The Adelaide Steamship Company was Australia’s largest shipping company and one of South Australia’s most successful business ventures. Founded in 1875 the company can trace its history through the themes of colonial enterprise, wartime and defence, work and culture, cruising and pleasure. Wool, wheat and minerals were making South Australia rich in the 19th century. Cargoes were booming but South Australian shipping was frustrated by small companies and inter-colonial rivals. In 1875 a group of savvy pastoralists and businessmen took action. They aimed to control the transport of their goods and profit via an efficient passenger vessel service.

For more than 100 years the company’s fleet dominated Australian passenger and cargo shipping from Darwin to Townsville. The Company employed nearly 800 people at sea and about 90 onshore. Office managers were expected to work as required to keep ships moving and profitable. While there was great loyalty from some workers, there were also major waterside disputes during the 1890s and 1920s. In wartime the company’s vessels were requisitioned for global campaigns and in peace they offered Australians the journey of a lifetime.

For over 50 years from 1910 to the 1960s the Gulf Trip on Adelaide Steamship vessels was a unique way to see South Australia. Popular with honeymooners and notorious party ships for young men, the seven-day trip cost £6 in 1939. Ships like the Minnipa, Manunda, Moonta and Morialta provided an opportunity for romance and gave many Australians the time of their lives. Luxury was also offered to passengers on the interstate trade. In 1933 Manoora showcased the latest in streamline design. 

During the twentieth century the Adelaide Steamship Company diversified creating other businesses including Adelaide Airways Ltd, Adelaide Ship Construction Ltd and tugboat operations. Expansion extended to shares in interstate shipping and other companies. In 1964 the company merged with McIlwraith McEacharn Ltd to form Associated Steamships Ltd.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Kent, I'm afraid we don't hold those records. I would suggest the best place to start looking is the State Library of South Australia Quite a lot comes up in a catalogue search on the Adelaide Steamship Company and one of those sources, such as the research notes they hold, may point you in the direction of the employment records. I'll check with the South Australian Maritime Museum curators to see if they have any other ideas.

KENT ROGERS's picture

Hi I am enquiring as to whether you would have employment records for my Grandfather John Thomson who was a deckhand on the ship Manunda during ww2. employed by the Adelaide Steamship Co. HE WAS ON BOARD THE SHIP WHEN IT WAS BOMBED IN Darwin. Hope you are able to help me. Regards Kent.

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