'History in a Discarded Painting ~ The MV Troubridge'

Dr Michael MacLellan Tracey BA (Hons First Class) (ANU), PhD (ANU).


Australian Sea Heritage

Sydney Maritime Museum

PO Box 431

Rozelle NSW 2039

Telephone (02) 9810 2299

Facsimile (02) 9810 1756 


Sydney Maritime Museum Ltd: ISSN 0813 0523.

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The Magazine of the Sydney Heritage Fleet, Sydney Maritime Museum and this paper are copyright. Apart from any fair dealings for the purposes of study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any means without permission. Enquires should be made to the Publisher or Author.

Bibliographic Reference:

Tracey, M, M., 2010. 'History in a Discarded Painting ~ The MV Troubridge', Australian Sea Heritage; The Magazine of the Sydney Heritage Fleet, Sydney Maritime Museum,  Issue 97/97, p.p 23-27.

A digital copy of the John Charles Goodchild painting of MV TROUBRIDGE c.1962.

Those who have read my previous research on other vessels such as the TSS DOUGLAS MAWSON will realise that the author is a practising archaeologist, specialising in industrial, and in particular, maritime landscapes (ASH 1999:57). Archaeological evidence is often found in unusual places. The evidence supporting this narrative is a typical example. However, it has archaeological, historical and personal connotations. A framed oil painting that had been discarded in a rubbish tip in south-east Queensland was recovered and presented to the author for archaeological interpretation.

The analysis of the artwork showed the painting was in exceptionally poor condition with paint peeling from the rotting canvas on a damaged wooden stretcher.  The frame had an engraved silver dedication plaque attached. The plague bears the following inscription: Presented to The Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd by Freighters Ltd; on 19th February 1962. To commemorate the “Troubridge” Project. The central subject matter of the painting is an interpretation of the berthing operations of a proud new vessel, namely the MV TROUBRIDGE.

The painting is in formal style, 36 x 34 inches, (90 x 60mm) and completed by British born Australian artist, John Charles Goodchild (1889-1980). From a personal perspective, the painting shows the TROUBRIDGE which was operated by Adelaide Steamship (Operations) Ltd. My father, John Robert Tracey (1903-1969) served with Howard Smith for 56 years and during this time the company were agents for R.W. Miller & Co that operated the TROUBRIDGE. Also, for a brief period, R.W. Miller & Co owned the DOUGLAS MAWSON – the subject of my doctoral research. The TROUBRIDGE was built by Evans, Deakin & Co Ltd in Brisbane, Queensland. My working life commenced in 1962 as a Fitter Mechanic at Evans Deakin in Townsville, North Queensland. If fate does play a role in life it was meant that the author should cross paths with this painting.

Landscape features shown in the painting include the Port Adelaide harbour, Hart’s Flour Mill and the roll-on / roll-off gantry built for the TROUBRIDGE. Hart’s Flour Mill operated from 1855 to 1980 on this former Adelaide Milling Company mill site. The mill complex was designed to develop a worldwide export market for produce from South Australia and was the longest continuously serving flour milling enterprise in the state. The mill building is considered a State Heritage Place. The other structure shown to the rear of the vessel is the gantry facility which, unfortunately, has now been demolished. The maritime history of Australia becomes more and more eroded as progressive redevelopment demands the removal of industrial infrastructure that assisted to develop our nation.  The Evans Deakin shipyards in Brisbane also gave way to ‘Dockside’ redevelopment in the late 1980s and little remains to commemorate that era of maritime industry on the site.

The remains of the loading gantry (now demolished) and Hart’s Flour Mill.

What may be interpreted from Goodchild’s painting? Using the information given on the commemorative plaque, it is obvious that Goodchild was alive in 1962. He was known to have produced paintings and illustrations of maritime interest and subjects and certainly, the Adelaide Steamship Company was operative during this time.

The TROUBRIDGE was built as a stern loaded, deep sea passenger and vehicle ferry intended to service Port Adelaide and the Spencer Gulf ports. The ship was 1,995 tons (2027 tonnes), 582 tons (591 tonnes) net, a length of 291'6" (88m), beam of 50'1" (5.2m) and a draft of 13'1"(3.9) with a service speed of 14.5 knots (26.8kph). Economic pressure dictated that rapid roll on /roll off loading be employed to allow maximum ‘at sea’ time. The TROUBRIDGE was fitted with Denny Brown stabilisers. The bow propulsion unit was a Voith-Schneider lateral thrust unit powered by a diesel engine built into the bow for greater manoeuvrability ability when berthing. Historical photographs of the TROUBRIDGE c.1961 are held in the National Archives of Australia (NAA) Canberra.

The Troubridge beside Evans Deakin’s wharf on the Brisbane River. A section of the Story Bridge is shown in the background. This area has since been redeveloped (Photograph NAA).

The British Polar Marine engine as fitted in the TROUBRIDGE (Photograph NAA).

While acknowledging the existence and historical importance of the cast iron lighthouse on Troubridge Island in South Australia, it is considered that the vessel was named after Sir Thomas Troubridge (1758  -1807). Sir Thomas was a British naval commander who served with Nelson and had a distinguished naval and political career. In 1807 while in the ageing BLENHEIM off the coast of Madagascar, the vessel encounter a severe cyclone. The BLENHEIM foundered and all hands perished including Admiral Sir Thomas.

