About Us

About Us 2018-04-05T04:34:53+00:00

It all started from a gramophone spring

In 1939, as the threat of war gripped Britain and Europe, young electrician Eric Webster signed the ownership papers on a property in one of Auckland’s older and less fashionable districts, Parnell.

The Early Years

The building on the corner of Gibraltar Crescent and Parnell Rise was close to the harbour and just right for the company Eric had in mind: an electrical service for shipping. He was 31 at the time, and had served as an electrician with the Auckland Harbour Board carrying out maintenance and repairs on the port’s wharves and cranes. The work had been steady and enjoyable, and opened his eyes to opportunity. Eric registered his new business under the name of G E Webster.

Almost at once, Eric was called on to carry out an urgent repair – though it was a far cry from the work he had been expecting. G E Webster’s very first job was to repair a gramophone spring!

War broke out, and Eric began working in earnest on the type of marine electrical work he excelled at. G E Webster was no longer a one-man-band, and provided electrical services to merchant and naval shipping performing anything from a full refit to routine maintenance, including motor rewinding. The sophisticated vessels of the US Navy at times needed brand-new and top-secret apparatus installed: the type of challenge Eric and his 20-plus man crew loved.

Through his work on cargo-handling equipment, Eric had developed an interest in ‘passenger elevator’ maintenance and installation work. Soon conversant in all engineering aspects, he became responsible for overseeing lift installations in many Auckland buildings including the University library, Prince’s Wharf passenger terminal, Dilworth Buildings, Auckland and Green Lane hospitals, Heard’s Parnell candy factory, several of which are still in service to this day.

Further afield, the company installed a lift in the extraordinary surroundings of the big new Maraetai Hydro Dam on the Waikato River.

It was the 1950s, and a time of great optimism for New Zealand. Eric shifted his sights to a project that seemed too great to miss: the wiring of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The massive job of building the road link between urban Auckland and its sparsely populated North Shore began during the fifties and the bridge opened in 1959, fully wired by G E Webster Ltd.

Our custom-built marine generators are now well used by major shipping companies, including MSC, NYK, Hamburg Sud and MOL Shipping Lines.

The Rise of Refrigerated Containers

During the 1960s, Eric made a ten per cent shareholding in G E Webster Ltd to each of two long-serving staff members Murrae Henderson and Ian Gillott. When Eric retired in 1971, the pair took over the running of the company. Murrae had joined Eric in 1942 and Ian in 1944, and both shared his deep-rooted, traditional values; G E Webster might have grown since the war years, but its operating ethics were unchanged where quality was paramount and Kiwi ingenuity was at its very best.

The 1960s also was a period when United States Antarctic Research ships regularly visited New Zealand and on three successive bi-annual surveys the research ship ‘Eltanin’ stayed over in Auckland for major electrical maintenance work. This included installations of highly sophisticated scientific processing equipment, all carried out by Websters under the watchful supervision of US scientists.

In the late 1960s / early ‘70s, a major transformation began throughout international shipping with the introduction of containerised cargo handling. The brisk expansion of refrigerated container fleets brought a demand for new and highly specialised electrical skills.

Websters had seen this coming and made it their business to become proficient in this new area and were soon carrying out maintenance and repair work on the ‘reefer containers’ of America’s influential Pacific Far East Line. Before long, other international lines were handing their ‘reefer container’ work to G E Webster Ltd.

Proliferation of the refrigerated container trade soon found many ships unable to meet the demand for additional electricity from their own generators; thus a unique new field of endeavour was perceived by Websters to explore.

Suitably sized generators for sea-going duties were not easily available in those days, so two redundant containerised generators were ordered from United Arab Emirates for rebuild, as a start for Webster’s new venture.

The Government owned Shipping Corporation of New Zealand (SCNZ) soon became a major user of G.E. Webster’s sea-going diesel generator sets. As the demand for them increased, the company began to hire additional units from Auckland Generator Hire. In year 1990 the two companies combined their fleets as AGH Webster Ltd.

G.E. Webster Ltd thus entered into a period of serious upskilling and enhancement of gen-set design and build standards. Today its fleet offers more than 90 generators in total, 40 of which are especially adapted for use on rail, with a significant number particularly built to marine specifications for use by shipping lines from around the world.

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Into the New Millenium

By 1998, AGH Webster had long since outgrown its old buildings in Parnell, so relocated to Woodside Avenue in Northcote, where it remains so to this day.

Eric had passed away in November 1982 leaving Tom, who became managing director of the company in 1990, to carry on in the same traditional style his father had set. Now known as The Webster Group, it is barely recognisable as the modest Parnell establishment whose proprietor mended a gramophone spring for a distraught customer, but its way of conducting business is unchanged.

Of the several companies that provided marine electrical services at the Port of Auckland during World War II, Websters stand proud as the sole original survivor from that period.

Over 100 successful apprentices have passed through our hands since 1938, and we are proud of our contribution to the local community and the future of our industry as a whole.

Most of our innovations and designs have stemmed from client requests for a more customised machine. What follows is a project to maybe modify an existing machine or incorporate the idea into a new build.

Sometimes it’s an in-house maintenance issue where a better design can extend the life of a machine.

Sometimes it is just a flash of inspiration.

An example of this approach was the search for cooler air for the radiator fans of our marine generator sets. These big units sit in a tight stack of refrigerated containers with each container blowing out 20 – 40°C air from its condenser fan. The surrounding air is thus preheated before our engine gets to breathe it in, which would normally down rate an engine and thus make the whole set up more costly.

During a sea passage from Auckland to Mexico one of our technical staff had reason to search for a dropped spanner. Lying down at deck level he suddenly realised the tropical air from ahead of the ship was blowing under the refrigerated containers and with each pass under successive containers it became cooler. This was the inspiration for us reverting to standard height containers for our new builds and, by adding additional corner-blocks on, we could then suck cool air from the underside of all the surrounding containers.

These modified boxes were still within the standard I.S.O. maximum of 9 foot high yet we could now utilise this otherwise wasted cool air even with deck temperatures in the high 30s.

Our custom-built marine generators are now well used by major shipping companies, including MSC, NYK, Hamburg Sud and MOL Shipping Lines.

Our more recent Mark III version contains a much larger horsepower generator in the same space saving marine I.S.O. container configuration but that meet the requirements put to us by land-based Power Authorities and Power reticulation fault repair crews.

Over 100 successful apprentices have passed through our hands since 1938, and we are proud of our contribution to the local community and the future of our industry as a whole.