Back friom the brink: James Craig by Gregory Blaxell

Most people around Australia will probably know James Craig. When she’s not out sailing or on a trip to other parts, this magnificent sailing ship is moored at Pyrmont Wharf 7. The story of how this ship was brought back from the brink of destruction is told in a book, All Hands on Deck; the Restoration of the James Craig by Michael York.
Michael York has been pivotal in the saving of James Craig. Since 1981, he has been involved with the Sydney Heritage Fleet (formerly the Sydney Maritime Museum). He is a Governor of the Sydney Heritage Fleet. At present the SHF headquarters are in Rozelle Bay and their fleet includes James Craig, Waratah, Lady Hopetoun, Boomerang and John Oxley and the ferry Kanangra as well as launches, a speedboat, 55 small heritage boats, marine engines, model ships and the maintenance of the Marine Records and Research Centre.
When this ship was launched from her Sunderland slipway on 18 February 1874, she was christened Clan Macleod. The proud owner was Thomas Dunlop, a strict Christian Scot from Glasgow who had made his fortune as a grain and flour merchant. The ship was named after his late Pastor, Rev. Norman Macleod and was the first of Dunlop’s Clan Line.
Clan Macleod was also the first of his ships to be constructed in iron – steel not being available until after 1877. Her maiden voyage began in April 1874 carrying coal from England to Portland Oregon via Cape Horn. On her return voyage, she took on a cargo of flour and wheat, leaving Portland on 17 December 1874 and returning to England by rounding The Horn for a second time.
Clan Macleod drying her sails alongside wharf in Auckland, 1894. [p 11,AHoD]Clan Macleod’s first trip to Australia was to Brisbane in August 1879. She brought Scotch whisky, beer and other assorted general cargo.
But modern technology was catching up. Her owner Thomas Dunlop began to convert to steamers. Consequently in 1888, the ship was sold to a Canadian owner and plied between New York, Australia and New Zealand. She worked these routes until August 1900 when she was sold to Joseph James Craig of Auckland and began her cross-Tasman trips.
She first visited Sydney in 1902 as Clan Macleod. Then in 1905, she was renamed James Craig after the owner’s eldest son. She tramped across the Tasman until 1911, was sold to a New Guinea company as a copra storage hulk, was bought in 1918 by Henry Jones of IXL and re-commissioned to transport goods between Sydney and Hobart.
By 1922 she was sold and used as a coal hulk in Recherche Bay. When the coal mine closed in 1930, a hole was blown in her stern to prevent her from becoming a floating hazard to other ships.
The Sydney Maritime Museum acquired James Craig in 1972. She was a hulk resting in the shallows of Recherche Bay.
A survey crew was sent to have a closer inspection and found that James Craig’s deck timbers were gone, she was badly holed at the stern and she had coal and coal sludge in her hold. All the deckhouses were missing as were the bowsprit and the figurehead. Her iron plates were rusting away. However, the surveyors reported that she was salvageable.
James Craig, a deteriorating hulk in Recherche Bay. [Title page, AHoD]
A group of Sydney volunteers arrived to carry out the preliminary, rescue work. The first job was to remove the coal and coal sludge from the bottom of the hold. While this was ongoing, holes in the hull were patched with whatever materials were available –including canvas tarpaulins and plywood. Many of the large holes were at the stern, so a coffer dam was built to isolate this section. The fishing boat that had transported the volunteers to the site was despatched to Dover to acquire pumping machinery. The local Dover community responded with enthusiasm and pumps, tools and food were soon on their way back to Recherche Bay.
James Craig nearing the end of her tow to Sydney in 1981. [p 27, AHoD]A line with an attached block and tackle was run to the shore and, as the coal, sludge and water were removed and the hull rose a little higher, the ‘ship’ was winched towards the shore.
On 24 October 1972, James Craig finally floated and all present were relieved that the bottom was still intact although in need of work before any attempt could be made to get the ship back to Hobart. A team of steel fabricators arrived from Melbourne and welded temporary steel plates over the holes. On 28 May 1973, James Craig was finally towed out of Recherche Bay.
The ship reached Hobart but was destined to spend the next seven years there. The Sydney Maritime Museum was conscious that James Craig had to get to Sydney before any real restoration could begin so eventually, with generous donations of money and labour, the tow was arranged.
But before taking on Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea, the hull had to be made watertight and this meant two major jobs. The first involved welding a steel deck onto the existing beams and secondly lining the hull with concrete applied over wire netting. Both these ‘additions’ would have to be removed when and if the ship made it to Sydney and before any restoration was begun.
