Rambler: A Study of South Australian Colonial Ship Construction

Author: Lilith Somerville

Somerville, Lilith, 2023 Rambler: A Study of South Australian Colonial Ship Construction, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis uses the case study of Rambler from Victor Harbour to examine colonial shipbuilding practices in nineteenth century South Australia. Rambler, to date, is the only South Australian colonial built vessel to be identified, surveyed and recorded. Being constructed in 1875, in

Birkenhead, South Australia, Rambler was primarily used as a cray fishing vessel around Victor Harbour and Kangaroo Island until its retirement in the 1990s. In the last 20 years the historic fishing vessel has resided in the empty paddock of Waitpinga Dump only a few kilometres from Encounter Bay after the closure of Port Adelaide boat yard.

In 2022, Flinders University students and staff conducted the first recording of the historic vessel. In addition, a combination of archaeological and archival methods were used to establish an understanding of Rambler. These methods include; photogrammetry, artefact photography, wood species identification, and metal sampling. These archaeological methods used in combination of historic records and archival materials were used to establish a detailed initial dataset for Rambler. To better understand and contextualise the result gathered from Rambler’s assessment, 15 comparative vessels were chosen to highlight the similarities and differences between construction techniques, materials used and location of where these vessels were built, to better understand nineteenth century colonial ship construction across Australia. These comparative studies then allowed for a more detailed understanding of the methods and materials used to construct Rambler as well as provide future maritime researchers with an initial understanding of the results collected from Rambler’s initial assessment.

By assessing comparative vessels alongside data collected from Rambler’s initial assessment, further archaeological and historical investigations can be undertaken to understand Rambler’s significance and contributions to maritime archaeology and Victor Harbour’s local history. This study also discusses the social, economic, environmental, and cultural factors that influenced ship construction and the exchange of materials in the colonies of Australia through the archaeological theories of cultural transmission, colonial adaption and social learning theory. These theories were chosen as they offer insight into the learning and practices of European shipwrights during the early years of colonialization in South Australia in addition to the transmission of cultures and cultural identity. By using a combination of historical and archaeological methods to assess and record Rambler, combining comparative studies throughout the nineteenth century, and applying archaeological theories to further understand the methods used during Rambler’s construction, this thesis offers insight into South Australian colonial building practices during the nineteenth century and further contribute to the understanding of colonial ship construction and reveals meaningful insight into the material selection, technological changes and cultural adaption of the first settlers in South Australia.

Keywords: maritime archaeology, Australian colonial shipbuilding, nineteenth century

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2023
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Wendy van Duivenvoorde