Company Cronology

Johnson's Family History


George S. Johnson

George S. Johnson sails into the Pelorus Sound as First Mate on the schooner "Prince Alfred" and by the 1890’s George and family have settled to farming and bush clearing in the Pelorus Sound, first in South East Bay and then North West Bay and Mahau Sound.


June 18th

June 18th saw the launching of the Mahau built by Eric Johnson in Mahau Sound. This boat marked the beginning of his commercial launch business.

White pine used in her construction came from Brownlee’s mill at Blackball, just outside Havelock.


Inner Sounds mail run

Other launches were purchase and used at various intervals and include the ‘Mahoe’ (previously named Minaroo), ‘La Rola’, ‘Alma’, ‘Iris’ and the first barge.

By 1924 Eric Johnson had the mail contract for the inner Sounds mail run
which happened twice a week – this contract was worth £225 per year.


Eric and Dorothy

Eric and Dorothy married in Blenheim on 10th October. The launch business is now firmly established in Havelock.



‘Rata’ was built by Eric and his brother Frank in Havelock.

White pine for her construction was cut in Nydia Bay by the Wells family.



‘Kowhai’ was built by Lane in Picton in 1941. Barge No. 2 was purchased from Musgrove’s in Blenheim.

In 1941, Eric Johnson added the Outer Sounds mail run to his contract. This was also twice a week and went out as far as Titirangi. This part of the contract was worth £643 per year and the price for the inner sounds contract had increased to £246 by this time.



The launch ‘Tanekaha’ was built in Nelson and launched in July 1951. This marked the expansion of the business.

Part of her hull was built of Matai recovered from the Pelorus River. Allan and brother Kerry Johnson cut a Beech tree in Kaiuma to use as ribs & floorboards for ‘Tanekaha’.

Barge No: 3, ‘Miro’, was built by the family on the beach in Havelock. The family then also built the launch ‘Maire’ and the ‘Kamahi’ was built in Nelson and launched in 1959.



Expansion of the family business continued with the launch ‘Ratanui’ built in Nelson in 1960, followed by the ‘Kanona’ built by the family in Havelock. This was followed by the final launch ‘Tawhai’, designed by Eric Johnson and built in Nelson in 1966.

The ‘Tawhai’ is still in use by Peter Johnson today as a towing vessel.


‘Johnson’s Barge Service Ltd’

The mail contracts and the vessels ‘Kamahi’, ‘Kanona’ and ‘Ratanui’ were sold in the early 70’s, seeing the end of an era for the Johnson family.

Sonny Johnson continued boat building and repair at Johnson’s Boatyard and Dorothy (nee Johnson) and Bruce McManaway fished commercially with the ‘Tanekaha’.

Allan and Val Johnson carried on the barging side of the business with the ‘Tawhai’ and barge ‘Miro’, later adding barge ‘Vesper’.

In 1977 Allan, Val and son Peter formed a new company called Johnson’s Barge Service Ltd.



Johnson’s Barge Service bought a steel barge, renamed it ‘Matipo’ and set it up for carting stock and general freight with a hydraulically operated loading ramp. Matipo was capable of carrying 100 ton of freight or 850 lambs.

A few years later other barges were added to a growing fleet – barges ‘Tiri’, ‘Kaiwaka’ and ‘Onewaka’ all serving to increase the range of work able to be done by the company. This work included harvesting of mussels in the early days of the industry and the barging of logs rather than rafting them.



This decade saw the business go through a trasition as work patterns shifted from mainly agriculture based service to a more aquaculture based one. The ‘Tiri’, ‘Onewaka’ and ‘Vesper’ were sold and an Australian cray boat named ‘Charolin’ was purchased from Fremantle for the purpose of carting large bins of harvested salmon at a reasonable speed.

Towards the end of the 90’s the barge ‘Matipo’ was nearing the end of her useful life and plans were drawn up for the family’s first motorised barge. The ‘Charolin’ was sold to help fund this new build.



March 2000 saw motorised barge ‘Pukatea’ launched in Picton. This was the first new build for the family since 1966 and the first motorised barge. Her purpose was, and still is, for stock and general freight. ‘Matipo’ was cut up for scrap in 2002.

In 2003 another new dumb barge, ‘Hinau’, was built primarily for barging logs from the maturing forests in the Pelorus Sound.

2006 saw the business move to a new yard with workshop and office in the south eastern corner of the Havelock marina. We are still located there today.



The dumb barge ‘Hinau’ was built by Titan Marine in Auckland for the business, to fill the need for a dedicated log barge in the Pelorus Sound. Capable of carrying 200 ton it is the ideal size for coming in and out of Havelock’s tidal channel.



The vessel ‘Mahoe’ was purchased from Svitzer in Dampier, Western Australia. After undergoing extensive maintenance and modifications in Havelock she began a contract to harvest all of NZ King Salmon Co’s fish from their Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds seafarms.



The company’s old dumb barge ‘Kaiwaka’ underwent extensive maintenance and repainting to become a feed storage vessel for NZ King Salmon, at their Kopaua Bay seafarm in the Pelorus Sound. The Kaiwaka has since been purchased by NZ King Salmon and remains a hand feed barge.



Our newest addition‘ Titoki’ is small but powerful which means that she can fill in for any of the other vessels when workloads are heavy, small enough to manoeuvre around bays servicing moorings and delivering goods, but capable of towing the‘ Hinau’ loaded with logs or anything else that needs towing .

She was purchased in Brisbane in Dec 2016 and then loaded onto a ship and brought to Tauranga in Jan/Feb 2017. From there she was brought down to Havelock under her own steam and we spent the next 12 months altering her and building a ramp to add to her bow, winches for lifting moorings, a towing post on the stern for towing barges, fish cages etc. Then she was added to the fleet in Feb 2018 and has been busy ever since.