By John O'Hare
George Low’s boat wasn’t built for speed – it was built more for stability according to his own exacting specifications. It also enjoyed a pride of place that many might find somewhat unusual.
The youngest son of George and Maude Low – who lived in the historic Fyffe House in Kaikōura – used to keep his boat in the parlour of the house. Today Fyffe House is cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.
“George’s mother Maude would have shook her head in disbelief I’m sure,” says Fyffe House Property Lead Ann McCaw.
“George was an eccentric recluse and a bachelor, so for him storing his boat – his most prized possession – in the best room after he retired from fishing made perfect sense.”
The boat itself is still carefully stored – these days you’ll find it sensibly tucked behind the pink shed of Fyffe House and available for visitors to have a look at.
“The boat is believed to have been built by Ernie Lane of Picton in 1935, and was one of a new style which – instead of being long and narrow for ease of rowring – were wide and stable allowing a full range of fishing activities,” says Ann.
“As a ‘broad of beam’ boat it provided a stable fishing craft that allowed George to pull up his nets, fishing lines and craypots.”
According to Ann, the boat harks back to a time when fishing was undertaken by many men in small boats supporting their families. Today large fishing companies with a few large boats ply their trade in local waters. George’s small but extremely well built dinghy reflects changes in human perception and economics.
“This humble boat is representative of the broader story of human interaction with the sea and local settlement – ranging from the waka who brought the first ancestors of today’s mana whenua into this area over 800 years ago – to the first Europeans with their sailing ships and whaling boats,” she says.
“It also reflects fishing and farming history – both of which relied on boats for travel; and looks forward to today where sea and sea-based activities, commercial and recreational, are so important to our coastal community. George’s little boat is not as simple as it may look – it speaks of much bigger things.”
Above all else, the boat represented livelihood – particularly for fishing families like the Lows for whom times could be tough. Hard work and initiative countered any lack with the cultivation of land around the house and the raising of a few sheep and cows – supplemented by their catch.
According to local boatbuilder and outfitter Gordon O’Callahan, the methods used to construct George’s boat required a good knowledge of wood and its properties. As well as these, basic wood working such as steaming were also employed to curve timber.
“We’re very proud of George’s boat. Besides being a thing of functional beauty it reflects change in a community and craftsmanship from a bygone era,” says Ann.
“The fact that we know the history of who owned it, used it, and built it increases its heritage value and its ability to reflect change nationally as well as locally.”
Become a Time Traveller – visit Fyffe House. See www.visitheritage.co.nz/visit/upper-south-island/fyffe-house/ for more information.