Historic Small Boat Collection

Boats, skiffs and launches dating from the early settlement of New South Wales


Small Boat Collection

Small Boat Collection in the Wharf 7 Foyer

Sydney Heritage Fleet’s small boat collection is representative of craft seen on NSW waters since the early settlement of Sydney.

Some of the Fleet’s most significant small craft are on exhibition in the Maritime Heritage Centre at Wharf 7, Pyrmont. This exhibition, curated by the Australian National Maritime Museum in association with the Fleet, is considered to be one of the most comprehensive exhibits of historic small craft in the world.

In addition to the exhibition at Wharf 7, the Fleet has further small craft in storage and plans to make them available to the public – some of them in sailing condition – once suitable facilities become available.


Varied craft

Since the early days of the colony in Port Jackson open sailing skiffs, of local design and manufacture, have been immensely popular. The best known of the skiff classes is the ’18-footer’, but 16ft and 12ft classes were also popular.
The SHF collection includes representative examples of craftsman-built wooden skiffs from the heydays of the above classes. The best known of these is the 1924 18-footer Yendys (Sydney spelt backwards), completely restored and on display fully rigged.


Local skiff designs

The collection also features a number of highly developed local sailing skiff designs such as the Vaucluse Juniors and Seniors (VJs and VSs), and other small sailing and racing yachts.

Click here for some detail on two of the most well-known sailing craft in the collection.


Rowing and motor boats

Rowing and motor boats also have a place in the collection, including types commonly made by local builders and used on regional waterways, and as the earliest harbour ‘ferries’.

Click here for some detail on some of the Fleets rowing and motor boats.


Replicas with a history

Prior to 1800 the boats of Royal Navy ships for the time being in Sydney Harbour, and a small yawl built in Sydney Cove were the only means of water transport available in the young colony. All of the early exploration of the Parramatta, Hawkesbury and Georges Rivers, and the coast as far south as Port Hacking and Lake Illawarra, were undertaken in these small but rugged craft.

The Fleet has a unique collection of replica boats, which were built to re-enact early voyages. These include the longboat used by Captain Bligh on his epic voyage to Timor after the Bounty mutiny in 1783; Tom Thumb II in which Bass and Flinders explored the NSW coast as far south as Lake Illawarra in 1796; and a First Fleet jollyboat based on plans of 1781.

Click here for details of three of the historic replicas from the collection.