One of the most well known sights on the Hobart waterfront is the historic ferry the MV Cartela. When I was working in Hobart I would see her most days at her mooring on Brooke Street Pier. Although I’d been on cruises on the Derwent on some of the smaller and more modern ferries Cartela was no longer making regular cruises by the time I first saw her. She was used for private charters such as weddings and New Year parties. In September of 2011 when I heard that there were to be cruises for the public over one weekend my sister and I made a point of going.
Sadly since then Cartela has not cruised the Derwent due to her deteriorating condition but there are plans to restore her to operating condition over the next four years. But before I tell you about that here is a bit of background information. The following two excerpt are from the Cartela website, http://www.cartelasteamship.com.au.
Cartela was built for Huon, Channel & Peninsula Steamship Co. Ltd. by well-known Battery Point shipbuilders Purdon & Featherstone in 1912. She was designed to service all the communities along the estuary of the River Derwent, D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Tasman Peninsula at a time when the best, and sometimes only access, was by sea. A vessel like Cartela was often a remote community’s main point of contact with the rest of the world and the river steamer’s whistle was a signal for locals to meet the vessel at the wharf. [GW Cox, p. 1]
There are still older people in the Huon Valley who can remember seeing the Cartela tied up at Port Huon Wharf.
River ferries like Cartela were integral to the economies of isolated rural communities along the south-east Tasmanian coast, carrying passengers and general freight, and fruit, timber and butter and eggs for sale at the Hobart markets. Cartela was also used to break the 1919 maritime strike, transporting 4000 apple cases from Port Huon to Port Melbourne and returning with a load of general merchandise. [G W Cox, p. 58] Her role as a cargo vessel only ended in the 1950s when trucks began to take over from the ketches and river ferries.
During World War One the Cartela was requisitioned by the navy as an Examination Vessel (EV) to help protect the port of Hobart. She was commanded by three naval reserve lieutenants with a crew of mixed civilians and naval cadets. At the end of this post I’ve included an article from our local newspaper, “The Huon Valley News” which tell more about Cartela’s war service. According to the article the job of the EV’s was to steam out to any approaching vessel and enquire if it was a “Friend or Foe?” I can’t imagine what she was supposed to do if there had actually been an unfriendly vessel.
After she was released from her war duties in 1916 Cartela returned to her regular job of carrying freight and passengers. She participated in the popular although unofficial river ferry races on the Derwent River between 1919 and 1931 when the river steamers vied for the title of “Cock of the Derwent”.
The Cartela was bought by ferry operators Roche Brothers in 1951 and converted from steam to diesel. By this time Hobart’s eastern and western shores had been connected by a bridge and with better road access and higher car ownership there was not as much work for her or her sister ships. Cartela became more of a tourist vessel.
In 1975 the Tasman Bridge collapsed after one of its pylons was hit by freighter the Lake Illawarra. Twelve people died in the tragedy and the Hobart metropolitan area was effectively cut in half. Cartela was one of many ferries called in to transport passengers across the Derwent while the bridge was being repaired. It was not until 1977 that she was released from those duties and became a tourist vessel once again.
In 2009 the Roche brothers donated the Cartela to a not for profit organisation called Steamship Cartela Ltd. It is intended that she will be fully restored and that her original steam engine will be re-installed. The whole project will cost about four million dollars and take about four years. On June 26th Cartela left her berth at Brooke Street Pier for the last time to journey to Franklin on the Huon River which will be her home during the restoration.
I spotted Cartela at Port Huon Wharf the next day, she had been unable to complete the journey to Franklin as the facilities at her new berth were not quite ready. As I write this post she is still at Port Huon but I hope to have photos of her at Franklin very soon.
I have included a lot of links to articles with more detailed information about the Cartela and the restoration project that I found while writing this post. The official website http://www.steamshipcartela.com.au has more as well as a great description of the Derwent River steamer races, engineering details and a lot of great photos. Check it out. If you are an Australian resident and want to donate the project it is tax deductible. I am not affiliated with the project in any way. I just think it will be a great thing to see this grand old lady get a new lease of life. She is the last of the Hobart river steamers.