyttelton on their Antarctic expedition.

Tug “Canterbury and Ernest Shackletons ship “Nimrod” 1 January 1908

By the time that the ‘Renown’ called, the ‘Canterbury’ had long-since been renamed ‘Lyttelton’, for towards the end of 1911 the Lyttelton Harbour Board had taken delivery of a new dredger and named it ‘Canterbury’, and in those circumstances the tug’s name had to be changed.  It is a name which the tug of 1907 retains to this day, for, in different ownership and undertaking rather different tasks, it is very much a vessel of the present as well as one of the past.

Tug “Lyttelton” and the hospital ship “Marama” from World War 1

The Dredge “Canterbury”

The past for the ‘Lyttelton’ had inevitably begun to take on a different character in the 1930s with the construction of much larger vessels than were sailing the seas when the tug was built.  Consequently a larger tug was considered a necessity for the port of Lyttelton, and in 1938 the Harbour Board placed an order for a new tug with Lobnitz & Co. of Renfrew on the Clyde.  Named ‘Lyttelton II’, she arrived in the port in March 1939.  If war had not broken out in the following September it is likely that other commercial work would have been found for the smaller tug, but as things turned out the Royal New Zealand Navy was glad of the ‘Lyttelton’s’ availability to undertake boarding and other duties.  For those she was equipped with the ability to drop depth charges, and was armed with a canon and machine gun (which was lost overboard!).  She was also required to take mines to Akaroa.


Tugs Lyttelton” and “Lyttelton II”

When hostilities came to an end, the ‘Lyttelton’ was re-fitted and returned to her owners who had retained control of the larger ‘Lyttelton II’.  The latter could handle the work available with relative ease, and in 1970 ‘Lyttelton’ was laid up with the prospect of a one-way trip to the scrapyard looking more and more like a certainty.  Inevitably, alternative ‘uses’ for the tug were sought, particularly by Capt. Champion, a member of the Harbour Board who had particular regard for it, and he opened discussions with Ferrymead Historic Park, which thought that it might be possible to display the tug ashore.

Local marine surveyor Dick Musson was less than happy when he learned of this suggestion and expressed his concerns to his friend, John Goldsworthy, in the belief that it might be possible to put together a group of like-minded people who would preserve the ‘Lyttelton’ afloat.  The Harbour Board was approached but expressed great doubt that such a group could raise the $19,000 which, it estimated, was the minimum sum required to return the tug to a full seaworthy state.  Dick Musson who had surveyed it on a number of occasions in his professional capacity was of the opinion that the required figure could in reality be much less if volunteer labour was available.  However, the Harbour Board chose Ferrymead’s proposals and the latter then worked on the logistics, and the associated costs, of getting the vessel ashore.  That task, which would include the removal and replacement of the wheelhouse and funnel so that the tug might pass under a bridge, proved to be financially excessive and so their plans were abandoned.

Dick Musson and his friends, by then numbering 45 and later to become the ‘Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society’, were given the opportunity to show what they could do, and they immediately got to work on the vessel, their ultimate objective being to obtain a passenger certificate for the vessel so that it might generate income by providing trips in and around the harbour both on a regular and charter basis – weddings and fishing outings for example.  ‘Lyttelton’ was dry-docked on the 22nd June 1973 and undocked about a month later, by which time some 2,749 man-hours had been expended on her.  It had all been worthwhile, because on Sunday 14th October 1973 the tug started her new career as a passenger steamer, albeit simply on charter from the Lyttelton Harbour Board.  The ‘Lyttelton’ eventually became the property of the Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society on the 26th.  October 1991 when she was sold to it by the Lyttelton Port Company, the successors of the Board, for the nominal sum of $1.00.

Ferguson Brothers also built the two compound reciprocating engines which are equipped with steam-assisted Stephensons reversing gear and built-in condensers.  Each high pressure cylinder is 20” in diameter, the diameter of the low pressure cylinders being double that at 40”.  The stroke on both cylinders in each of the two engines is 27”.  The exhaust from the L.P. cylinder is lead through a large pipe into the top of the condenser where cooling sea water is pumped through a bank of brass tubes for condensing purposes, the resulting fresh water being returned to the boiler.  The tug’s two screws are each 8’ in diameter with a pitch of 12’, and behind which are thrust bearings which take up the thrust onto the structure of the hull.  Each engine drives a bank of reciprocating pumps which circulate cooling water to maintain the vacuum in the condensers, before returning the condensate to the boiler.  In spite of that, the tug uses about a ton of water on each voyage.

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