Early Mailboats in the Sounds


In the past, as today, people living in the Sounds required a postal service.  Picton had a mail service from Wellington as early as 1856, the first Postmaster was employed in 1859, and the first Post Office built in 1861, but delivery to anywhere else in the Sounds was dependent on irregular passing steamers, if at all.  However once the gold rush started in Wakamarina, there were large numbers to service with supplies and mail.  Mr H.E. Liardet (who also owned the Steam Packet Hotel next to the Bank of New Zealand in Picton) established his Royal Mail Line early in 1865.  This consisted of rowed whaleboats: the Swiftsure delivered mail, goods and passengers to The Grove, from where they could go overland to Mahakipawa and then by the Alabama to Havelock.  The same boats would also transport gold (with armed escort) back to Picton.

The Torea at Tarwhite. Picton Historical Society
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Henry Fisk. Picton Historical Society
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Whaleboats were later replaced by the SS Phoenix, and then by SS Torea, under Captain Henry Fisk and his son Isaac (engineer), about 1888.  The Torea was a  65-foot steam yacht built in Wellington in 1877 for Mr Henry Redwood.  She plied the waters from Wellington to Blenheim and the Sounds and was a very elegant vessel in her day, with carved wooden figurehead and scrolls.  She had been well known for taking passengers on Sounds tours, and Redwood either sold or leased her to Captain Fisk when she began the mail runs.  She ended her days rather sadly, dismantled and lying a wreck at Picton by 1900, one of the steel hulls which some locals can remember from their childhood. 

By the time The Grove Arm was receiving regular mails, there were many people living further down Queen Charlotte Sound, and considerable communities at Endeavour Inlet and Te Awaiti, who wanted a similar service.  Meetings were held and petitions sent to the Chief Postmaster – it was a matter of some local discontent.  In 1888 they still had no regular delivery, but in late 1890 the SS Torea  was awarded the tender and began a service to Endeavour Inlet. In 1892 the Te Awaiti residents petitioned for a weekly service rather than the present fortnightly one.  This was soon provided, Captain Fisk having added the SS Seagull to his fleet. Public pressure does sometimes have effect!

This story was originally written by Loreen Brehaut for The Seaport News, 2011 (uodated 2022)

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Further sources - Early Mailboats in the Sounds


  • Day, L. (2017)  Time and tide: the story of the Pelorus Mail Boat. Auckland: David Bateman
  • Fairweather, K. (1990) Sounds picnic. [Marlborough]: Cape Catley
  • Ponder, F. (1986) A labyrinth of waterways: the forgotten history of the Malborough Sounds. [New Zealand]: Wenlock


  •  Wells, E. (2006) Pelorus Sound mail boats. Mail Coach . 42(6), pp. 184-191


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