The Fascinating History of the Polly Woodside

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 12/30/2016

Reading time: 3 mins

Be welcomed aboard this astonishing ship in Melbourne’s CBD!

First launched in 1885, the Polly Woodside is an iron-hulled, three-masted barque that was originally built in Belfast but is now preserved in Melbourne City. It makes up part of the South Wharf precinct and boasts a rich history pivotal to the area.

The History of Polly Woodside

This historic ship got its original name from its maker, who was known as William J. Woodside.

Polly Woodside first set sail from the Workman Clark yards in Belfast, where she started her role as a general cargo ship. In the years that followed her 1885 launch, she took part in the nitrate trade between the UK and South America before making her very first voyage to Australia in 1900. When she arrived, she was snapped up by New Zealand interests and was given a new name: Rona. After this, she mainly travelled between New Zealand and Australia, carrying cargoes of timber from one country to the other.

In 1923, Rona joined the coal industry, employing bunkering steamships in Sydney and Melbourne. She was a part of World War 2, where she operated in New Guinea before returning to her home in Melbourne once the war ended to continue her role as a coal hulk. By the time the 60s rolled around, she was ready to be scuttled in Bass Strait, but a group of boat enthusiasts saw her potential and decided to reform her to her original glory.

She was then handed over to Australia’s National Trust, where her renovation took place and she got her former name, Polly Woodside, back. In 1978 she was ferried to Duke’s dry-dock, where she remains to this very day as a static exhibition that recalls the important role this ship, and many others like it, had on the history of Australia and the rest of the world. Overall, this historic ship has traveled 1.5 million miles across the globe, with many different stories from all over.

How to see Polly Woodside

In 1988, the Polly Woodside became the very first merchant ship in the whole world to be given the World Ship Trust Medal. Today, visitors can marvel at the boat’s impressive three-masted exterior where it is displayed. While there, they can learn more about the specific role this boat had in the coal industry and World War 2, as well as the important role that ships of its kind had on Australia’s history. For any history buffs, this is a must-visit, particularly if you’re fascinated by the rich and lengthy maritime history that imbues Australia.

  • Pirate Day

    Kids will love this day, as it is a family-friendly day of adventures at Polly Woodside! Offering a variety of activities including hide and seek treasure hunts, scrubbing the decks like past pirates, and a number of art and craft games to choose from!

  • Tours

    Trading hours are both Saturday and Sundays, expanding out to every day during the Aussie school holidays. Make sure to come during at least one ‘Crew Call’ to see the staff members act as the historic pirates which once ran across this ship’s deck!

Related article: What to Do in Melbourne This Weekend!

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.