The world’s oldest composite clipper ship (wooden hull on iron frames).
Purpose built in Sunderland, UK in 1864, to carry passengers and cargo to and from the city of Adelaide, South Australia, and named after the city. The City of Adelaide undertook 23 return voyages between London and Adelaide.The only surviving sailing ship to have given regular service between the United Kingdom and South Australia, and only one of two surviving composite clipper ships in the world—the other is the famous, younger, Cutty Sark.
Today almost quarter of a million Australians can trace their heritage to passengers and crew of the City of Adelaide.
On the 6th August 1864 the City of Adelaide began her maiden voyage to South Australia when she left London and proceeded to Plymouth to collect more passengers. After six days sailing, she was sighted off Plymouth about 10:00am on the 12th August. About 1:00pm the remaining passengers sailed out to her by small boat and boarded her. The City of Adelaide departed at about 4:00pm the same day bound for Adelaide under the command of Captain David Bruce.
The following description of the ship and voyage appeared in a number of Adelaide newspapers including the South Australian Advertiser of 9 November 1864:
The City of Adelaide.—It is many years ago since Captain Bruce took up his station on the berth from Adelaide to London, and after giving general satisfaction in the Irene, he resolved to build expressly for the trade a new vessel in which all the requirements his experience could suggest should be met. The order was given to Messrs. Pile & Co., the eminent shipbuilders of Sunderland, and the result has been the production of a ship of which the colony may well be proud. The frame is of iron with teak wood planking, 195 feet over all, 19 feet depth of hold, and 33 feet 6 inches beam, with lines and proportions which will ensure fast sailing. Nor is speedy progress the only aim, for in her passenger appointments every means have been taken to ensure perfection. The main saloon is a handsome apartment, decorated with white and gold, and furnished with settees, tables, and sideboard of polished teak, mirrors and pianoforte add to the general effect; while a visit to the state-rooms, of which there are six on each side, show at a glance that nothing is wanting to promote the comfort of voyageurs, even down to hot water warming apparatus. While in tropical regions there are large ports to afford ventilation and light, and two excellent bathrooms for ladies and gentlemen are provided—one under the break of the poop, and the other abaft the main saloon. Her appearance to a nautical man is extremely pleasing, for while possessing the fine lines of a clipper vessel, there is a neatness about the spars and rigging which adds materially to her appearance. In the matter of people it was a mere facsimile of the old Irene— Captain Bruce on the poop, his son in the waist, and the same providore (Mr. Claxton[)] in the cabin; indeed, it seemed from this but a resuscitation of the old blue-sided trader, though a glance at the craft decided her superiority, and aroused pleasurable feelings that the Port Adelaide trade warranted the building of such a ship. Patent steering gear, patent topsails, windlass, and pumps were adopted, and it almost seems as if Captain Bruce had served his time in the Irene but to produce the beau ideal of what an Adelaide trader should be—in cargo, space liberal and ample for wool freight; in second cabin 30 and in saloon accommodation 36 passengers will find ample space. The excellence of the arrangement is highly eulogized by the passengers, of whom a number are very old colonists, who return with pleasure to Australia, and testify to the merits of Captain Bruce and his ship in our advertising columns. She left London on the 6th August, and touched afterwards at Plymouth, from which port she has made a passage of 87 days, having had light fair winds from the Channel to the Bay of Biscay; but in the early trades, instead of a continuation of favorable weather, it blew but three days from the N.E. Thirty-three days elapsed before crossing the Line, and the meridian of the Cape was passed on the 8th October, without a single incident of importance to break the monotony of the trip beyond a hurricane which assailed the ship when off the Cape de Verd Islands, in which she behaved admirably. She reached the Lightship on Monday afternoon, but as her draught of water is over 17 feet some days will elapse before she can cross the bars.
The City of Adelaide was towed up to the Port on Tuesday 15 November 1864.
The final return voyage took place in 1887.
With the arrival of steamships, the City of Adelaide was sold into the north American timber trade, where it worked for six years as a cargo ship.
It saw its next 30 years as an isolation hospital near Southampton, before being taken over by the Royal Navy and used as a drill ship, and as Naval Volunteer Reserve Club rooms on the River Clyde in Scotland.
In 1989 it was moved onto a private slip in Irvine, where it remained until rescued by Australian volunteers and brought to Port Adelaide in 2014.
For more information on the history of the ship and voyage passenger and crew lists please visit