Marine Life Society of South Australia Inc.


April 2008   No. 353

understanding, enjoying & caring for our oceans”


Next Meeting

The next General Meeting will be held in April on Tuesday the 15th of April. 


This will be held at the clubrooms of Adventure Blue on the Patawalonga frontage at Glenelg at 8.00pm.


Our speaker will be Neville Skinner, who will be showing the final Steve Irwin documentary “Ocean’s Deadliest”.                                                              



The Dunnikier Slip (& Its Links With The City Of Adelaide)  (Steve Reynolds)


Please note that the new financial year has begun and memberships are now due for renewal.


May will be the MLSSA AGM and consequently we need nominations for Committee to be published in the May MLSSA Newsletter. Non-committee members need to have a seconder if nominating for a committee position. Please send nominations to the Editor before the 1st of May for inclusion in the Newsletter.


The Dunnikier Slip (& Its Links With The City Of Adelaide)

by Steve Reynolds


The Dunnikier Slip is located on the north bank of Gawler Reach on the Port Adelaide River at Birkenhead. Gawler Reach is named after Lieutenant-Colonel George Gawler who replaced Sir John Hindmarsh as the Governor of South Australia in 1838.

Birkenhead in South Australia is named after the town of Birkenhead near Liverpool in England. ‘Birkenhead’ means ‘headland overgrown with birch’.

The Dunnikier Slip was built at Gawler Reach, Birkenhead between 1862 and 1867. Although it still exists in a reduced form today (2008), the Dunnikier Slip’s future is now under threat due to numerous new developments in the area. There is some small hope for the future of the slip, however, as it has been suggested as being the perfect location for a museum of sailing ships, including the City of Adelaide.


A view of the Dunnikier slip, facing north (taken by Steve Reynolds C.2005)


Governor Gawler arrived in SA in October 1838, and by December of that year he had suggested that a new port would be established on Hindmarsh Reach (named after John Hindmarsh, our first Governor), on land fronted by deeper water (near the North Arm of the Port Adelaide River). David McLaren, the Colonial Manager of the South Australian Company, however, had decided that the new port would be established on swampland owned by the South Australian Company and fronted by the deepwater of McLaren Reach.

Governor Gawler was under financial pressure to accept the South Australian Company’s proposal and he duly agreed to it. He also dug the first spadeful of soil for the South Australian Company’s new road to Port Adelaide in May 1839. McLaren Reach was subsequently renamed Gawler Reach after our second Governor.

The original slipway in the area was called Fletcher’s Slip after Henry Fletcher* who had first established a shipyard at Birkenhead in 1849.

* Henry Fletcher was born as Henry Cruickshank Flett but he changed his name to Fletcher to distinguish himself from several other men working at his yard. Neil Cormack’s book “Sagas of Steam and Sail” says that Flett had migrated from Orkney, Scotland with many other early settlers, including several relatives. Seven relatives who were shipwrights like him and worked in his yard were also called Flett so he changed his name to Fletcher to avoid confusion with all his relatives. (One part of “Sagas of Steam and Sail”, however, suggests that Henry Fletcher’s name was William Flett (with “William” in inverted commas). This is only confusing things. He did have a son called William.)

By 1851, Fletcher had built a slipway at his yard. It is said to have been SA’s first slipway. Fletcher had used the ‘patent slip’ brought out to the colony by the South Australian Company for his slipway. The South Australian Company had brought the ‘patent slip’ out to South Australia in 1836 but had not yet installed it anywhere.

A ‘patent slip’ has been described as being a ‘marine railway’ or ‘slipway’. The term ‘slipway’ is often abbreviated to just ‘slip’. A ‘patent slip’ is said to be “A large mechanical apparatus by means of which vessels may be hauled up high and dry on the shore, and whose keels may be elevated”.

The slip and its associated buildings were built on reclaimed land. The land had been built-up using silt from the dredging of the river bottom. An 8-man windlass with reducing gears powered the first winch used for the slip.

The first boat to be launched from the slip after repairs was the 477-ton ship Panama. The slipway was later lengthened, enabling it to take two ships simultaneously.

Fletcher later installed a steam-powered winch to replace the man-powered one. Within about ten years, the original slipway was not able to work to full capacity, causing Henry Fletcher to purchase a patent slip from the Dunnikier Iron Company, a foundry in Kirkcaldy (near Dunfermline), Fifeshire, Scotland. (Fletcher himself was born in Scotland (Strathness, Orkney), on 9th March 1820.)

