The Edwin Fox


Overlooking Picton township, showing the ships Edwin Fox and MaoriOverlooking Picton township, showing the ships Edwin Fox and Maori, Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-031025-F.
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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 preservation work.

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. Edwin operated on one occasion in 1857 as transport for Chinese labourers 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.

Ship Edwin Fox at PictonShip Edwin Fox at Picton 190-?], Alexander Turnbull Library, Louis John Daroux Collection,  1/1-039355-G.
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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.

Edwin Fox fitted out as a freezerEdwin Fox fitted out as a freezer Edwin Fox Society
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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 Dunedin 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. She was later turned into a coal store for the freezing works.

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 unsuccessful efforts to move the Edwin Fox from Picton to other parts of the country.

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.  Later the ship was briefly 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.

Edwin Fox Maritime MuseumEdwin Fox Maritime Museum Picton. Edwin Fox Society
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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)

Additional news from The Edwin Fox Museum December 2022

There have been some exciting projects underway at the Edwin Fox Museum.

A 3 D Scan of the ship was completed in 2016, giving a detailed and accurate digital image of the ship, which will help with recognising any changes or movement of the ship in the future, there is also a possibility of restoring the ship digitally.

 Kurt Bennet, maritime archaeologist has been studying the ship as part of his PHD and findings have been published.

Professors Boyd Cothran and Adrian Shubert are writing a book on the globalisation era of history.

Sara Gainsford (renowned maritime conservator) will be completing a condition report on the ship, first to be done in many years and will enable the museum to plan for the future preservation of the ship.

The Edwin Fox Museum recently received funding from Lotto and Marlborough District Council to complete remedial works on the dry dock, roof over the ship and sprinkler system which is an integral part of the preservation project.

Edwin Fox has also just received its 1st Qualmark accreditation (2022)

 Edited with corrections 2022 

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  • The hull of Edwin Fox is not being restored. It is held in dry dock in permanent preservation.

    Posted by Loreen Brehaut, ()

  • In January 2010 the Society was very fortunate to have a visit from our Patron in England. Sir, James Dunbar Nasmith; CBE. PPRIAS, a truly delightful elderly man who was very interested in all that is being done, preserving EDWIN FOX and also with the Centre.
    He made the following comment on a couple of occasions. Of all the ships of the Dunbar Shipping Line – some 152 of them- Edwin Fox, the 9th oldest wooden sailing ship and the only one of its kind left in the world, is being so well looked after on the other side of the world. Especially as it is in the little harbour township of Picton, in the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand.
    At the end of his visit he presented the Society with a dinner plate from a dinner service which is over 100 years old. It has the Royal Crest of the Dunbar family centrally emblazoned and an ornate edging. It is displayed in the Centre.
    Sir James is very well-known in England, not only because of family connections, but he is also the architect of Sunninghill Park, the residence of the Duke of York and also Balmoral Estate, among all his other achievements.

    Posted by Marie Higgs, ()

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Further sources - The Edwin Fox



  • 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.

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