Monday, May 7, 2012

Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, a rave.

This past weekend M. and I attended a wedding in Blenheim, which involved my first trip south on the ferry since 2000. Both the crossing to Picton on Friday and the return voyage on Sunday were incredibly smooth, but both took place under the cover of darkness, which was a great shame. I’m sure the sounds looked amazing.

The highlight of our weekend in Marlborough was a visit to the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum in Picton.

As regular visitors to This Fluid Thrill will know, my current work in progress, aka THE NOVEL, has nautical and historical elements, so the chance to see the world’s ninth oldest ship seemed like a good way to kill some time before catching a ride to Blenheim.

But the Edwin Fox, built 1853 in Calcutta, is more than just the world’s ninth oldest ship as this placard from the outside of the museum announces:

The Edwin Fox: the oldest merchant ship in the world, the last surviving East Indiaman, the oldest ship that brought immigrants to NZ or convicts to Australia and the best $10 you can spend in Picton.
The museum has a decent display upstairs that covers the ship’s construction and various working lives as a transporter of cargo/convicts/immigrants, as a hulk used by a freezing works, its near ruin and its subsequent preservation.

But the real star of the show is the Edwin Fox herself. You can walk on a section of the ‘tween decks (which is a bit misleading as there’s little of the main deck left, so it feels like you’re above decks), inside the cargo hold (the inside of the hull from bow to stern) and around the entire ship. As it is in dry dock, you get to see the ship in a way that is impossible if it is in water.
The 'tween decks, looking aft
Some ship geek inspecting the cargo hold.
From the keel of the Edwin Fox
Walking on and around the Edwin Fox brought home the scale of such ships – both their massive size and weight, the amount of teak, pig iron and muntz, and how small it must have seemed when making a hundred day passage from Europe to New Zealand as an immigrant.

Even M., who has very little interest in this sort of thing, enjoyed the experience immensely.

On a personal note, my one disappointment was that the Edwin Fox, despite being the most expensive ship built in Calcutta at that point (or so one of the displays claimed), only had a billet head rather than a full-on figurehead. But that’s just coz I have a thing for figureheads. To the credit of the museum and the Preservation Society, the original carved billet head is on display in the museum.

Edwin Fox Billet Head
I should also say I am a great fan of the fact little has been done to restore the ship. This is not to say a great amount of time, money and effort has gone into its preservation, and that a great deal more will be required to continue to preserve her, but the experience is so much the greater to observe how time and the elements have treated this vessel.

To refurbish her would surely be the end for the original ship and beginning of a full-scale replica (you can see where I might fall on the question of the ship of Theseus, can’t you?). Give me relics or give me death!

Stanchion eroded by the tides while the Edwin Fox was grounded.
A side of the Edwin Fox showing remnants of copper plating and the ship's teak construction with both metal and wooden trenails.
The Edwin Fox Maritime Museum is well worth the $10 entry fee and a great way to spend a couple of hours at the beginning or end of your South Island getaway. It is a pearler of a regional museum offering something of regional and international importance, without any unnecessary buff and bluster.

1 comment:

Richard Pope said...

A great day in my life, strolling around this museum.