Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The sad hulk and glorious past of the City of Adelaide

The sad hulk of the once proud City of Adelaide sailing clipper lies high above the flotsam and jetsam of Irvine inner harbour. She was built in Sunderland in 1864 and at one time held the record for the fastest sailing voyage between London and Australia. She has wooden planking over an iron frame and was built to carry both passengers and cargo. Two of the passengers, making a new life on her maiden voyage, were George and Annie Wilcox. (I am not sure if there is any family link.) Her first master was a Scot Captain David Bruce. Two of his sons were later to succeed him as master. All together she made 23 return voyages to Australia until she was sold in 1887 during the Australian depression.

In later life she spent nearly 50 years moored on the Clyde, in the centre of Glasgow, as the RNVR ship SV Carrick. She sank in 1991 and was later transferred to the Scottish Maritime Museum at Irvine. Unfortunately funds have never been found to restore her. A ray of hope exists as an Australian charity "Save the clipper ship City of Adelaide" is raising money for her restoration. The Australians recognize her crucial importance to the history of their country. It is estimated that 1.1 million Australians are descended from immigrants who made the long voyage to the other side of the world in the City of Adelaide.

Many people in Scotland have links with Australia. My brother emigrated to Melbourne and my wife's brother emigrated to Brisbane. We must go, probably in a Boeing 747. I wonder if any of them will still be around in 143 years?

Added 07/04/2009
Please see an update about the City of Adelaide here.


  1. Dear Dr Wilcox, I have been meaning to comment on your excellent blog for sometime. I very much enjoy your pictures on here and in Ocean Paddler.

    Today's post is particularly interesting as I am very interested in historic vessels and the stories behind them. You raise an interesting question in your last paragraph, as I too wonder that about so many things - how long will they last.

    Given the airframe and avionics upgrades that the USAF have put into early 707 jets that are likely to keep them in service for over 70 years, I suppose 747s will remain. Even if they do, they will never have the history and personal stories intertwined in the same way as a ship. (In my humble opinion).

    Best wishes,


  2. Great, great, great, great.

    Mark R

  3. Great story!

    I live in the middle of continent now (Colorado) far away from ocean or sea.

    However, my mind goes to my sailing time in Poland (the Baltic Sea mostly) and some wooden yachts which were lost or destroyed by negligence or a bad practice.

    Here is a picture which I shot in 1980s of the yacht which rests now at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea: s/y Zew Morza

    Sorry, I've got a little nostalgic. I need a good paddling workout!

  4. Old ships played a role in changing many parts of the world. Many of the townships east of where I live were first settled by Scots cleared out of the highlands in the 1800's. Up until the present generation, many people could still speak the gaelic, but much of it has now gone. They all came on ships much like the Adelaide.

  5. Mark S, thank you, it's Douglas BTW! What amazed me about the Adelaide was that so many records relating to her voyages to Australia are still available, departure and arrival times, passenger lists etc. Although we live in an information rich age, I am not sure what records will survive for future generations.

    Mark R Thank you very much.

    Marek good to hear from you and thanks for the link to a beautiful yacht. We are lucky to have access to such varied environments when we go paddling.

    Michael, that is a very good point and indeed, after she left the Australian route, the City of Adelaide made many Atlasntic crossings to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia between 1888 and 1893. On one voyage, on 10/4/1893, she set sail from Ayr, just down the coast from Irvine, bound for Miramichi.


  6. Its always sad to a ship like that.. I hope they can find the money to restore so she can sail again.. whats all that junk you can see on the foreshore/bank ... is it really that dirty there

  7. Hello Heathcliff, its not quite as bad as it looks. Most of it is timber which has been washed down the River Irvine. Yes there is the usual plastic rubbish but at least the sewage is now properly treated and disposed of through a long offshore pipe. In the early eighties the Ayrshire beaches were awash with raw human sewage, some, such as Largs, still are.