Story: Stanich, Christopher Vincent

Page 1 - Biography

Stanich, Christopher Vincent

1902–1987

Master mariner, harbourmaster, waterfront controller

This biography was written by W. A. Laxon and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 5, 2000

Christopher Vincent Cosmo Stanich Homer was born in Sydney, Australia, on 9 March 1902, the son of Ernest Matthew Homer, a grocer’s assistant, and his wife, Florence May Lillian Pritchard. After education at the North Sydney primary and boys’ high schools, he began his sea career at the age of 14 in trans-Tasman sailing ships. His first ships were the White Pine (previously the Hazel Craig ) and the New Zealand-owned Raupo. Service in the Pacific islands trader Abemama was followed by a period in the barque Shandon. After coming ashore to sit for his second-mate’s certificate, Christopher Stanich (as he was now known) returned to the Tasman in that position aboard the topsail schooner Maroro. His mate’s and master’s tickets were gained when the necessary sea time had been completed, and he was soon back in the Maroro as mate.

His first command came around 1925 when he joined Holmwood Shipping Company of Wellington as master of their ungainly four-masted schooner Holmwood in the trans-Tasman timber and coal trades. But the days of sail on the Tasman were almost at an end, and when the Holmwood was laid up in 1926 Stanich transferred to coastal steamers, initially as mate in the John ; by 1928 he was master of the Canterbury Steam Shipping Company’s Gale .

Meanwhile, on 28 March 1925, he had married Gisborne-born Janet Mary Perston at Blackheath, New South Wales; they were to have two sons and a daughter. New-found domesticity saw Stanich come ashore around 1930 as assistant harbourmaster with the Waikokopu Harbour Board, then attempting to establish a port at the neck of the Mahia Peninsula. Although much ratepayers’ money was poured in, the project was little short of a disaster, and by January 1935 he had joined the Marine Department as signalman at Westport.

In 1937 Stanich was appointed harbourmaster for the Kaipara, based at Dargaville. Although Kaipara had been one of New Zealand’s major ports in the early years of the twentieth century, it was now of lesser importance because of the decline of the native-timber industry. In 1938 he moved to Picton, a port then also under Marine Department control. The following year he settled in Auckland, the port with which he was to be identified for most of the rest of his career. In his new post, as the Marine Department’s surveyor of ships and inspector of ships’ compasses at Auckland, he was charged with ensuring that New Zealand’s most numerous fleet complied with construction and safety requirements.

In June 1940 Stanich was transferred to the new post of waterfront controller at Auckland, responsible for the efficient deployment of waterfront labour and stevedoring in support of the war effort. Having settled into that job, an unexpected twist of fate found him back at sea. The Finnish four-masted barque Pamir had been seized in prize at Wellington in August 1941 and was to be commissioned under the New Zealand flag for service across the Pacific. When her designated master suddenly resigned on the eve of her first voyage in March 1942, Stanich (as the holder of a square-rigged master’s certificate) was appointed at short notice. Despite his long training in sail he had never served in or commanded any ship as large or complex as the Pamir. However, he relished the challenge and completed two successful round voyages to San Francisco with an almost completely New Zealand crew.

A brief spell in Auckland was followed by a return to war service as master of one of the standard cargo ships built for the Park Steamship Company, owned by the Canadian government. The end of hostilities saw Stanich ashore again, this time in Vancouver, where he was marine superintendent of the Canadian–Australasian Line, a local subsidiary of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. His work included commissioning into Union service four Park steamers, which were to form the backbone of Union’s trans-Pacific service in the post-war years.

In 1946 Chris Stanich finally returned to Auckland, where his position was now branch manager of the Waterfront Industry Commission, though the task of supervising labour and stevedoring was little altered. His equanimity and sense of fair play were to serve him and his employer well through the 1951 waterfront conflict. He retired in 1967, but continued his professional life as a marine surveyor and compass adjuster for another eight years.

Stanich had many other interests. He had a long association with the Onehunga branch of the RSA, was a life member of the New Zealand Company of Master Mariners, patron of the New Zealand Pamir Association and president of the Auckland Bowling Club. He served one three-year term on the Auckland Harbour Board (1962–65) and maintained his waterfront association as deputy chairman of the Auckland and Onehunga Port conciliation committees from 1976 to 1980.

Chris Stanich died at Auckland on 18 September 1987, survived by a son and a daughter. His wife, Janet, had died in 1978. Few people had occupied so many different positions in the New Zealand maritime world and filled them with such competence.