How common is the name Otago and what is its history?

How did Tasmania come to name its Otago Bay, one of the suburbs in the broader Old Beach area, on my planned Stage 7 of the walk along the Derwent River?

On the Clarence City Council site at http://www.ccc.tas.gov.au/page.aspx?u=1085, Otago Bay was named after the iron barque the Otago, the remains of which can still be seen on the shoreline of Otago Bay. Wikipedia reports that the remains of the Otago (beached in the Bay in 1931) and a steel river steamer the Westralian (beached in 1937) can both still be seen on the beach. The Otago was dismantled at a shipbreaking establishment that operated at the Bay between the 1920s and 1960s. Some excellent current photos of the remains of the Otago can be seen on http://pacific-edge.info/2014/01/otago/.  I look forward to clicking my own photographs later this week.

At http://www.nzgeographic.co.nz/archives/issue-78/joseph-conrads-ship, I learned the Otago was commissioned by Captain Angus Cameron and built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow, Scotland. Once in Australasian waters, the Otago was used as a regular carrier of coal from Newcastle, New South Wales Australia to New Zealand’s city of Dunedin in the early 1870s.

The Otago page on the Parks and Wildlife Service website http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=1793 explained that the Otago was a three masted ship built in 1869. In 1872 the barque was transferred from Glasgow to Adelaide, South Australia. The Otago‘s chief claim to fame is that the vessel was the only command of the famous Joseph Conrad during 1888-9 (Conrad became a well-known novelist using some of his mariner experiences, after he gave up sea faring in the mid-1890s).

The vessel arrived at Hobart in July 1905. In January 1931 the Otago was sold to a local shipbreaker and towed to its present location in Otago Bay. The hulk was partially dismantled for scrap metal in 1937 and more completely in 1957. The bow of the vessel rests on the shoreline with the stern lying in approximately two metres of water. The iron hull has been cut back to the waterline and the bow and stern have disappeared entirely. The remains can easily viewed from the shore as the interior of the hull and the surrounding area contain a quantity of debris that make closer examination hazardous. The photo below, of the Otago, is from the parks and wildlife website.

Otago 1900 Adelaide

The Otago at Port Adelaide, c.1900 (in the collection of the Archives Office of Tasmania)

The photo below, dated a decade later, is also from the collection of the Archives Office of Tasmania.

Hulk Otago 1910

Hulk of the Otago, c.1910

That is all well and good. We know our Otago Bay was named after a boat that was dismantled in its Bay. But what does the name Otago mean?  How did the boat get its name?

Otago, a well-known region in the southern island of New Zealand, was settled by people from Scotland starting in 1848. Many people believe the name ‘Otago’ is a European corruption of the Maori word ‘Otakou’ which translates as ‘village’. It may be fitting to refer to our Otago Bay as a village because its population only numbers a few hundred and it is isolated from other suburbs by the natural landscape. However, there seems to be no connection between our Tasmanian Otago Bay and with Maori culture (although perhaps some New Zealanders live there – I don’t know).  More than one boat was built in Scotland and named Otago in the second part of the 19th century, so the impact of the Otago region in New Zealand on Scotland was significant.

The founder of the Otago settlement in New Zealand, William Cargill, died in 1860 and a Tasmanian sandstone monument to him was built in Dunedin in 1864. Why Tasmanian sandstone? According to http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nzbound/otago_bdm1860.htm, son John Cargill stopped by Tasmania in 1841, before he helped his father to settle in Otago.  Did John collect some local sandstone during his visit? If so, what an extraordinary thing to do considering the Otago ship eventually had its resting place in the Derwent River.

3 thoughts on “How common is the name Otago and what is its history?

  1. Marion Stoneman

    A more elegant part of the ship Otago is on display at the Tas Maritime Museum in Argyle Street – from memory the pilot house, all polished and shiny! They also have information about the ship and its history, as well as the renowned Mr Conrad.

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