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“Mr Henry Godfrey's excellent model of the pioneer ship Philip Laing”

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Tūhura Otago Museum has many ship models on display. Most are in our Maritime Gallery, but there’s also the historic blue wall of Oceanic model vaka, a model of the Dunedin in Southern Land, Southern People, where it is part of the story of frozen meat shipments from Aotearoa, and a beautiful model of the Philip Laing in Tāngata Whenua. It is charmingly detailed, with masts and rigging, ensign and house flag, chains and anchor, cutters and longboat, and officers and crew at their posts.


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Figure 1: Model of the Philip Laing made by Henry Godfrey. 
X2011.285 Gift of Mrs J Macdonald; Tūhura Otago Museum Collection  


The Philip Laing and the John Wickliffe were 19th-century sailing ships chartered by the New Zealand Company to convey UK immigrants to Otago. The Philip Laing, captained by Andrew Jamieson Elles, sailed from Scotland and arrived at Port Chalmers in April 1848, about three weeks after the John Wickliffe. She was chartered from Laing & Ridley for approximately £1800 and carried 26 crew and 247 emigrants, including the Rev. Dr Thomas Burns and family.

Despite what must have been a fairly long and crowded voyage for most of those on board, four decades later there seemed to be a strong degree of affection for the barque. For years, newspaper references to people who had been passengers, whatever the context, mentioned that connection. It seems to have stood in for the whole huge experience of having moved to a different hemisphere, land, and life.

A model of the Philip Laing made by Mr Henry Godfrey (then living in Dunedin and a member of her crew for about five years in the 1850s – but not on that first voyage to Dunedin) was displayed in the Early History Court of the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, Dunedin, over the summer of 1889-90.

Godfrey was described as an able seaman on the vessel; one account specifies that he was a cook and steward; another that he was the carpenter. In the 1878-79 street directory, he is recorded as living in Forbury Road, Dunedin, and thereafter in High Street, in the block between Graham Street and Grant Street. His occupation during these Dunedin years is consistently recorded as storeman.

In the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, Godfrey received a first award for his model of the Philip Laing in Subdivision 5, Class XXXIV – Home Industries, and a second award in Subdivision 3 of the same class for “two frames of New Zealand ferns and model of houses (collective exhibit)”. The latter were a bush hut and a farm building, both with surrounds. Mrs Godfrey contributed to the displays of ferns, for which her husband made the frames.

Soon after the exhibition, the future of this model became a bit of a cause, with letters to the editor appearing in the local newspapers. Some residents were interested in it being purchased from Henry Godfrey in order to donate it to the Museum, “as a souvenir of the exhibition and a record of the early history of the Otago settlement”. It was estimated that about £30 would be required, and Mr H F Hardy agreed to act as the honorary treasurer of a fund established to raise this sum.

The conversation remained in play over the following two years, including a suggestion that the model’s acquisition be linked to the formal handing over of the Burns monument, but apparently this didn’t happen. In 1892 it was reported that “Mr Henry Godfrey's excellent model of the pioneer ship Philip Laing, which brought the first settlers out to Otago, was on exhibition at Messrs Begg and Co.'s music warehouse. The little vessel attracted great attention.”

In a letter to the editor of the ODT, James McIndoe said that “at Godfrey’s request my services were placed at his disposal at the exhibition of 1889-90 to get the model sold. This was accomplished satisfactorily and the subsequent resting-place of the model is Mr McDonald’s [sic] custody.” He doesn’t go into details of the process but, despite the time delay, perhaps McIndoe helped Godfrey with the organisation of his 1892 art union, advertisements for which announced that the model of the Philip Laing would be given with the first prize. Tickets were advertised at one shilling each.

The winning numbers were advertised in the Otago Daily Times on 10 February 1893, having been drawn the previous Monday. It seems likely that this is the point at which it entered the ownership of Mr J Macdonald.

Godfrey himself apparently left Dunedin soon after this. He is recorded here in the 1893 directories, but not in those for 1894.

In 1898 – the jubilee of the arrival of the John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing – another published letter to the Otago Daily Times suggested Dunedin consider the feasibility or desirability of presenting each of the “old-identity survivors of the ships John Wickliffe and Philip Laing with a good wooden model of their respective vessels”, with the idea that they would “deepen that very proper spirit of pride and self-importance felt by them as actors in the proceedings and would be handed down as treasured and appropriate heirlooms”. 1

In 1903, about a decade after Godfrey’s Art Union, the model was advertised for sale.


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Figure 2: Otago Daily Times, 2 June 1903: 1


A second (at least) model of the Philip Laing was presented to the Otago Early Settlers Association by Mr James Burrowes in 1902 and there was a short flurry of correspondence (primarily between J Macdonald and Lachlan Langlands, who was then Secretary of the Association) about which was the more accurate representation, and whether or not it was claimed that this was the one made by Henry Godfrey. It wasn’t, and possibly never had been so-described, but the exchange serves to highlight the value attributed to Godfrey’s status as a former crew member and the fact that the model had been displayed in the 1889-90 exhibition – in itself a very significant event. At this time the readers of Dunedin’s newspapers also learned from J G Patterson that Henry Godfrey was alive and “in fair health” in London.

I am unsure whether or not the model was sold in 1903. Perhaps not. Our next known point of contact is 1922, when Mrs J (or in one account Mrs W) Macdonald donated the model of the Philip Laing made by Henry Godfrey to the Museum. The Otago Daily Times reported in July of that year that H D Skinner had put it on display in the Museum’s Hocken Wing. Hocken Collections | Uare Taoka o Hākena holds the documentation that accompanied it. 2 Handwritten notes in black ink on two large sheets of pale blue-grey paper, dated April 1898, detail the ‘particulars’ of the Philip Laing during the years in which Henry Godfrey served on board. This includes her taking 37 men and 39 horses to the Crimean War, delivering shot and shell from Gibraltar to London, losing a man overboard in Bass Strait, taking rock salt from Chennai (then known as Madras) to Kolkata, leaving the East India Docks with 50 passengers for Wellington and Canterbury, and conveying a shipment of rice to Hong Kong. The final note is that she was, at the time of writing, used as a coal hulk in Hong Kong.



  1. Otago Daily Times, 7 April 1893: 3
  2. MS-0745 Macdonald, J.: Papers relating to the history of the 'Philip Laing' (1848-1858, 1889-1903)

Header image: Model of the Philip Laing made by Henry Godfrey. X2011.285 Gift of Mrs J Macdonald; Tūhura Otago Museum Collection