Sir Thomas Troubridge, 1st Baronet (1758 -1807) Royal Navy Commander and politician. (Painting by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839).

TROUBRIDGE was owned by the Adelaide Steamship (Operations) Ltd, a subsidiary of Adelaide Steamship Co. In 1972 she was sold to the South Australian Government, in a joint venture with equal shareholdings of fifty percent between R.W. Miller and Co, and the South Australian Government Roads Department. The ship serviced the Port Adelaide - Kangaroo Island - Port Lincoln run. This was a very profitable ferry and iconic for many locals until TROUBRIDGE was replaced by the ISLAND SEAWAY on 1st June 1987 (ASH No. 80, 2004).  The partnership between R.W. Miller and Co., and the South Australian Government Roads Department continued with the ISLAND SEAWAY on a similar shareholding arrangement that existed for the TROUBRIDGE. However, by this time R.W. Miller and Co had become a one hundred percent owned subsidiary of Howard Smith Ltd.

Robert William Miller was born in 1879 at South Queensferry, West Lothian, Scotland. His father was a qualified Ship’s Master and introduced his son to life at sea. In 1893 Miller was fourteen years of age and went to sea as a cabin boy in sailing ships. Eventually he acquired his Master Mariner's Ticket and migrated to Australia in 1901. Miller was a diligent and successful businessman and established an efficient maritime business that included coal shipping, punts, tugs, lighterage, coalmines, a brewery and hotels. He traded under the name R. W. Miller and Company, 28 Bond Street, Sydney from 1912, by which time he had acquired a sizable fleet of small to medium ships. A contract secured by Miller was the disposal of overburden and spoil from the Balmain Colliery shaft which was loaded into lighters, towed and then dumped at sea. Miller secured this opportunity to sell this overburden to local municipal councils and engineering contractors for road base and structural foundations. In 1913 he was granted a contract for coal distribution from Sydney Harbour Colliery Limited’s Balmain mine. Sydney Harbour Colliery, also known as the Balmain Coal Mine, was worked to 900 metres beneath Sydney harbour with minimal success from 1897 to 1931.

Miller eventually established a fleet of lighters used for the transportation of blue metal, sand and coal within Sydney Harbour. In 1917 he acquired the AUDREY D to transport coal from Newcastle to Sydney. This venture was immediately successful despite the capacity of Miller’s ships to accommodate only 150 tons of coal. Miller’s need for a larger vessel was evident and he purchased the DOUGLAS MAWSON. While in service with Miller, the DOUGLAS MAWSON was offered for sale as a trawler for £12,000 by A. J. Powell, Ship Broker, 377 Queen Street, Brisbane, to the Queensland Government. The offer was rejected. The DOUGLAS MAWSON was in Miller’s service only seventeen months. On 23rd August 1920 the Commissioner for Trade Queensland, signed a Bill of Sale in favour of Miller’s vessel for £18,000. R.W. Miller and Co continued to prosper and eventually entered into partnership with the South Australian Government Roads Department and the TROUBRIDGE.

A ferry service had operated to Kangaroo Island since 1882. The SS KARATTA took over this service for approximately fifty four years, carrying freight and passengers between Port Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Kingscote from 1907 to 1961. The TROUBRIDGE was launched in 1961. She was designed as a roll on / roll off vessel and purpose designed loading gantries were constructed at Port Adelaide, Port Lincoln and Kingscote. The gantry at Port Adelaide is included in Goodchild’s painting. The TROUBRIDGE operated until 1st June 1987. She was then replaced by the 3,536 ton ISLAND SEAWAY built for the South Australian Government by Eglo Engineering in Port Adelaide and launched that same year.  

A postcard featuring the MV Troubridge with the annotation ‘Greeting from Port Adelaide.’ (Author’s collection).

The ISLAND SEAWAY used the gantries built for the TROUBRIDGE. However the new vessel was unreliable and had an extensive refit of its propulsion system in September 1989.  The ISLAND SEAWAY was retired from South Australian service and sold to interests in Malta in 1995, suffering the same fate as the TROUBRIDGE.  When TROUBRIDGE was retired from the South Australian service in 1987 she had been was sold in 1990 to a company in Malta, where she was renamed the CITY OF FAMAGUSTS.  The vessel endured the indignity of almost continued name changes until her final demise. The Maltese owners sold her to European Seaways where she became the EUROPEAN GLORY. Following resale to Poseidon Lines, she became the SEA WAVE.  In 1995 a new Turkish owner named her the KARDAN. In 2003 she was under charter to the Gibraltar Lines and was finally registered in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as the MARWA.

The MARWA alias the TROUBRIDGE at the breaking up yards in Izmir, Republic of Turkey (Photo courtesy Jürgen Stein).

The TROUBRIDGE under the name MARWA was taken to the Alinga Acetylene Scrapyard at Izmir in Turkey. This is one of twenty such cutting down, wrecking, demolition and breaking down yards owned by Lighthouse Ship Brokers, a Republic of Turkey based maritime services company. On 7 March 2004 the TROUBRIDGE that began her 43 year journey on the Brisbane River in 1961 was scrapped.  As for John Goodchild’s painting of the vessel, it has suffered the same fate. A digital photographic copy has been retained for historical reference.



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Saturday, 09 May 2015