Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Ross Patent Slipway

Ship building has been described as the first important manufacturing industry to develop in Van Diemens Land. From an early date the merchants of Hobart Town owned or chartered ships which they used for sealing, whaling , trading with Sydney, the South Sea islands and Mauritius, and later exporting wheat, wool, livestock and timber to, other Australian colonies, and oil to Britain and China. Hobart was one of the world’s greatest whaling ports, and apart from having a sizable fleet of its own, mostly built locally, it was used by many American, French and English whalers which required repairs and provisioning. It was the whaling industry which provided the impetus for the development of the Hobart shipbuilding industry and which initially provided most of the work for the Hobart Slipyards.

Initially ships and boats were built in the bays and coves where timber used in their construction was felled. The earliest slipyards were situated on the Hobart Rivulet, and vessels were built at Sarah Island, Cygnet, Franklin, Shipwrights Point and Port Arthur in the early days of the colony.

The 1850s and 1860s saw a concentration of slipyard activity and shipbuilding at Battery Point. This included the relocation of the Ross Patent Slip from Secheron Bay to the Battery Point slipyards in 1866. The introduction of the Patent Slips arose from the need to build and slip larger vessels.
The Battery Point slipyards, like other slipyards, did not just produce and repair ships. Many associated activities such as provision of ship chandlery, coopering, sailmaking, ship design and more general engineering tasks were also carried out in the slipyards, as well as at least one fish processing operation. 

The area known as Ross Patent Slip was acquired for £800 by John Ross in 1866 when he decided to move his patent slip from its original location at Finlay Street, Battery Point. Considerable site work was required to establish the slip on the site including substantial excavation of land. The move was completed in August 1866 and the first ship slipped was the steamship Tasmania. The slip was the largest in Tasmania capable of taking a vessel of 1,250 tons. The cost of the move, reportedly £18000, meant that Ross was mortgaged to the Commercial Bank which foreclosed in 1870. After the foreclosure the slip was leased to John Lucas who used it to construct at least five ships. The Ross Patent Slip was purchased by R Kennedy and Sons in 1885. The Kennedy family were shipwrights and ironworkers who moved to Tasmania from Melbourne in 1883. The firm had established an ironworks and engineering works at Salamanca Place. They used the slip for construction and repair of iron ships. It is not surprising that a foundry and blacksmiths are reported to have been erected on the site as these would have been required for any work on an iron ship. 

At peak capacity, a technologically-advanced, steam-powered winch installed at the Ross Patent Slip had the power to manage vessels of up to 1,250 tonnes deadweight. But few ships of that size were built here - most of the slip's work was in maintenance and repair, hauling the vessels from the water in a cloud of hissing steam and billowing smoke. Ross's Patent Slip operated here from 1866 before being dismantled in 1903.
Around 1903 the slip was purchased by Harry Wood with the aim of moving the slip to a new location. Information from the archives is not clear but it seems that Wood's partners Finlayson Brothers sold the slip (or part of the site) to the Hobart Marine Board in 1914.

Some slipping was still being undertaken as Harry Moore used the slip while building the ferry Rosny and later Henry Jones IXL leased the site from the Kennedy family and had Moore construct the schooner Amelia J in 1920. It is not clear precisely when the slip went out of use.

There is a weatherboard clad toilet located centrally on the embankment to the north. It is unknown whether this relates to the slip yard operations. There is a wrought iron staircase leading from the lower ground of the former slip to the toilet.

The site of Ross’s slip demonstrates the early phase of patent slip technological development, particularly as it was one of the largest slips in its time.

Information Source:
Battery Point Conservation Management Plan, Hobart City Council, 2008