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..

Wreck of Star of Greece

Watercolour painting of the wreck of the Star of Greece at Port Willunga, 1888, by George F. Gregory, Jr.

Built in Belfast in 1868, the Star of Greece was one in a line of eleven clippers called the Irish Stars and famous for breaking records. Today, the ship is renowned to South Australians as one of the most tragic maritime disasters in our history. A violent storm off Port Willunga caught the clipper too close to land and cast it onto the rocks in the early hours of Friday 13 July 1888. Travelling a terrible road with near useless horses, rescue equipment did not reach Port Willunga until 4:00 pm. By then there was no one left to save.

George Frederick Gregory junior was a nineteenth century marine artist who worked in several states over the course of his long career. The quality of his output was diverse and his work ranged from postcard-sized watercolours to large canvases. While living in South Australia his most famous paintings were reconstructions of maritime tragedies. In 1888 he captured the wreck of the Star of Greece near Port Willunga. Although it was common for marine artists to make preliminary sketches on site the opportunity to do the same at wreck sites was rare. Gregory's painting was probably inspired by both sketches made on site and eyewitness accounts. He created many versions of the scene.

Artist: George Frederick Gregory junior 

Tags: shipwreck, Star of Greece, GF Gregory, George Frederick Gregory

Associated Locations: Port Willunga, Willunga, Adelaide, South Australia

Caption: Figurehead, STAR OF GREECE

AccessionNo: HT91316(m)

Medium: Timber carving

Depth: 700 mm

Width: 800 mm

Height: 1500 mm

Diameter: 600 mm

Material: Wood, paint

Date Created: 1868

Physical Description:
This figurehead depicts the bust of a Grecian noblewoman wearing a gold leaf coronet. Painted white, her tunic is trimmed with gold on the neckline and she wears a gold bangle. Her right hand crosses her chest and a tendril of hair falls over her left shoulder.

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. 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 result, most of the figureheads are well provenanced. The STAR OF GREECE figurehead is an evocative relic from, and symbol of, South Australia’s most infamous shipwreck. Beautifully carved, it reflects the sleek elegance of this Irish Star vessel. An inquest was held the day after the wreck and concluded that rescue apparatus must be provided for Port Willunga. A week later a noisy protest was held in Port Adelaide where over 1000 people denounced the government for making cutbacks to rescue equipment, lighthouse keepers and life boats. The figurehead is connected with a tragedy that also instigated major reforms in maritime safety for the colony.

Built in 1868 by Edward Harland, ‘Star of Greece’ was a sleek three-masted, full-rigged iron ship of 1227 tons. Loaded with over 16,000 bags of wheat destined for Great Britain, the vessel was wrecked off a reef 200 metres from Port Willunga on Friday 13 July 1888. There was no rescue equipment available on shore and by the time Port Adelaide received the message for help, the captain and many of the crew clinging to the mizzen rigging had drowned. Of the crew of 28 men, 17 lost their lives. Survivors were taken to the Port Willunga Seaview Hotel for treatment and shelter. The figurehead was salvaged by Mr Walter Kimber owner of the Seaview Hotel in Port Willunga and displayed outside his home for many years. Vernon Smith, the Honorary Curator of the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum, approached him to acquire it for the collection but was politely declined. It was presented to the Nautical Museum by his widow, after his death.