The Adelaide Steamship Company, the first owner of the Moonta, was one of Australia’s largest shipping companies and one of South Australia’s most successful commercial ventures.
The wool, wheat and mineral trade made South Australia a rich part of the British colonial empire in the 19th century. Commodity exports were booming, but their shipment from South Australia was long hampered by the small size of the shipping companies and inter-colonial rivalries.
In 1875, a group of pastoralists and businessmen took it upon themselves to tackle the problem head on and created the Adelaide Steamship Company. Its creation was aimed at ensuring the transportation of their products as well as to make a profit from the freight.
A passenger transport service was also created (often by mixed liner) to facilitate the movement of people on this immense continent almost devoid of efficient land communication routes.
For more than 100 years, the Adelaide Steamship Company’s fleet would dominate the transportation of passengers and goods over a wide area of Australia stretching from the city of Darwin to Townsville. The Company employed nearly 800 seamen at its peak.
During wartime the company’s ships were requisitioned for world campaigns (troop transport, armaments, hospital ships) and in peacetime they offered many Australians the trip of a lifetime.
For more than 50 years, from 1910 to 1960, the “Gulf trip” on the ships of the Adelaide Steamship Company was a unique way to discover the south of Australia. This trip became mythical because it inaugurated the concept of cruising where liners were still considered as simple means of transportation. Very early on, the company based its advertising on the pleasure of the trip rather than on its simple utilitarian aspect. The circular route of the “Gulf Trip”, allowed to come back to its starting point after a 6 days cruise for a very advantageous rate.
The company’s ships, including the MOONTA, were extremely popular with newlyweds, for whom the Gulf Trip ships offered the opportunity for a cheap honeymoon. The seven-day trip cost £6 in 1939. The motto of the Adelaide Steamship was a program in itself: “Festina lente” (hasten slowly)
Ships like the Minnipa, Moonta and Morialta provided many Australians with the romantic and unforgettable setting for this moment in their lives. Today in Australia, one does not count any more the number of children who were conceived during this voyage and on board one of the small liners of the company.
The memory of the Moonta is still very vivid today, as shown by the attachment of many Australians to this ship.
During the interwar period, the company was at its peak. In addition to the renewal of its Gulf Trip ships, it ordered two larger liners which undoubtedly became the flagships of the fleet: the Manunda and the Manoora.
Its fleet was also composed of a myriad of cargo ships of varying sizes.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the development of land transport was going to compete with the passenger ships of the company which reduced this branch of its activity by disarming and selling the Moonta in 1955.
On January 1, 1964, its fleet was merged with that of McIlwraith McEacharn Ltd. in a new company named Associated Steamships Ltd. The Adelaide Steamship Company held 40% of the shares of the new company.
This new company innovated again by developing and fitting out in 1964 the first container ship built in the world: the MV Kooringa.
In 1977, following financial setbacks and risky investments, the Adelaide Steamship Company decided to withdraw its interests from the conglomerate, retaining only the tug and tow operations.
The Adelaide Steamship Company was at that time one of the oldest industrial companies in Australia. It changed its name in 1997 to Adsteam Marine Ltd, keeping in its new logo the red eight-pointed star of the former name.
In 2006, the company was acquired by the largest shipping company in the world: AP Moeller Maersk. Today, all that remains of the Adelaide Steamship Co Ltd are yellowed photos, souvenirs… and a liner that has been stranded for more than 50 years on a beach in the south of France…