History of the Vessel

The story of Cartela starts with a race.

Around southern Tasmania at the turn of the 1900’s, most commerce and communication was reliant on estuary and coastal shipping.  As the most reliable form of transport a class of small coastal steamer was the preferred method of contact. A class of vessels that was commercial in function, designed for a mix of freight and day passengers. Relatively shallow draught, suited to serve from exposed jetties in choppy seas. A keenly fought race called the “Cock of the River” was held every Christmas day. A forty mile dash from Hobart to Green Island and return with as many passengers as could be crammed on board. The prize, a copper and bronze rooster to be carried at the mast heads of the winning steamer and first choice of the more lucrative jobs arising in the port over the next twelve months. It was a matter of great prestige to carry the “Cock”.


In a region that had such a reliance on coastal maritime trade, it was hardly surprising that a racing culture would thrive around these ubiquitous workhorses.


In 1910 the largest of the local domestic shipping lines, the cumbersomely named “Huon, Channel and Peninsular Steam Shipping Company” commissioned a new vessel to be the queen of the fleet. “Awitaka” was launched and was the first to boast electric light, flushing toilets, and was one of the largest of an already large fleet. That same year, a vessel that was already a few years old and had been built for similar trade on the Tamar River relocated to Hobart where her owners believed lay a more profitable returns. Togo had been designed by Australia’s most notable naval architect, Walter Reeks, who by 1909 had already been playing with the idea of stealing the America’s cup from the Americans. He had a very good idea of how to draw a slippery hull and Togo certainly had that. The two vessels faced off on the 1911 Christmas day race and the northern interloper came off the victor. The shame was so great that the brand new “Awitaka” was immediately sold off to the British navy and a new vessel, “Cartela” was commissioned. To be designed by local Tom Purdon and drawn by Alfred Blore, construction to be at Purdon and Featherstone’s yard in Battery Point, near Hobart. An identical engine to Awitaka’s was ordered from Plenty & Sons in England, but Awitaka’s weakness, too little boiler capacity, was addressed by the specification of a massive 11 x 11 foot diameter scotch marine boiler. This was a vessel that was going to be able to maintain boiler pressure at full speed, even if it meant nearly a third of main deck space was lost for carrying cargo. 

Cartela went on to win her first “Cock” in her first attempt Christmas 1913, she went on to win more times than any other vessel, and still holds the record of 3 hours and 5 minutes setting an average speed of over 13 knots.

Conscripted at just 18 (months) in August 1914, Cartela would have her own part to play.


While her paint was still drying, a European prince was assassinated in a country many Australians had never heard of. The turmoil that followed led to the declaration of World War One. Within weeks, representatives of the Defence Department, Royal Australian Navy, requested the keys to Cartela. Leased from the owners on generous terms, Cartela was commissioned as a naval ‘E.V.’ (Examination Vessel) protecting the port of Hobart. It was her role to enquire “friend or foe?” of all vessels approaching Hobart. Once the threat of German raiders on the Australian coast had been eliminated in 1916, Cartela was returned to her owners.  Cartela’s naval career in the second conflict was limited to towing targets for artillery practice, but never the less served her country in both wars. However, nationally some owners of vessels acquired for the R.A.N. during WW2 were peeved at the small amount offered for their vessels under lease by the R.A.N., and took the commonwealth to court to get a fairer deal. The lease deal struck for the use of Cartela in WW1, was used as an example by them to strike a better rate.

Does anyone know the legal difference between Towage and Salvage? Cartela helps answers that question.


In 1916, during a violent storm, the Bruny Island light house keeper sighted a vessel of around 300 tons, (he thought) in distress and radioed Hobart authorities. A volunteer crew was hastily assembled and Cartela put to sea to offer assistance. They found the massive S.V. Inverness Shire, originally a four masted steel barque of closer to 3000 tons with just the mizzen mast remaining and totally out of control close to the rocks on the south east of Bruny Island. Originally out of Freemantle W.A., Inverness Shire had been adrift for some days.  In the raging conditions Cartela approached and offered a tow for £500. The Inverness Shire master readily agreed, and a line was passed, Cartela took up the tow. Conditions were severe, with the tow line parted a number of times. Re-establishing the tow each time required Cartela to manovoure under the pitching bow of the much larger vessel. With the eventual assistance of the S.S. Bass, a smaller vessel to Cartela, Inverness Shire was towed to a safe anchor in the River Derwent. The owners of Inverness Shire then refused to pay the agreed amount, alleging the tow should have been provided free. A court case ensued that considered the definition of the terms towage and salvage setting a definitive legal meaning.  Cartela was awarded £350 most of which went to lawyers. The volunteer crew receiving very little for their heroic efforts. Inverness Shire was sold while in Hobart, but lost with all hands a couple of years later on a voyage to Argentina.