(A privately owned 18th century country house hotel called Dunnikier House Hotel is situated in parkland and adjacent to the Dunnikier Golf Course in Kirkcaldy, Scotland.)

This new ‘Dunnikier’ slip was shipped from Scotland to Port Adelaide in two lots during 1862. The installation of the slip began that same year. It was built on the western side of Fletcher’s Slip. The new slip was very large and designed to take 2000 tons. It extended along the river bottom, 360 feet into the river, approximately to the middle of Gawler Reach. The installation of the Dunnikier slip* was completed by 23rd January 1867.

* (Also seen spelled as ‘Dunikier’, and even as ‘Donniker’.)

The two slips continued to work simultaneously. The first boat to be drawn-up on the new slip was the 698-ton iron ship Edinburgh on 11th March 1867. She was then re-launched from the slip on 16th March 1867.

A view of the Dunnikier Slip, facing south (taken by Steve Reynolds C.2005)


An area around what is now known as Semaphore Road, at Glanville, close to the Dunnikier slip, was previously known as ‘Dunnikier Hill’. The section of Semaphore Road between Causeway Road and Fletcher Road was previously known as ‘Dunnikier Road’ (or ‘Dunnikier Street’) after the name of the slipway. This ‘road’ led on to Rann Street. Dunnikier Road/Street ran from what is now Causeway Road to Fletcher Road. Rann Street ran from Fletcher Road (intersection of Fletcher Road and Heath Street) up to Elder Road. Fletcher Road has also been called ‘Fletcher Street’ and it used to run right down to Fletcher’s slip. It appears that the railway line from Port Adelaide to Largs Bay jetty ran along Dunnikier Street and Rann* Street.

* (According to a list of Elected Members who served on the Councils that now comprise the City of Port Adelaide Enfield, a John Rann was Chairman of the Portland Estate Council from 1862 to 1866, a Councillor for the Lefevre’s Peninsula Council from 1873 to 1874 and a Councillor for the Port Adelaide Council from 1869 to 1878 and 1881 to 1884.)

Both Dunnikier Street and Rann Street were to later become an extension of Semaphore Road. Semaphore Road previously used to turn south towards Bower Road, but this section of Semaphore Road later became Causeway Road.

According to the web page found at , Dunnikier Road at Birkenhead existed on 3rd July 1888,  when Lieutenant Thomas Stewart Turnbull  married Francis Sophia Blyth there. Thomas was born in Port Adelaide on 11th December 1864. His wife Francis was, coincidentally, born in Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland (on 17th Nov 1862). It appears that many Turnbulls have been born in Semaphore Road at Glanville.

According to the web page found at , improvements were made to the corner of Semaphore Road and Dunnikier Road at Glanville after (or around) 1928. The City of Port Adelaide Enfield web page features a photograph of the Semaphore Road and Dunnikier Road corner.

Henry Fletcher became a prominent member of the Port Adelaide community. He was a member of the Port Adelaide Institute Committee in 1851. He became a very wealthy man and was able to buy partnerships in the Etna Iron Works for two of his sons, John and William. He also bought a farm at Clarendon called ‘Prior’s Court’ for another son, Henry Cruickshank junior. His fourth son, called Tom, was employed as the secretary at Fletcher’s Slip.

Following the completion of Fletcher’s slipway in 1851, several more slipways were established in the immediate area. These included slips owned by Messrs. Jenkins, Playfair, Chant, Taylor, Murch & Moore, Thomas Cruickshank and Thomas Swiggs.

In the 1880s, Henry Fletcher began to excavate a graving dock (dry dock) on the western side of his Dunnikier slipway. (John Adamson of Boston, Massachusetts, USA had first patented a dry dock in 1816.)

This small dock is situated adjacent to the western wall of the Dunnikier Slip (taken by Steve Reynolds, 2007)

Fletcher’s graving dock was opposed by the Marine Board, but excavation work continued on it until 1890. Although there was a “Great Shipping Strike” in 1890 and a depression in the 1890s, there was another problem, one that ensured that the graving dock would never be completed. Some seepage, which occurred after striking an underground spring, caused some major problems. Costs to seal this seepage and complete the graving dock would have been high. This, on top of the 1890 shipping strike and the 1890s depression, impacted on the slipway business. Fletcher was forced to sell his son’s farm at Clarendon and the excavation work for the graving dock stopped and was never completed.

The graving dock had been almost completed, to the point where the end gates were about to be installed. It was, however, abandoned around 1896.

