Shaw, Savill, and Co.
At the beginning of 1858 two young men, Robert Ewart Shaw and Walter Savill, and several others left the employ of Willis, Gann and founded the firm of Shaw, Savill, and Co. Backed by the support of John Lidgett and Sons, and other shipowners whose ships they frequently chartered during the next 25 years, they entered the New Zealand trade as the Passengers' Line of Packets. Their first ship was the Chieftain, a wooden full-rigged vessel of 382 tons, which was 148 days on passage from London to Nelson. She was overtaken by the Avalanche, which went out to Auckland in 95 days. Four others followed soon afterwards. As well as numerous sailing ships, Shaw, Savill, and Co. handled three steamers during their first year of trading. They were the Lord Ashley and Lord Worsley, sister ships of 435 tons, and the 400–ton Airedale built in England for the New Zealand Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. which had secured a 10 years' contract to operate a regular service between New Zealand and Australia. These vessels, each of which carried about 100 passengers, were the first steamships to make the direct passage out from England to New Zealand, though they were most of it under sail. As agents of the Admiralty, Shaw, Savill, and Co. chartered a number of ships to carry troops and supplies out to Auckland during the Maori War of the 1860s. One of these was the iron, full-rigged, auxiliary-screw ship Robert Lowe, of 1,049 tons, which loaded a cargo of wool back to London. A similar vessel was the Sea King of 1,152 tons, which later achieved much notoriety as the Confederate States' commerce raider Shenandoah. In this guise it destroyed 37 Federal ships during the American Civil War.
At that time vast areas of the North Island and, to a lesser extent, of the South Island were covered by virgin forests; much of the country was unexplored and overland travel was difficult and dangerous. Communication between the scattered settlements of the several provinces was mainly by small sailing craft; it was often easier and quicker to travel from Dunedin and Christchurch to Auckland by way of Sydney than directly by coast. Farming was in the pioneering stage and, at the beginning of 1858, livestock numbered little more than 1,000,000 sheep and some 110,000 head of cattle. Imports were valued at nearly four times that of exports, the latter comprising mainly wool and wheat as well as small tonnages of flax, kauri gum, and whale oil. Of the 38 ships that arrived from the United Kingdom in 1857, only nine loaded return cargoes, the others having to sail in ballast to India, China, and elsewhere. The discovery of gold in Otago and Westland caused a great influx of miners and others from 1861 onward, and in the next seven years exports of gold, which occupied relatively little shipping space, totalled more than £17 million.