The Don Juan

Dunedin City District

The Don Juan pirate ship in Deborah Bay

Not far from the heart of Dunedin lies an old pirate ship hidden at high tide, and its hull revealed at low tide. This ship was launched in Sweden in 1857, and since that day it has had four official names given to it and its stories are countless. It spent some time down in South America and vanished off the records for a good eight years -- piracy and Spanish slavery are speculated. It is known thereafter that the ship spent some time in the guano trade and possibly participated in 'Blackbirding' over the Pacific. Read through some of the provided links for a better idea of what that is and what else the ship got up to.


From Dunedin, drive North through Port Chalmers, past Careys Bay, and at low tide you'll spot its skeletal hull before the boat jetty in Deborah Bay. I would recommend some gumboots to get the closest look without having to go for a swim. The little rocky beach before the water is littered with glass, fyi.

Other adventures in close proximity:

Helpful links


The Daniel Elfstrand Pehrsson was launched in Sweden in 1857. It started out in the guano trade and after making it's way to Chilean waters leaking badly, it was sold. This is when it first changed names. It was next known as Elcira Subercaseaux and this is when it goes off record. Eight years later it emerged back on the radar, with another name, the Don Juan, and it came with stories from all over the world.

Allegedly it was a Peruvian blockade runner and transported Chinese coolies (laborers) to dig guano from the Chincha Islands. While in the Pacific it earned some "blackbirding" history when it enslaved Pacific Islanders to work abroad in places like Peru and Australia. Once back in Chilean waters it was sold again. A new name came to pass, the Rosalia. This time it carried labourers from China to the coastal plantations in Peru. After the Rosalia was bought by a Dunedin firm, it set sail to New Zealand in 1874. It arrived in Napier with a load of timber and a few stories to tell. From Napier, the ship was leaking so badly that crew refused the next voyage to Dunedin in what was being called a 'coffin ship'. A new crew made it to Port Chalmers on November the 22nd of 1874. It was sold again, and took back it's name of the Don Juan. Soon after it was condemned as 'totally unseaworthy' and left to rot in Deborah Bay.

Notes taken from Papers Past and the ODT