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..


Nelcebee is an auxiliary schooner. It is rigged with two masts and is also powered by a diesel motor. Nelcebee was built of riveted-iron plates in 1883 and carries a century of repairs including welded steel. Its wheel house was added in the 1960s and made using timber from packing cases.

Nelcebee was built by Thomas Seath at Rutherglen, Scotland at a cost of £7,000 for Captain Wilson of Port Adelaide. It was launched and trialled without an engine, then disassembled, loaded onto the City of York and sent to South Australia. It was re-assembled and locally-built steam engines were installed at Port Adelaide by builder Thomas Cruickshank.

At the launch Mrs Wilson, wife of the owner, named the steamer Nelcebee after the Aboriginal name for a spring at Port Pirie, actually Nelshaby. The Chronicle recorded that it was the largest steamer ever put together in the colony.

Nelcebee was sent to Port Pirie to work as a tug and lighter providing the first regular towage service in the Port. In 1884, the Register commented 'The towing business has so increased in South Australian waters during the past seven years, that once upon a time it was thought something unusual to have a ship towed to Port Pirie to load, but this has now become commonplace. What is distinctly unusual is to find two ships towed to that place by one tug, which is what happened this week.'

By the turn of the century new tugs were being developed as more specialized vessels and in 1904 Nelcebee was described as being low-powered and now considered to be self-propelled lighter that could do a bit of towing rather than a purpose-built tug. However it continued to work in the trade for another twenty years until 1927 when it was sold for one shilling.

When many ships might have been scrapped Nelcebee was refitted for a new role. Its steam engine and boiler were removed. It was rigged as a two-masted schooner and fitted with an auxiliary diesel engine. The changes increased its capacity to carry larger cargoes and reduced the cost of running the ship.

It joined the ketch trade and spent more than fifty years working the southern coast. From 1928 it carried wheat and barley, general goods and minerals between Gulf St Vincent and Spencer Gulf. In 1965 Nelcebee was purchased by R Fricker and Company and fitted to trade between Kangaroo Island and Port Adelaide. It supplied petrol and oil to the Island and returned with gypsum.

Nelcebee worked until 1982 and along with Falie was one of the last two ketches working the southern coast.

Length overall: 32.61 metres

Beam: 5.69 metres

Draught:  2.79 metres

Maker: Thomas Seath, Tom Cruickshank

Associated locations: Port Adelaide, Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Kangaroo Island, Gulf St Vincent, Rutherglen, South Australia, Scotland



AccessionNo: HT2007601(m)

See description

Material: Iron, Timber, Brass, Metals, Rope, Paint

Date Created: 1883

Physical Description:
Motor Vessel NELCEBEE is a powered ketch with a long history and association with Port Adelaide. It is now in dry dock at Dock 2, Port Adelaide. It is remembered as a ketch but was converted at least twice and worked under steam, sail and diesel. Originally a steamship, NELCEBEE was built by T. B. Sleath & Co. of Rutherglen, Scotland. It was prefabricated with riveted iron plates and shipped to South Australia in sections where it was assembled in 1883 by Thomas Cruickshank on Cruikshank's Corner in the Inner Harbor. One of NELCEBEE's first important jobs was to tow the vessel ASCALON to sea from Port Augusta on 24 October 1883. ASCALON was the last vessel to leave Port Augusta with a cargo of wool due to the advent of the rail network. NELCEBEE's first owner was A. Wilson and the Adelaide Milling & Mercantile Company. In 1890 it was purchased by the Adelaide Steam Tug Company and used as a tug lighter at Port Pirie. The Adelaide Steam Tug Company was absorbed by the Adelaide Steamship Company after WWI. In 1927 NELCEBEE was sold to E. H. Hipkins who converted it into an auxiliary diesel ketch. It is said that NELCEBEE was sold for 1 shilling on the condition that it would not be used as opposition to the Adelaide Steamship Company's tugs. The large engine was removed to make more room for cargo and masts and rigging were added. This converted the vessel into an auxiliary schooner or ketch. For the next 40 years NELCEBEE played a vital role in the busy grain trade between South Australia regional waters, between the gulfs and peninsulas. In 1965 R. Fricker & Company bought NELCEBEE for use as a trading vessel on teh Kangaroo Island routes. For the next 13 years it carried general goods and fuel to the Island and returned with minerals, predominantly gypsum, from the C.S.R. mine. C.S.R.'s mine on Kangaroo Island closed in 1982 ending the need for this service. On 15 April 1982 NELCEBEE made its final trip to Kangaroo Island with Captain Albert 'Skug' Cutler as Master and Chris Frizell as Bosun. It is as a ketch that NELCEBEE is lremembered. Ketches were pivotal to regional trade and economics in South Australia as they traded South Australia's ports with a small crew and were flexible in their cargo. Their shallower draft meant they could access smaller inter-tidal and mangrove ports, often being beached for loading and sailing with the next tide. NELCEBEE was the oldest ocean-going vessel in Australia and the third oldest on the Lloyd's Register of Shipping. It had the longest unbroken connection with a State of any ship in Australia by 1985. On 29 August R. Fricker & Co. donated NELCEBEE to the South Australian Maritime Museum through the Cultural Gifts Program (see central file for details). When the Museum opened on 6 December 1986 NELCEBEE was a floating exhibition. It stayed in the water, but not always operational. Between May 1992 and May 1993 a large resotoration project was undertaken on the vessel by the Metal Fabrication Training Centre. Most of the work was carried out by second, third and fourth year apprentice boilermakers, welders, carpenters, joiners, cabinetmakers, shipwrights and fitter and turners. The boilermakers/welders completed major work on the iron and steel hull and structural components. The fitter and turners restored the bilge pumps, hydraulic equipment, brass fittings and engine controls. The carpenters/joiners and cabinet makers completed an extensive re-fitting and restoration of the timber decks, wheelhouse, crew quarters and forecastle. Eight painting apprentices completely repainted the interior and exterior of the vessel. In December 2000 a comprehensive conservation survey was completed by Artlab Australia. In 17 August 2005 when it was lifted by crane and dry-docked on No. 2 Dock, Port Adelaide. This ensured its survival. For it to stay in the water much of the iron plates that form the hull would have needed to be replaced. This would have compromised much of the original fabric of the vessel and at the time was also not an economic option. See documentation and reports on file 9/92. The long-term plan is conserve the vessel on land so it can be interpreted and enjoyed by the public again. Length overall: 36.62 metres (120 feet) Breadth: 5.74 metres (18 feet 10 inches) Depth: 2.47 metres (8 feet 1 inch) Tonnage: 141.7 tonnes (144 tons) in 1883; 175.2 tonnes (178 tons) after 1923. Propeller removed September 2006.

MV NELCEBEE was the oldest ocean going vessel in Australia and third oldest on the Lloyd's Register of Shipping. It had the longest working unbroken connection with a state of any ship in Australia. It is a unique example of a vessel that has been transformed to operate under steam, sail and diesel.