At Dunbar Wharf in Picton is the timber hull of the Edwin Fox, one of the world's oldest surviving ships. The hull is all that remains of the fully rigged sailing ship designed in England and built at Calcutta, India, in 1853. Built to the pattern of a series of ships commissioned by the East India Company, only the hull and remnants of the lower deck of the Edwin Fox remain. The main deck has been completely destroyed.
Constructed from high-quality teak, the hull of the vessel is based around a keel that runs the full length of the ship. Its timber frame is strengthened by hand forged iron braces ('knees') and two 'sister' keelsons that lie on either side of the central keel. Remnants of two of the ship's original three masts remain. The anchor windlass, originally located in the bow of the ship, has survived. It is currently displayed at the rear of the museum adjacent to the Edwin Fox.
The ship travelled on her maiden voyage from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to London carrying a cargo of tea. Following classification in London recorded in Lloyd's Shipping Register, the Edwin Fox was purchased by ship-owner Duncan Dunbar. She was immediately chartered to the British Government, to carry stores and troops during the Crimean War, making Dunbar a net profit of £8000. After serving three years as a cargo ship the Edwin Fox was commissioned by the British Government to deport convicts to Fremantle in Western Australia. Deporting convicts 'not so much for their own good, but for their country's health', the ship made five journeys to Australia until Dunbar's death in 1862.
Under new ownership, the Edwin Fox reverted to use as a cargo ship until 1873 when she was charted by the England-based trading company Shaw, Savill and Co. to carry immigrants to New Zealand. On her first voyage the ship ran into a gale just outside the English Channel. The ship's doctor was impaled on a metal spike and killed, and the passengers were forced to operate the pumps as the crew was incapacitated by alcohol. Towed to safety by the American steamer Copernicus, the ship was repaired and arrived safely in New Zealand after a 114 day voyage. The Edwin Fox made three further trips to New Zealand carrying up to 240 immigrants at a time. The cramped conditions and poor food made the voyages hazardous and a number of passengers died during the long journeys.
When the rise of the fast steam ship and a world wide depression in the 1880s caused a slackening in demand for immigrant sailing ships, the Edwin Fox was converted into a refrigerated storage ship in 1885. Pioneered by the Shaw, Savill and Co. in 1882, the use of refrigeration ships transformed the New Zealand economy by making it possible to transport fresh meat and dairy products to European markets. The Edwin Fox catered to meat works in the South Island of New Zealand until 1897 when she was transferred to Picton. The 44 year-old ship was securely anchored and used as accommodation by meat work employees and a standby crew. From 1905 until the mid-1950s the vessel served as a coal hulk, and became increasingly dilapidated.
In 1965 the newly formed Edwin Fox Restoration Society purchased the remains of the ship for one shilling. In 1967 she was moved to Shakespeare Bay where she remained for 20 years, a target for vandals and scavengers. It was not until 1986 that a more permanent site was found and the restoration and maintenance of the vessel could commence.
The Edwin Fox has national and international significance as one of the oldest ships remaining in the world. The vessel has immense historic value for her involvement in events that shaped the history of England, Australia and New Zealand. The Edwin Fox is the last remaining wooden ship that took part in the Crimean War. It is the most intact remaining ship that carried convicts to Australia and immigrant settlers to New Zealand. It serves as a symbol of European colonisation and the establishment of European settlements in New Zealand. The Edwin Fox has considerable technological importance as it embodies the techniques used for over 300 years to construct wooden sailing ships. A unique example of mid-nineteenth-century wooden sailing ship construction, the vessel is an important resource for increasing understanding on ship building techniques of the period. As a rare remaining example of a once common form of ship, the Edwin Fox has great educational value that is enhanced by the construction of an interpretive museum adjacent to the hull. The Edwin Fox is held in high esteem both nationally and internationally and the historic vessel attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Historical Significance or Value
Historical / Cultural / Social Significance
The Edwin Fox has a long history associated with a number of important events, shipping companies and New Zealand firms. She has been involved in the Crimean War and in bringing convicts to Australia. She has played an important part in the European settlement and development of New Zealand. She has also contributed to the shipping and trade industry of this country, particularly in the development of the frozen meat export trade.
The Edwin Fox provides evidence of techniques used for 300 years in the construction of sailing ships. She is a very rare, remaining example of mid-nineteenth-century wooden sailing ship construction and much knowledge can be gained regarding ship building techniques of the period.
Section 23(2) of the Historic Places Act 1993
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Edwin Fox has played an important part in the European settlement and development of New Zealand. Ships such as this one have been called the 'Mayflowers of New Zealand' because they carried early European settlers to her shores.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Edwin Fox was built in 1853 and is one of the world's oldest surviving ships. Used for a variety of purposes throughout her lifetime, the Edwin Fox has been associated with many historical persons and events. She has been contracted by the British Government for the purpose of carrying troops in the Crimean War, and has taken convicts to Australia and brought immigrants to New Zealand. She also has a significant association with the frozen meat trade, a trade which made an important contribution to the prosperity of New Zealand.
