THELMA / VERA
photos & details supplied by Bruce Yarnton. (Russell Ward added)
From the story below you will learn that Thelma has had a fascinating life & now her ‘bones’ sadly reside on the roof of the Lake Ohau Lodge, for protection after numerous backpackers decided kauri made good firewood 🙂 The lodge owners are interested if anyone has any old photos or tales for her past.
The tale of Jock Edgar & his gambling adventures are worth the read alone.
In the b/w photo above Thelma is berthed at Lake Wakatipu (Frankton) with the Remarkables in the background. There is no date to the photograph but sources have confirmed its pre 1920’s.
The History of Thelma (Vera)
The Thelma was built in Auckland in 1903 by Mr C Bailey, and engined by Messrs W A Ryan & Co, also of Auckland. Thirty five feet long with a six foot four inch beam, she was fitted with a 5 horse-power Union oil engine, and could accommodate thirty passengers. She was brought new to Dunedin by Messrs Hayward & Garratt to demonstrate the Union oil engine. She was not christened Thelma but was the Vera for the first few months of her life. The Vera’s maiden voyage was on the Otago Harbour in September 1903, and she was then bought by Mr Searle of Queenstown and by October 1903 was providing tours on Lake Wakatipu.
Six weeks later Vera had been overhauled by Ryan & Co after her bearings gave trouble, and was re-named Thelma at the same time.
Subsequent owners were Jno C McBride who took her over in 1906, and then Jock Edgar.
Quoted from “The Mount Cook Way” by Harry Wigley, first published 1979.
Jock Edgar was one of the characters of the district. A confirmed batchelor, an inveterate gambler, he had no family ties and not many other responsibilities, and would periodically go on a bender for two or three days. Jock who was never known to hurry, had a Southland drawl, and when he told one of his innumerable yarns, often against himself, his eyes and florid face would light up.
In his youth he was once lined up before the local magistrate – who happened to be his father – on a charge of being drunk and disorderly, and in due course he was fined 7s 6d. After listening to the magistrate make his pronouncement, Jock said in a loud voice: ‘You’ll have to pay it, Dad.’ He went off to the South African War and gambled his way round that country with varying degrees of success, finally arriving on board the ship which was to take the contingent home with not a penny in his pocket, and only the clothes he stood up in. He claimed that when he stepped ashore in New Zealand he owned nearly all the loose cash on the ship, as well as a wide range of saddles and bridles, watches and other gear.
Returning to his hometown of Queenstown, he bought a graceful old launch – the Thelma, with a yacht-type counter stern and a slow-revving single-banger engine – and with this he ran trips to the many parts of the lake not serviced by road. The old Thelma was later used on Lake Ohau for a number of years until she went ashore and was damaged beyond repair, and as far as I know she is still lying on the beach below the Lodge.
To cope with the expanding traffic Jock had built a modern passenger launch, the Kelvin, and he also developed walking trips up the Routeburn Valley and down the Greenstone, using a series of mountain huts and packhorses to carry in supplies. He ran the business from a small building on a piece of land he owned on the waterfront across the road from Eichardts, and it was this building which was moved to the Crown Range and later on to Coronet Peat to establish skiing there.
In the mid 1920s the Company bought the whole of Jock Edgar’s business, including the launches, the land on the waterfront, and his huts and horses. A modern building to replace Jock’s hut was erected on the waterfront site to house the branch office and staff. Once a year Dooley Coxhead, who was then Company secretary, did a round of the Routeburn and Greenstone Valleys to check the huts and count the horses, but it was not until some years later we found that the ones that Jock had sold to us actually belonged to the Tourist Department!
In a book called “All Aboard” by RJ Meyer which was about the old cargo boats, firstly yachts then latterly steam, it mentions the Thelma in the winter of 1933 being roped in to help with the mail and service run to Glenorchy. While the Earnslaw was having boiler repairs the Ben Lomond also developed boiler trouble and the Thelma was called on to serve the lakeside stations. The Thelma then had engine trouble and the Kelvin and the Muritai had to carry on the service.