Bill Hamilton (engineer)

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Sir William Hamilton

Charles William Feilden Hamilton

(1899-07-26)26 July 1899
Ashwick Station, Fairlie, New Zealand
Died30 March 1978(1978-03-30) (aged 78)
Fairlie, New Zealand
Other namesBill Hamilton
EducationWaihi Preparatory School
Christ's College
Parent(s)William Feilden Hamilton
Cora Blakeney (née Cannon)

Sir Charles William Feilden Hamilton OBE (26 July 1899 – 30 March 1978) was a New Zealand engineer who developed the modern jetboat, and founded the water jet manufacturing company, CWF Hamilton Ltd.

Hamilton never claimed to have invented the jet boat. He once said "I do not claim to have invented marine jet propulsion. The honour belongs to a gentleman named Archimedes, who lived some years ago." What he did was refine the design enough to produce the first useful modern jet boat.

Early life[edit]

Hamilton was born at Ashwick Station near Fairlie, New Zealand.[1]

Hamilton survived an airplane accident returning to Rongotai Airport (Wellington) in poor conditions on 19 February 1936. The collision with the anemometer mast took the starboard wing off the fastest 'plane in the country, the Miles Falcon Six he was travelling in, and pilot Malcolm "Mac" McGregor died in hospital.[2][3]

At the age of 21 he bought the 'Irishman Creek' sheep station in South Canterbury. After a trip to England became fascinated with motor cars and raced a Bentley. He decided to develop his own heavy machinery. He built a workshop, developed an excavator with an earth scoop and built a dam to supply water for a hydroelectric plant to supply power for domestic use and for his engineering projects, and started a manufacturing business.[4]

Ski tows[edit]

In 1947 tourism pioneer Harry Wigley of Mount Cook airline fame commissioned him to design and build the first tow for the Coronet Peak Ski Field near Queenstown New Zealand's first commercial skifield.[5] In 1949 he completed a similar tow at Mount Ruapehu.[6] Within a few years he had perfected the Hamilton Model B design that is still in use for nutcracker ski tows in New Zealand and Australia.[7]


The main manufacturing business, which had started in the workshop at Irishman Creek in 1939, moved to Christchurch in 1948. From there the company supplied heavy machinery, in particular to the Waitaki River hydroelectric projects.[8]

Jet boats[edit]

In the 1950s Hamilton set out to try to build a boat that could navigate the shallow fast flowing rivers where he lived. The rivers were too shallow for propeller driven boats to navigate as the propeller would hit the river bottom.

He investigated the American Hanley Hydro-Jet, a model which drew in water and fired it out through a steerable nozzle underneath the boat. Even when further adapted it did not work well. An employee suggested moving the nozzle to just above the waterline.

When he took one of his early demonstration jet boats to the United States, the media scoffed when he said he planned to take it up the Colorado River, but in 1960 three Hamilton jet boats, the Kiwi, Wee Red and Dock, became the first and only boats to travel up through the Grand Canyon.[9] The boats also went down river through the Grand Canyon to cache petrol just prior to the uprun. The Grand Canyon trip planning, logistics for 2,500 gallons of fuel, and fuel placement was coordinated by famous Grand Canyon river runner Otis "Dock" Marston.[10]

CWF Hamilton & Co Ltd[edit]

The engineering company Hamilton founded, CWF Hamilton & Co Ltd, is now the holding company for two companies, Hamilton Jet and Hamilton Marine, that are focused on the production of waterjet propulsion systems. The company has divested itself of its other engineering activities.[11]

Honours and awards[edit]

In the 1961 New Year Honours, Hamilton was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for services to engineering.[12] In the 1974 Queen's Birthday Honours, he was appointed a Knight Bachelor, for services to manufacturing.[13]

In 2004, Hamilton was posthumously inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame.[14]


  • "Wild Irishman", 1969, Lady Peggy Hamilton, (Publisher A.H. & A.W. Reed)
  • "Hamilton Jet: The biography of an icon", 2014, John Walsh, ISBN 9780473289904 (Publisher: CWF Hamilton and Co)


  1. ^ Bloxham, Les. "Hamilton, Charles William Feilden". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  2. ^ The Evening Post 20 February 1936. Pilot and Union Airways director, Squadron-Leader McGregor, dies later; only passenger, C W F Hamilton, escapes serious injury
  3. ^ King, John (1995). Aviation Accidents and Disasters. New Zealand Tragedies. Wellington: Grantham House. pp. 145–147. ISBN 1-86934-042-6.
  4. ^ "The Shed at Irishman's Creek" Archived September 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Brad Mills
  5. ^ "Ski Industry Based on Pioneer Spirit", NZ Historic Places Trust
  6. ^ "Ski runners on Mt Ruapehu" Archived 2010-11-28 at the Wayback Machine,
  7. ^ "Australian ski lift directory: 2.3 Surface lifts"
  8. ^ "Business Of The Month",
  9. ^ Film of the Colorado River trip on YouTube
  10. ^ Martin, Thomas C., (2012). "Big Water Little Boats: Moulty Fulmer and the First Grand Canyon Dory on the Last of the Wild Colorado River". Flagstaff, Arizona: Vishnu Temple Press, pg. 189, ISBN 978-0-9795055-6-0
  11. ^ "75 years of innovation". Hamilton Jet. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  12. ^ "Honours granted on the advice of New Zealand ministers". The London Gazette (3rd supplement). No. 42233. 31 December 1960. p. 8928.
  13. ^ "No. 46312". The London Gazette (3rd supplement). 15 June 1974. p. 6829.
  14. ^ "Past laureates". Business Hall of Fame. Retrieved 19 February 2023.

External links[edit]