The Edwin Fox
Click image to enlarge
The Edwin Fox is a vessel of great cultural and historical value to New Zealand and, more specifically, Nelson. Built in Sulkea in the Ganges region of India in 1853 by shipbuilder Thomas Reeves, it has served as a troop transport, an immigrant ship, and a cargo ship. It now rests in Picton, where it is undergoing restoration work.
For the first few months of its life, the ship was an East Indiaman, sailing for the East India Company, but it was soon to be chartered to the British Government. The Crimean War had broken out in October 1853 and the Edwin Fox’s first mission was to transport 496 troops of the 51st French Regiment to the Baltic Sea. The Edwin Fox was deployed as a transport vessel by the British between England, the Crimea and Malta until 1855, when it was purchased by Duncan Dunbar and refitted to carry civilian passengers and cargo. Her first voyage as a trade ship was made on February 14, 1856 to the Southern Ocean from London, carrying cargo and five passengers, operating not very successfully as a trader. Between 1856 and 1858 the ship was engaged in the slave trade, transporting Chinese coolies to Cuba.
In 1858, she was once again chartered to the British Government, this time transporting convicts from England to Western Australia. Between 1858 and 1872 she made numerous trips between England and the East carrying mixed cargoes, including rice, coffee, cotton, cinnamon and general cargo, and in 1861 and then between 1865 and 1868 she made five voyages carrying troops between England and Bombay. During this time, her ownership changed on several occasions and, in 1867, she was converted to a barque - slower than a sailing ship, but requiring fewer crew. Her last voyage as an Anglo-Indian trader was in 1872, following a particularly disastrous voyage back to England the year before, which culminated in a collision in the Channel.
Click image to enlarge
In 1873 the Edwin Fox became an immigrant ship. She was chartered to the Shaw Savill & Company to carry immigrants from England to New Zealand as part of the assisted migration scheme started by New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Julius Vogel. She made four voyages between 1873 and 1876, carrying a total of 751 passengers. These voyages weren’t without turmoil. During the first voyage to Lyttelton, she hit a gale that badly damaged her and the ship’s doctor was killed after being impaled on metal while drifting on to rocks. Her last two voyages to New Zealand, in 1878 to Nelson and in 1880 to Lyttelton, were plagued by similar problems, but she delivered all her passengers safely to New Zealand shores.
During the 1880s the steamship was rapidly making the sail ship obsolete. This was not the case, however, for the Edwin Fox. The mutton industry was booming in New Zealand and there was a shortage of refrigerated storage for the mutton before it was exported. The Edwin Fox was refitted in London with refrigeration equipment to store mutton carcasses on board while awaiting transport. She made her last journey between England and New Zealand in June 1885 when she arrived in Dunedin. She was then towed to Picton on 12 January 1897, where she continued to serve as a refrigerator hold until 1900 when the Picton Freezing Works were built. When her refrigeration equipment was found to be beyond repair it was removed and she was given to Picton Freezing Works in return for a meat-carrying contract to England.
In 1905 she became a landing platform and coal hulk. In May 1965 Norman Brayshaw founded the Edwin Fox Restoration Society, and purchased the Edwin Fox for one shilling. The Edwin Fox was moved to Shakespeare Bay where she lay unattended for 19 years until being pumped out and refloated; alas with the loss of many artefacts. Various groups made efforts to move the Edwin Fox from Picton to other parts of the country, but the cost was prohibitive.
On December 4 1986, as the Edwin Fox was towed into Picton Harbour; the Inter-Island ferry, the Arahura, came into view. Marlborough maritime law states that all shipping must give way to the ferries, but on this historic occasion, the ferry waited for the Edwin Fox to pass. The ship was moved to a berth in the harbour while a dry dock was built to house her in her final resting place. This was completed in May 1999, and the Edwin Fox was moved into it on 18 May 1999. A roof was installed in 2001 to protect the ship from the elements and extensive chemical treatment undertaken to preserve the wood.
Heritage New Zealand has given the Edwin Fox a category 1 classification in recognition of her huge significance to New Zealand’s maritime history. The Edwin Fox had a magnificent career on the world’s seas, carrying troops, cargo, commodities and immigrants from Europe to New Zealand. Her condition today is testament to the hard work and dedication of the many people who worked tirelessly to restore her and to the quality materials used to build her over 150 years ago.
