Tam O’Shanter

The Tam O’Shanter was a barque of 383 tons. It was built by Robert Reay at North Hylton, County Durham, in 1829. His yard was on the banks of the River Wear just upstream from Sunderland.

The ship’s early voyages were made from its home port of London to Calcutta under the command of its owner, Captain Lindsey. After a change of ownership it traded to Bermuda and Jamaica. In late 1835 the Tam O’Shanter was sold to Thomas Dobson.

The first issue of the South Australian Register and Colonial Gazette was published in London even before the province was established. It carried an advertisement for the imminent despatch to Hobart Town and Sydney of the ‘fine British-built Ship TAM O’SHANTER, A1., 500 tons burthen; WHITEMAN FREEMAN, Commander; lying in St. Katharine Docks; has a poop, with elegant Accommodations for Passengers, and is well armed. For Freight or Passage apply to the Commander on board . . .’.

The advertisement added that the ship was to become a colonial trader, and suggested that it might load oil and wool at Portland or elsewhere. Whatever the intention, a month later the Tam O’Shanter was sent to South Australia by Colonial Treasurer Osmond Gilles, acting in his private role as a merchant. Much of the cargo space was chartered by builder John White.

The Tam O’Shanter was described as a square-sterned ship with quarter galleries and a man bust figurehead. The vessel had two decks and the height between them was 1.75 metres. There was a poop to provide accommodation above deck for cabin passengers. A Lloyd’s survey records repairs to the forecastle. The ship carried a longboat and two quarter boats.

The Tam O’Shanter is credited with conveying the beginnings of South Australia’s public library system to the new colony in 1836. In 1834 the South Australian Literary and Scientific Association was established in London with the aim of cultivating and diffusing knowledge throughout the proposed new colony. Amongst its founding members were Robert Gouger, Osmond Giles, John Morphett, Robert Torrens and John Hindmarsh. The Institute collected and shipped 117 books to the new colony aboard the Tam O’Shanter, forming the nucleus of the Adelaide Institute’s ‘circulating library’ and what was to become the state’s public library network.

Artist representation of the ship Tam O'Shanter

Artist representation of the ship Tam O'Shanter. By John Ford. South Australian Maritime Museum collection.


Carrying capacity 383 tons

Length 31.9 metres (105 feet), beam 8.7 metres (29 feet), draught 5.2 metres (17 feet)

Built by Robert Reay of North Hylton, County Durham in 1829

Rigged as a barque.

-Information compiled by Bob Sexton.

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