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 vessels collection comprises 25 large and small vessels linked to South Australia's maritime history. Most of these are in dry dock or storage. The oldest complete vessel in the collection Nelcebee was shipped in parts from Scotland in 1883 while the more recent vessels were still in use in 2000. The collection includes small craft such as surfboats, surf skis, fishing cutters, sharpies, dinghies, lifeboats, punts, canoes and a naval whaler, and large craft such as the steam tug Yelta (on water), the wooden ketch Annie Watt, and the iron hulled diesel ketch Nelcebee. The collection showcases the craft of South Australian boat builders and includes some fine examples of vessels with specific connections to South Australia such as the ketches that transported cargo over the shallow waters of the Gulf.