Low high tides and the lack of bedrock for a base in the river both apparently made it impossible to build a graving dock along the Port Adelaide River (affectionately referred to as just the ‘Port River’). The site became a popular swimming spot after the abandonment of the graving dock. It was used as the site for several swimming competitions.

The graving dock site is situated on the western side of the Dunnikier Slip site, with a small piece of land between the two. The graving dock became known as Fletcher’s Dock and was used for a dock as part of the Glanville Dockyards complex. There may be some plans for the development of this site in the future.

Henry Fletcher is said to have lived with his family in a house at Fletcher’s Slip. According to “Sagas of Steam and Sail” by Neil Cormack, “Mr Fletcher set up residence in Hall Street, Semaphore.” This was quite close to the slipway. He later bought a house at Woodville.  When John Newman, the shipping agent, died in 1873, Henry Fletcher bought Newman’s old house, “The Brocas” on Woodville Road, Woodville. His son William then took over the running of the slip.


The Brocas’ - Henry Fletcher’s home at Woodville (taken by Steve Reynolds in 2007)


According to the web page found at , “The Brocas”, was dedicated as a Museum by the Woodville Council in 1975, the year of the Council's centenary. The “Brocas Museum” was then managed and operated by the Historical Society of Woodville Inc., with support provided by the Council of the City of Charles Sturt. The museum has, however, since closed.

The Port Adelaide Sailing Club was built next to Fletcher’s Slip in 1897. Robina Fletcher, Henry’s wife, died at the age of 76 on 2nd October 1899.

The Outer Harbor* opened in 1908 and many of the larger vessels no longer came down the Port River to the Inner Harbor.

* The 1913 Harbours Act established the official spelling of all harbours in SA as ‘harbors’, including Outer Harbor, Inner Harbor and Victor Harbor.

Henry Fletcher himself died in Woodville twelve years later, at the age of 91 on 23rd January 1912. His body was buried in the nearby Cheltenham Cemetery.

The South Australian Harbours Board acquired Fletcher’s Slip in 1917. The SAHB used the proposed dry dock area as a berth for laid-up dredges. The Adelaide Steamship Company leased the slipway and yards from the SAHB in 1920.

General Motors – Holden established its Birkenhead factory close to the yards in 1926. The old Port Adelaide Police boat Archie Badenoch was built at Holden’s Birkenhead factory in 1942 (so she’s a genuine ‘Holden’). She was named after the first SA Police officer killed in El Alamein in WWII. Archie Badenoch was from Port Adelaide. The little Police boat named after him has spent most of its life on the Port Adelaide River.

The Archie Badenoch moored by the Birkenhead Bridge (taken by Noeleen Reynolds)


The ‘central’ slipway* in the area (Jenkins?) had to be dismantled to make way for the construction of the Birkenhead Bridge, which was built next to the sailing club. The ‘central’ slipway was rebuilt adjacent to the end of Fletcher Road.

An ‘opening bridge’, the Birkenhead Bridge was the first of its kind in Australia. The Governor of SA, Sir Malcolm Barclay Harvey, officially opened the bridge on 14th December 1940.

The Birkenhead Bridge (taken by Noeleen Reynolds)


In the mid-1950s, the SAHB carried out some extensive alterations on Fletcher’s dock. Adelaide Steamship’s subsidiary company, Adelaide Ship Construction Ltd, was established on the site in 1957. It was about this time (in the 1950s) that an electric winch replaced the old steam one. It continued to function until at least 1987. According to “Sagas of Steam and Sail” by Neil W. Cormack, “the Dunikier (sic) slipway closed in 1991”.

Fletcher’s Slip was closed down in 1973 and it has been completely filled in above the waterline. Use of the site has since lapsed and the area is to be redeveloped as a residential area.

Ruth Jenkins of Flinders University wrote a paper about Fletcher’s Slip and the Dunnikier Slip for her Honours degree in 2004. The paper, titled “Fletcher’s Slip: a case study in the application of Multiple Perspectives Methodology in historical archaeology”, can be viewed at

The paper provides many past and present details regarding the two slipways discussed above. It says that, “There are no longer any remains of the cradle which had still been on the Dunnikier Slip as late as 1987. At extremely low tide iron rails going out into the waters of the Gawler Reach are still visible. There are no iron rails remaining above the low water line. The Dunnikier Slip floor is currently made up of basalt blocks, copper slag blocks and concrete. There are also features of iron and wood on the site.”

Ruth Jenkins’ paper includes a panoramic picture of the eastern wall of the Dunnikier slip. The panorama is made from photographs taken by Adam Jenkins and digitally combined by him. It shows some modification and repair work carried out on the eastern wall.

