Sydney Ferries Limited

Sydney Ferries Limited operated ferry services on Sydney Harbour from 1861 until June 1951.

Sydney Ferries Limited
SuccessorSydney Harbour Transport Board
Defunct30 June 1951
Area served
Sydney Harbour
Key people
Colonel A Spain (Chairman)
ServicesFerry operator

Nineteenth century beginnings

Sydney Ferries Limited was formed in 1861 as the North Shore Ferry Company. Kirribilli was the first boat followed by Nell, Galatea, Coombra, and Nautilis. In 1878, it was reformed as the North Shore Steam Ferry Company and Darra and Florence were brought into service.[1]

In 1879, the company introduced Sydney's first, and the world's second, double-ended screw ferry, Wallaby. This remained the basic design of all Sydney double-ended screw ferries. However, the company continued to make paddlers until 1885. They serviced the harbour's busiest route from Circular Quay to Milsons Point (50 years later the location of the Sydney Harbour Bridge) and Lavender Bay to which an all night service was added in 1884.[1] Milson's Point became the harbour's busiest wharf with the introduction of a connecting tram service from Ridge St North Sydney. It became busier still in 1893 with the connection of the North Shore railway line from Hornsby.

In 1899, the company became Sydney Ferries Limited. At this stage, the fleet comprised 27 vessels including four vehicular ferries and two cargo ferries.[2] It ordered the first double-ended propeller-driven ferry in the world to be built.

Early twentieth century expansion

The first 20 years of the twentieth century were a time of significant growth in demand for ferry services on the harbour, and Sydney Ferries grew rapidly. Between 1900 and 1910, the company took over the Parramatta Service, and commenced services to The Spit and Clontarf via Athol and Balmoral. It also took over and ran services to the Athol Gardens Hotel. In 1906, the company purchased the Thompson estate at Clifton Gardens (in Mosman) including land, the three-storey hotel, wharf dancing pavilion and skating rink. The company built a large circular swimming enclosure that could hold 3,000 spectators, a boatshed and a tramway from the wharf to the hotel. Before First World War, ferries full of picnickers came at weekends. The structure burnt down in 1956.[3]

Between 1910 and 1920, services to Watsons Bay, Balmain, Hunters Hill, Lane Cove were taken over by the company.[4] In December 1911, a service to Robertsons (Cremorne) Point was added to meet the new tram service.[2] The first service to Taronga Zoo commenced on 24 September 1916 with a vehicular ferry taking the elephant 'Jessi' across the harbour to her new home from the old zoo at Moore Park.

Sydney Ferries at this stage had a near monopoly on Sydney Harbour ferry services, except for the Manly ferry service and several small launch serices.[4] In addition to buying out most of the other ferry operators and their assets,[5][6] between 1900 and 1914 the company acquired 25 large vessels - mostly of the type known as the K-class - on its own accord.[7]

The company's largest vessels, Kuttabul and Koompartoo were delivered in 1922, each with a capacity of over 2,000 passengers for the heavy lift Circular Quay to Milson's Point run. They were the last and the largest of the K-class ferries and were made redundant with the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932.

Post Harbour Bridge opening

Prior to the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the company carried more than 40 million passengers per annum, three quarters of which travelled on the Milsons Point-Circular Quay route. With the completion of the bridge in 1932, the company's passenger volumes dropped to 15 million.[8] The large Milsons Point ferries, Koompartoo and Kuttabul were immediately redundant and used mainly for concert and showboat work until the outbreak of World War II. Some of their larger boats were also laid up, and a dozen smaller ferries were scrapped. The newer series of "Lady" class ferries - Ladies Chelmsford (1910), Denman (1912), Edeline (1913), Scott (1914), and Ferguson (1914) - were converted to more efficient diesel power. Sisters Karingal and Karrabee (1913), the smallest of the "K-class" ferries, were converted to diesel in the mid 1930s. In 1933, services to Watsons Bay ceased.

Vehicular ferry services between Dawes Point and Blues Point, and between Bennelong Point to Milsons Point ceased less than two weeks after the bridge's opening on 19 March 1932. The 350-ton vehicular ferries, Koondooloo (1924), Kalang (1926) and Kara Kara (1926) were laid up. Other vehicular ferries were scrapped, however, Kooroongaba went to work crossing the Hunter River between Stockton and Newcastle. In the mid-1930s, demand for harbour cruises increased and the company fitted out Koondooloo as a two-deck showboat. Such was her success, that Kalang was similarly fitted out as a three-deck showboat, and a third deck was later added to Koondooloo.

In March 1951, with the business having become unprofitable, Sydney Ferries Limited advised the Government of New South Wales of its intention to cease operating ferry services.[6][9][10] After investigating the possibility of using statutory powers to compulsorily acquire the business without paying compensation, the government agreed to purchase the business, and on 1 July 1951 the business and 15 ferries were sold to the Sydney Harbour Transport Board.[6][10][11]

See also


  1. Gunter, John. Across the harbour : the story of Sydney's ferries. Rigby. p. 14. ISBN 0727007157.
  2. Andrews, Graeme (1982). A Pictorial History of Ferries: Sydney and Surrounding Waterways. Sydney: AH & AW Reed Pty Ltd. p. 20. ISBN 0589503863.
  3. "Hindsight", Mosman Magazine, pp. 28–29, February 2010
  4. Gunter, John (1978). Across The Harbour: The Story of Sydney's Ferries. Sydney: Rigby Ltd. p. 37. ISBN 0 7270 0715 7.
  5. Sydney Ferries Transport for NSW
  6. Andrews, Graeme (1975). The Ferries of Sydney. Terry Hills: AH & AW Reed. pp. 16–32. ISBN 0 589 07172 6.
  7. Prescott, AM (1984). Sydney Ferry Fleet. Magill South Australia: Ronald H Parsons. p. 15-16. ISBN 0909418306.
  8. Andrews, Graeme (1994). Ferries of Sydney (3 ed.). Sydney: Sydney University Press. pp. 91–94. ISBN 0 424 00202 7.
  9. Move to Sell Sydney Ferries to the State Government Sydney Morning Herald 16 February 1951
  10. Fifty Years of Sydney Public Ferries Afloat Magazine May 2009
  11. Sydney Harbour Transport Board NSW State Records
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