Exhibition areas to discover!

A star attraction for the centre is a life size steamer's bridge where you can take the helm and steam out of the Mersey or if you are feeling brave steer through the infamous Rip in a storm - at night! The Bass Strait Maritime Centre also includes exhibition areas where surprising subjects like the World War in Bass Strait are explored. Each area incorporates the Centre's significant model collection and every model has a story to tell... Here is just a taste:  


From the eye of the needle to the edge of the shelf 

This exhibition gives the big picture of Bass Strait: what the islands look like and whether it is a great sandy desert or a great sponge garden underneath. A glimpse of what is on the sea floor is given through the eyes of John Johnstone, the diver who walked an incredible distance underneath the Julie Burgess on the floor of the Strait in 1941 to check the telephone cable for needed repairs. 


A Ship’s Graveyard 

This area tells just some of the stories of the hundreds of ships that were wrecked or lost in Bass Strait. The Blencathra, British Admiral, Cataraqui as well as some of the wrecks of which the Centre has salvaged items: Southern Cross, SS Southern Cross and the Eden Holme.


The Age of Steamships

As it did everywhere, the age of steam transformed the Port of Devonport. Ship travel became more predictable, regular and timetables became essential.

In this period too, navigation became a more precise science. Pilotage became a necessary profession as ships became larger. Ports like Devonport had to engage in massive dredging programmes.


Basses Straits

George Bass made the first serious attempt to find a sea passage that would shorten the travel time from Europe or India to Sydney. As a result of Bass’s trials in his expedition into this tempestuous stretch of water in an open whaleboat, Flinders named the stretch of water between mainland Australia and the island to the south - Basses Straits or Bass’s Straits. We now call it Bass Strait. 


Joshua Slocum : The poet sailor

Joshua Slocum was an accomplished clipper ship captain who found himself out of work in the late 1800s when the age of steam finally overtook ‘the greyhounds of the ocean’. In order to make a living he conceived the plan of being the first man to sail around the world solo while selling his story in dispatches to the Boston Globe. This he did over a three-year period without radio or satellite navigation. His craft The Spray was an old Nova Scotian oyster boat he had restored.  Slocum spent time in Devonport and wrote about his stay while The Spray underwent repairs on the slips at Woods Point.

The resultant book ‘Sailing Alone Around the World’, was a bestseller and the first of adventure travel writing. It was said at the time that, “Boys who do not like this book should be drowned at once!”. Using the metaphors of ocean sailing Slocum weaves an allegorical story of the individual sailing through the ocean of life. 

You can purchase the book in the Centre’s shop.


Early History

Timber demand  

The European settlement of Devonport happened much later than Launceston and the far Northwest. The tall stands of timber in the Devonport area were seen as impenetrable.  However, the gold rush in Victoria created demand for timber in South Australia and this provided the impetus for European expansion around the Don and Mersey Rivers. 


The Railway Cometh and the Tale of Two Towns

It was the coming of the railway that precipitated the towns of Torquay and Formby becoming one. Photographic panoramas of the two townships at the time of amalgamation reveal the story of the two that became the one Devonport. 


The Changing Landscape 

As the land opened up, people in Devon as elsewhere in the Australian colonies wrote romantically about the fern gullies and their loss in a rapidly changing landscape. ‘Pterodomania’ swept the colony and the fashion set in Europe.  The 10 metre high tree ferns from Tasmania became renowned. 


Rivers of Shipbuilders

The Don and Mersey were ‘rivers of shipbuilders’. Ships were made using astoundingly rudimental tools – a saw, and adze and a broad axe.  Woods Point and the Griffiths family played a huge role in shipbuilding at the time.  Holidays were declared whenever a significant ship was launched which started to cause problems as there were so many new ships being launched.  This was a community synonymous with ship-building, sailing and the activities of Bass Strait.

The early shipbuilders were all small entrepreneurs. The Holymans became a household Australian name not only in shipping, but in early aviation around the nation.

The exhibition traces shipbuilding into the 20th Century and in doing so tells the story of one the most important Devonport craft of all–the Torquay Ferry. 

The story is also interwoven with the recent restoration of the Julie Burgess, now fully restored and offering people a classic sailing experience. 


Crossing the Strait

This area tells the story of crossing the Strait – from the early steamers such as the Seahorse through to the much loved Coogee, the beautiful Rotomahana,  Oonah, the Nairana, the legendary Loongana, theTaroona and finally the revolutionary Australian-built Princess of Tasmania and Empress of Australia.


The Clipper Ships

The maxis before there were maxis. No maritime centre would be complete without mention of these beautiful ‘greyhounds of the ocean’ designed to ‘clip the waves’ at speeds that left steamships in their wake. The Centre has three clipper models in its collection including the most famous of them all, the Cutty Sark.

Bass Strait was an important passage for the clipper ships as they made their way from Europe to India to Australia, China and back to Europe with their cargoes of tea and wool.


The Navy Room

The Navy Room commemorates four Tasmanians – three decorated and Teddy Sheehan. The historic framed photograph of HMAS Australia –the nation’s flagship that was scuttled in the lead up to the second world war also features. A proud piece in the Centre’s large model collection is a 200-year-old American Sloop-of-War. The surprising story of the War in Bass Strait is told. Merchant shipping in the wars featuring local ships such as the Nairana in its ‘Razzle Dazzle’ camouflage is also displayed. A wall is dedicated to RAN visits to Devonport and a digital slideshow shows images of ships named after Tasmanian place names.


The Port City

This room tells the story of Tasmania’s Port City, focusing on the period when Devonport was busier than any other Tasmanian port. Between the 1890s and the 1940s the Mersey River was dramatically widened and deepened to allow for larger ships. For a time, the combination of railway and Devonport’s central location, made it busier than all the other Tasmanian ports combined. 

As the port developed, so too did the capabilities of the manufacturing industries around it. As well as potatoes and fruit, from here came the caulking machine that was used to build Western Australia’s Kalgoorlie pipeline and cement used to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


Exhibitions being developed… 

The Box That Changed The World 

This exhibition will open early 2016 and tell the story of the changes in cargo handling and how the invention of the ‘box’ has changed the way ports and manufacturing operate.