SS Earnslaw launched on Lake Wakatipu

24 February 1912

Workers reassembling the Earnslaw (Lakes District Museum, EL0070)

For more than 50 years after it was launched, SS Earnslaw carried freight and people to and from remote lakeside settlements. Affectionately known as the ‘Lady of the Lake’, the ship has also been used for scenic cruises since the 1970s.

During the 1900s the government decided to invest in a new lake steamer to cater for increasing tourist numbers on Central Otago’s Lake Wakatipu. Their preference was for New Zealand shipbuilders. The Dunedin naval architect Hugh McRae provided the design and the tender was given to John McGregor and Co., who had built ferries which plied Otago Harbour.

McGregor’s completed the keel in July 1911. Once the framing was completed, shipbuilders dismantled the ship plate by plate. Each part was meticulously numbered and transported by rail to Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, for reassembly.

Three months after building began, the Earnslaw was launched in front of a large crowd. The minister of marine, John Millar, captained the steamer on its maiden journey to Queenstown.

The first scheduled voyage took place in October 1911. Queenstown marked this event with a holiday.

Community contributions

2 comments have been posted about SS Earnslaw launched on Lake Wakatipu

What do you know?

Lucy S

Posted: 16 Sep 2021

Kia ora Charles, Perhaps it was the Lake Steamer Ben Lomond? Appears to have been launched 1872 and retired 1951.

Charles Pettit

Posted: 15 Sep 2021

When I was a lad in the early 1940's my grandfather took me to Queenstown and we sailed on two railway vessels - the Earnslaw and I think the other older ship was called the Ben Loman but your article does not mention the other older vessel. When was it launched and when scrapped?