Elsie Evans

Restoring our maritime heritage

Otago Harbour Ferry Inc.

About Otago Harbour Ferry Incorporated

Otago Harbour Ferry Incorporated was set up in 2004 as non-profit organisation with the primary objective of restoring the historic former Otago Harbour ferry Elsie Evans to a seaworthy condition and operating her again for passenger use on the Otago Harbour as a ferry and excursion vessel for the recreation of the local community as well as a tourism product for visitors. The secondary purpose is to conserve a vessel of historic value to the region. By doing so, we will be preserving and promoting an appreciation of an authentic part of the little known maritime heritage of the Otago Harbour as well as offering a tangible link to the past and creating a heritage asset for Dunedin City. Elsie Evans is the oldest surviving pilot boat in New Zealand as well as being the last ferry to run a scheduled timetabled ferry service on the Otago Harbour and is part of of a local maritime history which would be lost forever had this project not been undertaken.

Otago Harbour Ferry Incorporated - CC20006 - is a registered charitable entity in terms of the Charities Act 2005. For more information about Otago Harbour Ferry Incorporated, visit the Charities Register at www.charities.govt.nz. The Society has Inland Revenue charitable status and donations and membership subscriptions of $5.00 or more by companies and individuals qualify for tax deductions and tax credits.

About Elsie Evans

The Elsie Evans was built in Auckland by the firm of Charles Bailey Jnr, a contemporary and competitor of Logan Brothers, as the first pilot boat for the Timaru Harbour Board as a relacement for the paddle-tug Mana. Both firms were builders of classic yachts which are now much admired by overseas buyers. She was launched at yard of the boatbuilder on 31 December 1901 and was named after the wife of the Chairman of the Timaru Harbour Board at the time, William Evans.

Originally termed a benzine launch, the Elsie Evans had a length of 42 feet, a beam of 8 feet six inches and a draft of 3 foot 3 inches. The hull was of three skins of kauri, copper fastened and sheathed in muntz metal below the waterline. The orginal engine was a 20 h.p. Union Oil (petrol) engine developing 280 r.p.m. which gave her a maximum speed of 8 knots. The Timaru Herald of February 1902 stated "Attached to the engine is M/s Ryan & Co's patent condensor which economises oil consumption, reduces noise and smell to a minimum and adds materially in the power of the engine. The wheel is on the foredeck just in front of the engine house and the engineer is directed by a bell-pulley. Mention of the deck suggests that in rough weather the vessel would be much safer if decked all over, whereas for the after third she is an open boat...."

The question of the open cockpit must have caused concern, for the Harbour Board altered the design of the cabin "at considerable expense" to bring it up to the "regulation standard". The Timaru Harbour Board Annual Report for 1902 noted that the Contract Price for the construction of Elsie Evans was seven hundred pounds with alterations and additions costing a further one hundred and seventy six pounds five shillings and two pence. With the alterations and additions completed, the vessel was giving every satisfaction and was admirably suited for the work it was originally intended. That work was towing small craft, tending the big steamers, taking the Health Officer out to deep-sea sailing vessels and carrying the pilots.

After being replaced by the Timaru Harbour Board in 1927, the Elsie Evans was brought to Dunedin where she was purchased by Captain Percy Moss of the Portobello Railway and Ferry Co. From 1928 she was used as a launch to tow barges, carry freight, service other craft and ferry passengers during the surveys of the Company's ferries Tarewai and Waireka. In 1944 she took over from the Tarewai and regularly sailed the one and a half miles between Portobello and Port Chalmers and was licensed to carry 37 passengers.

After ceasing operations in 1954 she was towed to Ravensbourne, where she lay in the water until 1962 when she was purchased with the intention of becoming a fishing boat, however, this never eventuated. She subsequently passed through a succession of owners until she was eventually purchased by the South Canterbury Historical Society in Timaru in 1997.

