- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Colonial navies, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
LITTLE IS KNOWN in Australia of Amokura, being a training ship operated by the New Zealand Government from 1905 until 1921, but by her former name of HMS Sparrow she was for many years a part of the Imperial Squadron on the Australian Station. But it is as Amokura that she endeared herself a couple of generations of Kiwis.
Built in Scotland by Scotts, she was launched on 26th September 1889 as a unit of the Goldfinch class of composite gunboats. Well armed, she carried six BL 4 inch Mark V guns, backed up by two 3 pounder QFs and a pair of Nordenfelt machine guns. Displacing 805 tons, she was 160 feet (bp), a beam of 35 feet 1 inch, on a service draught of 11 feet 6 inches. Power was supplied by two return tube boilers working at 145 psi, driving a triple expansion engine of 1200 ihp. Speed with a clean bottom was about 13 knots.
After service on the Cape of Good Hope Station she eventually ended up in Australia, arriving in March 1901. She made tours to New Zealand and the Solomon Islands before paying off in Sydney on 31st March 1904. She then lay in reserve at Garden Island until 28th February 1905 when she was handed over to the New Zealand Government. She left Sydney in March that year with a small runner crew under the command of Captain Post, for delivery to Wellington.
For the next 18 months Sparrow lay idle, as all the details for conversion to training duties were ironed out. The Admiralty had laid down some very hard guidelines for the ship’s role. The full armament was to be kept on board, and no structural alterations were allowed. Eventually the Admiralty gave way and sold the ship to the New Zealand Government, but under the conditions of sale the ship had to be renamed, a complete contrast to the original proposal whereby the ship was forbidden to suffer a name change.
On 25th October 1906 a notice appeared in the New Zealand Gazette that the former HMS Sparrow had been renamed Amokura, followed by another notice on 7th January 1907 that the New Zealand steamship Amokura was to be a training ship. The trainees wore NZS Amokura on their cap ribbons, as the ship was not part of any naval force, and was under the control of the Marine Department. There was no navy department in New Zealand at that time, and until the transfer to the Marine Department, the ship had been under the watchful eyes of the army, and indeed the refit to the ship was carried out by the Submarine Mining Corps. During the refit four of the 4 inch guns were removed and transferred to coast defence batteries around the New Zealand coast. As an added bonus a steam winch was fitted to the foc’sle so that the anchor could be handled mechanically, instead of by hand as had been the case up to then.
Boys were accepted for training in the art of seamanship so that they could eventually be taken into the Royal Navy or Merchant Service. Quite a few ex-Amokura boys ended up in the RAN when it formed in 1913. Amokura was evidently a happy ship, and an Amokura Old Boys Association exists today. Discipline was on naval lines, the boys wore naval uniforms and carried naval ranks.
On entry into the ship a boy was rated as a Second Class Boy, with a pay rate of one penny per day. On reaching the dizzy heights of a First Class Boy the youngster was paid twopence a day, and after 12 months he could gain a good conduct stripe which brought his pay up another penny. Pay was kept in hand and doled out at the rate of threepence each time he went ashore, usually a Saturday afternoon. Of course the lad could lose pay by way of fines. We can assume that the Amokura boys were not overpaid and certainly learned to value their hard earned pooh. The ship took its first intake in March 1907, training began in earnest with periods at sea for practical training and time in Wellington for educational studies. At sea great use was made of sails, engines only being used as a last effort. Learning to handle the ship under sail was first class training for youngsters of fourteen years, and from all accounts they performed well under adverse conditions.