Historic Clipper Ship finds land after 160 years at sea

Port Adelaide’s “City of Adelaide”, the world’s oldest surviving clipper ship will be lifted onto land after 160 years upon water.

If the eerie sensation of ‘sea legs’ kicks in upon stepping onto land after being out on the water for a few hours, imagine how it’d feel if you finally made your way to land after 160 years of floating upon the water. The City of Adelaide, the world’s oldest surviving clipper ship, will soon find out once it is relocated onto land on 16 June.

For the past ten years, the City of Adelaide has been sitting on a barge beside Port Adelaide’s Dock Two within a stabilising cradle, waiting to be moved onto land and commence a new chapter in its varied and colourful life.

The City of Adelaide clipper set off on its maiden voyage on 6 August 1864. Its purpose of transporting passengers and cargo to and from Adelaide inspired its name, and it carried our city’s Coat of Arms. After 23 return journeys, it delivered its final passengers to London in 1887, when steamships superseded it.

Alas, the City of Adelaide wasn’t ready to retire, changing its course as a cargo ship for the North American timber trade before being transformed into an isolation hospital in Southampton, UK, where it remained for 30 years. Proving that age is no barrier to getting out and about, the City of Adelaide signed up to the Royal Navy as a drill ship, at which time it was renamed “HMS Carrick”. It was then used as a Naval Volunteer Club room on the River Clyde, Scotland. In the following years, it sank three times and was finally retrieved by the Scottish Maritime Museum for restoration. However, this never eventuated, and its future looked grim.

It wasn’t until 2000 that a group of passionate Australian volunteers tracked it down to a private slip in Irvine, Scotland and welcomed it into Port Adelaide’s harbour.

One of those volunteers was Peter Christopher OAM, Director of the not-for-profit organisation Clipper Ship City of Adelaide  Ltd. Peter helped lead the team to bring the City of Adelaide to our shores after learning that the Scottish Maritime Museum had applied to diminish the ship’s heritage status. This put the ship at risk of destruction.

In a conversation with Glam Adelaide, Peter detailed the complicated retrieval of the ship involved the design and construction of a steel cradle, which was built in Adelaide and shipped to Scotland in five shipping containers, “… like a giant Meccano set. This was then placed beneath the ship, which was then jacked up. Approximately 400 tons of wheels were brought in from all over the UK. It was then moved onto a barge, which took it to Rotterdam. At this stage, it was loaded onto a heavy lift ship.”

On its long journey back to Adelaide, it stopped in Greenwich, UK, where the Duke of Edinburgh renamed it the “City of Adelaide”.

The ship finally returned to Adelaide in February 2014. It was placed upon a temporary barge because the land allocated by the government at the time to hold it wasn’t sufficient, especially given the team’s ultimate goal of creating a seaport village around the restored ship.

During that time, Peter and his team kept working with the government and was happy to report that they eventually “…received Dock Two from the State Government as our site, 20,000 square meters of land, and so what we’ve done over the past couple of months is excavate an enormous pit to hold the ship (as its permanent home).”

The expertise, materials, construction, financing and labour to undertake this massive project has been delivered through incredibly generous donations of time and resources and volunteers’ fundraising efforts.

“For the last decade, we’ve been restoring the ship internally… it’s a full-blown museum. We conduct volunteer-led tours seven days a week. Our staff aren’t paid, and we’re not government-funded.”

Sitting on a barge on the water for ten years inhibited their ability to undertake important structural restoration, so placing the ship on land would allow for larger-scale restorative work, which would involve the use of cranes, to proceed.

” When we get it on land, cranes can access so we’re going to look at putting in disabled access… we’re then looking to put in a bowsprit and a figurehead. So all that stuff that we couldn’t do on the barge can start to happen as soon as we get it on land”.

Once complete, the City of Adelaide will sit proudly upon Dock Two, welcoming visitors aboard. Tours and events can continue to be enjoyed there as the restoration work continues.

“We can progressively do all that work over the next five or 10 years with the ship continuing to be the centrepiece of a Seaport Village. The money we make from tours covers the electricity and insurance and that type of stuff. It doesn’t cover the work on the ship. So we’re forever raising funds. You know, we go and chase donations, we do events and dinners.”

“We want to build a Seaport Village around the ship. If you think of Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, it will be a maritime version of that… and the income from that will then be what generates income, which will feed into the ship and enable us to continue to restore it.”

Peter confirmed that the City of Adelaide clipper ship will be moved onto land on 16th June, which will involve a temporary cessation of tours between 10 June and 23 June. It will then return to accepting visitors aboard it, continuing the much-needed fundraising efforts.

For more information on this historic moment and updates on the restoration of this magnificent clipper ship, head to their website and the Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Facebook page.


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