Replica masts from the façade of a demolished South Australian shopping centre could soon adorn the world’s oldest surviving clipper in a bid to fast-track restoration and boost the profile of the cash-strapped ship.
The City of Adelaide was purpose built in Sunderland in the United Kingdom in 1864 to carry passengers and cargo to and from the city of Adelaide, the capital of the new colony of South Australia. She returned ‘home’ to Port Adelaide in 2014 after spending more than two decades rotting on a slipway in Irvine, Scotland.
Since then, a dedicated team of volunteers has spent five years cleaning out and repairing the City of Adelaide’s hull and has relied on donations, sponsorship, paid guided tours and merchandise sales to pay for the restoration.
But the latest restoration windfall has come from an unlikely source. Three steel masts that have formed part of the façade of a local shopping centre for many years have been offered to the Clipper Ship City of Adelaide, the not-for-profit group dedicated to preserving the historic vessel.
The former Port Canal shopping centre is about 1km from where the clipper rests on a barge at Port Adelaide’s Dock One. The centre is being demolished to make way for the $A45 million redevelopment of the renamed Port Adelaide Plaza.
Details about how the masts will be transferred to the ship are still being finalised.
Clipper Ship City of Adelaide director Peter Christopher said he received a call from the Port Adelaide Plaza marketing team on Tuesday night asking if the masts would be of use in the ship’s restoration.
“Wednesday morning I took one of our engineers and our trade supervisor to have a look at them and we met the site manager from BADGE who are doing the work down there and we thought we could use them,” Christopher said.
“They are not identical to what the ship had — the masts on the ship were 40-metres tall whereas these are probably closer to 20.
“But it means we can get masts up on display much sooner than we otherwise would have been able to.”
The City of Adelaide made 23 annual voyages taking settlers bound for South Australia from London and Plymouth to Adelaide between 1864 and 1887 and shared the record of 65 days for the fastest journey from London to Adelaide for a number of years. On the return voyages she carried passengers, wool and copper from Adelaide and Port Augusta to London.
The ship was later used as floating isolation hospital at Southampton and a coal freighter. In 1923 she was purchased by the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Carrick before being decommissioned in 1948 and towed to Glasgow. The Clipper moved from the River Clyde to Irvine in 1992 to a site adjacent to the Scottish Maritime Museum where several years of initial restoration work began.
A conference on the ship’s future in 2001 agreed to restore the City of Adelaide’s original name, sparking discussions that eventually led to her final journey to South Australia.
She arrived in Adelaide in February 2014 in time for her 150 thanniversary after a 22,000 km trip aboard a barge and heavy-lift cargo ship following a long campaign to bring the clipper ‘home’.
Recent restoration work on the clipper includes the addition of mounted displays throughout the ship ranging from a bible owned by one of the ship’s original captains in 1876 to a wheel that was on the ship when the Royal Navy had it through to a nursing display recognising its years as a hospital.
“The ship had a saloon deck, which was home to about 30 first class passengers on each journey and we’re currently about a third of the way through renovating that entire deck,” Christopher said.
“We’ve cleaned up the hull below where the cargo was stored to the point where we’ve started taking people down and in the next three to six months we’ll have a proper walkway in there for tours.
“When we first got the ship it took us over a year to clean it out inside before it was safe to take people in so I suppose that was the initial job and last year we had 25,000 people visit the information centre and took 5000 people through on tours.”
Volunteers run three tours every day and are introducing self-guided weekend tours of the City of Adelaide in May as part of the South Australia’s month-long History Festival.
The recent renovation works have also allowed the ship to be booked for private functions such as weddings and dinners.
“One of the comments we get often from people is that they drive past but they can’t see much happening because most of the work we are doing is on the inside of the ship,” Christopher said.
“So we’re really keen to get something up and visible because it will lift our profile dramatically and people will be more likely to come and undertake tours and help us generate income.
“But we won’t be able to fit them immediately — until a few days ago we didn’t even know that they were available — because there’s stuff we need to do to prepare the ship to receive the masts and it’s a bit complex.”
Those complexities include the constant struggle to raise funds to pay for the ship’s restoration and uncertainty about the City of Adelaide’s long-term home.
In 2016, the South Australian government announced more than $280 million of new private developments to help transform the historic maritime precinct of Port Adelaide into a residential, commercial and tourist hub.
This means the ship, which sits on a barge at Dock One, will likely need to move to make way for 750-home development before the end of the year.
The not-for-profit organisation Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Ltd is negotiating with the South Australian government’s Renewal SA about a new site.
Christopher said that move would potentially involve the barge having to pass under either the Birkenhead or the Tom ‘Diver’ Derrick Bridge, which would be more complicated with tall masts up despite both being opening bridges.
However, he said the likely need to cut the masts in half to allow for easier transportation from the shopping centre to the dock would also enable the masts to be erected in sections with the lower portions possibly put up ahead of the ship’s move.
“I’d be very keen to get the masts up quickly but it’s subject to the income to do it with, the technical work we have to do on the ship to receive the masts and the third issue of moving the barge and when and how we do that.
“What we’re hoping will happen is they will be able to be put on the back of a semi-trailer and a crane will lift them off and put them on the ship or on the barge and that could occur in the next couple of days.
“Then we’ll look at whether or not we can fit the lower section of the masts and not the upper section until after the move and that will solve the bridge issue.”
Sydney-based Precision Group bought the Port Canal shopping centre in 1998 and recently renamed it Port Adelaide Plaza ahead of the 29,500sq m redevelopment, which it says is the most significant retail development in Port Adelaide in more than a decade.
Christopher said the donation of the replica masts would allow part of the old Port Canal centre to live on in the community.
He said the fact that the shopping centre masts were not the same as the original ship’s was not a major issue.
“The original ship had two iron masts and one wooden mast so the fact that these masts are steel is not a problem.
“The other issue is that when it became a Royal Navy ship in 1923 it had previously been de-masted while it was a hospital so the navy fitted three false masts anyway, which were in fact smaller than what we’ve been offered by the Port Plaza.
“It will be a long time before we can put full-sized replica masts on and so these will likely be up for some time but even when they come off we might be able to use one as a bowsprit out the front of the ship.”