Below are some of my own photos showing the eastern wall of the Dunnikier slip: -

A portion of the eastern wall of the Dunnikier Slip (taken by Steve Reynolds, December 2007)


Here is a photo of a further portion of the same wall (closer to the river): -

A further portion of the eastern wall, closer to the river (taken by Steve Reynolds, December 2007)


Below is a photo showing the river end of the same wall: -

The river end of the eastern wall of the Dunnikier Slip (taken by Steve Reynolds, December 2007)


The clipper ship City of Adelaide, which made 23 voyages from England to South Australia from 1864 to 1887, has some close links with Port Adelaide, including Fletcher’s Slip at Birkenhead. She would bring British and German migrants to SA and then return to London, England with cargoes of SA wool and copper ore. Even though she is now the ‘world’s oldest (composite?*) clipper’, she is under threat of demolition as she slowly rots away on a slipway on the Firth of Clyde at Irvine, near Glasgow in Scotland.

* (Built with an iron frame and a timber hull.)

According to the web page found at, “When the City of Adelaide made voyages, bringing migrants and manufactured goods, to South Australia, she unloaded at Port Adelaide through August and September, then moved to Port Augusta to pick up copper ore and wool in October. The copper would act as ballast. On her maiden voyage, she returned to London with 100 tons of copper, 100 tons of ore, and 3,000 bales of wool.” And according to the web page found at, “The City of Adelaide is the last survivor of the wool clippers that carried South Australian wool from Port Adelaide and Port Augusta to the London Markets and is estimated to have exported 60,000 bales of South Australian wool.”

When the City of Adelaide first arrived in South Australia in 1864, she brought only three passengers with her. Her second voyage, however, was a much bigger affair. She arrived at Port Adelaide in July 1865 with a full complement of passengers. She was greeted in the Port with fireworks and rockets. Many of the locals took to boats to paddle out to greet the new arrivals.

In August 1874 the City of Adelaide came fast ashore close to Kirkcaldy* Beach, just south of Grange (between Henley Beach and Semaphore), during a storm and she had lost her port anchor. She was ultimately re-floated and towed to Port Adelaide on 4th September 1874 to be inspected for damage at Fletcher’s Slip.

* (Kirkcaldy was also the location of the Dunnikier Iron Company in Scotland where Henry Fletcher bought a patent slip from.)

It is thought, at the time of writing, that some attempts have recently been made to recover the port anchor lost from the City of Adelaide somewhere off of Semaphore.

The City of Adelaide frequently docked at Fletcher’s Slip in between her 23 voyages to SA from 1864 to 1887. The ship lost its (English Oak?*) rudder off Kangaroo Island during a return trip to London in November 1877.

* (According to the web page found at , “The main piece of the Rudder is of English Oak”.)

Upon losing the rudder, her captain, Edward Alston, was able to bring the ship around by dropping chains overboard. The City of Adelaide returned to Fletcher’s slipway at Port Adelaide to have a new rudder made of Australian ironwood fitted.

According to the web page found at,4/Vol28,4,pp11-20.pdf , this replacement rudder was built in the remarkable time of ten days.

The web page goes on to say that British archaeologists asked the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries to determine “whether the surviving City of Adelaide rudder, much damaged by time and seawater, was the one they knew was built in Adelaide in 1877, and if so, what was it made from? The two clues from the Adelaide newspapers (of the day) were that there had been no piece of ironbark long enough for its backbone and that a piece therefore had to be joined on or ‘scarphed’ to lengthen it. Sure enough such a joint could be seen, but full proof needed the wood to be identified. DPI&F scientists confirmed that the existing rudder was indeed made from grey ironbark and had seen nearly a century of service.”

In October 1884, the (then) steam tug Nelcebee towed the City of Adelaide out of Port Augusta for her return to London with a cargo which included wool, manganese and skins.

There are plans to bring the City of Adelaide from Scotland to Port Adelaide and restore her at “Fletcher’s Slip” - the Dunnikier slip (‘Fletcher’s’ is either a general term applied to the Dunnikier Slip or there is a common belief that the Dunnikier slip is actually Fletcher’s Slip.)

It is hoped that the City of Adelaide will be brought to Port Adelaide where she will then be able to rejoin the Nelcebee (and the Falie) as part of a permanent museum display in the Port. It is also proposed that one of the Collins Class submarines become part of the museum display down the track (2025?) when it is decommissioned.

It is hoped that the Dunnikier Slip will be preserved for future generations to appreciate.

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