Mobile Unit. Lake Wakatipu steamer captain
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Captain T. R. Luckie of Queenstown speaks of his experiences during his 38 years with the steamer service on Lake Wakatipu, including paddle steamers, farming, and life on the lakeside stations.
The first boat he worked on was the ‘Mountaineer’, where he worked as a deckhand. He also worked on the ‘Antrim’ and the ‘Ben Lomond’. He speaks about his parents – his father was a shipwright from Dundee, and his mother was from Galloway. They came out to New Zealand in the 1860s.
His father helped build the Antrim at Kinloch – it was a small wooden paddle steamer, about a hundred feet in length. The Skippers were Captain Robertson and Captain McDowall. He also recalls the Ben Lomond, which sometimes needed a staysail to keep steady on the lake, which could become rough when it was windy.
Captain Luckie recalls the Prince of Wales (later King George) visiting Queenstown. He wasn’t working on the boat that carried the royal party, but was working on the boat the carried the accompanying policemen. They went from Queenstown to Kingston.
He then recalls various cargo that was carried, including livestock, mining machinery (including dredges), and timber from Kingston. He goes on to speak about Lake Wakatipu, and landmarks around it such as Bob’s Cove, Rat Point, and Halfway Bay.
The settlers at the head of the lake used the boats for communication, and to get help when people got sick or injured. Captain Luckie recalls a man named Cornish, who cut his leg badly with an axe. They rushed him from Kinloch to Queenstown in under two hours. The man’s leg wouldn’t stop bleeding, but they got him to the doctor in time to save him – the doctor met them on the wharf. (He later picks up this story, and adds that the man cut himself while cutting posts at Paradise). There were also cases of appendicitis, including one only a few months ago.
He recalls when the boat Ben Lomond broke down, and they were stuck on the lake until the early morning. The engine stopped, and they had to get a launch from Queenstown to tow the boat in. Fortunately, it was a calm night and they had no passengers on board, only cargo.
He says there were very few Chinese passengers, though there were one or two that were employed as cooks at the stations. They were regarded as good cooks, and one stayed on at a station for twenty or thirty years. He recalls an opium house in Queenstown were some Chinese would smoke, though he wasn’t allowed inside. He then mentions the Chinese having ‘a pretty do’ up in the cemetery, with firecrackers and brandy.
When the Antrim was retired, it was used instead for hauling other boats into the slip, and the Mountaineer was taken to Kingston and broken up there. He then recalls bad weather on the lake, and a flood that brought waters right up to the front of the Bank of New Zealand.
He then speaks about farming, and mentions George Shaw’s girls working at shearing and driving cattle. The wool is taken away from the farms via the steamers. He says George Shaw is quite a character, and working on his farm would be quite isolating for the girls. He then mentions Mr Von Tunzelmann, who used to be at Walter Peak station, and then moved to the head of the lake.
The gold rush was mostly before Captain Luckie’s time, but he says there was a bit of gold at Glenorchy and Buckleburn Creek. Some fortunes were made, though many spent the money as quickly as they got it. The steamers shipped a lot of the gold out, especially during the first and second World Wars. There hasn’t been much gold since, though there is a bit of sheelite coming out of the area.
The interview concludes with Captain Luckie commenting that there are only a few gold miners left - most are very old men or have died. One old miner, named Thompson, lives at Eureka Gorge.