Northern Steamship Company Building

Northern Steamship Company Northern Steamship Company Northern Steamship Company Northern Steamship Company

Northern Steamship Company Building, Auckland (1899)

The shipping line for ‘the roadless North’

Two things gave Auckland’s port special character: scows and the Northern Steamship Company. Dunedin’s mighty Union Steam Ship Company may have monopolised the coast, but this northern minnow managed to keep its independence. With a few notable exceptions such as the paddle steamer Wakatere and the later Ngapuhi, its ships were small and elderly, but they called anywhere, taking passengers and cargo to and from the ‘roadless North’. In 1898 Northern’s dynamic managing director Charles Ranson hired Arthur Wilson to complete the design of this prestigious office, which opened in May 1899. The building grew with the company, gaining a third storey and its distinctive triangular pediment about 1920.

Northern made an ambitious entry into the long-distance coastal trade during the 1950s, but ran out of steam 20 years later and sold its fleet in 1974-75.

Today displays at the maritime museum honour the old company’s memory. Its brick neo-classical building still looks across the Quay Street traffic to the old Northern Company Wharf (now Marsden Wharf), where the company’s coasters with their distinctive white funnels once rode the tides.

Related place

This part of Quay Street was the company’s patch. In the early 1900s the Northern and Union companies pooled their Auckland resources to form the United Repairing Co. Ltd. Wade & Goldsbro’ are believed to have designed the near new building at 116-118 Quay Street (until recently the Union Fish Co. Seafood Restaurant) that United took over in 1912. Though the pediment details have been rather rudely scalped from the facade, this solid brick building is another link to Auckland’s maritime past.

Further information

This site is item number 72 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.



  • Cliff Furniss, Servants of the north, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1977

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