TasPorts' support of the SV May Queen

TasPorts recently formalised a new partnership with the May Queen Trust.


18 August 2022

TasPorts is proud to support the preservation of Tasmania’s rich maritime history.

TasPorts recently formalised a new partnership with the May Queen Trust, which includes berthing facilities for the SV May Queen at Constitution Dock.

The SV May Queen is Australia’s oldest sail trading vessel, built in 1867, and one of only a handful of wooden ships of her era still afloat in the world.

TasPorts, and its predecessors, The Marine Board of Hobart and Hobart Ports Corporation, have a long history with the May Queen and have been providing similar support for almost 50 years.


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 changing nature of her work and of the cargo she carried reflected the booms, busts and changing industries within the river communities she served.

Fitted with a retractable centreboard, the SV May Queen is 21 metres long, 5.3 metres wide and has a draft of 1.5 metres when fully laden with 25,000 super feet of sawn timber (50 tonnes). Her hull is of Tasmanian blue gum and stringy bark, her deck is of Tasmanian Celery top pine, and her spars are of imported Oregon timber.

According to the authors of SV May Queen – A Grand Survivor, Rex Kerrison and Richard Johnson, the May Queen is said to have raced fiercely against fellow trading barges, and was “involved in at least six collisions, dismastings or loss of rigging, sunk twice, heaved out of the water by a whale and was even involved in an act of piracy”.

When barge owners, the Chesterman Company was sold along with the May Queen, the Company included an additional clause in the contract of sale, which proved crucial to her survival:

The purchaser will, at the end of her working life for the Company, offer the May Queen to a Tasmanian National Body interested in the preservation of old ships at the book value of the said ship at the time.

SV May Queen with sails

With no further use for the vessel, which was by then in poor condition, the May Queen was gifted to the Tasmanian Government in early 1974 by John Elliott, Managing Director of Henry Jones & Co, then owners of the May Queen. The Honourable Eric Reece, then Tasmanian Premier, accepted her on behalf of the State Government and, in turn, handed her to the Marine Board of Hobart.

Mr R.J. Harris, Master Warden, advised at the time, ‘it is the intention of the Board to restore the 107-year-old ketch to her original state and to ensure the May Queen and other suitable vessels – as they become available – be preserved as a reminder of Tasmania’s nautical history’.

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 Marine Board honoured the restoration promise, and the May Queen spent the following two decades berthed within Constitution Dock, restored as close as possible to the original vessel launched at Franklin in 1867, 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.

TasPorts newly formalised partnership with the May Queen Trust will continue to see TasPorts supporting, promoting, and conserving Tasmania’s maritime heritage.

This is just one of a number of partnerships TasPorts has with organisations dedicated to preserving Tasmania’s rich maritime history. You can read more about the great work we do at TasPorts Community Engagement and Partnerships.

To discover more, The Wake of the May Queen documentary is available to purchase here.

SV May Queen - A Grand Survivor by Rex Kerrison and Richard Johnson is available to purchase from Tasmanian bookstores and online sellers.