The history of the New Zealand Shipping Company leaves no doubt as to the importance its Directors attached to training young men to become ships’ officers.


As early as 1876, the Directors decided to receive on board each of their ships from three to five apprentices under indenture to the Company.


By 1878, the Chairman was able to state that:


“we have now 45 apprentices on board our ships, of whom 23 are colonial youths. We have many applications now on our books. In appointing these apprentices, the Directors have been careful in the selection made. Our object has not been to get ne’er-do-wells, scapegraces that nothing can be done with, who might be sent to sea on the chances that some improvement might thereby be effected upon them. Our object is to get good steady lads, who will work their way up in our service, and become in time efficient officers and commanders of our ships.”


Whilst all of the Company’s sailing and early steam ships carried a few apprentices, it was not until just after the First World War, in 1920, that the Company introduced a more formal apprentice training scheme. Initially, under this scheme, 4 of the Company’s ships were designated as training ships. They carried 20 or more apprentices, or cadets as the Company called them, who were given a structured programme of training and who, in effect, took over the role of the deck crew.


From 1920, until its demise some 50 or so years later, the Company designated a total of 12 different ships to act as cadet training ships at one time or another.


This site will focus on the last 3 of these: the Durham, the Rakaia and the Otaio.

A summary of the Company’s history is available for download as a pdf. It includes a tabulated list of all the Company’s ships as well as a bibliography.


A copy of the Company’s prospectus dated April 1962 is available for download as a pdf. This 35 page document is called “How to become a Deck or Engineer Officer in The New Zealand Shipping Co Ltd”. It is an excellent little booklet packed full of information for would-be deck and engineer officers. The photographs and text provide a balanced and most entertaining description of a cadet’s life on board the Company’s training ships and of the duties of deck and engineer officers.


A short history of the house flags of The New Zealand Shipping Company and the Federal Steam Navigation Company is available for download as a pdf.


During its distinguished history, the New Zealand Shipping Company was to name 3 of its ships Rakaia. An article on The First Rakaia is available for download as a pdf.