The Mosquito Fleet - South Australia's ketches




The collection includes hundreds of objects connected with the ketch trade in South Australia and individual ketches that worked out of Port Adelaide between 1850 and 1990.

The collection includes sentimental sketches and drawings of ketches by sailors and captains who crewed them as well as a fine selection of watercolour portraits by notable maritime artists George Bourne and Frederick Dawson. Five hundred photographs dating from the late nineteenth century until the present capture ketches in Port Adelaide and other South Australian ports. Oral histories have been recorded with individuals who owned or crewed the ketches and the collection encompasses personal memorabilia (clothes, log books, sketches, sailmaking kits, sailors crafts, masters certificates) linked to ketch hands, captains and owners. There is an extensive collection of fittings and navigational instruments with clear provenance from specific ketches including chronometers, ships logs, barometers, bells, name boards, flags, pennants, lights, lifebuoys, ships wheels, compasses and a figurehead (Post Boy 1874). The collection includes several ship models of ketches as well as builders' half models crafted by boat building businesses in the Port. Port Adelaide was famous for its Regatta, first held on the Port River in 1838, two years after the colony's proclamation. The ketch race was a key event in the carnival and the museum holds regatta badges, photos, programs and newspaper cuttings celebrating this event. Almost all the ketches that worked in South Australian waters between the 1870s and 1980s are represented in the collection. The museum holds substantial collections relating to the Nelcebee, Annie Watt, Falie and Leillateah.

Ketches were integral and unique to South Australia's maritime history. They connected city and country before the advent of road and rail, carrying farm products, grain and minerals to the city and shipping general produce to rural ports. The ketch fleet peaked in the 1880s and 1890s when more than seventy ketches and schooners traded out of Port Adelaide. During the twentieth century the fleet witnessed constant change and reinvention in a struggle to remain viable. By the 1920s competition from steamers and improved road transport saw most ketches fitted with auxiliary engines. They numbered thirty in the 1950s and three decades later, the last two working ketches, Nelcebee and Falie, were retired from service. The collection captures the growth of the ketch industry, ketch construction, the ketch trade and the rural economy, life and work on the ketches, ketch owners and families, the decline of ketches and the last ketch workers, and ketch culture - the ketch regattas, South Australian cultural memory, nostalgia, and the role of ketches in port and community identity. The iron hulled ketch Nelcebee, imported in sections from Scotland in 1883, is the most significant object in the collection. Nelcebee was assembled as an iron steamship by Tom Cruickshank at Birkenhead and worked as a tug and cargo carrier before being converted into a two-masted ketch in 1927. The vessel carried cargo between Adelaide and Kangaroo Island until the 1980s. Nelcebee is dry docked and slowly undergoing restoration. The Annie Watt, a wooden ketch built in 1870 and in operation until 1971 is in museum storage.

A South Australian Maritime Museum collection. A significant sample of objects from this collection is displayed in The Mosquito Fleet exhibition in the museum. Photographic material is currently being digitized and will eventually be available online. Other collection items are in museum storage and accessible by appointment only.


Annie Watt; Boatbuilding; Ketch; Mosquito fleet; Nelcebee; Painting; Photograph; Regatta; Ship fitting

Drawing; Model ships; Navigation; Navigation equipment; Oral History; Photography; Sailing; Watercolour painting; Yachts

Drawing (art); Ketches; Model ships; Navigational instruments; Photographs; Watercolours

Frederick Dawson; George Bourne; South Australian Maritime Museum

Ketches; Photographs

Coverage Spatial

Yorke Peninsula; Port Adelaide, South Australia; South Australia

Coverage Temporal



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2012-12-12 16:43

2011-03-23 15:57