Landmark birthday for Lady

The TSS <i>Earnslaw</i> hull cruises on Lake Wakatipu in 1912 on its way to Queenstown.  The hull...
The TSS <i>Earnslaw</i> hull cruises on Lake Wakatipu in 1912 on its way to Queenstown. The hull was launched 100 years ago today. Photo from Lakes District Museum.
One hundred years ago today, the hull of TSS Earnslaw - also known as the Lady of the Lake - was launched in Kingston.

Commercial shipping on Lake Wakatipu became a lucrative business after the discovery of gold in Arrowtown in 1862.

During the next 40 years, up to four private companies operated sail and steamships to cater for the needs of the diggers and the growing population of the Wakatipu.

However, the residents were not satisfied with the poor service provided and the high prices charged.

In November 1901, the government announced its intention to call for tenders for a high-class steamer on Lake Wakatipu, capable of running at 16 knots and carrying up to 1000 passengers.

The plans were shelved the following year when the government bought out the Lake Wakatipu Shipping Co for 315,000.

Included in the deal were three paddle steamers - PS Antrim, PS Mountaineer and SS Ben Lomond.

Management of the service was taken over by New Zealand Railways and, while it tried to make improvements, locals and tourists continued to be unhappy with the service.

In 1907, Premier Sir Joseph Ward sought cabinet approval for a new steamer to be built and in 1909 the government announced its proposal to build a new boat for Lake Wakatipu.

In September the following year, a tender of 320,850 was awarded to John McGregor and Co, of Dunedin, and construction began on TSS Earnslaw, named after Mt Earnslaw.

On July 4, 1911, the keel was laid in McGregor's yard in Dunedin and by November 3, 1911, the last plate was bolted on to the framing.

The plates that made up the shell of TSS Earnslaw were meticulously numbered, dismantled and then shipped to Kingston, where they were put back together again.

Despite a labour shortage, the hull was launched on February 24, 1912.

There was no special ceremony, but the launch was viewed by a large number of people, some of whom had travelled from Garston and Athol, and the mayors of both Queenstown and Arrowtown were there.

Once the boat was launched, the engines and funnel were installed and the rest of the fitout took place.

A new wharf also had to be built in Queenstown to accommodate Earnslaw, the largest steamship ever built in New Zealand.

Her first lake trial took place in August and she was officially launched on October 18, 1912. The centenary will be marked with a week of celebrations in Queenstown in October this year and will include a First Sailing Re-enactment Cruise, to travel from Queenstown to Kingston and return.

• Historical information: All Aboard, by R. Meyer; Lady of the Lake: The TSS Earnslaw Story, by M. Mackay; and Real Journeys.



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