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 just beneath the high tide. At low tide you can see what remains of its hull sticking out of the water. This ship was launched in Sweden in 1857, and since that day it has had four official names, and more stories than you could count. It spent some time down in South America and vanished off the records for a good 8 years. They speculate piracy and Spanish slavery. It spend some time in the guano trade and possible 'Blackbirding' in the Pacific. Read through some of the links for a better idea of what this ship was up to.


From Dunedin, drive toward Port Chalmers and keep on going, past Careys Bay, and before the boat jetty in Deborah Bay the ship is just out in the water. I would recommend some gum boots to get a closer look. The little rocky beach before the water is covered with glass of all sorts, so watch out.

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 now known as Elcira Subercaseaux and this is where it goes off record. Eight years later it emerged back on the radar, with another name, the Don Juan, but it came with stories from all over the world.

Allegedly it was a Peruvian blockade runner and transported Chinese coolies to dig guano from the Chincha Islands. While in the Pacific it had a history of "blackbirding". Enslaving 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 Roisalia 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 story to tell. The ship was leaking so badly that crew refused to set sail to Dunedin in what was being called a 'coffin ship'. It finally made it to Port Chalmers on November the 22nd. 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