It was the intention that the South Canterbury Historical Society would do some restoration work on the vessel so that she could be placed on static display as she was the first pilot boat for the Timaru port. A conservation plan was prepared in 1998, however, no progress was made with the restoration and in 2003 the Historical Society were required to remove the vessel from the old Evans & Company flour mill  where she had been stored since returning to Timaru. At that stage the South Canterbury Historical Society had no undercover storage space for the vessel and as their immediate plans did not include the restoration work, it was felt that unless someone outside the area took her over she would just slowly deteriorate, or worse still come to a sudden end. It was at this stage that John Sutherland of Portobello, and his son Shem showed the energy and enthusiasm to initiate a full restoration project and the Elsie Evans returned to Dunedin. This led to the formation of Otago Harbour Ferry Incorporated and the present restoration project.

The Elsie Evans is of historical, physical and cultural significance in the Timaru Port and Otago Harbour areas. As well as being the first pilot launch for the Timaru Harbour Board, she was the last of a long line of ferries on the Otago Harbour that began in 1859 that were a traditional form of freight and commuter traffic. The ferries were responsible for opening up the more remote parts of the harbour, particularly Portobello and the Otago Peninsula. Until the opening of the Dunedin to Port Chalmers railway line in 1873, the ferries had a monopoly on transporting passengers. After that, nearly all ferries ran between Dunedin, the Peninsula bays and Port Chalmers with motor vehicles not allowed on the low road to Portobello until 1913 and regular ferry services allowed residents of the Peninsula to work and attend secondary schools in Dunedin. Elsie Evans was a vital link for the farming communities on the Peninsula by providing transport to and from Port Chalmers and Dunedin for farm produce and farm supplies. Later on, for ten years she provided the only commuter service across the harbour between Portobello and the rail transport to Dunedin at Port Chalmers that ended with the building of the Portobello road and the introduction of a bus service.

Elsie Evans at the Wickliffe Press bld awaiting her rudder assembley and new funnel.10/02/2013

Elsie Evans at the Wickliffe Press bld awaiting her rudder assembley and new funnel. 10/2/13

Elsie Evans April 2010

About the Project

Elsie Evans is being restored from the original kauri hull with a new superstructure suitable for a passenger ferry on short voyages, predominantly across the Otago Harbour. The superstructure is not original to the vessel, but is of a 1907 design that will retain the sense of history and authenticity and will be in keeping with those of vessels of the same vintage. It was necessary to have the restoration work professionally designed, surveyed, approved and constructed in accordance with Maritime New Zealand rules and safety standards in order that she can be licensed to carry passengers.

The project is being carried out in two stages. The first stage, which was completed in 2007, was the restoration of the original hull to make it seaworthy by replacing unsound timbers, strengthening the frame and re-fastening the three skins to the frame. This work was carried out by Alvin Smith of Miller & Tunnage Ltd. The hull was moved to the ex Wickliffe Press building in Albany Street, Dunedin where work on stage two of the project is at present taking place. Completion of stage one produced a visible asset which helped to attract financial support for stage two.

Stage two is being funded in two parts, the first of which involved the design and approval work, purchase of an engine, engineering and electrical work, purchase and installation of electronic equipment and associated work in generally fitting out and getting the vessel up and running. Funding for some of the smaller costs in this area is in the process of being finalised. The second area of funding covers the work involved in the building of the new superstructure, decks and internal structure of the vessel and this area is fully funded. Peter and Scott Broere are carrying out this work for us and this is now well advanced.

The restoration of the Elsie Evans is turning out to be a high profile project, attracting considerable interest from the general public due to the fact that the vessel is the oldest surviving pilot boat in New Zealand as well as being the last ferry to run a scheduled timetabled service on the Otago Harbour. Also, the restoration of a heritage wooden vessel is an uncommon sight these days and it is taking the imagination of those who see the detail and skill of the work being carried out by the boat builders working on her. The significant financial support we have received so far recognises the fact that the restoration of the Elsie Evans is important as it will create a heritage asset for Dunedin City.

