A new life and home for Port Adelaide’s historic clipper

The world’s oldest surviving clipper ship – the ‘City of Adelaide’ – moved to a new and forever home in Port Adelaide on Sunday 16 June.

The short hop from the ship’s current berth upon a floating, flat barge in Dock Two to adjoining dockside land at Port Adelaide, is planned to be the ship’s final journey after it was brought back to Australia in 2014 following a fierce campaign by South Australian volunteer group, the Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Limited Board (CSCOAL).

About a quarter of a million South Australians can claim a lineage to the migrants who arrived here from the UK when the ship was operative in the late nineteenth century.

The new resting place is expected to boost the daily tours of the ship which run daily and have attracted more than 150,000 visitors since they began operating shortly after the clipper arrived 10 years ago. The tours also encompass a visit to the lesser known, Annie Watt – a smaller ship known as a trading ketch and the Nelcebee, the second-to-last ketch to operate in South Australia’s coastal trade – which are housed in a shed adjacent the designated home for the City of Adelaide clipper.

The new home is upon land owned by Renewal SA and which is leased back to CSCOAL.

“The clipper ship’s long anticipated move onto land at Dock Two represents another significant milestone in the life of this incredible ship with its unique and special relationship with South Australia,” said Vincent Rigter, Senior Development Manager (Innovation Districts and City) at Renewal SA.

“The Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Limited Board and their dedicated group of volunteers have done an incredible job in firstly rescuing the ship from a watery grave, bringing it from Scotland and finally getting the Clipper onto land where it will take pride of place together with other historic vessels, including the Nelcebee and Annie Watt. This creates a historic maritime precinct for the enjoyment of all South Australians and visitors from abroad and will draw more people to visit this thriving waterfront community.”

Renewal SA has been delivering the Our Port renewal project since 2012 in partnership with the City of Port Adelaide Enfield. The project has delivered significant improvements made to public infrastructure, heritage buildings, transport links and streetscapes in and around the Port. Upon completion, the project will have created up thousands of new homes, generated 1500 construction jobs and $1-2 billion in private investment over a 20-year period.

The clipper has been in Port Adelaide for the past 10 years after making the journey back from Scotland where it had been left to rot in the river Clyde before a concerted 14 year campaign by CSCOAL helped bring it back to Adelaide. It has since been restored by the volunteers and many partners including the Australian Naval Infrastructure which is developing a submarine construction yard at nearby Osborne.

CSCOAL ship director Peter Christopher said the scale of the undertaking has been vast.

“Everything about this project is enormous. The size and weight of ship; the length of negotiations, the detailed planning and fundraising, and all by a team of dedicated volunteers,” he said. “This is the most historic surviving ship in Australia and the new home will help greatly to raise awareness among the general public.”

CSCOAL hopes the clipper can become the centrepiece of a family-friendly maritime heritage precinct, or seaport village, which will build upon the tourism appeal of the Port’s docks. A pedestrian bridge that will connect Dock One and the Port Approach will be built via developer Kite Projects this year.

“The long-awaited launch of the historic clipper ship will mark a significant milestone in the preservation of maritime heritage and provide numerous benefits to the local community,” said Damon Nagel, Managing Director of Kite Projects.

“The maritime precinct will feature the clipper ship under restoration, offering visitors a unique window into a bygone era of maritime excellence. The precinct promises to be a family-friendly destination, offering hands-on workshops and craft stations to captivating storytelling sessions and guided ship tours.”

Preparation for the clipper move came down to the tiniest detail with much of the work completed pre move including jacking up the clipper by 1.5 metres last year to ensure a smoother transition. Trailers weighing 400 tonnes were used to move the 600 tonne clipper Mr Christopher said.

The ship was shifted from its previous river base via self-propelled modular trailers in a delicate and complex operation timed to align with the day’s high tide. The move took about two hours.

Tours of the City of Adelaide, which have been running for several years, will continue as normal.

The ship has been heavily refurbished at a cost of about $5 million – including the approximate $1million needed to move the ship on June 16 – over the last 10 years, money which has come largely through fundraising and donations.

The ship’s saloon which can now accommodate 75 guests for functions is understood to be the prize part of the renewal along with two of the original 12 first luxury first cabins which are being updated. Most of the clipper’s other passengers travelled below deck with no portholes and with just two toilets between 270 people.

Constructed in 1864 to carry passengers to South Australia, the City of Adelaide clipper made 23 return voyages until 1887 and was renowned as the pinnacle of sailing ship design. Only two such vessels survive today, the other, and a younger, ship younger being the Cutty Sark – one of London’s most popular tourist attractions.