The tug Greshanne left Hobart with the ship in tow on 2 January 1981 and reached Sydney without incident on 18 January. The welcome was overwhelming. James Craig was given a berth at Birkenhead.
A volunteer inside the hull surveying the coal sludge, rusted frames and barnacles. [p 18, AHoD]However, it was clear that the ship had to be lifted out of the water and to do this a 60 metre pontoon was built. With more financial assistance and an interest-free loan, the pontoon, designed by Mori Flapan, was built and given the title ‘Sea Heritage Dock’.
On 24 October 1985, using the Sutherland Dock at Cockatoo Island, James Craig was floated onto the pontoon and once aboard, transported to Rozelle Bay. Perched high and dry on her slave dock, she began the wait for the financial where-with-all to start the restoration. But first, research was needed to determine the concept of the finished vessel and secondly, the hull had to be meticulously scrutinized to determine the extent of restoration. Eventually 75% of the plating and much of the skeleton of the ship were replaced.
The welded deck and the concrete inner hull lining were removed and the work tentatively begun. It was also decided that James Craig would eventually be a fully operational sailing ship and, where plates and skeleton had to be replaced, this would be done in steel. But all this costs and between 1980 and 1995, very little money flowed towards James Craig.
James Craig in position on slave dock which is about to be refl oated within Sutherland Dock, Cockatoo Island. [p 34, AHoD]The bi-centennial year 1988 saw the first real money flow to the restoration with $1.5M granted to the project by the NSW State Government. The ship, perched on her slave dock, was moved to Darling Harbour in the hope of attracting public attention and, by charging an admission fee to inspect the ship, garnering more money. Another income stream scheme was to give the public an opportunity to purchase rivets or plates.
The public response towards a paid-visit to a moth-eaten ship was almost nil, even when there were demonstrations of riveting. Darling Harbour was clearly not the appropriate place to carry out the thousands of tasks that were necessary for the restoration to be successful and James Craig was moved back to Rozelle Bay in 1994.
Riveting the rudder with the open furnace close at hand. [p 55, AHoD]About this time, the responsibility for the restoration was put into the hands of the Governors’ James Craig Restoration Division, and a Memorandum of Understanding between the Board of Governors and the Board of Directors of the Sydney Maritime Museum was drawn up and enacted. The Board of Governors proposed that the ship would be handed back to the [Sydney] Maritime Museum in time for the 2000 Olympics.
On 23 February 1997, the ship was re-launched.
Work proceeded with occasional bursts of activity as generous donors provided, in kind, much of the material and machinery needed in the restoration. These gifts ranged from engines and gear boxes to galvanising and sign writing.
Because James Craig would not operate as a cargo vessel, ballast, to give the ship stability, was installed in 1999. Eventually all that could be done at Rozelle was completed and the ship headed for her new home, Wharf 7 Pyrmont. This is because her topmasts, when installed, would not pass under the Anzac Bridge.
The restoration in progress. [p 35, AHoD] / Lowering the specially designed ballast into the hull of James Craig. [p 72, AHoD] / Passing under Anzac Bridge and through Glebe Island Bridge on route to Pyrmont Wharf 7. [p 123, AHoD]
All the finishing, including the rigging, was completed at Pyrmont. Also, the engines, shafts and propellers were installed using the Captain Cook Dry Dock at Garden Island.
Between 1995 and 2000, $250,000 a month was spent on James Craig. But in 2000, this magnificent ship had her first engine trials and in 2005 made her first trip to Hobart as a fully functional, square-rigged sailing vessel.
James CraigThe last word comes from Mick York.
“The James Craig is a restoration, meticulous in its authenticity,” he said.
“Following respected standards for heritage conservation, the modern insertions of engines and some other amenities for the convenience and safety of passengers and crew, are carefully distinguished from the ship’s original and historical aspects. This allows an historically accurate and evocative sailing experience on a frequent and regular basis for the largest numbers of people …
“Driving the ship through the water at 9 or 10 knots is a thrill of a lifetime. It must be experienced to be believed when she heels over and comes alive.”
h All Hands on Deck is available from the author and can be ordered by phone (02 9181 3541) or by email at It costs $60 and add another $10 if you want it posted anywhere in Australia.    

* Gregory Blaxell is an historian and author. His new book A Pictorial History City of Canada Bay was launched on December 10.