Saturday, July 20, 2024

A jet boat in a stamp

Bill (Charles William Feilden) Hamilton revolutionised the world of jet boating from his high-country station Irishman Creek, in Te Waipounamu the South Island of New Zealand, where rivers are shallow, rocky, fast-flowing, and brutal on propellers.

In the 1950s, Hamilton and his small team pioneered the world’s first commercial waterjet. Among other things, they came up with the idea of expelling a jetstream through a steerable nozzle at a boat’s stern, above the waterline. No propeller or rudder required.

Hamilton conducted trials on the braided rivers around his farm in the Mackenzie Country, and after a few modifications and eurekas was able to plane upstream in water less than 10 cm deep, while dodging willow trees and shingle bars and frightening the fauna.

By the 1960s the Ōtautahi-based C.W.F. Hamilton & Co. engineering plant was exporting jet units the world over, and had expanded into boatbuilding. Legend has it that the business’s founder was an effective missionary. When demonstrating his products to prospective buyers out on the water Hamilton would steer straight ahead at break-neck speed, and then execute a 360-degree turn; the lose-your-lunch manoeuvre became known as ‘the Hamilton spin’.

Decades later, the New Zealand postal service celebrated the South Island farmer-cum-engineer who cracked waterjet propulsion. It issued two stamps – one in 1999, another in 2007. The gummed miniatures flew across oceans and around Aotearoa and the world, in envelopes and on planes powered by a different kind of jet propulsion.

> This article is an excerpt from the New Zealand Maritime Museum blog post A Jet Boat in a Stamp by Frances Walsh. To read the full article, visit

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