Years ago we visited this ship when the restoration was not long started and I found an article about it the other day which reminded me of it, and though probably at the time I knew all these firsts/lasts about it, I had forgotten them.
The Edwin Fox is the world’s last Indiaman (wikipedia has a list of these, though, and it doesn't seem to be there; perhaps it is not a full list or perhaps there is something wrong with this statement) and the ninth oldest ship apparently. The only surviving wooden vessel ‘from a fleet of sailing ships that brought migrants searching for a better life from halfway round the world. She is the last surviving Crimean War troopship and the last surviving convict-ship to Australia.
The Edwin Fox was built in 1853 near Calcutta, constructed by William Henry Foster from Burmese teal and saul trees. The hull was clad with Munz metal, a mixture of copper and zinc. She (I find it odd calling something with a man’s name ‘she’) weighed 909 tons. A London merchant, Sir George Hodgkinson bought her before completion and was responsible for naming her, though no one knows why exactly.
Her first voyage was on 14 December 1853 sailing from Calcutta to London with ten passengers and general food/oil cargo. On the trip she collided with another ship, the Devonshire and was damaged and repaired. She was sold soon after to Duncan Dunbar and chartered to the British government for use in the Crimean War, moving stores and ammunition between Malta, Constantinople and the Crimean War zone. The British National Maritime Museum presumes Florence Nightingale sailed on her.
The off she went to Melbourne carrying 6 passengers and cargo and two years later in 1858 carried 280 male convicts to Fremantle in Western Australia. In 1862 she was sold on the death of Dunbar and made trips between India and Britain and given the nickname Booze Barge after carrying India Pale Ale. Also military units from England to Bombay. Units included casualties and many died on the way. She was derigged to become a barque in 1867, and in 1873 charted by Shaw Saville to carry immigrants to New Zealand. One letter read: "A hundred and two days of misery, anxiety, discomfort and semi-starvation. I hope never again to fall to the lot of an unfortunate emigrant in a slow but sure emigrant ship." [Might explain why so many people, shocked and in tears at the sight of very primitive conditions in New Zealand, stuck it out.]
When sailing ships were phased out, Edwin Fox began a new life as a mutton freezer hold and made her final journey from London to Dunedin, arriving in October 1885. Shaw Saville gave her to the New Zealand Refrigeration Company and she was stripped and reduced to a landing platform and coal hulk for the adjacent meat packing plant till the 1960s. In 1931 someone wrote: Lying in shallow water near the freezing works in Picton harbour there is an old hulk that is picturesque even in her decrepitude, and like a broken-down aristocrat, she bears about her unmistakable signs of having seen better days."
A restoration society was set up in 1965 and the Edwin Fox was purchased. Council opposition to re-siting and restoring her meant she was towed and abandoned for another 20 years with people vandalising her. In October 1986 council permission was finally obtained and in November she floated free and was moved to a berth in Picton Harbour to be rebuilt. In May 1999 she travelled to her final resting place alongside Dunbar Wharf and is one of Picton’s tourist attractions. (Picton is a little town in the north of the South Island. The Inter-island ferries run from there.)
Information for this came from Heritage Matters magazine.