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Replica’s back-in-time experience

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A labour of love has put an historic replica steamship back in the waters of Newcastle harbour.

William the Fourth is a tribute to Australia’s first ocean-going paddle wheel steam-powered ship, built at Clarence Town in 1831.

The replica was launched by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s wife, Hazel, in 1987 and operated on Newcastle harbour for 14 years until a boiler tube leak put it out of service.

In 2008, Newcastle council opted to hand the ship over to William the Fourth Incorporated, a community-owned organisation.

The Global Financial Crisis initially thwarted the group’s attempts to restore it but, five years later, serious works were underway.

William the Fourth Incorporated secretary, Bob Cook, said it had become fully operational after years of volunteer labour and fundraising support.

“It operates by a high-powered diesel engine with a propeller,” he said.

“While it has modern technology, it still looks like it used to – the only thing we’re missing is some nasty black smoke up the top.”

When the penal settlement first began at Newcastle in 1801, ships were the only form of transport.

Within three decades, the growing coal trade enabled the era of steam ships and, in 1831, a shipyard was established at Clarence Town to construct Australia’s first steam-powered ocean-going ship, William the Fourth.

Mr Cook said William the Fourth served as a testimony to the city’s tough maritime and industrial history.

“With the replica of the 1831 steam-powered ship, we think it tells a good story of our maritime history and the beginning of coal-trading in Newcastle,” he said.

“It is a back-in-time experience to see what life and transport was like in the early 1800s.”

During the replica’s construction, hundreds of people purchased engraved copper nails, which are still in the ship’s hill, and, since then, thousands more have enjoyed the experience of William the Fourth.

Harbour cruises and charters are available on the fourth Sunday of every month, starting at 11am and 2pm.

Visit williamthefourth.com.au for more information.

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