Duncan Dunbar is perhaps her most well-known owner who, while owner of the Edwin Fox, possessed the largest sailing fleet in the world consisting of seventy vessels. Of his fleet, the Edwin Fox is the sole survivor. Designed to a pattern of a series of ships by the East India Company, she sailed under the Shaw, Savill and Co. carrying cargo and migrants. The company later converted her to a floating freezer. Once converted, she had associations with the New Zealand Refrigerating Company and various New Zealand freezing works companies.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
The ship provides a focal point and an opportunity to explore the history of European settlement and the historical importance of refrigerated shipping trade in the New Zealand economy. Being part of a museum complex greatly enhances the potential for the Edwin Fox to provide exceptional learning opportunities relating to key themes in the history of New Zealand.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place
The Edwin Fox has a strong community association as shown by the level of support the Edwin Fox Restoration Society received in their fundraising efforts (raising over $850,000 towards preservation costs). The ship is held in great esteem internationally, as illustrated by the ship's recognition by the World Ship Trust, who list the Edwin Fox on their international Register of Historic Ships.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The ship has outstanding potential for public education. The Edwin Fox Restoration Society has built the Edwin Fox Maritime Centre, adjacent to the dry dock containing the Edwin Fox, which houses exhibits relating to the history of the ship (including themes of sentencing for crimes in the mid 1800s, immigration, European settlement and merchant trade). Since 1987 the ship has been open to the public 363 days a year and is now combined with the purpose built Maritime Centre. It is estimated that annually there are between 50,000 - 55,000 independent visitors and between 3,000-5,000 school children and tour group members through the centre. Visitors to the museum are able to climb into the ship and view its structure.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The Edwin Fox provides evidence of techniques used for over 300 years to construct wooden sailing ships. She is a very rare example of mid-nineteenth-century wooden sailing ship construction and much knowledge can be gained from her regarding ship building techniques of the period. These include the use of timber frames and planking, joints and fastenings and the Muntz metal sheathing. Wooden shipbuilding was superseded within a few years of the Edwin Fox by new iron technology.
The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
The Edwin Fox has exceptional value as a symbol of European colonisation and the establishment of European settlements in New Zealand
(h) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
The Edwin Fox is one of the oldest ships in the world. There are no other ships like the Edwin Fox in New Zealand and she is the most intact wooden ship that brought early European settlers to this land and convicts to Australia. She is also the last remaining wooden ship that took part in the Crimean War.
(i) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The final resting place of the ship on Dunbar Wharf in a dry dock is an appropriate context for the ship. Being associated with the Port of Picton and adjacent to the ferry terminal, the location of the Edwin Fox is enhanced by the shipping and port activities.
The western style, wooden sailing ship gave Europe access to the world, converting the seas into highways and the globe into a world-wide economic and maritime system. The Edwin Fox, in Picton, is one of the last examples of these early vessels. Built to a design commissioned for the East India Company in Calcutta, India, in 1853, the ship was owned by J. Reeves, for whom she embarked on her maiden voyage from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to London carrying a cargo of tea. Following classification in London by Lloyd's Shipping Register, the Edwin Fox was immediately put up for auction.
Following fierce competition for the high-quality teak ship, the Edwin Fox was finally purchased by ship-owner Duncan Dunbar, who silenced his opponents with a then record bid for the vessel. Dunbar immediately chartered the Edwin Fox to the British Government, for use as a transport ship in the Crimean War. She made her first journey in this capacity in 1854, transporting 15 officers and 481 French troops to Aland Island where they formed part of a force of 10,000 troops who attacked and captured the Russian fortress of Bomarsund. The Edwin Fox continued to carry troops and stores for Britain until the fall of Sebastapol brought the Crimean War to an end in 1855. Profits from these voyages both recovered the original purchase price and brought Dunbar a net gain of £8000.
The Edwin Fox made voyages to East India under the Dunbar House flag until 1858 when she was again commissioned by the British Government, this time to deport convicts to Fremantle in Western Australia. Deported 'not so much for their own good, but for their country's health', the 280 men were convicted of crimes that ranged from theft, burglary and forgery to being habitually drunk. The convicts were imprisoned in the lower deck of the ship and special security measures were set in place to prevent them from taking control of the ship during its 89 day voyage. The ship made five journeys to Australia until Dunbar's death in 1862 caused her to be sold to the London-based company Gallaty, Hankey & Co.
