Great progress is being made at the Queensland Maritime Museum by a small team of volunteers to restore the 115-year-old Pearling Lugger, Penguin, and preserve her for another 115 years.

Work started last year. The hull has been stripped of all loose gear, bowsprit, anchor winch, Sampson post, cabin tops, deck planking and all internal items such as the engine, dive pump, internal lining, etc.

Concentrating on the port side we have stripped the old paint and caulking and removed a number of damaged or rotted planks and frames. A big noisy and dusty job has been to remove tons of cement ballast from the bilge so we can check and repair this vital area.

A detailed survey has been carried out and 3D photo imaging done to enable lines and construction plans to be prepared for our AMSA Historic Vessel Certification.

We have sourced old, well-seasoned hardwood for the replacement frames where necessary, and some beautiful long lengths of old Kauri for new planks. We also now have enough old, clear, straight-grained Oregon for the new deck.

Thankfully most of the basic structure is in fairly good order. Even the 26 heavy copper keel bolts have passed their NDT testing with flying colours. The deck planking was at the end of its life, but the deck beams are mostly OK. While we are using modern power tools and epoxy resins and glues, everything is being done to replicate the way it all was 115 years ago.

With everything stripped out, the interior is becoming a thing of beauty and the contrast with modern carbon fibre and high technology boatbuilding is the reason the Penguin must be kept for future generations to wonder at and admire.

Replacement of the port bow section planking is now complete, and work has started on the stern quarter. We hope to finish the work on the port side by Christmas. The starboard side seems in a little better condition, so we are optimistically looking at repairing frames and replacing planks, and then working on the deck, new bulwarks by Christmas 2024.

Another important part of the restoration process is to widen our knowledge of the Penguin/Mercia’s history, with a view to putting together a book on her life and times. One of our original team and all-round hard worker is John Hockings, born on Thursday Island and a member of the Hockings Pearling family who were major players in the very beginning. John is travelling to Japan in September to visit pearling contacts and collect stories and documentation of the vital Japanese involvement in the industry. Another recent recruit is Laurence Prescott, whose great-grandfather was F.C. Hodel who commissioned the building of the Mercia. FC owned a number of luggers, a store and the local newspaper on Thursday Island. Laurence is visiting Thursday Island with his family in October to research the family history and the more recent owners of the Penguin over her long life.

If you have Pearling stories and old photos, please talk to us.

Come and see what we are doing – maybe volunteer to help. We have been supported by several generous donations and a Grant from the Copland Foundation, but more funds are needed. Please help, as the Penguin is an important part of our maritime heritage and an important part of what was a very important industry.

Follow our week-to-week work on our Facebook page Pearling Lugger Penguin Restoration project.

More info on the website