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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The South Australian Maritime Museum has a collection of seventeen ship's figureheads- carved wooden sculptures which ornamented the bow of a sailing vessel. Fourteen of the figureheads are on display in the museum and three kept in storage. This is the largest collection of ship figureheads in the Southern Hemisphere. The figureheads were sourced and acquired by Vernon Smith, Honorary Curator of the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum over a period of fifty years. Most have excellent provenance and well documented chain of ownership, including photographs of the figureheads displayed in the homes, gardens and hotels Smith retrieved them from.The oldest in the collection is from the Ville de Bordeaux, (1836) while more recent figureheads include the Garthneill (formerly Inverneill) built in 1895 Glasgow, and the Glenpark built 1897 in Glasgow.