The Port Adelaide “Ships’ Graveyards” and my Grandpa…

My Adelaide Northern District Family History Group posted this announcement of a coming event and I thought… OK I’ll go along and see what it’s all about. No way could I have imagined what a delightful, informative and fulfilling afternoon this would be.

Robyn Ashcroft’s passion for the topic was infectious as she drew us into that wonderful world of many of the ships who have found their final resting place in the “Ships Graveyards”  in Port Adelaide, South Australia.

The old map Robyn put on the screen made my heart beat overtime… There was Port Adelaide exactly the way it was when I was a girl.  I looked at the triangle between the  “Old Port Road” and the “Port Road” where my childhood home was… but is all changed now. The actual Port River, the Canal and the wharves – the area which is now the “Ships’ Graveyard” was largely a revelation because I was raised to be a “good girl” and, of course, “good girls” did not hang around the wharves, the ships and the sailors taking “shore leave.”

Port Adelaide - Ships' Graveyards

Confess that I fell in love with so many of those ships and delighted in the stories, and anecdotes, that Robyn shared. This truly is a “Treasure Trove” and one of which I was largely unaware and suspect is true for many South Australians.

If I were younger, and not so afraid of water, I sure would take up Robyn’s offer to go kayaking with her around the Graveyard as she provided more info about the working lives of  these irreplaceable examples of our maritime history. Some were hard working drudges, some had exotic adventure across the seven seas and some were “pleasure crafts” who plied the gulf taking honeymooners and  families to previously unseen places.

I was absolutely enthralled as Robyn described the working lives of many of the ships my Grandfather, a Port Adelaide Waterside Worker (wharfie), would have worked on.  Maybe one of those ships was the very one he was working to unload when a load “slipped” and he was thrown off the dock and into the water?  The evidence of which he carried from then on with a pronounced limp.

However it was Robyn’s information about the ketches, named the “Mosquito Fleet”, who plied the waters of South Australia skittering in an out, loading wheat etc, and then landing their cargo in places where there were no landing facilities which really provided the closest link with my maternal Grandfather. It seems that these ketches would come inland on a “high tide” and because they were flat bottomed and with a retractable kind of keel they would sit there ready to be unloaded when the tide went out, and when the tide changed they’d be off again, just like a mosquito skittering across the water.

It was at this point that I went all shivery and the memory of mum saying how my Grandpa used to drive the horses, and the dray, across the sands to unload the cargo finally made sense.  For years I’ve wondered what mum was actually talking about and wished I’d asked more questions and then “the penny dropped” thanks to the info from Robyn.

So, thanks again to the Adelaide Northern Districts Family History Group and Robyn Ashcroft for filling in a little more of my family story, as well as the South Australian  Department for Environment and Heritage, Robyn Ashcroft’s former employer.




Copyright © 2013. Catherine Ann Crout-Habel. 

6 thoughts on “The Port Adelaide “Ships’ Graveyards” and my Grandpa…

  1. What a great story Catherine and Robyn’s enthusiasm plainly rubbed off. She certainly opened up your grandfather’s world for you. Your description of the mosquito boats unloading reminded me of Sussex.

  2. What a fascinating story and a lovely post. Something very special happens when you get tuned in to a piece of history that relates directly to an ancestor! There is a wonderful Shipwrecks Gallery, part of the Museum of Western Australia, in Freemantle with some amazing archaeology on display there. Delighted you had such a wonderful afternoon!

    • Thanks so much Angela… glad you enjoyed it too 🙂
      It sure is extra special when the links with family stories, and historical events, come seemingly “out of the blue” … I could almost feel my Grandpa chuckling alongside me as my head was doing “the Noddy act”… 😀

  3. On my one and only visit to Adelaide, so far, I loved Port Adelaide.. The whole area has such a wonderful feel about it, you truly feel immersed in history just wandering about as well as on the river cruise. I would loved to have been on this tour as well, even more so if I’d had a personal connection. I hope to return one day to see the clipper which is returning home at long last.. Thank you for a very interesting post.

    • So glad you enjoyed it too Chris.
      Port Adelaide is my “old stomping ground”, so to speak 😉 … When I was growing up it was considered “the pits” but, as always happens, it has now become “gentrified” but some of the most historic sites have been lost forever. Oh yes “The City of Adelaide.” – It’s been a very long, expensive and hard fought battle to get it back here to Port Adelaide. I’ve been following it’s progress every step of the way not that any of my “rellies” actually emigrated on it 😆

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s