Sharing our stories of shipping and the seas, this gallery showcases Otago’s proud maritime history.

Opened in 1973, this gallery contains over 50 model ships, original ships’ flags, ships’ bells and an historic Fin whale skeleton. It celebrates Otago’s proud shipping past, which is closely linked to the development of New Zealand's shipping industry.

The Maritime Gallery was established within the Otago Museum by the Otago Maritime Society, who still work with the Museum today to share our shipping stories.

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Impossible to miss in the centre of the gallery, the Fin whale skeleton has been at the Otago Museum for over 100 years. It was found on the beach at the entrance to the Waimea River, Nelson, in 1882 by Captain Jackson Barry. The Captain toured the skeleton around New Zealand before it was purchased by the Museum in 1884.

At 17 metres in length, the Fin whale was just a juvenile when it died, as adults can be as long as 27 metres. It is believed that this is the only fully articulated Fin whale skeleton in Australasia.

Many of the intricate model ships on display in the Maritime Gallery are original Union Steam Ship Company builders’ models. The Union Steam Ship Company grew from humble origins within the Otago Harbour on the strength of Dunedin’s post-gold rush commercial boom.

The Union Steam Ship Company expanded into domestic trade within the South Island, then grew further to dominate trans-Tasman trade.

Rapidly absorbing national and international competitors, it gained the nickname ‘The Southern Octopus’. By 1914, it was one of the largest shipping companies in the world.

The many original ships’ bells displayed in the Maritime Gallery would have been used for lookout signalling, anchor reporting and fog signalling. These bells proudly display the names of their ships and were acquired by the Otago Maritime Society from ships coming to the end of their service.


Flags on ships tell other ships about the country, organisation or company a ship belongs to. The flags displayed include a full set of signal flags as well as the Union Steam Ship Company flag, coloured red, white, blue and yellow. 

There are many other items of interest within this gallery, among them a small rocking cradle in the shape of a dinghy made for a sailing ship captain’s granddaughter.

Another highlight is the copper-helmeted Siebe-Gorman diving suit, almost identical to the original version invented and made in 1839. The diving suit is complete with air pump and internal telephone.