On board the Edwin Fox

The small port town of Picton, located at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound in Marlborough, New Zealand, is a place that most visitors simply pass through.

It is here that the Interislander Ferry picks up and drops off travelers wanting to go from North Island to South Island and vice versa.

Which is a shame really, for Picton has a few hidden treasures that warrant a longer stay. And chief among these treasures is the Edwin Fox – the world’s ninth oldest wooden troop ship.

One of the last of the East Indiamen to be constructed in Calcutta, the fully rigged Edwin Fox was launched in 1853, heading off on her maiden voyage to London with a cargo of tea.

She stayed a fully rigged ship until 1867 when the crossjack yard was removed and was converted to a barque.

Over the years, the Edwin Fox had a varied career, ranging from transporting convicts to Australia and settlers to New Zealand to shipping British troops (and even, rumor has it, Florence Nightingale) around during the Crimean War.

The Edwin Fox Maritime Museum provides plenty of fascinating interpretative displays covering the ship’s history and service.

But the real treasure can be found just behind the back door to the museum. Here, sitting in dry dock, is the crumbled ruin of the Edwin Fox.  And that, according to the Edwin Fox Society, is that way she should stay. They aim to preserve the Edwin Fox in her current natural state, something that will require huge effort and goodwill from the many dedicated volunteers.

Over the years, these volunteers have been turning the Edwin Fox into a ‘living museum’. Visitors can walk the plank and wander through the hollow hull, getting a feel for the conditions that passengers and crew had to endure during months at sea.

In reality, though, it’s hard to imagine exactly how they felt being shut below decks, often for months at a time, getting seasick, homesick, and nervous about what awaited them when they finally did hit landfall.

It is truly a world away from the cruise ships of today.

(photos @Liz Lewis 2013)

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