My Adventures on the Lady Nelson 1996-2008

on the
Lady Nelson 



 Voyages from Hobart



                                                                                      (c) Irene Schaffer

My adventures on the Lady Nelson began long before there was any thought to build a replica. I first became aware that there was a ship by the name of Lady Nelson when I was researching my stepfather’s family history.


It was then that I found that a number of people were brought off Norfolk Island in the early 1800s and that the Lady Nelson paid a large part in their evaluation to Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania)


In 1986 I began recording all those who came from Norfolk Island between 1807 and 1813 and published an index from the original passenger’s list. From there the Lady Nelson took over my life.


The Lady Nelson was the first ship to sail from Norfolk Island to Hobart Town in November 1807. These 34 passengers were to be the first of nearly 700 men, women and children.


Profiles of the first two sailings, the Lady Nelson and the Porpoise were compiled and published in 1987 and later in 1991 by the Government Printers Hobart.


 While this work was in progress it was decided that a ship should be built to represent Tasmania in the Bicentenary in 1988. 


This was of course a great thrill to be able to see the little ship that was playing such a big part in my life being built at that very time.


I saw her take shape but was not here to see he launched, but I did sail on her paying my $20 for a two hour sail, unfortunately the weather was so calm that we were becalmed for the whole two hours.


My real adventure on the Lady Nelson did not start until after she was brought back from the mainland in 1996. She was in a very bad state, but after a lot of work by many people she was back in her rightful place in Hobart.


The Return of the Lady Nelson in 1996 to Hobart,  home at last.

Not only was she in a bad state she was also in a lot of debt and from the first day we could only think of how we were going to get her sailing and earning money so she could be part of our wonderful sailing heritage.


For the next six years we put everything we had into caring and sailing her.


When she was again seaworthy it was decided to sail her to St Helens. I was no sailor but wanted to be a part of this. As a passenger I first decided to go as far as Port Arthur as I had always wanted to go there by sea, and to now be able to go on a sailing ship was a wonderful opportunity. I then decided to go as far as Triabunna. I was the only woman on board and the days spent on her were wonderful. Because we were short of crew I was asked to stay on until we reached St. Helens.


The first part of the voyage was a dream, blue skies, dolphins and mutton birds kept us company all the way up the east coast .


Arriving in Triabunna the weather changed and a gale came at us while we were tied up and we had a rough old afternoon.


The next day we started off to continue our northward journey, it was not as calm as we had hoped and this was my first taste of seasickness. I just curled up and slept fully clothed in the galley until the morning when I called out to the crew on deck if they wanted a cup of coffee. From that day on I was a full crew member as the crew said later not even the cook offered them a hot drink after such a terrible night.

Our first sail on the Lady Nelson in rough weather between Triabunna and St Helen’s  1996


Arriving in St. Helens was quite unbelievable I had not heard of the problems often encountered crossing the bar. Our captain Bern Cuthbertson had made arrangements to have a fishing boat cam out to guide us in, a bit hair raising, but fun.


 There were a few little problems like the crew walking off and my being left to look after the school children who came to see her. All this was very new to me and the week was extremely busy once were up and sailing again.


Bern was willing to do the one and a half hour sails for as many times   passengers wanting to go. One day we did seven sails and one sunset, in all a very big day.  My job as purser was to take the fares and by the end of the week I had $4,000 under my pillow. It was a relief when someone arrived from Hobart to collect it.


After such a wonderful first voyage we knew it was going to be a success even if it would be hard work. Returning to Hobart wasn’t as good as our trip up, it turned out to be very rough, wet and cold all the way back.


In Schouten Passage, very wet, cold and wanting to get back to Hobart

We became caught in Schouten Passage, we had the wind and the tide against us and although we had the motor at full throttle and all sails down we could not make any progress. At one stage after watching Schouton Island on the port side relized the tree I was looking at was moving forward, which meant we were being pushed backwards


On arriving back in Hobart my work on the Lady Nelson started in earnest, I was now the purser and was to remain so for the next six years. The biggest job fell to Ken and without his dedications and the few hard working helpers over the next six years the debt would have taken a lot longer to pay off. 


