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The Skeleton Closet

Ketches in South Australia

Defining Ketches and Schooners

Young's Nautical Dictionary, 1863 lists a ketch as a vessel with 2 masts - the foremast being taller and rigged like that of a sloop, the after mast carries a sail set on a boom and gaff. In the early days of the state, smaller craft were defined as ketches or schooners.

Young's defines a schooner as a small craft with two mast and no top sails with the main and foresails each being set of a gaff and boom. Some mention is also made of schooners with fore and aft rigging - this means that a square sail is set on a cross-jackyard and all her other sails are fore and aft rigged.

Young's also defines a topsail schoon which carries a square fore topsail and often a top-gallant and royal as well.

Most of the small craft in South Australia were defined as schooner s with variations of rigging and were often altered in attempts to gain sailing speed and handling, these had their descritpions changed to that of ketch when re-registered after alteration.

The Use of Ketches in S.A. waters

The founders of the South Australia Company saw the benefit of using small craft in coastal work within the state and closer colonies , as they mentioned the demand for these in their prospectus of 1835.

It is true that the colony of South Australia was established in 1836, but when one learns that the Superintendent of the Company's operations, one Samuel Stephens, wrote to his superiors in London telling them that he had "hired the cutter WILLIAM", one wonders how many people lived here prior to official colonisation. At the time, the headquarters in SA of the Company was at Kingscote (Nepean Bay) on Kangaroo Island - and to hire the William, there must have been someone else there already for him to hire it from?

Upon hearing of this, the Company chiefs in London sent a contingent of boat builders, shipwrights and skilled boatbuilding laborers to the colony, along with the required materials for them to begin building the required small craft. In their report of 30 June, 1837 it says that "shipbuilding has been conducted by the Company opposite Wright's Island and several small vessel were built with timber from the Tiers and Saw Pit Gully*".

It is highly likely that some of these small craft brought passengers to South Australia from other colonies, and indeed that some of the crews of these small ships became colonists themselves.



Notes of interest:-

The Tiers - near and around the Stirling - Bridgewater area in the Adelaide Hills.

Saw Pit Gully - no longer exists but was in between the towns of Nairne and Harrogate and Kanmntoo on the old road to Callington - named because of the saw pit which was operated in the area by Mr John Hillman and early settler of the area. A saw pit was used to cut timber for use in houses and ship-building.