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Navy in South Australia: Other government vessels

Besides HMCS Protector, the colony's naval vessel and chief defence, there were, over the years, a number of vessels employed or owned by the colonial government for a range of duties. Some of these are listed with brief descriptions. IN addition to these there were a number of smaller vessels owned by the government over the years. These served as pilot boats, tenders to the mail boats, and vaguely described - government cutters.  There were also tugs, dredgers, hopper barges and other miscellaneous small vessels used around harbours.


The Rapid is primarily known as Colonel William Light's ship, used by him for the voyage out to South Australia in 1836, and then in surveying the coast and in the establishment of the colony. Rapid Bay on the lower Fleurieu Peninsula is named after the ship. It was built in 1826 at Yarmouth, a 2 masted square rigged ship of 153 tons, and 74.5 feet long. It was purchased by the Colonization Commissioners for Light's use. Strictly speaking Rapid was never a government ship, but her role in the survey and establishment of South Australia makes her a de facto one. She was used for a number of official duties after her main role as a survey vessel was completed. Her hatch boat should also be mentioned for the close inshore work it did, in particular its role in the discovery and investigation of the Port River - an essential element in the location of Adelaide.

Water Witch

One masted cutter, built 1834 in Hobart. This was purchased by Governor Gawler in 1839 to replace the Rapid which had been sold to reduce government costs.  Water Witch's duties were various, and included assisting the explorer Edward Eyre with deliveries of stores to points required along the South Australian coast. She was however specifically instructed not to operate outside of South Australian waters in this particular duty. Water Witch was used for the survey of Encounter Bay, and subsequently navigated the mouth of the River Murray and sailed upstream to the Government Station at Moorundie. She sank at her moorings there during a storm on 5 December 1842.

Further reading: 

Kenderdine, S  Historic shipping of the River Murray  Adelaide, 1995

Advertiser 17July 1983 p.22 & 14 April 1983 p.3



Lapwing a single masted 33 ton cutter was purchased by the government in 1845 to replace Water Witch. Most of her service was spent on the Port Adelaide-Robe run following the proclamation of that Port. Lapwing was sold in 1848.

Further reading: 

Ewers LJ. Little ships of the pioneer years 1836-1845 pts 1.  Adelaide, 1952-53


Yatala was wooden topsail schooner built at Port Adelaide in 1848. Launched 28 July 1848 by Mrs Lipson, wife of the Harbourmaster Captain Thomas Lipson. Yatala was used for survey work, and assisted as necessary with lifesaving. The wreck of the steamer Osmanli at D'Estrees Bay, Kangaroo Island in November 1853 is a case in point. The survivors were rescued by Yatala and taken to Port Adelaide. Yatala was sent to the Northern Territory in 1864 to survey the coast of this new addition to South Australia. However she suffered considerable damage when she grounded shortly after arrival there. Sent to Timor for repairs, the vessel was condemned and sold.


Beatrice was a wooden 2 masted schooner built in Newhaven, Sussex in 1860. She sailed to Victoria in 1862, and in September of that year was purchased by the Admiralty and the Province of South Australia as joint owners, for survey work. She spent several years surveying the Northern Territory coast, and also assisted the 1866 land expedition of John McKinlay, with the landing of stores and later an examination of the coast. Beatrice continued survey work on the South Australian coast until 1880, after which the Admiralty sold its half share to the South Australian government, at which point she became wholly a colonial ship. In 1881 she was stripped down and used as a marker for the moorings for the mail steamers at Glenelg. In 1888 she was moved to Semaphore for the same duty. When lights were finally installed, Beatrice was sold and re-rigged. She continued in commercial work until 1921 when she was wrecked in Bass Strait.

Beatrice or Flinders
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Colonial schooner Yatala
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Governor Musgrave at Port Adelaide
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Unloading a horse from a ship
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