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The 1864 Composite Ship 'City of Adelaide'

Jim Lad

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While on our recent holiday I was able to visit the ‘City of Adelaide’ in her current home at Port Adelaide, South Australia.  This ship is an important relic of the past, being one of only three composite ships surviving (and the oldest one by a few years); one of only three surviving sailing ships that carried emigrants from the United Kingdom – and the only one actually built as a passenger ship; and the last surviving sailing ship from the 19th century North Atlantic timber trade.


She was built in Sunderland, England, in 1864 for Devitt and Moore, who used her to carry emigrants from England to Adelaide for twenty years. Following her days as a crack passenger ship she was involved in various trades before falling into a long decline that almost resulted in her final destruction.  There is quite a comprehensive article concerning her career on Wikipedia.


In spite of her historic significance, she had been in imminent danger of being dismantled due to lack of funds for the Scottish Maritime Museum to preserve her.  The Scottish Parliament had refused to provide any funds as she wasn’t built in Scotland.  She was eventually acquired by a volunteer group in Adelaide who wished to restore her, but on her eventual arrival in South Australia she faced the further hurdle of not being able to locate a permanent home as the State Government at the time took no interest in her whatsoever.


Thankfully this has now changed and it appears that the current Government is working with the volunteer group restoring her to give her a new and permanent dry berth.


Here are a few photos of her that will give you some idea of the ship and the task facing the restoration team.  The restorers are buoyed up by the knowledge that two totally derelict sailing ships have previously been fully restored in Australia by volunteer organisations.  ‘City of Adelaide’ will never sail again – or even float - and will be permanently housed in a dry berth – but at least this important ship is now being preserved.


1752996081_104578-CityOfAdelaide.thumb.JPG.585ff84b345e6febcf2b4266143276f2.JPG'City of Adelaide' as she was several weeks ago housed on her temporary dry berth.  The volunteer team are working on her preservation while awaiting a permanent home for her.


The fore end of the hull.  Many of the planks have shrunk as they dried out due to her being out o the water for so long.  Note especially remnants of the original caulking and the two 'stealer' strakes.

1895468615_104582-CityOfAdelaide.thumb.JPG.a309bcb43ef301fe0845caa1987a1f11.JPGRemnants of the original copper sheathing of the hull.  Of special interest is the fact that the nails securing the copper plates are virtually invisible.

821607255_104607-CityOfAdelaide.thumb.JPG.f508759c803994d5238bb0cbaf2d0ab7.JPGThe iron framing inside the bow.  To modern eyes, the frames look very small, but as they had held the ship firmly together for 154 years, we can suppose that the original designer got it right.

1943375946_104623-CityOfAdelaide.thumb.JPG.f4b4dc2441ac12ed2860f2a37f011bc5.JPGThe complex iron and wood framing around the sternpost.  Note the flat plate reinforcement around the counter and the curved plates at the main deck margin at top left.

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Gidday Jim Lad.

I've been trying to locate some plans for this magnificent vessel. I've been in touch with the volunteer group and they are looking into my requests. I've sourced some deck plans for the Carrick, which I believe is a sister ship. The search goes on.

Fantastic photos.


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18 minutes ago, Y.T. said:

Oops... Majority of modelers were trying and continue to imitate plating nails for years. Now it is proven: in scales we are modelling nails are 100% not visible.

Yep. This is also easily seen on the Charles W Morgan when she's riding a little high in the water.

Chris Coyle
Greer, South Carolina

When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.
- Tuco

Current builds: Brigantine Phoenix, Salmson 2

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Anyone who has seen a coppered hull can confirm this. In my case it was Cutty Sark being restored at Greenwich when I was young.

Be sure to sign up for an epic Nelson/Trafalgar project if you would like to see it made into a TV series  http://trafalgar.tv

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This is another case, where modelling habits and conventions are difficult to eradicate, possible perpetrated by kit-manufacturers as well. The worst thing are raised nail-heads, like rivets. If anything, there should be slight depressions caused by the nails pulling the sheathing into the underlying layer of felt.


There are many pictures of real ships with (restored) metal sheathing on the Web now. It is, however, good to see what the contemporary sheathing would have looked like - apart from the colour, which is due to oxidation in the atmosphere.



panta rhei - Everything is in flux



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  • 7 months later...
On 12/4/2018 at 6:49 AM, pontiachedmark said:

Gidday Jim Lad.

I've been trying to locate some plans for this magnificent vessel. I've been in touch with the volunteer group and they are looking into my requests. I've sourced some deck plans for the Carrick, which I believe is a sister ship. The search goes on.

Fantastic photos.


If I remember correctly, the Carrick was the name given to the City of Adelaide when she was an RNR training ship in Glasgow. The late Harold A Underhill was commissioned to carry out a survey of the Carrick when there were early plans to restore her to something akin to her original appearance as the City of Adelaide, but this never progressed. On Underhill’s untimely death his archives were donated by his wife to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. If these archives still exist it’s possible that the drawings Underhill produced as part of his survey still survive.


The attitude of the South Australian government is sadly symptomatic of many when it comes to ship restorations. Here in Scotland there’s only superficial interest in getting the Falls of Clyde returned to Glasgow; there’s certainly not the money or public commitment that, in comparison, has made the restoration of the Peking in Hamburg so impressive.

member of
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author of
The Art of Nautical lllustration - A Visual Tribute to the Classic Marine Painters, 1991, 2001 & 2002
United States Coast Guard barque Eagle, 2013 (Blurb Photobook)
former assistant editor of the quarterly journal and annual 
Model Shipwright and Shipwright 2010

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