Lady Hopetoun, History

Lady Hopetoun at Commissioners Steps 1904(SHF Collection)
Lady Hopetoun at Commissioners Steps, Sydney 1904(SHF Collection)

Lady Hopetoun is named after the wife of Australia’s first governor general and was built for the Sydney Harbour Trust. The Australian Star newspaper of 10 April 1902 reported:

‘The President of the Harbour Trust Board (Mr N. R. P. Hickson), accompanied by a number of gentlemen, attended at the shipbuilding yard of W. M. Ford, jun., at Berry’s Bay, this morning, to witness the launching of the new steamer built for the Harbour Trust. At high water, the chocks were knocked away, and the little vessel took the water without a hitch, being christened ‘Lady Hopetoun’ as she left the ways.’

Lady Hopetoun has probably carried more famous people on her decks than any other vessel in Australia. Among them, King George VI as Duke of York, the Duke of Windsor, the Duke of Gloucester, the King and Queen of Thailand, Princess Alexandra; Governors General of Australia, Governors and Premiers of New South Wales; and many other world figures.

The life of Lady Hopetoun has not always been so glamorous. In her early years she was used as a relief pay boat, did small towing jobs and took the children who lived on Fort Denison to school each day. Originally moored in Lavender Bay, Lady Hopetoun moved to Goat Island in 1919 and this was her permanent berth until she was retired in February 1965 and replaced by a new diesel launch Captain Phillip, built at a cost of $190,000.

Lady Hopetoun was built in 1902 under instructions from Mr Nickson, the first president of the Sydney Harbour Trust, later to become the Maritime Services Board. She was designed by Walter Reeks and built by Watty Ford in Berry’s Bay, North Sydney at a cost of £4,500.

The vessel was slightly remodelled in 1920 to her present-day appearance. Prior to 1920 she had an open wheelhouse and the for’ard deck housing extended approximately 1.5 metres further for’ard.

Lady Hopetoun was purchased by the fledgling Lady Hopetoun & Port Jackson Marine Steam Museum (forerunner to the Sydney Heritage Fleet), which was formed in December 1965 to acquire the vessel from the Maritime Services Board.

Lady Hopetoun was handed over to the museum in early 1966. She underwent a major restoration and was recommissioned in 1970 just in time for the Captain Cook bi-centenary celebrations.

Despite her age, Lady Hopetoun’s hull is still largely original and is constructed of New Zealand kauri planks on American elm frames. Her deckhouse is teak. She still retains her original triple-expansion steam engine, but her original coal-fired boiler was replaced in the 1920s. A new boiler was installed in 1997.