Historic ship’s namesake mystery solved

Professor Adrian Schubert and Associate Professor Boyd Cothran on the Edwin Fox. Photo: Supplied.

His name is linked to one of the oldest ships in the world but the mystery of who exactly Edwin Fox has remained unsolved – until now.

Two history professors from Canada, visiting Marlborough to research their new book, uncovered the final clue as to who the true Edwin Fox was.

Professor Adrian Schubert and Associate Professor Boyd Cothran from York University in Toronto were wrapping up research at Marlborough Museum when they made the breakthrough.

“When we arrived at the answer, we just stood there for a moment, as if we couldn’t believe what we had done.

“Then it sank in and we started jumping up and down and doing high fives,” Adrian says.

It was common knowledge the old immigrant ship was named after Englishman Edwin Fox but no firm connection between him and the owner of the Calcutta Shipyard where the Edwin Fox was built was ever found.

But an online search saw the pair find the will of owner Thomas Reeve.

“He named an “Edwin Fox of St. Helen’s Place, London” as one of his executors and guardian of his children, along with his widow.

“However, we couldn’t make out the word “Helen’s” and decided to look in London city directories for the 1850s and 60s to help us decipher the name of the street,” Adrian says.

“We got more than that: an advertisement for an insurance company that listed Edwin Fox of St. Helen’s Place as an auditor. That confirmed it for us, and from there we went to find out more about him.

“It was really helpful that his middle name was Goodhugh, because there were more Edwin Fox’s than you might imagine”.

Adrian, who has a PhD in history from the University of London, says the find was “exhilarating” for the pair.

“It was definitely an exhilarating moment and it was the kind moment that we as historians live for: solving a mystery by lining up evidence from historical documents”.

The Edwin Fox was built in India in 1853. The Picton-based ship forms the backbone of the new book about globalisation to be published in the USA.

“There can be no doubt that this is the man for whom the ship was named.

“The most conclusive piece of evidence for us is the connection we’ve established between the Edwin Fox mentioned in the will with Edwin Goodhugh Fox of St. Helen’s Place.

“That’s the piece of evidence previous historians lacked.

“But there is now a new mystery: when and how did Thomas Reeves and Edwin Fox meet? And what was the nature and extent of their relationship?” Boyd says.

The co-editor of The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Boyd has since returned to Canada alongside Adrian.

Still reeling from their find, the pair are delighted they had been able to divulge the Fox’s secret.

“Because of her exceptional longevity, we have the opportunity here to tell that larger and hitherto untold story, and that’s really exciting,” says Boyd.

Vessel of Globalization: The Many Worlds of the Edwin Fox will be published in the next couple of years.

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