'City of Adelaide' finds a new forever home

WGA AU | Wallbridge Gilbert Aztec - Clipper Ship - 'City of Adelaide'

Built in 1864 in Sunderland, the ‘City of Adelaide’ is a 164-year-old, 500-tonne wooden giant of a clipper ship. A predecessor to the steamship, this sailing vessel’s glory days were filled with tales carrying immigrants and cargo between London and Adelaide. But in its twilight, the ship eventually ended up in a lonely backwater in Scotland to silently wane.

However, its fate took a remarkable turn in 2014 when an Adelaide-based volunteer group – Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Limited started a campaign to bring it home to preserve. Since returning to Australia, it’s been floating on a barge, where it underwent some restoration while taking many visitors down memory lane through tours inside the ship. Its guardians decided a land-based site would be the most viable option for the ship’s salvation and decided to relocate.

Finding a place to call home

This is where WGA saves the day. In 2023 we took on the massive challenge of rolling the ‘City of Adelaide’ off the barge and placing it at its new permanent home at the planned seaport village in Port Adelaide’s inner harbour. Moving a 500-tonne fragile ship is no easy feat— it’s more like lifting five blue whales. And with the weight of trailers added in, make that ten!

The challenges didn’t stop there. The ship couldn’t float in its barged state. WGA, with its team of dedicated engineers and experts, sourced the most suitable equipment, carried out the intricate engineering design, including the load-in and lift methodology, and supervised its execution. We provided civil, geotechnical, maritime, structural, temporary works, naval architecture and heavy lift engineering to orchestrate this awe-inspiring task of preservation and relocation.

Operation ‘City of Adelaide’

Mark Gilbert, co-founder of WGA, who has been working on big moves like this for 40 years said “this has been one of the toughest projects since we started in 1982. Nic Caso’s effort working out how to ballast the barge to compensate for the tide movement was vital.”

WGA’s  Senior Naval Architect Nic Caso further added, “the entire operation was successfully accomplished precisely as planned and this is a testament to the skilfulness and dedication of all individuals and organisations involved in the engineering, planning and execution. Personally, it has also been a particular privilege being able to contribute to this crucial step towards the preservation of a significant, surviving example of the history of ship design.”

It’s not every day we get to keep a weather eye out on a historical vessel that has allowed over 250,000 Australians to trace their heritage to the passengers and crew. WGA team Mark Gilbert, Nic Caso, Rodger Weste, David McKay, Brenton Harris, Roger Grounds and many other volunteers including  the Hallett Group Pty Ltd , Maritime Constructions, Australian Naval Infrastructure (ANI) made it all possible.