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AUSTRALIA: Coasting Schooner

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Australia, formerly named Alma, in the 1900s.Sailing vessels carried freight along the coast of North America from colonial times until World War II. Australia is a shallow-draft schooner of a type that was useful in the coastwise trade and is displayed at Mystic Seaport up on blocks. This exhibit explains the coasting trade and also displays photographs of different types of vessels and cargoes, and the routes they traversed.

The centerboard schooner Australia was built as the Ella Alida in 1862 at Great South Bay, Long Island, New York. She was sold to British interests, renamed Alma, and taken to Nassau in the Bahamas for use as a blockade-runner during the Civil War. With the Southern states fighting for independence, and in need of manufactured goods from Europe, President Abraham Lincoln had imposed a naval blockade to starve the South into submission. But some British and southern merchants made a lucrative business of running munitions and goods through the blockade, returning with valuable cotton. While attempting to run a cargo of rum, salt, and guns in to the small port of Darien, Georgia, the Alma ran aground and was captured by a U.S. Navy warship.

The little schooner was then sold at auction, renamed Australia, and became a coaster in Chesapeake Bay. For more than 60 years she sailed the Bay as a typical small coasting schooner, carrying everything form shellfish to grain and produce. At some point her hull was lengthened 10 feet.

Australia Arrives at Mystic Seaport

Walk through Australia's bones!The 70-foot, two-masted vessel spent her last years in Chesapeake Bay as a yacht for the duPont family. The family donated her to Mystic Seaport in 1951 for use as a sail education vessel. For 10 years she was used as a dormitory in the Museum’s sail training program. In 1961 she was hauled out for restoration, but the decay was too extensive to make rebuilding worthwhile. The Museum  decided to preserve Australia as an exhibit of ship construction. Today you can walk through and around this beached vessel, examining her “bones” as you might examine a skeleton.