This extensive collection of ship models was acquired by the Museum through the Port Adelaide Institute established in 1876 (later the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum), model maker Herbert Croker, collector Keith Le Leu, Port Adelaide boat builder AJ McFarlane, and private donors. The collection comprises over 180 ship models including builders’ half models, sailor-made models, shipping agency models, construction models, working models, exhibition models, and model ships in bottles. The earliest model Micmac dates from 1844 while the most recent models date from the 1980s. A comprehensive survey of the model collection was conducted by Robert Sexton, a retired engineer and model maker, in 1997.
The collection showcases the craft of model making and includes models from some of South Australia’s finest model makers including Herbert Croker who specialised in working steam models, seaman John Tulloch, and Jack McFarlane whose family owned boat building yards in South Australia from 1869 until the present. The builders’ half models donated by boat building families provide insights into the now rare trade of wooden boat building and illustrate how models were intrinsic to vessel construction. Many of the models were created by seafarers and are fine examples of traditional sailors’ crafts. They also reflect their makers’ intimate knowledge of and attachment to, the vessels they sailed on. Most of the models represented in the collection either voyaged to South Australia or worked in its waters. Steamships, clippers, windjammers, ketches and whalers have been superseded by other vessels and these finely detailed models accurately capture the configuration and operation of these historic vessels.