Strike breaking to keep the home fires burning.

home fires

A national seamen’s strike was hitting Tasmania hard in 1919. Visitors couldn’t leave the island, Tasmanians couldn’t return. Some essentials were running short. Tasmania’s largest employer, the Henry Jones Jam factory was short of sugar and looking to lay off large numbers of staff. Australian coastal seamen were protesting at foreign ships taking coastal trade, but the island state was hit far harder than any other. It was a long drawn out affair. Cartela loaded a shipment of apples in Port Huon on the 9th of July and made for Melbourne. Weather conditions were appalling. A number of times Cartela sought shelter or backtracked to more sheltered anchorages. After 21 days, Cartela, off Wilsons Promontory, had run out of coal and all flammable furniture had already been fed to the boiler. She was refuelled by the S.S. Moonah, and arrived in Melbourne on the 30th of July. A cargo of essentials was hastily loaded and with full coal bunkers, Cartela arrived back in Tasmania a day and a half later.

A real cock up.


From the late1890’s steamers had raced from Hobart to Kettering and return on Christmas day, before that the sailing ketches had had that honour. It was an event that was a huge item on the Southern Tasmania calendar. The port authority had always been turning a blind eye to the illegal activity and to play their part the race was never called a race, but euphemistically an “express cruise to Kettering or Green Island and return”. It was mere coincidence that two or more vessels departed exactly at the same time. With full pressure in their boiler, full ahead rung on the telegraph, tied to the pier with a single spring that was "let go" with an axe, the instant the Post Office clock struck 2 o’clock. In 1926, Togo led to within a half mile of the finish off Castray Esplanade but the lead had already swapped a number of times. With pressure in Togo’s boiler falling, Cartela lined up to pass on the inside. In a last ditch attempt to hold her off, Togo swung to port, denying Cartela room to safely pass Princes Pier. Going hard astern to swing behind Togo, Cartela’s helm was swung a moment to soon. Her bow struck the aft quarter of Togo swinging Togo violently 90 degrees to port. With around 450-500 passengers on board, Togo drove ashore still at high speed, on the only section of shore devoid of rocks , a full third of the vessel lifted high and dry. The only injury was a turned ankle by a gentleman too hasty to jump ship, landing on a slippery rock. Togo herself was towed back to her usual domain, and was back at work a few weeks later. With nearly 1000 lives at risk there had to be an inquiry, a search for someone to blame. Legend had it that the port authority was first inline until the skippers both pointed out that the collision happened 100 yards outside the port boundary. The state government was next to try until the skippers pointed out there was no state government department with jurisdiction and anyway their licences were issued by the port authority. Next the federal government stepped up. Although no one disputed they had control out to the three mile limit, no one accepted commonwealth control within estuary waters. A Commonwealth Maritime Board of Enquiry with Royal Commission powers was established hearing matters concerning states rights within the federation as a central theme. After many months in court, blame was eventually, awarded to skipper of Togo to be held 20% responsible for not holding a steady course when overtaken. Skipper Cartela 80% for failing to keep clear as the overtaking vessel. The express cruise was held again the following year.


All off shore yachtsmen know well, and dread, the tallest sea cliffs in the world, those that surround Tasman Island.

At the turn of the last century, Tasmania’s rugged coast already boasted a number of significant lighthouses but Tasman Island was one of the most inaccessible. Perched on a small island fringing Storm bay to the west, and the first landfall for southerly swells built on the coast of Antarctica, thousands of miles to the south.  Tasman Island marked the south eastern turning point for vessels bound for Hobart. The island was only accessible by a 45 degree trolly way on the very edge of the cliff. At its base was a crane that unloaded stores directly from the deck of boats bobbing at the foot of the cliff on the never still waters. In 1927, while undertaking essential maintenance on the crane, the jib folded and gave way. Two men were launched into the abyss. Only one was recovered but with significant head wounds. Via rockets, pigeons and new fangled radio, an emergency call for assistance that involved a passing naval ship relayed the urgent call for help. Choosing the fastest means of sending medical assistance, Cartela was dispatched and arrived with a doctor, after covering the turbulent 44 nautical miles in just 3 hours and 20 minutes.


In common with other island communities, Tasmanian's have deep respect and affection for the water. Our commercial and recreational focus is never far from the marine and maritime. In earlier years the regatta season in summer, one community regatta followed the next, week by week and saw the river steamers function as the linking cultural hub, conveying huge numbers between Hobart and New Norfolk, Shipwrights Point, Bellerive, Browns River (Kingston), Kettering and Dover. It wasn’t just fun, the river steamers were essential communication tools, even up to the 1950’s. Every coastal community had a jetty when few had roads. The river steamer served as both bus and truck, with a design honed specifically for these conditions.  With a dual focus on freight and passengers, a shallow draft, ample power, capacity to work from exposed jetties and able to be at home in the short choppy seas of Storm Bay the Tasmanian river steamers were a breed apart. Bringing in everyday essentials, and taking back the produce for market.  As a road network flourished the river steamers diminished until, as now, Cartela stands alone. This sole example, surviving by her ability to continually re-invent and adapt herself into excursion vessel, dinner cruiser, party venue, conference centre, and commercial kitchen. Soon to complete the circle returning to her home waters as a steam powered excursion vessel, plying the waters she and her sisters were so aptly designed for.