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TSS Earnslaw launched on Lake Wakatipu

24 February 1912

Workers reassembling the Earnslaw
Workers reassembling the Earnslaw (Lakes District Museum, EL0070)

For all but six years since it came into service in 1912, the twin screw steamer Earnslaw has carried freight and people to and from remote settlements on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Affectionately known as the ‘Lady of the Lake’, the ship has also been used for scenic cruises.

During the 1900s the government decided to invest in a new 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., which had built ferries that plied Otago Harbour.

McGregor’s laid the keel in July 1911. Once the framing was completed in November, 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 later, the Earnslaw was launched in front of a large crowd. Fitting out the vessel took many more months.

On 18 October 1912, the former minister of railways, John Millar, was at the helm on the maiden voyage to Queenstown. The Earnslaw’s first scheduled voyage took place on 1 November.

Following the completion of a road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, at the northern end of Lake Wakatpiu, in 1963, the Earnslaw was withdrawn from regular service. It returned as a tourist-oriented service in 1969.

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TSS Earnslaw launched on Lake Wakatipu, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated