- A.N. Other
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2018 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By William (Bill) Burrell
On 18 October 2018 Mr Bill Burrell, aged 84, contacted the Sea Power Centre Australia (SPC-A) to confirm that the vessel he had recently seen on TV conveying Prince Harry and Meghan across Sydney Harbour was the new Admiral’s Barge. SPC-A staff were able to advise Bill that this was correct and the barge, named the Admiral Hudson, had been procured in the late 1990s to replace the previous Admiral’s Barge.
Bill then provided some quite interesting snippets of information on the previous Admiral’s Barge from his time at Cockatoo Island where he started work as a 15 year old apprentice in 1950. The information is as follows:
There were two barges – the Admiral’s Barge painted dark blue (for use by Navy) and the State Barge (for use of the Governor General or NSW Governor) painted green.
Each December the barges came to Cockatoo Island for maintenance so they were ready in January for the next year’s ceremonial events. Each barge was approximately 35 feet long, twin engine, with the forward section being where the coxswain steered the vessel and the aft section for passengers. A stern-sheet-man with a boathook stood right aft.
The maintenance schedule of each vessel as recalled by Bill was:
All cushions removed and sent away for new white covers to be fitted.
All chrome work removed and sent away to be re-chromed (i.e. railings, stag-horns, cleats, etc.).
The hull covering removed and the ribs of the vessel inspected.
The hull timber removed and replaced. This consisted of a double skin of maple sheets (not planks) with each skin 5/16 inch thickness. The first skin was attached to the ribs at a 45 degree angle and then covered in canvas painted with red lead. The second skin would be attached at a 45 degree angle (at an opposing angle to the first skin). Then three layers of grey primer would be applied, with each layer sanded down using wet-dry sandpaper.
Then the blue or green enamel paint would be applied, by hand and not spray painted on. Paint was supposedly a special order supplied only for these vessels.
Then the chrome fittings would be re-attached with chromed slotted screws (not Philips head). The slots had to run ‘fore and aft’ and each screw was inspected by a senior shipwright and replaced or angled correctly as required. Finally gold leaf would then be applied as decoration.
This extensive worklist was completed annually.
At the Naval Historical Society we searched our archives for further information on Admiral’s Barges.
The present-day VIP Boat Squadron based at HMAS Waterhen has two vessels. A traditional wooden hulled Admiral’s Barge with a dark blue hull and varnished upper works was purpose built by Norman Wright & Sons of Brisbane in 1993. There is another commercially styled vessel Admiral Hudson of laminated construction with an all-white hull, purchased in 1994.
One of our volunteers, David Gleeson, with a wealth of information of naval small craft, says he recalls two official barges, one with a blue hull for the Fleet Commander and another with a green hull for the Flag Officer Commanding the East Australian Area (FOCEA). After we acquired aircraft carriers the Fleet Commander’s barge most likely was shipped here with HMAS Melbourneas she was allocated to that ship. When Melbourne decommissioned in 1982 and was put up for disposal it is thought her barge met a similar fate.
A green hulled barge built in 1963 by Milkraft Boatyard of Brisbane was allocated to FOCEA for official purposes and was moored at the Garden Island Pound or off the steps of the Admiral’s official residence ‘Tresco’ at Elizabeth Bay. This vessel was affectionately known as the ‘Green Parrot’.
This led to some confusion as the ‘Green Parrot’ changed her colours and was repainted blue. When the Norman Wright barge became available the ‘Parrot’ was once again painted green and sold out of service. For a time she became a Sydney based pleasure craft but now, still afloat, is to be found on the Tamar in Launceston.
Should any of our readers have any further information on the history of our Admiral’s Barges we will be pleased to hear.