A Ship and a Ferry
At our recent AGM, I (S. Rider, BWHS President) mentioned to Gosford City Council’s Mayor, Mr Laurie Maher, who was acting as Scrutineer at the election of our Committee, about a recent visit Bob and I had made to the Lady Denman Museum at Huskinsson on the South Coast. I was particularly intrigued by the painting of the ship “Sobraon” at Circular Quay held in their Maritime exhibit. This closely resembles the print of a painting of the “Sobraon” held in our museum. I mentioned that I had photographed the painting as well as the Bell off the “Sobraon” which was also in their collection. Mr Maher was delighted that at long last he had discovered the whereabouts of this Bell as he had been searching for years for it! I’ve now supplied copies of the photographs to Mr. Maher, who was Superintendent of Mt. Penang Training Centre for Boys at Kariong for seven years from 1975.
The “Sobraon” was a clipper sailing ship, built in Aberdeen, Scotland and launched in 1866. For 24 years she sailed between England and Australia. In 1891 she was purchased by the Government of New South Wales and used as a floating reformatory ship at Sydney. Twenty years later she became the stationary Navy training ship HMAS Tingira. She was sold in 1927 and remained at Berry’s Bay until 1941, when she was broken up for scrap. The reformatory eventually became the Mt. Penang Boys’ Training Centre. This little anecdote now leads into the story of the Lady Denman and the Museum.
Warren Halloran, the son of pioneer surveyor James Halloran, had an extensive collection of maps, plans, documents, surveying and navigation equipment, and many maritime artifacts. He donated $158,000 for the construction of a museum at Huskinsson to house the Lady Denman and also donated his maritime collection to the Lady Denman Museum. It seems that the “Sobraon” Bell was in this collection.
Now, back to the former Sydney ferry the Lady Denman. Shipbuilding in Jervis Bay goes back to the middle of the 1800s. There have been at least five different boatbuilding sites at various times on the shores of Currambene (sounds familiar) Creek between the grounds of the Lady Denman Heritage Complex and Huskinsson Wharf. Ships built here include the Lady Denman and Lady Scott Ferries.
The Lady Denman saw service from 1912 to 1979. When it was taken out of service the NSW Government handed the ferry back to where it was built and the Lady Denman Heritage Committee was formed. After some trials and tribulations the ferry made it back to the complex and is now listed as an item of Heritage significance by the NSW Government.
The ferry was named after Lady Gertrude (Trudie) Denman, wife of the fifth Governor General of Australia, Baron Thomas Denman, who was appointed in 1910. Lady Denman assisted in the setting up of the National Council of Women in Western Australia in 1911 and heavily encouraged groups from other states to meet annually. The National Councils of Women are still going strong today. One of Lady Denman’s most important achievements was in her interest and support for bush nursing. When she arrived in 1911 only one Remote Area Nurse had been appointed but when she left Australia almost 20 centres had opened in Victoria alone. Lady Denman is actually more famous for announcing the name of the new capital city, Canberra, in 1913 than for her other accomplishments while in Australia.
The preservation of the Lady Denman is an ongoing process by volunteers and donations of time, money, equipment and material. The former ferry returned home in 1983 and through Government grants, local funding and donations, the ferry slowly returned to its once pristine condition. In 1988 the museum complex was finally opened by Australian swimming legend Dawn Fraser and the Jervis Bay Museum of Science and the Sea, by Australian solo yachtswoman, Kay Cottee.
The Lady Denman is one of two remaining original Lady Class ferries. Her sister ship, the Lady Scott became a floating restaurant and was renamed the John Cadman.
(Editor’s Note: This Museum is well worth a visit if you are down that way. It has well presented displays and is in an attractive setting.)
References: Lady Denman Heritage Complex – Information leaflets. Huskinsson, NSW Naval Historical Society of Australia Inc. – Naval Historical Review 1999- 2011