Collections

The SA 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 SA Maritime Museum.

The Maritime Museum’s collection 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 to 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..

Figurehead, Post Boy

Figurehead from Postboy, a two-masted wooden schooner of 62 tons, built in Port Adelaide in 1874 by John Lowen for John Kuhl & Partners.

The schooner Postboy traded in South Australian waters for 33 years. Originally built as a two masted schooner it was later rigged as a ketch and regularly traded between Port Adelaide and the Gulf ports. It is believed that the figurehead was a later addition to the vessel.

On 15 December 1876, on a voyage to Port Adelaide from Port MacDonnell with a cargo of bark and stone ballast, the vessel capsized in a sudden squall off Glenelg. Six people perished, including the captain. The first mate hung onto a dinghy for several hours before being rescued by the yacht, Hygeia. The vessel was retrieved and refloated in March 1877. Postboy was driven ashore again while loading wheat at Minlacowie in August 1895. It was refloated and repaired at Port Adelaide. It continued its career as a trading vessel before finally grounding at Arno Bay in 1907.

The figurehead is a rare and aesthetically striking remnant from one of the mosquito fleet. Small vessels such as ketches were not normally adorned with figureheads.

Associated locations: Port Adelaide, Port Macdonnell, Glenelg, Minlacowie, Arno Bay 

Caption: Figurehead , POSTBOY

AccessionNo: HT851686(m)

Depth: 260 mm

Width: 245 mm

Height: 390 mm

Material: Australian Red Cedar, oil-based enamel paint

Date Created: 1874

Physical Description:
Single piece, hand carved, wooden bust of a postal service boy from the schooner Postboy. Tunic and cap painted bright red, gold cap band. Bow tie, hair and eyebrows black. White shirt, light blue eyes, pink face. Head has been crudely retouched in the past.

Significance:
Figureheads, carved wooden sculptures which ornamented the bow of a sailing ship, embodied the 'soul' of the vessel and were believed to offer the crew protection and safe passage on the seas. They were also used to identify a ship, reflecting its function or paying tribute to a person connected with the vessel. The South Australian Maritime Museum has a collection of seventeen ship’s figureheads- the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. They date from the age of sail, which dominated the 18th and 19th centuries. The figureheads were sourced and acquired by Vernon Smith, the Honorary Curator of the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum (from which the current museum evolved) over a period of fifty years. He thoroughly documented his search and as a result, most of the figureheads are well provenanced with a recorded chain of ownership. Postboy's figurehead is an evocative relic of one of a fleet of schooners and ketches crucial for transporting cargo between Adelaide and its shallow gulf ports. Postboy, as the figurehead's name suggests, delivered the mail to these remote ports and the collection also includes one of the vessel's mail bags.

Provenance:
'Postboy' was a two masted wooden schooner of 62 tons, built in Port Adelaide in 1874 by John Lowen and owned by Messrs. Weman and Morgan. It foundered in Gulf St.Vincent, South Australia in December 1876 on a voyage to Port Adelaide from Port MacDonnell with a cargo of bark and stone ballast. Six lost their lives including the captain, three crewmen and two passengers. The first mate, hung onto a dinghy for several hours, attracting attention by waving a red shirt belonging to a drowned crew member. The yacht 'Hygeia' rescued him. A number of attempts failed to raise Postboy, but in March 1877 the vessel was finally refloated and refitted. Its masts were shortened to avoid another capsize. The Postboy worked on, but was driven ashore while loading wheat at Minlacowie, South Australia, in August 1895. Again, Postboy was refloated and repaired at Port Adelaide, South Australia. It continued its career as a trading vessel before finally grounding at Arno Bay, South Australia, in 1907.