Home » Dock Life » The Ship that Wouldn’t Die – The City of Adelaide Clipper

The Ship that Wouldn’t Die – The City of Adelaide Clipper



City of Adelaide awaiting renaming ceremony in Greenwich

The appearance of the City of Adelaide being towed on a barge up the Thames for its renaming ceremony at Greenwich will no doubt be of interest to  many maritime fans, however  its extraordinary story deserves a much wider audience.


The City of Adelaide was built-in 1864 by William Pile, Hay and Co. in Sunderland, England, and was launched on 7 May 1864. This makes the ship the world’s oldest surviving clipper ship some five years older than the Cutty Sark who she is currently berthed nearby.


Like the Cutty Sark she is a composite clipper which means its was made of a construction of timber planking on a wrought-iron frame. This enable a great sailing speed especially on the long voyages between England and Australia. Between 1864 and 1887 the City of Adelaide made 23 return voyages between Britain and Australia transporting passengers and goods such as wool and copper.


However on one of these voyages disaster struck , in 1874 the ship run aground on Kirkcaldy Beach near Adelaide. Fortunately the passengers were saved and the ship re-floated and taken into Adelaide for minor repairs.

In 1887 the ship’s fortune took a turn for the worse by being  sold to a Dover coal merchant and was used to carry coal from Newcastle to Dover. A year later she was sold to Belfast based timber merchants to be used to carry timber from North America.

In a return to one of the ships former uses, she  was used to take a large number of migrants from Britain to North America and then carried the timber on its return journey.

My beautiful picture

City of Adelaide Hospital Ship

By 1893 the ship ended its sailing days and was purchased by Southampton Corporation to serve as a floating isolation hospital.

In 1923 the ship had a new career when she was purchased by the Admiralty and towed to Irvine, Scotland, to be converted into a training ship. It was at this time that her name was changed as there was already a cruiser in the Royal Navy called Adelaide, therefore the old clipper was renamed HMS Carrick.

After the Second World War, ship was scheduled to be sent to the breakers yard but the ship was saved and presented to the Scottish RNVR club who fitted the ship out as club rooms and berthed her in Glasgow where she become a familiar sight on the Clyde until the 1980s when the club could not continue to maintain the ship and looked at ways of securing its future. However whilst plans for its preservation was being considered, two events occurred that almost meant the ship was lost forever.


Firstly in 1989 the ship was flooded when it was trapped beneath a wharf, and more seriously in 1991 the vessel sank at it moorings. It was not without irony that a ship that had sailed through some of the most dangerous waters in the world and survived should suffer the ignominy of sinking in what should have been a safe berth.


This really looked like the end because the ships owners the Clyde Ships trust was already in debt and had no funds for the salvage. Eventually money was found and the ship was salvaged by the Scottish Maritime Museum and moved to Irvine, back to the slipway it had occupied in 1923. It was generally expected that it would be restored and the ship became part of the UK National Historical Core Collection.


But things would not be that simple for the funds allocated for this restoration were then taken away when Scotland gained its own parliament and funding resources. In 2000  the Scottish Maritime Museum applied to demolish the ship, there was numerous objections from organisations all over the world and in 2001 The Duke of Edinburgh set up a conference in Glasgow to find a long-term solution for the ship. Due to the lack of funding at the Scottish Maritime Museum it was proposed that the vessel be transported to another location to enable restoration to be carried out. Since then two groups the Sunderland Maritime Heritage and the City of Adelaide groups have both tried to raise funds to secure the ships future.


In 2010 the City of Adelaide group was considered the favoured bidder and over the last three years have made plans to  take a large cradle to Irvine and  loading the ship  for transportation, this plan came to fruition  in September  2013 and the ship was towed down to Chatham.

The Duke of Edinburgh who has taken close interest in the ship for a number of years will be attending the renaming ceremony in Greenwich,  after the ceremony the ship will be taken away and be fumigated until ready to be loaded onto another ship and taken to Australia to be restored. However recent political events in Australia has raised questions whether the funding offered by the previous government will be met by the new administration.


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