The Matilda is one of the 12 oldest fishing/sailing vessels in the world, as listed in the International Register of Historic Ships (England 1993). It is also the best remaining example of the double ended fishing boats that were common around south east Tasmania until the late 1940's.
It was built around 1886 , probably not far from when it currently stands, at Old Wharf on the northern side of Sullivan's Cove. By 1895, well known professional fisherman, James Moody owned it and named it after his wife, Matilda. The boat was then based at Port Arthur and worked around the Tasman Peninsula. After the Tasman Island lighthouse was commissioned in 1906, the Matilda carried mail & passengers to and from the lighthouse.
When Charley Moody enlisted in the merchant navy at the beginning of WW2, the Matilda was sold to the Spaulding family of Nubeena. They used it for recreation and commercial crayfishing. Hobart fisherman, Les Bennett then bought the Matilda and based it at Constitution Dock where he would sell his catch direct to the public. Les & the Matilda also won the fishing boat race in 1955 Hobart regatta. By 1974, Les was too old to continue fishing and he sold the Matilda. Eventually it was returned to Port Arthur and displayed on site.
In 1999, the Port Arthur Historic Site authority transferred the Matilda to the Hobart City Council who restored it as part of the Mawson Place project. The Matilda had been modified many times to suits its multitude of roles. It has now been restored to its appearance from the 1940's. When it was built, however, it didn't have an aft cabin or an engine. In calm weather, the crew would have to row.
the Matilda is now displayed on a pontoon at Mawson Place, rather than in the water so as to minimize the amount of historic fabric that had to be replaced. The Matilda is a fragile yet enduring reminder of Tasmania's enduring connection with the sea and of the many ways that in which Tasmanians have "Gone Down To the Sea In Ships"
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