Of all the ships to have served Lyttelton Harbour the luckiest would have to be the extant steam tug Lyttelton of 1907, but at the other end of the scale was the unfortunate Manchester.
Launched for the Manchester Ship Canal Company by William Simons & Company at Renfrew, near Glasgow on Tuesday, the 15th of July, 1890, the Hopper Dredger was named Manchester. With a length of length: 55.3 metres (180.2 feet) and a beam of 12 metres (39.1 feet), Yard No 279 displaced 881 gross registered tons. Capable of dredging 700 tons per hour to a depth of 10.75 metres (35 feet) and fitted with electric lighting, she cost her owners £20,000.
The canal was completed in 1894 and four years later the twin screw vessel was offered for sale at £15,000. In June 1898 the Lyttelton Harbour Board offered £12,750 for the dredge and by September the sale had been completed.
Subsequent to undergoing repairs, the Manchester left Liverpool for Lyttelton on the 7th of February 1899. Aboard was the brindle Bull Terrier of Andrew Anderson, son of the 1850 pioneer blacksmith and Mayor of Christchurch, who was visiting his parent's former homeland at the time. In what was probably the longest ever voyage to New Zealand, it would be another fourteen months before the Civil Engineer would see his dog again. In the meantime the Anderson's Lyttelton shipbuilding yard constructed a hopper barge to act in consort with the new dredge.
The Manchester made it as far as Ireland, where she put into Waterford for machinery repairs. Next stop was Gibraltar where she incurred further repair costs amounting to £700 during her month long stay. Crossing the Mediterranean, the dredge traversed the Suez Canal before sailing on to Singapore via Colombo in Sri Lanka.
Eagerly awaited in Lyttelton, where few of the larger ocean steamers were now making the township their final port of departure, owing to the risk when they were fully loaded, Captain John William Clark, the Lyttelton Harbour Master left by the Monowai for Brisbane in late January 1900 in order to meet and take charge of the Harbour Board's dredge.
Under Clark's command the Manchester sighted Cape Maria at 10.50 p.m. on the 9th of March 1900, and the North Cape next morning, when the gale abated. Owing to bad weather she called in at Whangamumu on the evening of the 10th, where it was discovered that the feed-pipe in her engine room was cracked. Repairs were effected at Auckland and on the 14th she sailed for Lyttelton, which she reached on the 22nd of that month.
Andrew Anderson was on the wharf to meet her arrival, but long before he could see anything he heard the joyous barks as his dog careered around the deck in a geat state of excitement. But the dredge had experienced a terrible voyage, most of which was spent undergoing repairs in ports along the way, and there was a great deal of discontent among the crew, as they had signed on for a fixed amount for the duration of what turned out to be a 408 day voyage.
On the 5th of April 1900, at a meeting of the Lyttelton Harbour Board, the chairman stated that the Board had suffered great loss in connection with bringing out the dredge from England. He reported that the persons who had been paid to protect the Board's interests had grossly abused their trust, and the expenses of the dredge, instead of being £24,000, had been £30,000. A special committee was set up to report on the expenses and delay incurred.
By the end of the following month the Manchester was deemed ready for service and a trial of the dredging machinery was undertaken while the vessel was moored between No. 7 wharf and the graving dock. In half an hour from fifty to sixty tons of highly tenacious, cement-like mud were raised from the harbour floor.
The Manchester's most significant contribution to the development of the port was the reclamation to the southern side of the graving dock, where the oil wharf and tank farm now stands, but during this time crew members succumbed to fatal accidents on two occaisions. In March 1912 she was replaced by the 1,117 ton suction hopper dredger Canterbury (1911-1968) and the Manchester was offered for sale at £20,000.
Sold to the Sydney Harbour Trust in 1912, Manchester departed from Lyttelton in the command Captain James Downie on the 3rd of April. Aboard were three of the original crew who had brought the vessel to New Zealand in 1900, one of whom had also served his apprenticeship with the builders of the dredge at Renfrew. The balance of the crew were local seamen. Sailing from Wellington for Sydney on the following day, after passing through Cook Strait the Manchester was never heard of again.
By the end of April the cruisers Challenger, Encounter and Pioneer were searching for the dredge, but beyond the discovery of three lifebuoys bearing the name Manchester, Lyttelton in the vicinity of the Manukau Heads and Hellensville between June and November, no trace of the vessel was found. Thus ended what is perhaps one of the most poignant of all Lyttelton's tales.
Photo Credit: Photograph of the Manchester moored on the Manchester Canal courtesy of the Manchester Ship Canal Society.