By Kirsty Johnston - Taranaki Daily News
The wrecks of two historic ships sunk in Taranaki waters during the 1860s could soon come under national protection.
The paddle steamer Tasmanian Maid and colonial steam transport SS Alexandra, both which lie in relatively shallow water off the North Taranaki coast, have been proposed for national recognition by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
They are considered nationally rare examples of remains from the New Zealand Wars – rarer still because they have not been relocated, unlike many similar-aged wrecks
Heritage adviser Blyss Wagstaff said many vessels that saw active service in the wars ended up overseas, their location now unknown. That made the identification and recognition of these shipwreck sites that much more important given their rarity.
"They are a part of a series of major historical events in 19th-century New Zealand that have shaped our lives today," Ms Wagstaff said.
"They are reminders of the resistance of Maori to Crown alienation of their land and the Crown's response to those challenges. They are also representative of a commonly used form of coastal transport of the time."
The sites were rediscovered by divers from the New Plymouth Underwater Club in the 1970s. Tasmanian Maid, which lies off the Kawaroa reef in New Plymouth, originally operated as a coastal steamer in the Nelson/Marlborough area earning the distinction of being the first steamer to enter the Buller River in 1862.
It was then put to service as a supply and dispatch vessel in the Taranaki campaign of the New Zealand Wars, before being refitted to serve as the gunboat HMS Sandfly in the Hauraki Gulf and, later, Wanganui.
"While it was lost as a civilian vessel when it hit the Kawaroa reef in January 1868 it remains a significant link to the New Zealand Wars," Ms Wagstaff said. The Tasmanian Maid is being considered for Category I registration. Meanwhile, the SS Alexandra is being proposed for Category II registration.