A PROUD HISTORY
The Foundry, originally named the Maori Ironworks, was built in the early 1900s by Stevenson and Cook Engineering. It quickly became a busy cluster of industry, with a dry dock, forge, moulding shop, boiler shop, smith’s shop, machine shop and plateyard, as well as offices and stores.
Stevenson and Cook generated so much work that The Evening Star commented in
1919: “No firm has played a larger part in the creation and maintenance of Port
Chalmers than the company now known as Stevenson and Cook.”
Success was powered by co-owner Isaac Stevenson, who recruited skilled workers
from leading British shipyards and employed locals as apprentices. This pool of
artisans quickly built an international reputation for high-quality shipbuilding and
repairs. Work from the yard was subject to rigid checks in Britain and found equal in
quality to leading English and Scottish firms.
Initially, Stevenson and Cook built huge gold-dredges to work Otago rivers such as
the Waitaki and the Clutha. By 1905, there was a full workforce of marine engineers,
boilermakers and shipbuilders. The company prided itself on its modern plant and
machinery, delivering high-quality engineering, fabricating and repairs to customers
in Borneo, Australia and Canada.
When the damaged ships of Antarctic explorers limped into port, they headed to the
shipyards. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship the Aurora was towed back to Port Chalmers
by the ocean-going salvage tug Dunedin, a vessel built by Stevenson and Cook. In
1907, the firm refitted the steamer Koonya to enable her to tow Shackleton’s Nimrod
from Lyttelton to the Antarctic ice – one of the longest tows ever made.
Ownership eventually passed to Fletchers Ltd and, with Miller and Tunnage Ltd,
during World War II it built seven mine sweepers. Battle-scarred American destroyers
had their damaged steel plates replaced before returning to the Pacific. Smaller
Pacific island supply ships were built for the American Navy.
Sims Engineering took over the business in the 1950s, manufacturing vessels for
fishing. Its last major job before moving to Dunedin was building the New Era
harbour dredge, which can still be seen working the harbour.