There was no money to spare and the maintenance was done by anyone who was willing to give a few hours of their time to the Lady Nelson. This was not only done by the members but the public as well. Many businesses assisted in many ways.


A happy passenger with our mascot Jacko the monkey  


New Norfolk 1997


In 1997 it was decided that the Lady Nelson should visit New Norfolk for the New Norfolk Festival, but there was a problem our main mast was too high to fit under the Bowen Bridge. Captain Bern and the crew took on this challenge and so the invitation was accepted.  Before leaving Hobart the top of the main mast was lowered in a way that it could be raised once we were clear of the bridge. We also had to meet the other boats at the Bridgewater Bridge and all go through at the same time.

It was a wonderful week-end and the crowds loved seeing the ship in their town as the first arrivals from Norfolk Island in 1898 came on the original Lady Nelson and settled there.

We stayed there for two nights and then sailed back with car loads of spectators following us back to Hobart.


  This was our second sail to New Norfolk, again for a festival.



Sailing to Strahan for the Pine Festival 1997


Although we were still very much in debt it was decided that we should go to Strahan for the Pine Festival, this was a big decision as it was to be our first long voyage around the bottom of Tasmania and up the west coast. Again it was Bern who took the helm and it was an excited crew that sailed from Hobart.


We sailed late in the afternoon and to some of the crew their first night sailing. Morning saw us rounding South Cape, what a wonderful sight.

The weather being kind we decided to go into Port Davey. For most of us it was our first time in Port Davey. I thought I would never see it and certainly not from the Lady Nelson deck.  Bern knows it well and was able to point out and name all the well known places and to tell some great stories of his many trips into this beautiful part of Tasmania.


We stayed the night and sailed to Strahan the next morning. The weather changed and it became a bit rough. It was my birthday and I was seasick most of the way.


Coming into Bathurst Harbour was thrilling, another place I though I would never see, and yet here I was coming through the well known Hell Gates on a similar size ship that first brought the convicts here in 1821. A truly wonderful sight.


We spent a wonderful week at Strahan, the crew was well looked after by the organizers, we were dined and taken on tours during our stay. During the celebrations some of the night revelers undid out lines, all except the stern one, and as I had promised the ABC that I would talk to Macka I left my bunk early and on attempting to step off the ship found there was nothing there but the stars reflecting in the water. I was not very popular when I woke the crew so that they could bring the Lady back to the wharf. When I told Macka there was some concern in Hobart as to how we were.



Tall Ships visit to Sydney NSW.

Lady Nelson from Hobart to Sydney



Going to Sydney on the Lady Nelson will be something I will never forget. When the Tall Ships visited Hobart in 1988 I went on board the Bounty and remember thinking wouldn’t it be wonderful to sail back to Sydney on her, never did I think ten years later I would do it on the Lady Nelson, what a thrill it was from start to finish.

Rest up at Babel Island waiting for the wind to change, sail across Bass Strait 1998


What I remember most about our stay in Sydney was waking up early in the morning on the Lady and hearing all the voices in different languages. The whole of Darling Harbour was a buzz from early morning till late at night. The delivery crew flew back to Hobart leaving the younger crew to sail her back to Hobart.


 Circumnavigation of Tasmania 1998



After arriving back from Sydney the Lady Nelson was prepared for her sailing around Tasmania. She called in at a number of ports. When she arrived in Stanley after a very rough sail through Bass Strait we had a couple of rest days while we waited for the exchange crew to come from Hobart.


Before leaving Hobart Ken had made arrangements to meet Kerry Pink at Stanley, as he wanted a photo the Lady Nelson in full sail for the cover of his book. We met up with the fishing boat Kerry had hired and as they came up to the Lady I called out and asked him could I come on board the fishing boat to take some photos.


Mr Hursey motored ahead of the Lady and took up her position for the photographer to get his shots of her as she came past. Unfortunately because we did not have a full crew on board the Lady Nelson, she sailed past us with only half her sails up.


Some three hours later after the Lady had returned and this time in full sail went past and the photographer and I were able to get her in all her glory.


My photo I am glad to say has become a well known part of the Lady Nelson as it turned out far better then even I could have expected and even now in 2010 it adorns out shirts and hats and our even our cards.


