The South Australian Maritime Museum preserves the oldest nautical collection in Australia. In 1872 the Port Adelaide Institute began a museum collection to complement its library and its educational and social programs. That collection grew over the following century reflecting the seafarers and the ships that visited Port Adelaide. It is now held in trust at the South Australian Maritime Museum.

The Maritime Museum’s collections ranges from the Port Adelaide Lighthouse that was first lit in 1869 to a plaque that explorer Matthew Flinders left at Memory Cove in 1802 to mark the loss of eight seafarers. It includes figureheads, nautical instruments, bathing costumes, shipwreck artefacts, paintings, models and vessels.

Our scope is the maritime heritage of South Australia from the coast to inland waters. The collection of over almost 20,000 objects and over 20,000 images is at once a window to the heritage of the local community and to the ships of the world.

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This small but highly significant collection relates to European exploration of the Australian, particularly South Australian, coastline from the 17th to mid 19th century. The collection includes artefacts retrieved from Dutch trading vessels shipwrecked off Australia's south west coast in 1656. Its most iconic objects are those linked to the voyages of British explorer Matthew Flinders and French commander Nicolas Baudin, whose expeditions both charted the South Australian coastline in 1802.