Marten Syme and Port Fairy lifeboat

Date of Event: 1989

Vessel type: Life boat

Location: Port Fairy

Suggested title: Lifeboat rescued by historian!


In 1989, maritime historian Marten Syme was fascinated by the derelict lifeboat hull left beside the Moyne river.

He believed it was significant and at risk of demolition by decay and disinterest. Following formation of a local committee, restoration funding came from the community, the National Estate and Heritage Victoria. Local shipwright, Garry Stewart reconstructed the lifeboat to seaworthiness over sixteen months, the process documented by Marten, and launched in 1997.

Marten instigated the local lifeboat museum and still rows and sails regularly with a community crew.
Marten researched the five lifeboats built between 1857 and 1859 by William White for his book Lifeboats for Victoria (2001).

His work demonstrated the Port Fairy boat was the oldest example of a self-righting, self-draining lifeboat surviving in the world. It, together with the station buildings and rescue artefacts, are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Interesting anecdote

A volunteer crew of twelve sailed the lifeboat the 32 nautical miles to Portland in August 2009 as a contribution to the 150th anniversary of the Portland lifeboat’s rescue of the SS Admella survivors. It accomplished the voyage by averaging over 6 knots, assisted by a jury rigged second sail.

Old lifeboat left by the riverside after 15 years as a dumb dredge

Marten Syme and Garry Stewart discuss the reconstruction,1996

Port Fairy on the lifeboat house slipway, 1997

Port Fairy with supplementary jury rig en route to Portland, 2009

Port Fairy under regular dipping lugsail, at Portland

The crew pulling the lifeboat in the Portland canal


Please briefly note any objects (artefacts, images or other collection items) associated with the story.
Lifeboat located within original lifeboat house, with original crabbing winch, rebuilt slipway, display and 1888 (and later) photographs of vessel and reconstruction.

Adjacent Rocket House contains maritime rescue artefacts for the nineteenth century marine rescue activity, including rocket apparatus, oil bag, shipboard and shore-based rescue items.

Name of person submitting the story

Marten Adlington Syme


AMMC Member Institution

Port Fairy Historic Lifeboat Station

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