City of Adelaide

This remarkable ship was launched in Sunderland in May 1864 having been built by Messer's William Pile, Hay & Co., on a site now occupied by the National Glass Centre, continuing the tradition of ship building on the River Wear which started in the fourteenth century. Although the world's first iron ship was built in 1819 there was a brief period around 1860 to 1880 when hybrids were built with iron frames and wooden planking. These composite construction ships were fast, light and had good cargo-carrying abilities. Their design and construction was largely experimental in nature, and the ships were expensive. Nonetheless, they were successful, being built by high quality yards, and served well in high quality and profitable markets. They represent a peak in the innovative skills of the ship-builder.

Captain David Bruce, first master and quarter-owner

City Of Adelaide iis the oldest survivor of only three composite ships in the world. She was William Pile's first composite ship and the only one left out of hundreds of sailing ships built on the Wear in the nineteenth century. She is five years older, and a little smaller than the world famous Cutty Sark, one of the other two composite survivors. City Of Adelaide is 178 feet long and 33 feet in width. Her overall length from the end of the spanker boom to the stern and the end of the jib boom at the bow was about 244 feet and the height of the top of the mainmast above the waterline was about 144 feet. Her displacement was 791 tons and she could carry 1500 tons of cargo. Her historical importance lies partly in the fact that she was a passenger ship with 14 first-class cabins and able to carry about 270 second class passengers.

She was built specifically for trade with the relatively new Colony of South Australia and was operated by the company of Devitt and Moore. This company started as shipbrokers and later became ship owners and prime movers in the concept of school ships and sail training. They owned or operated very many ships connecting Britain and Australia for more than half a century. Many of them were built in Sunderland by William Pile. One of the original shareholders in City Of Adelaide, and her first commander, was David Bruce (pictured left), a Scot who had previously commanded the barque Irene for eleven years. Captain Bruce and City Of Adelaide made annual voyages from London to Adelaide and two of his sons subsequently commanded the ship in turn. They both later became harbour masters, one for the Tyne, the other for Adelaide. One of Captain Bruce's great-grandsons lives in Newcastle and a great-granddaughter lives in Adelaide.

The ship voyaged annually from London to Adelaide and back to London, for 23 years from 1864. She held the record journey time of 65 days from London to Adelaide until beaten by Torrens, another Sunderland built ship from Laing's shipyard. She returned from Adelaide with passengers and a high-value cargo of wool, sometimes via Cape Horn. By 1887 however, she was becoming uneconomical to run and she was sold, and then sold again. For a brief period she was used for coal transportation and later transatlantic timber carrying.

© Sunderland Maritime Heritage, registered charity in England and Wales (1089465)