The Port Adelaide Collection




The Museum holds thousands of items that help document the history of Port Adelaide from its inception in 1836 to the current day. The collection comes from maritime enthusiast and collector Keith Le Leu, the Port Adelaide Historical Society, the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum and private donors whose families lived and worked in the Port.

The collection includes extensive collections of material from organisations with a unique connection to the Port - such as the Port Adelaide Institute later Nautical Museum. This rich collection was established in the 1870s and provided the core of the South Australian Maritime Museum collection. There are collections of personal memorabilia from some of the Port's significant and eccentric personalities. Memorabilia, flags, placards, and ephemera from social events tell the story of the local Waterside Workers Federation. Trophies demonstrate the different leisure pursuits in and around the Port River, including swimming and regatta races. Thousands of photographs from the 1870s until the present document the history of the Port from a harbor creaking with masts and cranes to one almost devoid of vessels. 1500 images from the Port-based Bond Studios, provide intimate portraits of the people who eked out a living in the Port.

For most of its history Port Adelaide had a reputation as a unique community - rough but honest - that reflected the character and lifestyles of the people who worked there: the wharfies who lumped cargo, the seafarers that passed through, the ketch hands who worked the fleets of wooden vessels that buzzed across the shallow gulfs, and the publicans, preachers, and prostitutes that vied for hearts and minds. The collection encompasses material that reflects the Port's shipping history - the ketches, passenger liners, windjammers and tugs that jostled for space in the harbor, objects associated with shipping agents and significant shipping firms such as the Adelaide Steamship Company, and material associated with wharf workers, the Waterside Workers Federation, Seaman's Unions and Mission to Seamen. It includes objects linked to the history of the local Masonic lodges, churches, high street businesses, timber merchants, mills, bond stores, sporting clubs, working men's institutes, nautical instrument manufacturers, ship chandlers, sail makers, transport services, hotels and celebratory events in the Port such as the annual Port Regatta. The museum is the main repository for material documenting the social history of Port Adelaide in Australia. Through these objects and images it is possible to construct a picture of the Port at various periods in history. The harbour was surveyed by Colonel William Light in 1836 and the Port's population and industry swelled and subsided with the economic tides. It thrived during the 1870s, struggled during economic recession in the 1890s and 1930s, recovered, and then declined with changes in shipping and the impact of globalization after the 1970s. Every enterprise, business, bond store, hotel, institute, sporting club, church, mill and smelter in the Port was intrinsically linked to the ships, liners and ketches that docked at its wharves and the fortunes of the shipping trade. The collection chronicles key events in the Port's history - waterside workers strikes, maritime tragedies (fire on the City Of Singapore) and documents events unique to the Port such as regattas, king tides, and building projects. It also documents how world events such as world war, economic recession and epidemics impacted on this community.

A South Australian Maritime Museum collection. Objects from this collection are displayed in various parts of the museum including Action Stations! The Navy and South Australia, Rough but Honest, The Mosquito Fleet and Tapestry of Treasures. Most material is in storage and accessible by appointment only.


Commemorative objects

Flags; Harbours; Maritime unions; Photographers; Photography; Ports; Recreation; Water transport

Harbours; Leisure; Personal effects; Photographic studios; Photographs; Ports; Shipping industry; Souvenirs; Trophies; Wharf labourers

Keith Le Leu; Port Adelaide Historical Society; Port Adelaide Nautical Museum; South Australian Maritime Museum; Waterside Workers Federation

Local business; Port Adelaide; Shipping; Wharfie

Coverage Spatial

Port Adelaide, South Australia; South Australia

Coverage Temporal



Related Collections


2012-12-12 16:43

2011-03-23 15:44