Traditions and skills a half century on


Sydney Maritime Museum, home of Sydney Heritage Fleet, was founded in 1965 to save for Sydney the VIP and Vice-Regal Steam Yacht Lady Hopetoun.

Built in Sydney in 1902 for the harbour authority of the day, Lady Hopetoun, a coal-fired steamer, spent more than 60 years in service, predominantly as the State Government VIP vessel carrying visiting royalty, presidents and dignitaries of all sorts on sight-seeing tours of Sydney’s harbour. Finally pensioned off, Lady Hopetoun was being eyed by those wanting to strip her of her brass fittings and other worthwhile materials, leaving the rest to rot. A concerted public campaign by the founders of the new museum ensured that the historic vessel was acquired for restoration and preservation.


Historic restoration

Restoring vessels to fully operational condition, using as far as possible the materials, skills and techniques of their builders has been a feature of Sydney Heritage Fleet’s 51 years. Steam tug Waratah another 1902 Sydney-built veteran joined the fledgling Fleet in 1967, followed in 1970 by Pilot Vessel & Buoy Tender John Oxley, built on the Clyde in 1927 to the order of the Queensland State Government. Barque James Craig (1874) was discovered in southern Tasmania and salvaged by the museum in 1973 then, over many years, fully restored to sailing condition. Then came the 1903 Sydney-built Edwardian schooner Boomerang by the same designer as Lady Hopetoun.



In the years that followed the fifth centenarian, launch Protex (1908), launches Harman (1943) and Berrima (1955) and 1960s harbour joy-riding speedboat Kookaburra II joined the Fleet. An originally steam-powered Sydney Harbour ferry from 1912, Kanangra, is the last of the major Fleet vessels.

Sydney Maritime Museum also has a large collection of small craft, the collection representing the history of boats in Sydney Harbour. 

Current restoration

PV John Oxley is the current major restoration project and the ship, 49 metres long, sits on the purpose-built Sea Heritage Dock providing a stable platform. This Dock carried James Craig during her hull restoration and without it, major restoration projects of this kind would be impossible

















Almost all restoration work, and running maintenance and refits on the operational vessels, is carried out by the Fleet’s own volunteer workforce. Volunteers, trained in shipbuilding skills by those who worked in Sydney’s now abandoned major shipyards, carry out the boilermaking, riveting and engineering work on the restoration projects. They are passing on the skills to another generation.

Other volunteers in the Fleet’s 350-strong volunteer corps crew the sail and steam vessels of the Fleet. Even the certificated masters and chief engineers, required under passenger-carrying survey regulations, are volunteers.

Search for a home

The Fleet has struggled for adequate facilities in Sydney Harbour. Prime waterfront land, which the Fleet needs to operate, is also sought after by developers who can make millions from the sale of their waterfront developments. It is no surprise that the developers win.

The proposed Maritime Heritage Precinct in Darling Harbour in conjunction with the Australian National Maritime Museum (see story here) will finally provide the Fleet with a world-class site for its operational vessels and associated onshore exhibition requirements. Both museums continue to negotiate for a longterm back-of-house facility for heavy maintenance, refit and restoration activities.

The next 50 years looks challenging, but promising.



Top - 1903 Vice-Regal Steam Launch Lady Hopetoun taking part in the 2013 Royal Australian Navy International Fleet Review. The Review commemorated the arrival of the RAN Fleet in 1913 - Lady Hopetoun was there.

Group of four:
Top left - Steam Tug Waratah built in Sydney in 1902. She was in service until handed over to the Fleet in 1967.
Top right - Pilot Vessel & Buoy-Tender John Oxley built in Scotland in 1927 arriving in Sydney in 1970 on her delivery voyage to the Fleet. John Oxley was built in Scotland in 1927 for the Queensland State Government.
Lower left - Barque James Craig built in 1874 and discovered and restored by the Fleet to full sailing condition. Seen here at 10.5knots in 25 knots of wind.
Lower right - 1903-built Edwardian schooner Boomerang. She was designed by the same designer as Lady Hopetoun and built in Sydney.

Group of three:
Top left - The wheelhouse is lifted from John Oxley for restoration. Note that the funnel has also been removed. Hull restoration is completed to deck level.
Top right - After removal to allow hull restoration, John Oxley's officers cabins and the saloons used by the ship's officers and the 14 pilots she carried are bring restored.
Lower picture - Around 50,000 hot rivets have been driven by the workshop volunteers in the restoration of John Oxley. A skill which must be maintained.