The Sea Captains

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The Sea Captains

This is the third of the stories of wartime intrigue in Plimmerton and looks at the impact of the Sea Captains on the stories.

Having the title of Sea Captain normally indicates that the holder has passed the nautical requirements and holds certificates to operate an ocean going vessel. So was there a Sea Captain living in Plimmerton during the First World War?

Two Sea Captains have been traced one in the Merchant Navy and one in the Royal Navy.

Frederick Augustus Bilton was born in New Zealand in 1870 [1] and must have taken a sea career, as in January 1914 he was the Captain of SS Himitangi before transferring to the SS Poherua in February 1914 [2]. The SS Poherau was a cargo ship operated by the Union Steam Ship Company (USSC) on the New Zealand coast.

   The SS Poherua at Picton 1899: Water colour Albert J Hanson

At the outbreak of war in 1914 the ‘Union Steam Ship Company (USSC) was one of the largest shipping companies in the world and dominated coastal shipping in both New Zealand and Australia. During the war the USSC provided ships as transport, supply vessels and two hospital ships (Maheno and Marama)’ to support the war effort [3]. It may be because of his connections to the USSC, but Captain Bilton was appointed to the Government Transport Board and was responsible for shipping both war material and comforts to the troops. In July 1915, the Dominion carried the following note about comforts for the wounded from Gallipoli ‘ Gifts of apples and butter, appropriately labelled, can be sent to Captain Bilton, Shed 3, Wellington for shipment’ [4]. Initially Captain Bilton was based at No3 Harbour Shed, Kings Wharf, later on Shed K. The Dominion, in March 1916 reported that ‘Packages and parcels intended for delivery to units should be sent to Captain Bilton of Defence Shipping Office at K Shed, Waterloo Quay, to be dispatched in bulk’ [5].

So where is Captain Bilton’s connection to Plimmerton?

In November 1916 Captain Bilton was established enough, in Plimmerton, to be elected as the vice president of the inaugural Plimmerton Progressive Association serving under Mr A Mildenhall and alongside Messer’s, McLay, Robertson, Hustler, McMahon and J Ames. [6]

Betty Kensington, (nee Bilton) Captain Bilton’s eldest daughter, recalls ‘When we first came out to Plimmerton in 1914 by train, Karehana Bay was known as Plimmerton Extension. My father bought the cottage and the land for 250 pound. There was a three strand wire fence around the place. There was nothing, no road; there were no neighbours, there was nothing’ [7].

The cottage was situated at the corner of Moana Road and Airlie Road and was possibly, like many other Karehana Bay properties, used as a beach bach. In May 1919 the Bilton’s advertised a six months lease in Plimmerton Extension of a ‘3 bedroom cottage, washhouse and bathroom; good garden, fowl run and outhouses, situated on sea front. Abundance fresh water’ [8].

C1916 Bilton Cottage corner Moana and Airlie Roads - PRA Collection

It was during the First World War, in 1917, however that Captain Bilton and his team at Shed K were accused of having a German working and possibly spying on ships loading in Wellington. Rumours swirled and questions were raised in Parliament when a Mr J Vigor Brown, member for Napier, asked Prime Minister Massey ‘if it was a fact that a foreigner is in charge of loading operations on Wellington wharves’ [9]. The response was that the man named a Mr Turksma was neither German nor Dane but in fact was a naturalised Dutchman. The Netherlands were neutral in WW1. The report also noted that Mr Turksma had volunteered for service in 1915 but had been pronounced medically unfit [10].

This issue would have been the talk of Plimmerton and possibly may have contributed to the Germans and the Sea Captain rumours.

Captain Bilton died in 1923 but his family continued to live at the cottage and over the years it was expanded. Betty Kensington (nee Bilton) lived in the house until 2000. 

The second of the Sea Captains was Captain George Samuel Hooper. Captain Hooper, like Captain Bilton, sailed for the Union Steam Ship Company. Captain Hooper was with the USSC up to 1903, when he was then appointed chief officer of the government lighthouse steamer Hinemoa. He moved into the Royal Naval Reserve being listed on July 1906 as Captain G S Hooper RNR in command of the New Zealand training ship SS Amokura [11]. The SS Amokura (Translates from Maori as Red Tailed Tropical Bird) was originally the HMS Sparrow.


Training Ship SS Amokura - Postcard c1912 - private collection

The training ship program was developed to prepare New Zealand 12 – 14 year old boys for careers in both the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy. During the time of Captain Hooper’s command, 575 boys were trained, 25 going into Royal Navy service most of the others into Merchant Marine, becoming deck officers. At one stage a high proportion of New Zealand’s Merchant Marines were commanded by former Amokura cadets [12].

1914 - 1916 Captain G S Hooper seated centre with ships dog - The New Zealand Maritime Record

In 1919 Captain G S Hooper, of the training ship SS Amokura, was appointed as the Government’s nautical adviser and chief examiner of masters and mates [13].

So what is Captain Hooper’s connection to Plimmerton?

Like many others it is possible that Captain Hooper had a holiday bach at Plimmerton as his death notice, 1931, notes it was at his residence in Seatoun, Wellington [14]. Captain Hooper was very involved with the Plimmerton Boating Club being elected as the Commodore of the club at the opening of its first season in 1926, later becoming the president in 1930 and continuing in this position until his death in 1931 [15].

Was this the sea captain mentioned as a founding member of the Plimmerton Boating Club?

[1] - Birth Frederick Augustus Bilton: 1870 NZBDM 1870/1161
[2] – Shipping notices, Captain Bilton: Evening Post 23 February 1914
[3] - The USSC History: Museum of Wellington City and Sea
[4] - Wounded Soldiers in Egypt: Dominion 21 July 1915
[5] - Packages & Parcels for Soldiers: Dominion 15 March 1916
[6] – Plimmerton Progressive Association: Evening Post 20 November 1916
[7] – Oral History Betty Kensington: Porirua Pataka Museum
[8] - For rent Plimmerton Extension: Evening Post 10 May 119
[9] - Intrigue on the wharves: date and reference
[10] - Neither Dane or German: Evening Post 26 October 1917
[11] - Appointment Captain G S Hooper; Evening Post 20 December 1919
[12] – SS Amokura: The New Zealand Maritime Record
[13] – Appointment Captain G Hooper; Evening Post 20 December 1919
[14] – Death Captain George Samuel Hooper: Evening Post 3 March 1931
[15] - Plimmerton Boating Club; Evening Post 20 December 1931


Story by Allan Dodson – November 2012

Next month’s story will look at the connections to Somme House, 34 Moana Road, Karehana Bay.

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Last Updated: 17/06/2015 6:26pm