Friday, 27 September 2013

Brain's Boatyard

Vectus under construction, Brain slipway, Tauranga
Undated silver gelatin print, Brain Watkins House Collection

In 1881, shortly after moving to Tauranga, Joseph Brain took over the boatyard located at the northern end of The Strand, on the beach below the Monmouth Redoubt, from Charles Wood. He had previously worked as a carpenter on board gunboats on the Waikato, and in the naval dockyard, and set up as a boat builder with William Bishop in Auckland.

The General Gordon, a ketch, was probably the first boat built there by Joseph Brain, but it was by no means the last. The Ventnor, Vectus and Dream were scows designed for trade along the coast and, having a shallow draught, were able to navigate estuaries such as up the Waimapu to Blundell's flour mill. He manufactured the whaleboats Esther and Tarawera, coal barges for the Waihi Mining Company, a naphtha-fuelled launch, the Coy, and a shallow draft punt for the Matata flax mill. Steamers of the Northern Steamship Company, such as the Katikati, Fingal, Kaituna and Result, were also repaired on the Brain slipway.

On the wall of the central passage in Brain Watkins house are three mounted wooden half hull models, almost certainly replicas of boats that Brain built, although there are unfortunately no names attached to them.
Prior to the twentieth century, half hull model ships were constructed by shipwrights as a means of planning a ship's design and sheer and ensuring that the ship would be symmetrical. The half hulls were mounted on a board and were exact scale replicas of the actual ship's hull. With the advent of computer design, half hulls are now built as decorative nautical art and constructed after a ship is completed. [Courtesy of Wikipedia]

The boatyard business continued to operate under Brain's proprietorship in this location until the East Coast Main Trunk Railway was constructed in 1923.

Joseph Brain's interest in boats extended to leisure activities and several trophies, including this fine example won at the Tauranga Regatta of 1900, on display in the Harpham Room, are evidence of his success.


Arabin, Shirley (n.d.) Notes on Joseph Denham Brain.
Matthews & Matthews Architects Ltd., et al (2004) Brain Watkins House Conservation Plan.

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