S.S. CARTELA of 1912

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Angus Mac Kinnon
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S.S. CARTELA of 1912

Post by Angus Mac Kinnon » Mon Dec 30, 2013 7:52 pm

I picked up this photograph (see below) in some antique shop, at least ten years ago, and have only now researched her provenance - well .... you can't rush these things .... !


The following history of this little steamer, by Tasmanian historian and writer Reg. A. Watson, an author having 43 years publishing experience, best summarises the history of this vessel. Mr Watson has written 13 books, many booklets and over a 1,000 articles. Also a public speaker, he is often a guest on radio and television.


She is the Lady of the River, the Cock of the Derwent. For one hundred years she has sailed the River Derwent out of Hobart, Tasmania. The SS Cartela has become very much part of the folk-lore of southern Tasmania and it seems every Tasmanian has a Cartela story to relate.

She recently celebrated her centenary of sailing the River Derwent and even beyond. This fine ferry is the last of the great river ferries and although her role has changed, she can still be seen today. Generations of Tasmanians have sailed on her and thousands of tourists.

S.S. Cartela was built at the Purdon and Featherstone slip-yard in Battery Point, Hobart, and launched 21 September 1912. Her overall length was 123ft, keel length 111ft, beam 25ft and draught 8ft 6 inches. Her hull is New Zealand Kauri, frames, Tasmanian Blue Gum, and her upper deck-beams Huon Pine. The Huon Channel Peninsular Steam Ship Company was her original owner. It was planned to carry passengers and freight to the Tasman Peninsula. Her first trip was on New Year's Day 1913, to Eaglehawk Neck. She was also used on the Huon River and D’Entrecasteaux Channel.

Today she is there for the tourist trade and despite her advancing years, there are exciting times ahead. Her owners since 1951, the Roche Brothers, converted her, from a steamship to a diesel, installing originally a Vivian engine. Cartela will undergo complete renovations and will return to steam power with the original engine being reinstalled. Further, Roche Brothers plan to donate the vessel to a non-profit company called Steamship Cartela Ltd, so her future is ensured.

Her early years saw the romance of the river ferries on the Derwent at its peak. Other ferries were Togo, Marana, Mongana, Dover and the Excella.

In 1919, in what was to become the annual Christmas Day steamer race, three vessels were involved, the Cartela, Dover and Marana. Large crowds lined the foreshore. They steamed down to the Channel and return, but when Cartela was in the vicinity of the Shot Tower she developed a hot bearing which put her out of the race. Marana won, with Cartela coming in ten minutes later. The steamer races continued until 1931.

When World War I began, Cartela was called upon for patrol work on the river. In June 1915, the Premier instructed Cartela to inspect a suspicious vessel that made no signal. The vessel turned out to be the British barque Invernesshire, which had a series of mishaps, including loosing three of her four masts.

With the help of SS Dover, the stricken vessel was towed to Hobart. What followed was a litigation case over the cost of the towing. The Huon Channel and Peninsular Company won the case, being awarded 350 pounds, but most was taken up in costs.

After the war, in 1919, Cartela crossed Bass Strait sailing to Melbourne to assist in taking apples and general merchandise because of the seamen’s strike. It was a difficult voyage, encountering mountainous seas. It took 21 days to reach Melbourne as she had to take shelter on Flinders Island and wait ten days for supplies.

Back in Hobart between the wars Cartela was used as a tug. Otherwise it was to the Tasman Peninsular with passengers and cargo and as a weekend pleasure steamer. She had long won the hearts of Hobartians, travelling as well to Dennes Point (Bruny Island), Browns River (Kingston) and Opossum Bay and up the river to the Derwent Valley mooring at New Norfolk.

On Christmas Day 1926 Cartela and Togo collided off Battery Point and Togo was forced to run aground with all her passengers aboard. Mongana came to her aid and took them off. Cartela was able to continue and fortunately for Togo it took very little to get her back in into the water.

The following year in 1927 she rescued an injured man off Tasman Island. He was working on the island and when hauling stone up the cliff face, the crane collapsed. He fell a hundred feet into the sea and was never seen again. The others released carrier pigeons. Cartela was sent to help, carrying Dr. A. Barnett. The next morning the injured man who had received serious injuries was safely transferred to Hobart.

During World War II, Cartela was not called upon for patrol work, that being left up to other ferries such as Marana and Arcadia.

Life continued much the same immediately after the war, including making appearances at the historic Hobart regatta for short excursions. However, conditions were changing for Hobartians. On 22 December 1943 the first floating bridge in the world with lift span was opened for traffic which provided a better connection between the western and eastern shores of Hobart.

Car ownership boomed allowing people to have their weekend picnic by motor. By 1964 the old bridge could not handle the traffic so the Tasman Bridge was opened. This new era saw the various ferries operate under serious economic difficulties. The great romantic times were drawing to a close. The Roche Brothers purchased the vessel in 1951 along with Marana, Excella, Breone, and Bass from H. Jones & Co Ltd – IXL Hobart. Sadly it proved to be unprofitable and now only Cartela remains.

On 5 January 1975 in the late evening, the bulk carrier Illawarra ran into the Tasman Bridge. Two piers were destroyed and part of the road fell into the water, cutting east and west Hobart in two. In all twelve people died. The tragedy saw the return of the river ferry and Cartela was called upon the very next day to fulfil this role.

By now there were other ferries to help – more modern ones, such as James McCabe, Matthew Brady and Melba which was taken off the Bruny Island service. The Lady Wakehurst able to carry 800 passengers was brought from Sydney. Cartela sailed between Brooke Street Pier (Hobart side) to the old ferry wharf at Bellerive (eastern shore).

Later that year in June she was taken off the run as her engine broke down. A new engine was installed and she returned to commuting work. In 1977 the repair and expansion of the Tasman Bridge was completed and thus the ferry service ended.

Today Cartela still cruises the Derwent. She is now the oldest continuously licensed passenger vessel in Australia. Her role over the hundred years has been varied and has changed. She is a survivor. She has seen good days and bad days. There have been many difficult times, but one thing is sure; the River Derwent would not be the same without Cartela and it seems that she will be a feature on the river for many years to come.


Open-Doors Day Article :

The SS Cartela was designed and built at Purdon and Featherstone’s slip yard in Battery Point in 1912 for the Huon
Channel Peninsula Steam Ship Company. In her early years she was used to transport passengers and freight between Hobart and the Tasman Peninsula.

A well-equipped vessel, she was built by hand, by 12 men, in three months. The hull is made of New Zealand kauri, the framing is Tasmanian blue gum and the upper deck is Huon pine. When commissioned in 1913, the SS Cartela was equipped with a set of triple expansion steam engines that gave her a speed of 12.5 knots.

She originally had a dining saloon, smoking saloon, ladies cabin and proudly boasted lavatories with an automatic flushing system! In addition to the passenger amenities, the SS Cartela had a hold capacity for 3,000 bushels of apples. (For the benefit of the younger members, an imperial bushel = 8 x imperial gallons or 36.3687 litres or 2219.36 cu in)!

Heritage Experience :
Come aboard this well-known Hobart ferry and stand on the hand-built deck. See the bells which provided signals from the Captain to the engine room, roam below deck and get a sense of her place in Tasmania’s history, and hear about the plans for her future. The SS Cartela is about to be restored to her former glory (with steam engines) and will not be seen on the Derwent River for three years.
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S.S. Cartela of 1912
Angus Mac Kinnon

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