Under her new management, the Edwin Fox reverted to her original use as a cargo ship. To decrease maintenance requirements and crew numbers, the ship was converted into a barque in 1867. Two years later, in 1869, the ship was almost lost during a storm near Madras on India's East Coast. She was only able to be refloated after her entire cargo, which included 446 hogsheads of beer, was jettisoned.
In 1873, when the Edwin Fox was 20 years old, she was charted by the England-based trading company Shaw, Savill and Co. to carry immigrants to New Zealand. Immigration to New Zealand increased markedly in the 1870s following the introduction of assisted passages under New Zealand's Public Works and Immigration Act 1870. Between 1871 and 1873, immigrant numbers rose by 96 per cent, from just 303 persons per year to 8754.
The Edwin Fox embarked on her first voyage to New Zealand in 1873. Passengers were segregated by class, marital status and gender. Upper class and full fare paying passengers were accommodated in the poop deck while assisted passengers were crammed into the lower deck of the ship. Just outside of the English Channel the ship was caught in a heavy gale and sprang a leak. The crew, who had consumed alcohol from the cargo hold, were unfit for duty and the passengers had to operate the pumps to keep the ship afloat. Before the vessel was rescued by the American steamer Copernicus, the ship's doctor was killed, impaled on a metal rod. After six weeks of repairs and a new crew, the ship again set sail for New Zealand, arriving 114 days later. During the journey the cramped, unhealthy conditions aggravated an outbreak of Scarlatina Fever, which caused the death of four adults and prevented the ship from berthing in Lyttleton Harbour for ten days after its arrival. Despite raised concerns about the use of wooden sailing ships after the tragic sinking of the Cospatrick in 1874, the Edwin Fox made three further journeys to New Zealand between 1873 and 1880, carrying between 109 and 244 passengers each time.
When the rise of the fast steam ship and a world wide depression in the 1880s caused a slackening in demand for immigrant sailing ships, the Edwin Fox was given a new lease of life by the development of refrigeration. In 1882, Shaw, Savill and Co. formed the Shaw Savill and Albion Co. and became pioneers in the use of refrigerated ships to transport frozen meat from New Zealand to England. Refrigerated ships transformed New Zealand's economy by making it possible to transport fresh meat and dairy products to European markets. The Edwin Fox was purchased by the company in 1885 and converted into a freezing hulk. She was fitted with the most modern Bell and Coleman dry air refrigeration equipment available for the purposes of 'freezing meat, fish and other perishable food on land or sea'. Moored near Sawyers' Bay abattoirs in Port Chalmers, the vessel could freeze up to 400 sheep per day and carry up to 14,000 carcasses at a time. The refrigeration facilities in the Edwin Fox were used by a number of abattoirs in the South Island.
In 1897, at 44 years of age, she came to rest in Picton. Her aging refrigeration equipment was removed in 1900 and the securely anchored Edwin Fox was used as living quarters for the meat works employees and a standby crew until it was condemned by the Health Department in 1903. Two years later she was converted into a landing stage and used as a coal hulk. Ballasted down, a large hole was cut into the port side of the ship to accommodate the tramway used to transport coal from her hold. The Edwin Fox became dilapidated and derelict.
In 1964 a resident of Picton, Norman Brayshaw, began a long battle to save and restore the Edwin Fox. The Edwin Fox Restoration Society was incorporated the following year and purchased the remains of the ship for one shilling. The restoration project was hindered by the lack of a site to moor the ship and considerable controversy over its possible location on the foreshore ensued. Interested groups in Auckland, Wellington and Australia raised the possibility of restoring the ship but it was concluded that a long sea-journey would result in irreparable damage to the Edwin Fox. In 1967 she was moved to Shakespeare Bay where she remained for 20 years, a target for vandals and scavengers. In 1986 the Marlborough District Council agreed that the ship could have a permanent mooring on the northern side of the launching ramp basin near the inter-island ferry terminal. Now safely stored in a dry dock and covered with a protective roof the Edwin Fox is carefully maintained. Recognised as the ninth oldest ship in the world by the World Ship Trust, the Edwin Fox is a tangible reminder of the importance of the wooden sailing ship in the development of Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The Edwin Fox Hull rests in a dry dock at Dunbar Wharf, Picton. Covered over with a protective roof, the hull is all that remains of the fully rigged sailing ship designed in England and built at Sulkeah, Bengal Province in 1853. The hull consists of the cargo hold and the remnants of the lower deck of the original ship.
The Edwin Fox was built to the pattern of a series of ships commissioned by the East India Company. The fully rigged sailing ship originally had three masts and a full set of square rigged sails, triangular jibs and staysails. The ship's registered tonnage in London in 1854 was 891 ¾ tons. It is almost 40 metres long (144 feet). At its widest point the vessel is just over 9 metres wide (30 feet).
