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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.

By Lindl Lawton, South Australian Maritime Museum

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Image: printed picture of large steamship with people waving at dock
Image: paper tag printed with red background and steamship funnel
Image: Jigsaw with image in shape of Australia overlaid with steamship on ocean
Image: large building with ornate arched entrance
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