Thanks to my knowing Kerry and being in the right place at the right time I was able for the first time in three years get on to another boat and take her in full sail, even if it took me three hours before I was put back on shore.


   Portland Voyage 2000


Celebrating 200 years of the original Lady Nelson departure from England in 1800 on the deck of the Lady Nelson   


The Lady Nelson left Hobart on 19 November 2000 at the invitation of the Glenelg Council, to take part in the 200 years celebration of the original Lady Nelson’s voyage through Bass Strait.


The crew that was to go to Portland and return on the Lady met at Stanley and we sailed for Portland in fine weather. The first night at sea the Strait was very calm, there was a full moon and to be on deck feeling in complete harmony with the ship and the sea is hard to explain, it was just magic. The sea being calm we thought that nobody would get seasick but with the heavy swell a few of us were over the side for a few hours.


Farewell to Portland and friends

Alan on his day off at Portland

The reporters loved us, camera’s everywhere.

 so did the children.

350 came to celebrate with us in full costume





  Historical Journeys


Over the years I held Historical Sails on the Derwent, some to celebrate special occasions, others to show the public the views along the River Derwent.


The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery held a number of twilight seminars from the deck of the Lady Nelson, in all over 160 teaches on four running trips took part and Roberta Poynter the organizer reported that the teachers from it most informative and interesting.



Gallery of Events on the Lady Nelson Over the Years



Lady Nelson’s dog and Jacko the monkey


While we were in Launceston in 2004 two of the young crew decided to have some fun. When the original left Cape Town in 1800 on her last leg to Botany Bay she had two rather unusual passengers, a dog and a monkey. We don’t know what the dog’s name was but the monkey, a baboon, was named Jacko by her owner, who a passenger on the Lady Nelson. Having looked for a suitable character over the years for the children’s amusement while on board, I finally found a small black baboon. I dresses him up in a Lady Nelson scarf and a blue shirt and beanie and the children loved him and the story I told them. On a couple occasions there were tears when he had to be given up at the end of sail.


The male crew loved to pay tricks on me and Jacko would disappear just as I was about to talk to the children and there he would be up on one of the masts. 


No to be out done two of the girls decided to whisk him away while we were in Launceston in 2004. Of cause I didn’t miss him until they came back with the following photos in an album and presented it to me. Many happy times like there were spent on the Lady and still are.


Jacko sailed with us to Portland and while we were anchored  he was again tired up in the rigging.  Not being able to take passengers on board at this time we were surprised to see lots of boats coming out to meet us and asking where was Jacko, the word had been passed on that he was on board.



Visitors to Tasmania always enjoying coming on board the Lady Nelson, I remember some Japanese sailors who once came on board to see the fireworks at the Domain. The ceremony was delayed and the sailors became worried as they had to back on their ship by 10 o’clock and it was almost that and the fireworks were not yet started. We had to up anchor and rush back to the end of the pier to let them off. While the crew held the Lady manually against the piles the sailors jumped off one by one but not before they each bowed to me and thanked us for having them. The last we saw of them was twelve white figures running back towards the docks.


Another time was when the Russian ship Akademic Federvon arrived in Hobart in 1998 on their way to the Antarctic. Ken invited them on to the Lady Nelson  and they were very excited to be on board a sailing ship. In return they invited us to visit their ship. We arrived about 11 o’clock one morning and were escorted below deck to their quarters. Here the entertained us and offered us a range of refreshments, tea and cake and opened a bottle of wine as well as offering Ken some gin. They did not speak a great deal of English but that didn’t matter.


Later Ken and Kath invited them to have lunch at the old Hutchin’s School, it was a hilarious couple of hours with most of the talking done with sign language. I found they had a great sense of humor and we laughed our way through an enjoyable lunch.


A few weeks later we found out that three of them had been killed when their helicopter crashed on the base at the Antarctic. They had shown us photos of their family and it was sad to think they would never see them again.   



This is only a fraction of the stories of my time on the Lady Nelson but they were amongst the happiest I have ever spent with such  great  people on a wonderful ship. She will go on to have many, many more adventures for many years to come. She is now in very safe hands of our Chairman and board members Captains and crew, all of whome are volunteers.


Work in hand adding photos