The Port of Napier recently announced it is to offer as an initial public offering (IPO) 45 per cent of the company.
Discussions and deliberations on how to create then expand a breakwater port at Napier (Port of Napier) are not new and have occurred for nearly 150 years.
The most divisive politics in Hawke's Bay's history were over the creation and expansion of the breakwater port versus developing the inner harbour in Ahuriri.
Napier's inner harbour at Ahuriri was too small to allow bigger ships to offload their cargo, so they anchored in the roadstead (out in Hawke Bay) and smaller vessels called lighters loaded and offloaded the cargo to and from the Ahuriri port.
In 1873, a £200,000 ($27 million) loan was approved by the House of Representatives in Wellington to develop a breakwater port at the Bluff but was overturned by the Legislative Council.
The newly formed Napier Harbour Board in 1876, under the chairmanship of J.D. Ormond, revisited creating a breakwater port.
While these ongoing discussions and plans were being held by members of the Napier Harbour Board, an enterprising group of men formed the Clive Grange Estate and Railway Company Ltd. Their intention was to create a harbour near Cape Kidnappers, and a railway to it from Hastings, but citing "unfavourable conditions of monetary affairs in colony" it was withdrawn in 1879.
In 1884, the Napier Harbour Board Empowering and Loan Act, 1884 was passed by the government, and this authorised the borrowing of £300,000 (2019: $56.5 million) to build a breakwater port.
All that stood in the way of the loan was a ratepayers' poll to be taken on January 20, 1885. Meetings were held all over Hawke's Bay to discuss the upcoming poll.
Ninety-six per cent of those eligible to vote did. There were 2562 votes for the proposal and only 180 against.
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In order to raise the £300,000, the Napier Harbour Board loan would be placed on the London market in the first week of August 1885, as money was apparently plentiful in London banks at that time.
All banks in New Zealand were asked to tender to place the loan on the London market.
The Bank of Australasia (now part of ANZ) was the successful tenderer to place the loan, of which £311,369 at 5 per cent interest per annum was raised by selling of debentures, but only £301,120 was given to the Napier Harbour Board, as £124 were expenses paid in London and Napier and the balance of £10,125 was retained in London to cover interest to be paid in January 1886.
Of the money received, £75,000 was used to repay an existing 7 per cent interest loan for the port at Ahuriri, thereby saving on interest on the new loan's 5 per cent rate.
By 1892, the loan money had almost run out and the Napier Harbour Board wanted to extend the breakwater further, and another £200,000 was needed.
This meant the Napier Harbour Board had to go back to Parliament and draft another bill to be passed for the £200,000 loan, and another ratepayers poll.
This bill was passed in September 1892, and in a hastily arranged ratepayers' poll, on October 10, 2030 voted in favour and only 130 against. (A ratepayers' poll would be required by the Napier Harbour Board for such loans until 1968.)
In 1893, Napier was the third biggest export port in New Zealand with volume of £1.3 million, behind Lyttleton and Wellington.
With insufficient revenue to fund the loan, the Napier Harbour Board gave notice in 1893 that it would strike a special rate to finance it.
One-fifth of a penny was payable in the pound of all rateable properties in the Borough of Napier, and the lesser amount of one-tenth of a penny for properties outside if Napier, which included Hastings, Hawke's Bay County, Waipawa and Patangata.
This would prove to be most unpopular, especially amongst those in Central Hawke's Bay. Some believed that it was cheaper to pay lighters in the inner harbour than be landed with the special rate.
The Waipawa County Council was not happy to collect the rate on behalf of the Napier Harbour Board.
An invoice sent direct from the Napier Harbour Board to a Central Hawke's Bay farmer, that I have in my possession, shows the rate struck against the property for the 1897 year for the £300,000 and £200,000 loans of £26 15s or in today's terms $5300.
While Napier people brought out the bunting and bands played loudly to celebrate the official opening of the breakwater port on October 22, 1895, many in the Hawke's Bay hinterlands were not filled with such joy, and didn't want to pay for what they saw as a Napier asset, and preferred what they thought would be a more suitable development of the inner harbour. There were also those with business interests in Ahuriri's inner harbour who were against the breakwater harbour.
Over the next nearly 40 years from 1895, debate raged between breakwater and inner harbour factions and played out in the Hastings Standard and Napier's Daily Telegraph newspapers. Trevor Geddis of the Daily Telegraph supported a breakwater harbour and W.C. Whitlock of the Hastings Standard, an inner harbour.
It was the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake which settled the matter with the raising of the seabed at the Ahuriri inner harbour.
Trevor Geddis was elected chairman in his first term on the Napier Harbour Board, and would lead the development of the breakwater harbour.
In 1988, government port reform lead to the disestablishment of the Napier Harbour Board and replaced it with a limited liability company structure.
Michael Fowler will be speaking on the history of Marine Parade 1928 to 1938 at the Century Theatre, Napier today at 3pm. Free admission, in association with MTG Hawke's Bay. He will bring a few copies of Historic Hawke's Bay for sale at $65.
Signed copies of Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book are available from the Hastings Community Art Centre, Russell Street South, Hastings for $65.00.
Michael Fowler FCA (email@example.com) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.