Troy Stade is a year 11 Nelson College student. This essay won the College Year 11 history prize in 2009, for which Troy received an Edwin Fox Trophy.
Edited with corrections, sourced from Teak & Tide, 2015 (Updated: April 2020)
Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.
Further sources - The Edwin Fox
Brayshaw, N.H. (1964) The salvage and restoration of the Edwin Fox. Picton, N.Z. : Marlborough Regional Committee, New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
- Costley, N. (2014) Teak and tide: the ebbs and eddies of the Edwin Fox : from the Ganges to Picton, New Zealand : the changing fortunes of the last surviving 19th century merchantman. Nelson: Nikau Press, 2014.
- Edwin Fox Society (2004) Edwin Fox : hard-won heritage Picton, N.Z. : Edwin Fox Society
Fry, P.(1991) Edwin Fox, a story of survival [sound recording] . Wellington [N.Z.] : Replay Radio, Radio New Zealand.
Helmsman (1938) Ships and the sea : the story of the Edwin Fox.
Stace, H & Edwin Fox Restoration Society. (1987) The Story of the Edwin Fox (2nd ed.) Picton : Toneden Promotions
- Adeane, J. (1998, June 20) Fresh hope for a foxy lady. Press,sup.p.2
- Ahern, M. (1985) The Edwin Fox : 1853-when? Historic Places in New Zealand, 10. pp.22-23
- Bailey, V. (2008) Edwin Fox : New Zealand's heritage barque Heritage matters, 15. pp. 40-42
- Brayshaw, N.H. (1964/5) Edwin Fox : a restoration project; Edwin Fox : a short history. New Zealand Marine News, 16(3). pp.66-69
- Bromby, J. (1995, August 1) Mainland legacy in jeopardy. Press, p.11
- Davies, J. (1996) Edwin Fox. Marlborough's Past & Present, 4, pp.18-19
- Doyle, J.(1998) A maritime survivor New Zealand Historic Places, n.68:pp..29-30
- Doyle, J. (1990, December) Saving a ghost ship Southern Skies, pp. 28-31
- Edwin Fox Group newsletter. (1976-1980) Rotorua [N.Z.] : A.S. Martin
- Edwin Fox news (2002-) Picton, N.Z. Edwin Fox Society Incorporated
- The Edwin Fox restoration project (1995) New Zealand Legacy, 6(2) p.3
- The Edwin Fox Restoration Society (1990) New Zealand Legacy, 2 (4) p.23
- Grady, D. (1989, March 11) Rebirth for old East Indiaman. New Zealand Herald, s.2 p.2
- Grady, D. (1996, April 20) Convicts, grog and immorality. Nelson Mail
Johns, G. (2005) Empty vessels Heritage New Zealand, 99.:pp..8-15
- Lord, J. (1992) The 'Edwin Fox' Family Tree.24(2):pp.37-39
- Macpherson, R. (1990) The Edwin Fox. New Zealand Legacy, 2(4), p.4
- Moor, C. (1997) The Edwin Fox : a ship with a colourful history New Zealand Memories 2(10) pp.588-591
- Stace, H. (1995) Edwin Fox . New Zealand Historic Places,51, p.10
A range of objects and other unpublished material is available at the Edwin Fox Museum.
Brett, H. (1924) White Wings vol I. Fifty years of sail in the New Zealand Trade, 1850 -1900: The Brett Printing Company Limited. Retrieved from New Zealand Electronic Text Centre:
- Edwin Fox. Retreived 27 May 2009 from Marlborough Online:
- Edwin Fox Hull & Anchor Windlass. Retrieved 2 December 2014
- Edwin Fox Maritime Museum. Retrieved 27 May 2009:
- Edwin Fox (ship). Retrieved 27 May 2009 Wikipedia:
- Immigrant Ships : Transcribers Guild: Ship Edwin Fox London, England to Wellington, New Zealand 18 April 1875. [passenger list] Retrieved 27 May 2009 from:
- NZ National Maritime Museum (n.d) The New Zealand Maritime Record . Retrieved 27 May 2009
- Passenger list Edwin Fox arrived Nelson 1879 from UK. Retrieved 27 May 2009 from: