SV May Queen: Australia’s Oldest Sail Trading Vessel Undergoes Maintenance at Domain Slip

SV May Queen’s ongoing maintenance schedule has highlighted the dedication of its volunteer crew and TasPorts’ significant role in preserving Tasmania’s maritime history.


12 June 2024

SV May Queen, built in 1867, holds the title of Australia’s oldest sail trading vessel and is one of the few remaining wooden ships of its era still afloat worldwide. This historic vessel is currently undergoing essential maintenance at the Domain Slip to ensure its continued preservation and conservation.

Transporting the May Queen, a vessel without a motor, from its home at Constitution Dock to the Domain Slip was no small feat. It required the vessel to be towed and then carefully maneuvered into place by punts. The vessel will be on the slip for two weeks, during which a dedicated team of four volunteers will carry out the necessary work, underscoring the unique challenges of maintaining such a historic vessel.

At the heart of the May Queen's preservation efforts are the dedicated volunteers, some of whom have been working on the vessel for decades. Graham Roberts and Phillip Calvert, both in their 80s, have been steadfast in their commitment to the vessel's upkeep for 20 and 10 years, respectively. Their dedication is a testament to the importance of the May Queen's preservation. Graham shared, "With two new young guns volunteering on the crew, we hope to repaint the 21.5m Tasmanian blue gum and stringy bark hull with antifoul paint from the rubbing strip to the keel after using a high-pressure wash to blast mussels and other debris off the hull and sealing any identified leaks."

Once the May Queen returns to Constitution Dock, the volunteer crew will sand the Celery Top Pine deck floor before sealing it to protect against rain and wear, followed by caulking with a bitumen product. Additionally, a new canvas cover has been specially ordered to replace the existing hold cover that has been in place for over 30 years.

Phillip Calvert, a member of the volunteer crew, expressed the team's need for more ‘hands on deck’. "We would greatly appreciate more volunteers to assist with the May Queen’s preservation – if anyone is interested, please come and visit us when we’re back at Con Dock! Your support can make a significant difference in our preservation efforts."

TasPorts' partnership with the May Queen Trust, providing berthing facilities for the SV May Queen at Constitution Dock and contributing to its annual maintenance, underscores the importance of preserving Tasmania’s rich maritime history. TasPorts, along with its predecessors, the Marine Board of Hobart and Hobart Ports Corporation, has a long-standing relationship with the May Queen, offering similar support for nearly 50 years.

This partnership is one of many that TasPorts holds across Tasmania. For more information, please visit our Community Engagement and Partnerships page.

A fuller history is available here, and to discover more, The Wake of the May Queen documentary can be purchased here.


Built at Franklin on the banks of the Huon River in Tasmania’s south in 1867, the SV May Queen’s working life spanned a century, carrying loads of timber and general cargo up and down the River Derwent, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the Huon River.

The Chesterman Company sold the May Queen to Henry Jones & Co, before it was gifted to the Tasmanian Government in early 1974. Who, in turn, handed her to the Marine Board of Hobart.

The Marine Board of Hobart completed a restoration in the late 1970s and continued to maintain the vessel for many years. Of the many crucial decisions made during the repair, the decision to fabricate and install a steel ‘slipper’ to the keel and exterior was an engineering feat and stopped the hogging of the vessel. All the parts going into the restoration, including the topmasts, spars and rigging, were fabricated by the Marine Board.

The May Queen spent the following two decades berthed within Constitution Dock, before beginning to deteriorate once again.

Recognising that the ongoing costs and labour requirements would be extensive, in 1997, Hobart Ports Corporation passed the May Queen to the newly formed May Queen Trust.

Over the next eight years, a tireless restoration team, using detailed knowledge of traditional methods and some island ingenuity, slowly uncovered the beautiful old May Queen and brought her back to life. In 2003, in global recognition for the outstanding preservation and restoration effort, she was awarded the prestigious Maritime Heritage Award by the World’s Ship Trust.