James Craig, History

James Craig , launched as Clan Macleod, was built by Bartram, Haswell & Co. in Sunderland, England in 1874. Her name was changed to James Craig in 1905. For 26 years she plied the trade routes of the world carrying general cargoes during which period she rounded Cape Horn 23 times.

James Craig under sail, 1920
James Craig under sail, 1920

In 1900 she was purchased by Mr J J Craig of Auckland, New Zealand, who used her on trans-Tasman trade routes as a general cargo carrier. In 1911 she was laid up because increasing competition from steam ships made sailing vessels uneconomical. She was then stripped and used as a copra hulk in New Guinea.

After the First World War there was an acute shortage of cargo ships and she was bought by the well-known Australian jam manufacturer, Henry Jones IXL. This gave James Craig a new lease of life after being towed from New Guinea to Sydney for re-fitting. Her return to service was brief because in 1925 she was reduced to a coal hulk at Recherche Bay, Tasmania. In 1932 she was abandoned and became beached after breaking her moorings in a storm. She remained beached until 1972 when volunteers from the Sydney Heritage Fleet re-floated her.

In 1973 she was towed to Hobart where temporary repairs were carried out. She was towed to Sydney in 1981 and restoration work commenced. James Craig‘s restored hull was re-launched in February 1997.

James Craig‘s Importance to Australia

There are only four operational barques from the 19th Century still capable of sailing – the Star of India in San Diego, California, (launched 1863), James Craig in Sydney (1874), Elissa in Galveston, Texas, (1877) and Belem in France (1896). Of these, James Craig is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere, and is the only of the four which regularly carries members of the general public to sea. Though her days of sailing around Cape Horn are probably over, she has 23 roundings to her credit.

She is a true restoration, not a replica. Other Australian tall ships are either replicas such as Bark Endeavour, ships built in the 20th century such as Southern Swan (previously Our Svanen), Soren Larsen and One and All, static museum exhibits such as Polly Woodside in Melbourne, or abandoned unsalvageable wrecks, such as Santiago in Adelaide.

James Craig is a representative of the great sailing vessels from a bygone age, the ships which moved produce from the emerging colonies and brought manufactured goods to our shores. She is a tangible link between modern Australia and the days of sail during which this country developed into nationhood.

Australia is one of the very few nations to have the good fortune to have a vessel from a bygone age sailing in our waters, and for this we are the envy of maritime nations around the globe. James Craig is hailed as a model of all that is expected of a sensitive, authentic conservation, a symbol of what can be done to preserve our heritage.

In 2003 she was awarded the World Ships Trust’s International Maritime Heritage Medal for authentic restoration. She joins a select band of restored ships throughout the world, including the Mary Rose (UK 1510), Vasa (Sweden 1627), USS Constitution (USA 1797), Great Britain (UK 1843) and Cutty Sark (UK 1869), which have received this honour.

James Craig is owned by the Sydney Heritage Fleet, a community based, non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of Australia’s maritime heritage. The Fleet  operates what is thought to be the largest fleet of operational heritage ships and boats anywhere in the world.