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.

Scharyn's picture
Scharyn says:

Are you able to associate early SA People with these businesses?

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

That's a fantastic piece of history Anthony!

Anthony Fraser's picture
Anthony Fraser says:

Hi
I've got my grandfather's certificate of discharge papers. He was on the manunda in 1937- 1939 when he signed up for ww2

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

That's a fascinating family history Bruce.

Bruce Cumming's picture
Bruce Cumming says:

Hello Kent. Did you track down any details about your grandfather's time on the Manunda? I've got a couple of connections to that time: my great Grandfather William Cumming was the supervising engineer who built the SS Zealandia which was sunk in the first bombing raid. My father Bill Cumming was in the RAAF IN Catalinas in WW2 and at times shadowed ships to protect them, and used to land in Darwin Harbour next to the Zealndia wreck and all the others.
In addition he had previously worked with AdSteamships for 10 years refurbishing and lengthening ships for them, and before that working on several of their ships as chief engineer.

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 http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au 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
KENT ROGERS says:

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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