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City of Adelaide Clipper Ship

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by Graeme Fanning (subscribe)
I'm a tour guide who is passionate about South Australia and love to showcase to locals and visitors. Visit my facebook page at
Published September 8th 2015
All aboard the "City of Adelaide" for a journey of discovery
City of Adelaide Clipper Ship

A great way to spend a couple of hours down at historic Port Adelaide is to visit and explore the 1864 clipper ship, the "City of Adelaide".

This is only one of two surviving composite clipper ships in the world (the other is the famous Cutty Sark at Greenwich in the UK) and has made the incredible journey from Scotland to Adelaide, arriving here in February 2014.

City of Adelaide Clipper Ship
City of Adelaide in its heyday c 1864 Source: State Library of South Australia c 186 1778

History and Background

The "City of Adelaide" was built and designed originally as a passenger and cargo vessel in Sunderland UK to bring emigrants from England to South Australia.

Twenty three return journeys later, the age of Steam ships evolved, bringing an end to the regular voyages from UK to Australia.

The ship was sold into the North American timber trade, working as a cargo ship for approximately six years.

For the following 30 years the "City of Adelaide" was utilised as an isolation hospital vessel near Southampton UK, before being taken over by the Royal Navy and used as a drill ship.

The ship also served a purpose as Naval Volunteer Reserve club rooms on the River Clyde in Scotland.

By the early 1990's the ship had been moved onto a private slip near Irvine in Scotland, following problems with damage by flooding and sinking at its mooring in 1991.

From that time onwards, the shell of the vessel had slowly been rotting away.

It took a dedicated band of Australian volunteers to lobby for rescuing the vessel and having it sponsored to come home to Australia, and Port Adelaide.

After arrival at Port Adelaide, the 450 tonne "City of Adelaide" together with her 100 tonne cradle had to be craned from the supporting vessel over to a 800 tonne barge, which was an extremely tricky manoeuvre.

As a temporary resting place, the ship is now berthed at Dock 1 in Port Adelaide's inner harbour, awaiting final location approvals for either Fletcher's Slip, Cruickshank's Corner or Queen's Wharf near Hart's Mill.

City of Adelaide Clipper Ship
Hull of ship

Structure of Vessel

This particular clipper ship was designed with a iron framed and timber bottomed hull which then allowed these types of vessels to carry large amounts of canvas sail.

The timber provided more than adequate insulation and minimised corrosion.

During its time as a passenger carrier, the vessel featured cabins for both first-class and second-class passengers, as well as the hold having the facility to fit out steerage accommodation when and where needed.

City of Adelaide Clipper Ship
Detail of outside of ship


Extremely knowledgeable and friendly guides will take you on a 45 min - 1 hour exploration in and around the clipper ship, explaining not only the history but the incredible story behind the transport of the vessel to Port Adelaide as well as future plans for restoration and a more permanent location.

Although the vessel currently is essentially a shell, the guides are able to effectively give visitors a portrayal of what life would have been like on this type of vessel on the long and arduous journey from UK to Australia.

You will get an opportunity to see the areas where first class, second class and steerage passengers would have been accommodated, as well as the cargo hold, the Captain's quarters and crew quarters.

Apart from the guide's detailed and relevant explanation of the purpose of the ship, there are also interpretive boards within the ship showing photographs, drawings and commentary which compliments the guided tour.

When you look at the sheer size of the clipper ship and the logistics around how it would have been brought all the way to Port Adelaide, let alone how they temporarily moored the vessel, it is hard to comprehend how massive the operation would have been.

The dedicated volunteers attached to this entire project are evidently passionate about the "City of Adelaide" and we are extremely fortunate to have such an historic vessel at Port Adelaide, which will be more accessible to a wide range of visitors as time goes on.

Future plans include an entire re-fitting to restore the vessel to its former glory, providing a centre piece to the maritime heritage tourism precinct of Port Adelaide.

City of Adelaide Clipper Ship
Internal structural detail


Tours are run daily at 10am, 12 noon and 2 pm.

Cost is $20 per person or $30 for a family. Recommended supportive footwear as there is a fair amount of walking around uneven surfaces and up stairs.

The location is at Dock One, Port Adelaide.

Further details can be be obtained on the "City of Adelaide" website

City of Adelaide Clipper Ship
Internal structural focus

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Why? Rare opportunity to visit an 1800's Clipper Ship
When: Daily at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm
Phone: 0433 101 568
Where: Dock One, Wauwa Street, off St Vincent Street, Port Adelaide SA 5015
Cost: $20 per person, $30 for a family
Your Comment
Very informative article Graeme. I was interested to see this historic ship while on a Port Adelaide cruise, but haven't been any closer yet.
by Jenny Rossiter (score: 3|4173) 1895 days ago
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