Queenstown’s TSS Earnslaw turns the clock back to celebrate 100th birthday

Posted by Travel News in Travel News
Friday, 19 October 2012
an image Dan Childs

 Cannons fired, vintage steam engines hooted and a huge crowd cheered and waved flags along Queenstown’s waterfront to welcome the TSS Earnslaw vintage steamship home as she sailed into the bay to mark her 100th birthday.

Three hundred and fifty guests, dressed in period costume, were onboard to make the journey and witness the historic moment when the TSS Earnslaw met the vintage Kingston Flyer steam train on the wharf at Kingston - just as the Flyer did a century ago when it carried passengers from the south. The TSS Earnslaw then headed back into Queenstown Bay with flags flying and whistle blasting, making a victory lap flanked by a flotilla of Queenstown boats which turned out in force to form a guard of honour.

It was an emotional journey for those onboard and for many people who had strong links with the steamer there were plenty of nostalgic memories and fascinating stories swapped during the cruise. Olive Lady Hutchins, who with her late husband Sir Les Hutchins founded Real Journeys and took over the TSS Earnslaw from New Zealand Railways in 1969, said it was an auspicious day for her. “I have 34 of my family, made up of four generations on board, and I am just so proud of what has been achieved with the Earnslaw. When you consider she is the only passenger carrying coal-fired boat in the Southern Hemisphere it is a great record.”

Ross Williams of Melbourne, whose grandfather Hugh McRae was the naval architect who designed the TSS Earnslaw, paid tribute to his work. “The steamer has had a lot of ups and downs and it’s good to see her in such excellent condition. My grandfather would have been very happy to know that she still remains in service 100 years to date.”

The TSS Earnslaw was built in Dunedin by shipbuilders John McGregor and Co. Ltd in 1911, then dismantled and taken by train to Kingston, where she was reconstructed on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and launched on February 24 1912. Jim Sands of Auckland, whose grandfather Jimmy Alcorn was the foreman builder for the Kingston construction, claimed the fact that the TSS Earnslaw was now 100 years old and “still going strong is a testament to how well she was designed and built. This is a great day.”

Real Journeys CEO Richard Lauder told the waiting crowd on the wharf that the rousing welcome into Queenstown Bay was “absolutely magnificent”. “So many people from all over the world are passionate about the TSS Earnslaw and I want to recognise the Hutchins family for their support and investment over the years to ensure she continues to be maintained in excellent condition as a New Zealand tourism flagship.” Real Journeys Director Tony McQuilkin who has had a 30 year association with the TSS Earnslaw noted that she still holds the record as the longest passenger carrying boat built in New Zealand, a record she attained in 1912.

“The TSS Earnslaw is a credit to the thousands of men and women who have worked on her over the years and to everyone who has provided support to ensure she sails into towards another 100 years,” he said.

Following the cutting of the centenary cake a plaque was presented to the TSS Earnslaw by the Royal Institute of Naval Architects “to commemorate 100 years of service and recognise the historical significance of the largest steamship built in New Zealand and one of the few remaining coal fired passenger steamers in the world.” 

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