The Nelcebee is one of the jewels of the South Australian Maritime Museum collection. Built in Scotland in 1883 as a steam powered cargo ship, the Nelcebee has seen more of South Australia than most of us will in our lives. It certainly has been through more of this state's history than any of us will ever experience.
This venerable auxiliary schooner started its life in Australia as a 19th century steamship at Cruikshanks Corner in Port Adelaide, where it was assembled using parts shipped from the United Kingdom. It was the largest iron ship built in South Australia at the time, a source of great excitement to local people, and was quickly put to use on a coastal cargo run.
An 1883 newspaper reported that the steamship Nelcebee weighed 100 tons, had 60 horsepower steam engines which could propel it at 11 knots, and was named after freshwater springs in Port Pirie. While there was room for twelve men in the crew quarters, no space was available for passengers. "There is standing room for a couple of hundred excursionists' noted the newspaper reporter, but as a cargo ship there were no quarters set aside for passengers.
After a quick trial voyage to Hobart the Nelcebee returned to Port Adelaide with 125 tons of potatoes, it then sailed carrying general cargo including wheat and flour between Spencer's Gulf and Port Adelaide. It wasn't long before disaster struck and the steamer ran aground at Port Victoria but the following day she was afloat again. A Board of Enquiry concluded that it was due to careless navigation on the part of the master, but no action was taken.
Nelcebee at Point Turton Jetty 1925 (Image: State Library SA PRG-1373-39-64)
In 1927 the steam powered Nelcebee was sold and converted into a two masted auxiliary schooner and it joined the ketch fleet taking cargo around South Australian ports. To provide more cargo space Nelcebee's new owner replaced the boiler and steam engine with diesel engines, allowing her to double her carrying capacity.
Over the next hundred years the plucky Nelcebee plied her trade around the coastal towns of South Australia, and later across to Kangaroo Island. Given the distance the steamship travelled a few accidents were inevitable, and she ran aground in 1901 and again at Point Turton on Yorke Peninsula in 1951. The Falie and the Nelcebee were the last two working vessels of the South Australian ketch fleet.
By 1982 Nelcebee's working life was drawing to an end, and in 1985 it was donated to the South Australian Maritime Museum. The only 19th century steamship has since been high and dry in Dock 2 at Port Adelaide, to prevent her fragile hull from deteriorating further while afloat in the water. It has been a sad sight - Australia's oldest powered ship left to rust on the wharf's edge.
The South Australian government recently announced a grant to kick start a fund to save the Nelcebee, with a target of $1.5m. This will be enough to restore the ship and place it on display in a new maritime precinct at Dock 2. It's planned to co-locate the Nelcebee with the clipper ship City of Adelaide, and turn them into a major tourist attraction.
Saving Nellie Requires $1.5m in Tax Deductible Donations
The South Australian Maritime Museum is seeking generous donations to help Saving Nellie, bring it out of retirement and into the limelight that she truly deserves. All corporate and personal donations to the Save the Nelcebee campaign are tax deductible, and will help bring Port Adelaide's maritime heritage alive again.
If finances are tight and you can't afford to donate much cash, donations of goods and services are also welcome. People who would like to volunteer their time to help saving Nellie will also be welcomed with open arms by the Maritime Museum.
History Trust CEO Greg Mackie at Saving Nellie Campaign Launch