A Wintry 36-Hour Day for the TSS Earnslaw in the 1930s
TSS Earnslaw crammed with people (Lakes District Museum EL5864)
This day started as usual, with the TSS Earnslaw setting off on its scheduled run up the lake. On board were a number of stock-buyers and drovers all set to buy sheep at Glenorchy. It was particularly dirty weather, and it was after dark when the boat arrived back at Queenstown. The order was given that the sheep were to be left on board for the night and would be taken on to Kingston the next day. But the stock-buyers were very hostile to this idea - they wanted to carry on to Kingston and unload the sheep there for the night. Finally, after considerable argument, the officer in charge in Queenstown was persuaded, and the crew members were given time off for a meal before setting off again.
They arrived at Kingston between 10 and 11pm, in blizzard conditions with the snow driving horizontally. Nevertheless, unloading of the sheep went ahead. On such a night Kingston people were mostly indoors, though there was one fellow about who volunteered to lend a hand. He was a locally well-known character with an insatiable thirst. Poor fellow, his thirst was quenched for good that night, for at some stage without anyone aboard knowing a thing about it, he fell overboard and was drowned.
The storm had not eased at all when the unloading was finished, and after several unsuccessful attempts had been made to get away from the wharf, it was decided to remain tied up for the night. At six in the morning the Earnslaw did get away successfully.
Meanwhile, when it was discovered in the morning that the boat was not berthed in Queenstown, there was some consternation, and as soon as the telephone exchanges opened, contact was made with the stationmaster at Kingston. No, he said, the Earnslaw was not at Kingston, nor had she been there as far as he knew. No, there were no sheep in the Kingston yards either. Panic! ... and great relief when the boat steamed out of the snow at the beacon at the entrance to Queenstown Bay about 8am.
Again the crew were given time for a meal at home before getting away again for that day’s run – to Kingston! And when they arrived back at about six that night some of the crew had done a good 36-hour tour of duty with no extra pay.
Crammed with sheep (LDM EL 4448)
The sheep, of course, were well down the road south by the time the Kingston stationmaster got up, and the reason for the buyers’ insistence on getting them to Kingston and unloaded in spite of the weather subsequently leaked out: there were far more sheep on board than were officially listed on the loading ticket. The bad weather played right into the hands of the buyers and such of the crew as were aware of the fiddle, for the stationmaster was well-known as a most meticulous public servant of the New Zealand Railways; and if he had been about, all those sheep would have been counted off against the loading docket and charged for their passage! Only in a place miles away from officialdom could such a thing happen, and in those days Queenstown was such a place.
First printed in the Queenstown Courier Number 2, 1967. No author is given. The Queenstown Courier is the magazine of the Queenstown and District Historical Society, published since 1966 and now at its 95 th issue. The archive of magazines is on our website: www.queenstownhistoricalsociety.org.nz.
For more information visit: www.queenstownhistoricalsociety.org.nz