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One person’s trash is another’s treasure


This wise old saying was never proved more true than it was last month, when the Toroa Preservation Society’s Peter McCurdy delightedly took delivery of three old, thick, typewritten documents at Te Atatu South’s Book Exchange.

Two of the three volumes each contain a list of names and statistical detail of the ships registered in New Zealand between 1840 and 1950 and their fates; the third was a list of passengers and the ships they came here in. A fourth volume of ship details was missing but there’s hope that it’ll still turn up in the boxes of “stuff” donated to the Book Exchange and still to be sorted.

Compiled 1962 by M. N. Watt, of the NZ Ship and Marine Society, in Wellington they are known informally, as the “Watt’s Index”. The Index has a very broad significance because of its international reach covering many ships built and also registered in other countries, that served New Zealand, and of New Zealand ships that operated elsewhere.

The Watts Index is a treasure trove of detail highly prized by maritime historians but this partial set came within a hairsbreadth of being thrown in the bin. It arrived at the Book Exchange among many other items and was originally mistaken for a fusty old thing of no value. However, Gwen Wilkinson had a canny feeling that just maybe…

One thing led to another, the Index was recognised for what it is and proud Westie Peter took possession of the set from Gwen and fellow Book Exchange volunteer, Christine Williams. One person’s trash will, as a result, become a treasure of the Toroa Preservation Society that is rebuilding the Toroa, the last of the Auckland steam ferries in West Auckland.

Photo Credit: PSNH via Compfight cc