By kind permission of Wild Publishing Ltd and their bi monthly issue of "Traditional Boats & Tall Ships" magazine (issue April/May 2008).
TIME IS RUNNING out for the City ofAdelaide, the world’s oldest surviving composite clipper ship is now a neglected hulk on an Irvine slipway. Amongst the very last representatives of the ships that were so vital in developing the colonies of Australia, she marks a pivotal moment in British maritime heritage.
The lamentable outcome if funds cannot be secured to save her will be transportation to Australia.
Her history does not warrant such an ignominious end. Built on Wearside as a passenger vessel in 1864 by the noted William Pile, Hay & Co., the 791-ton City of Adelaide made twenty-three return trips to South Australia in as many years for merchants Devitt and Moore, once sailing between Britain and the fledgling state in a breathtaking 69 days. From 1887 she worked briefly as a collier on Tyneside before sailing the North Atlantic timber runs.
Cut down to a hulk, she was used as an isolation ward from 1893, moored off Southampton to contain an outbreak of cholera. Renamed HMS Carrick when purchased by the Admiralty in 1923, she served as a drill ship for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in Greenock, and during WWII was used for the training of Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships gunners. Decommissioned in 1946, she was presented to the RNVR as their club premises. Despite partial flooding and refurbishmen in 1978, she remained in this capacity until she flooded for a second time in 1989 and the RNVR could not afford to again restore her. She was given a grade-A heritage listing – the same as Edinburgh Castle – as Clyde Ships Trust took over, and in rather shady circumstances the City of Adelaide sat bsp;on Prince’s Dock in Govan. Following the dissolution of the Trust, the clipper was acquired by the Scottish Maritime Museum for a token £1. in 1992, after more than a year under water and at the cost of £1million, the SMM moved the clipper from Govan to her current resting place on a slipway in Irvine owned by what is now Ayrshire Metal Products. Over the next few years funding for the restoration program became dwarfed by the scale of work required.
When initial assistance fell so short of the extensive and necessary maintenance the City of Adelaide was put up for sale. She did not attract a single offer. We were told that the free five-year lease of the slipway had expired and the rental arrears owed to Ayrshire Metal Products now threatened the Museum with bankruptcy?
She was granted a temporary reprieve in 2003 to the tune of £400,000 donated by philanthropic businessman Mike Edwards, who wished to carry out a feasibility study into her commercial potential. While the majority of the money is still held to cover rental arrears, the donation also paid for a membrane covering the clipper, preventing further damage to the interior. The study concluded that she could never be made seaworthy while maintaining her integrity, and that upwards of £10million would be needed for her to be restored as a floating exhibit. These costs proved prohibitive for Edwards, who regretfully concluded that he could not take his first option on developing the clipper.
In 2007, with no progress or any further significant funding, the SMM was placed again in the appalling position of applying to have the clipper broken up. Believing the options exhausted and the Museum under serious threat, North Ayrshire Council agreed to the conditional dismantling of City of Adelaide. A Steering Committee consisting of maritime experts under the guidance of National Historic Ships and Historic Scotland was set up to review potential strategies for the stricken clipper. This reluctant recommendation is as far as the Council can take the issue, as only the First Minister can agree the final destruction of a heritage-listed structure. This is the first time in Scottish history that an A-listed heritage construction has faced demolition.
The SMM – who rescued the submerged ship in the first place – is not a villain in this lamentable affair, though certain media articles have inferred as much through omission. It is important to understand their idea of ‘destruction’ as a measured disassembly, more in the form of a recorded study than wanton “So we beat on, boats against the current…”
F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby demolition, although the archaeological value of such a study is questionable and the result, of course, is just the same: the end of the City of Adelaide.
Nobody wants to see the death of Britain’s only 19th century passenger vessel, but she hangs, Damoclean, over the remainder of an extensive collection of national importance. The clipper’s dismantlement has been sought only to protect the rest of the collection.
Cityof Adelaide’s lifespan is marked by the progress of a Steering Committee in completing the survey work to project the options and timetable for the future of the clipper. This survey work cannot be carried out because Ayrshire Metal Products have denied access to the site as part of their legal battle to have the clipper removed. Catch 22! As a listed structure, the clipper ship cannot be removed without expert survey work by the Steering Committee; but AMP will not permit access to the site unless it is accompanied by a fixed date for her removal. That no-one has seen inside City of Adelaide since the Edwards report makes an estimate of her internal condition all the more difficult, further muddying the available options.
SCARF a.k.a. the Sunderland City of Adelaide Restoration Fund are hampered by a lack of support from the local authorities, although those attitudes are starting to change with the gradual tide of public opinion. Things in the city are extremely political, as with all tall ships, the money required is staggering. Readying the hulk for transportation from Irvine, renovating her and preparing the dock to house her would require a sum approaching £10million, while removal and transportation alone will cost a conservative £1.5million. SCARF argue that full restoration as a floating exhibit would restore the boatbuilding tradition to a Wearside fiercely proud of its maritime heritage – not to mention bringing a potential 80,000 tourists a year to the north-east.
There is no doubting the value of City of Adelaide as a social document, a historical artefact or the strength of her contribution to British maritime heritage, so why is there no money to save an eminently valuable vessel?
Being the oldest composite clipper ship in the world does not make City of Adelaide the only such vessel. She has a younger ‘sister’ who just happens to go by the name of Cutty Sark.
The world-famous tea clipper was undergoing a comprehensive three-year restoration at the time of the infamous blaze on 21st May 2007, with repair work worth over £50 million funded chiefly by donations and matched by £11million of Heritage Lottery money.
Assistance provided by national bodies is bound in red tape, with public money percolated endlessly through committees, application forms and stiff competition. The Cutty Sark may be fortunate in her popularity and the professionalism of her Trust, but she is not spoilt simply by dint of location.
The awards of £21million to theMary Rose and a further £50 million to Cutty Sark must now make City of Adelaide the priority vessel. She is simply too important to be deported: too rare, too old.