Financial Support:

To fund our project, we have sought the financial support of charitable organisations and trusts, service clubs, local government and the local business community and we acknowledge the generosity and support of the following major sponsors:

Grants and donations:

  • Otago Community Trust $85,000
  • Dunedin City Council: Service Grant $20,000, Suspensory Loan $30,000, Community Grant Scheme $10,500
  • Edward M Theomin Charitable Trust (Perpetual Trust)    $15,000
  • Southern Trust    $31,000
  • Edward M Theomin Charitable Trust (Perpetual Trust) $15,000
  • Perpetual Charitable Fund of Otago (Perpetual Trust)    $15,000
  • Pub Charity    $25,000
  • Callis Charitable Trust (Anderson Lloyd)    $19,000
  • Southern Victorian Charitable Trust    $16,000
  • Sargood Bequest $10,000
  • Alexander McMillan Trust (Gallaway Cook Allan)    $10,000
  • Rotary Club of South Dunedin    $10,000
  • The Stout Trust (Guardian Trust)    $9,782
  • St Kilda Community Sports Society    $9,000
  • Eureka Trust    $7,500
  • Timaru District Heritage Fund Trust    $7,220
  • A A W Jones Charitable Trust (Gallaway Cook Allan)    $7,000
  • Shacklock Charitable Trust (Wilkinson Adams Lawyers)    $6,000
  • E G Johnstone Charitable Trust (Trustees Executors)    $5,000
  • Nellie Milne's Charitable Trust (Trustees Executors)    $5,000
  • Lion Foundation    $5,000
  • Otago Peninsula Community Board    $3,000
  • William Downie Stewart Charitable Trust (Downie Stewart)   $2,000
  • Chalmers Community Board    $1,750
  • The Otago Masonic Charitable Trust    $1,684
  • Caversham Foundation    $1,000
  • Dunedin Casino Charitable Trust    $1,000
  • Port Otago Ltd    $1,000
  • Hope & Sons    $500
  • Webb Farry    $500
  • 1908 Cafe Portobello Ltd $500
  • Careys Bay Historic Hotel    $300
  • Fisher & Paykel Appliances Ltd    $250
  • Otago Peninsula Lions Club    $250
  • Martin Montgomery Metro Reality    $100

Other sponsors:

  • Cargill Enterprises
  • Gardens New World
  • Northern Southland Transport Holdings Ltd
  • Port Otago Ltd
  • Resene Paints Ltd
  • South Canterbury Historical Society
  • Titan Cranes Ltd
  • University of Otago
  • SGS New Zealand Ltd
  • Mainfreight Ltd
  • CPG New Zealand Ltd
  • Read Marine Ltd
  • Inzight Communications Ltd

Help restore our maritime heritage - Join today

Subscriptions are $38 for one person, and $50 for a family (any number in the same household) and $250 for life membership. Membership application forms are available from the Chairperson, Shem Sutherland (03 478 0548 or email shemsutherland@yahoo.com) or the Secretary, Jane Higham (phone 03 476 1848 or email rhigham@ihug.co.nz). Enquiries may also be made to committee members Ian Milne (03 488 4205), Mike Dewar (03 472 7436), Rod Thompson (03 488 4436), James Henry (03 454 5537), John Ashton (03 455 1412) or Don Kay (03 487 7213).

We have a monthly committee meeting, usually on the third Thursday evening of the month which all members and interested persons are welcome to attend. Contact the Chairperson or Secretary for details.

Contact Details:

Address: 2 Landreth St, Portobello
Dunedin 9014, New Zealand
Correspondence:: 45 Raynbird Street, Company Bay, Dunedin 9014, New Zealand
Email: shemsutherland@yahoo.com
Phone: +64 (03) 478 0548
Website: www.ferry.portobello.net.nz

Elsie Evans  banner

The Elsie Evans measures 42 foot in length with a beam of 8 1/2 ft and a draft of 3 ft 3 inches.