Making Ship Shape

One of the Hunter’s best-known seafaring sons is readying for a third coming. Penny Evans meets the team plugging the leaks on William the Fourth.

It may look like an ugly duckling right now, high and dry, out of its natural habitat on the harbour. But come November, a hardy group of committed volunteers are certain this shell of a ship will soar like a swan once more.

William the Fourth has a proud history in the Hunter. The original was one of Australia’s first ocean-going, steam-powered ships. It was home grown too, built at Clarencetown in 1831, from magnificent timber sourced from the banks of the Hunter River, and named after the then ruling monarch, who was known as ‘the sailor king’ after his long service in the navy.

More than 150 years later, in the lead-up to the bicentenary, the Hunter community embarked on a major construction project to build a replica of the original vessel at Raymond Terrace. Plenty of locals have fond memories of buying a nail for $1 to hammer into the hull. Many hands made light work, and boosted the finances too, and in 1987 the ship was ready to launch. The late Hazel Hawke did the honours, and the ship featured in many celebrations that year, and for many to come.

Unfortunately, after manoeuvring local waters for 14 years it fell into disrepair, and ended up rotting dejectedly in the dry docks. Deemed unrepairable, William looked certain to be scrapped. But then a new group came forward and offered to take it off Newcastle City Council’s hands…

Read more in Edition 63 of Hunter Lifestyle Magazine.

Story and Images: Penny Evans.