The ship's hold, which remains in tact, was used to carry cargo when required. Above the hold the Edwin Fox originally had two decks. The 'lower deck', part of which still remains, was used to store cargo. In later journeys, when the Edwin Fox carried passengers, this deck was converted to accommodate assisted immigrants and convicts. Above the lower deck was the main deck, now completely destroyed. The main deck provided accommodation for the ship's officers and full fare passengers. The forecastle was located at the forward end of the main deck. When complete with the cargo hold, the lower, and the upper decks, the vessel measured just over 7 metres high (23 feet, 6 inches).
The hull of the Edwin Fox is constructed primarily from high-quality teak and saul. The timber frame of the ship spans out from the keel, which acts as the backbone to the vessel. Two 'sister' keelsons flank the central keel and add strength to the hull. Rising from mast steps, placed on the central keelson, are the remnants of two of the original masts. Made from Oregon or Baltic pine, the masts are approximately 600 millimetres in diameter (2 feet) and lean on an angle originally designed to resist strain from the sails. The timber frames of the ship, known as 'futtocks', are cut to varying lengths which alter according to their location in the curved hull. The frames are strengthened by a series of iron bands placed both vertically and horizontally along the length of the ship. These bands, known as 'knees', are made from a metal that is 94 per cent pure iron. Timber planks, steamed in ovens to increase their flexibility, are attached to the frames with both metal and wooden nails. The planking is fixed horizontally. Arranged in carvel fashion, the planks butt edge to edge and do not overlap.
Below the original waterline on the outside of the hull, the planks are covered in tarred felt made from horsehair. Covering the felt are rectangular sheets of Muntz metal, which are attached to the hull with copper nails. Beaten to the shape of the hull with wooden hammers, the sheets were designed to protect the vessel from the voracious Teredo worm, which is capable of doing sufficient damage to sink a wooden sailing vessel. The metal, which consists of three parts copper to two parts zinc, is also effective in preventing marine growth developing on the hull. The once bright copper sheets have now turned green with age.
Above the cargo hold of the Edwin Fox are the remnants of the ship's lower deck. While new decking has been laid for safety reasons and improve access over one quarter of the deck, the original beams can still be seen in the remaining part of the deck. The deck beams rest on horizontal beams that are fixed to the timber sides of the ship. Further support is provided by three rows of pitch pine posts. The central row rises from the central keelson in the cargo hold while the two outer rows are fixed into the timber frame of the ship. The deck was originally covered with planks, which were sealed in tar and gaps between the planks were filled with oakum, or hemp that was soaked in tar.
There is little remaining of the original equipment that was carried on the deck. The main remnant is the anchor windlass, which lies outside of the museum built adjacent to the hull of the Edwin Fox. The windlass was used to hoist the anchor and was originally located in the bow of the main deck of the ship. Made of iron, the windlass is modelled on a plan invented by Messrs Oglive and Douglas in 1821. Other, smaller remnants of the ship's equipment are stored in the museum.
The Muntz metal sheeting on the exterior of the hull
The iron bracing in the interior of the hull
Removal of ship figurehead; removal of ship's original quarter galleries; temporary alterations to accommodate passengers
Additional rider keelson added, diagonal planking and Muntz metal sheeting added up to water line
Ship converted into a barque - cross-jack yard removed
Decks cleared, masts reduced, rigging removed
Large boilers erected on deck, dry-air refrigeration equipment installed
Converted into a landing vessel, internal partitions removed, hole cut in side, tramway installed
Poop deck and forecastle removed
1986 - 1998
New decking at lower deck level; railways/walkway/staircase added, gates installed at entry point
1885 - 1905
Ship's wheel removed
1967 - 1986
vessel vandalised, beams from main deck stolen, weathering damage
1986 - 1998
Water system incorporated to prevent hull from drying out
Protective roof erected over hull
The keel, keelsons, frame and planking are made of teak. Iron bracing provides vertical and horizontal support to the frame. The exterior of the hull is covered in tar-soaked felt overlaid with rectangular plates of Muntz metal.
The sailing ship was built to a design commonly used on ships commissioned by the East India Company.
28th May 2003
Report Written By
Rebecca O'Brien (Significance Assessment by Nicola Jackson)
C. Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Sydney, 1974
H. Brett, White Wings, Christchurch, 1924
N. Brouwer, 'International Register of Historic Ships', Shropshire, 1993
J. Critchell and T. Raymond, A History of the Frozen Meat Trade, London, 1912 (2nd edition)
Edwin Fox, 1987
Edwin Fox Restoration Society Inc, The Story of the Edwin Fox, Picton, 1987
Gavin McLean, Captain's Log: New Zealand's Maritime History, Auckland, 2001
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office.
Signal Letters: J. D. M. N
Official Number: 4673
Included on World Ship Trust's International Register of Historic Ships
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.