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2004/131/1 Model of the 1958 Bass Strait passenger roll-on roll-off vessel 'Princess of Tasmania', in perspex case, wood / perspex, made by Iain Scott-Stevenson, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2004. Click to enlarge.

Model of 1958 Bass Strait passenger ship, 'Princess of Tasmania'

This model represents the Australian-built vessel 'Princess of Tasmania' which revolutionised passenger tourist travel across Bass Strait from Melbourne to Devonport when introduced in 1959. Its roll-on roll off facility, where vehicles could be driven directly onto the vessel via a rear door, was an enormous improvement over the former Bass Strait service offered by the steam ship 'Taroona', which necessitated vehicles being loaded by means of cranes.

It was the popularity of the 'Princess …


Object No.


Object Statement

Model of the 1958 Bass Strait passenger roll-on roll-off vessel 'Princess of Tasmania', in perspex case, wood / perspex, made by Iain Scott-Stevenson, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2004

Physical Description

Model of the 1958 Bass Strait passenger roll-on roll-off vessel 'Princess of Tasmania', in perspex case, wood / perspex, made by Iain Scott-Stevenson, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2004

The model of the 'Princess of Tasmania' is finely finished complete with decks, lifeboats, radio masts and deck equipment. The hull is beige and the decks light tan, and it sits on a black base. The model has its own purpose-built Perspex case.

The 'Princess of Tasmania' was a twin-screw ship and comprised one complete deck, an upper deck extending from the fore end almost to the stern, and a boat and navigation bridge deck which also enclosed the passenger accommodation. Crew quarters were on the mezzanine deck port and starboard and in the crew flat forwards.

The ship was designed to carry 334 passengers, around 100 cars and trucks of up to 550 tons in weight in the 'tween decks and 100 tones of general cargo in the hold. Of the 334 passengers, 178 were accommodated in single, double and four-berth cabins on the boat and upper decks and 156 in three lounges fitted with reclining aircraft type seating, similar to that on TAA Fokker Friendship aircraft of the time. Two lounges were located one on each side of the funnel. and the bigger saloon was at the front of the ship behind the full-width deck. They were decorated in Laminex on the bulkheads and wall-to-wall carpet. A cafeteria on the upper deck seated 82 in swivel-type stools at thee U-shaped rubber-topped tables. The 'Princess of Tasmania' carried a crew of 67 including the master, three mates, chief engineer and ten engineers.

The hull, masts, spares and ventilators were painted a light biscuit, the wheelhouse and deck houses were white and deck machinery was black. The overall dimensions of the vessel were approximately 371 feet (113 m) in length and 58 foot (14.6 m) across the beam. Its speed was 17.75 knots. The 'Princess of Australia' had a draft of 15 feet (4.6 m) which enabled it to use the more direct shallow channel at the southern end of Port Phillip Bay to travel to and from the heads. This saved considerable time and distance while entering or leaving Melbourne.

The ship was powered by two Nohab M69TS diesel engines developing 4,300 brake horsepower at 228 rpm directly coupled to twin propellers. The 'Princess of Tasmania' was also fitted with a side thrust bow propeller which was said to be unique at the time.

The large entrance door to the vehicle deck at the stern of the vessel was watertight to keep the deck free of water in any weather. Considerable care was taken at the time to ensure the car deck was clear of all fumes from car exhausts with large exhaust ventilating fans. Also, a fire-extinguishing system by Wormald Bros was installed on the vehicle deck including water spray curtains to isolate any outbreak of fire. Previously, vehicles loaded on Bass Straight ferries had to have their fuel tanks drained before loading by crane to prevent the possibility of fire. This was not necessary on the 'Princess of Tasmania'. The car deck featured a power-operated turntable and was unimpeded by columns for easy loading.



185 mm


609 mm


137 mm



The first purpose-built roll-on roll-off ferry to be built was the "Bardic" in 1957; it ran between England and Northern Ireland. Australian shipping companies were among the first to use the roll-on roll-off technique with the Bass Trader, "Princess of Tasmania" and "Troubridge" being built in Australia between 1959 and 1961. They exemplify the modern concept of convenient door-to-door operation and were at the forefront internationally in pioneering the roll-on roll-off concept. While the system had been evolving in the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada, the Australian marine industry recognised its advantages and suitability to coastal operations and showed enterprise by adapting the technique to Australian coastal trading.

The roll-on roll-off feature on the Bass Strait passenger ferry "Princess of Tasmania" enabled cars and trucks to drive straight onto the vessel via a large loading rear door. Prior to this, the steam passenger ship "Taroona" provided a twice-weekly return service from Melbourne stopping at Burnie, Devonport and Beauty Point on the Tamar River, 48 km from Launceston. Cars had to be lifted in slings onto the "Taroona's" deck with two onboard cranes and loaded into two holds for transportation. During busy periods vehicles were also carried as deck cargo near the stern of the ship.

The "Princess of Tasmania" was built at the State Dockyard at Newcastle, New South Wales, and launched on 13 December 1958. At 4,776 tons, the ship was the largest passenger vessel to have been built in Australia. The Federal Government agreed to build the ship due to the increased demands from tourist passengers wishing to travel to Tasmania with their cars. By the 1950s the European ferry business had been revolutionised with the introduction of roll-on roll-off ships. The "Princess of Tasmania" was built for the Tasmanian service and operated by the Government's Australian National Line.

Up to 5,000 people witnessed the vessel being launched at Newcastle, named by Dame Pattie Menzies, wife of the then Prime Minister, Bob Menzies. The vessel was handed over ahead of time and visited both Sydney and Melbourne before entering service on 2 October 1959.

The Museum's model maker Iain Scott-Stevenson made the "Princess of Tasmania" model in 2004 from drawings of the ship secured from the Australian National Maritime Museum's library. Final details were made after inspecting a very large model of the ship on display at the Maritime Museum at Fort Scratchley in Newcastle. It took approximately 140 hours to complete. It features a hull and superstructure made of Jelutong pattern maker's timber from South East Asia. The superstructure is clad in millimetre plywood. The decks are also made of millimetre plywood while the lifeboats are cast in polyester resin. The vents and winches are Perspex, the masts made of brass and the whole model was spray painted.



The first regular steam passenger and mail service between Sydney, Melbourne and Launceston commenced in 1842 with Benjamin Boyd's wooden paddle steamer, "Seahorse", which was replaced in 1843 by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company's iron paddle steamer "Shamrock". The locally-owned Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company was formed in 1853 to operate steamers between Sydney and Hobart and ran several well-known steam ships including the "Derwent", "Flinders" and "Pateena". This firm was taken over in 1891 by the Union Steamship Company (Union SS) of New Zealand which operated the "Rotomahana" from 1894 and the "Oona".

The early twentieth century heralded a new era in fast and comfortable sea travel with the Union SS's ferry "Loongana" from 1903, the first turbine steamer to operate in the Southern Hemisphere. Huddart Parker & Co. Ltd of Melbourne also ran Bass Strait ferries from the 1890s. In 1935 the old steamers "Oonah" and "Loongana" were replaced by a much larger and modern vessel, the "Taroona", operated by Tasmanian Steamers Pty Ltd. The "Taroona" had been built in Glasgow by Alexander Stephen & Sons and could carry 438 passengers at a speed of 18 knots. The vessel was operated by Tasmanian Steamers Pty Ltd, a consortium of the former rivals, Huddart Parker and the Union SS. The "Taroona" was replaced by the "Princess of Tasmania".

The "Princess of Tasmania" commenced operation on the 14-hour overnight Bass Strait service between Melbourne and Devonport in Tasmania in 1959 and was operated by the Federal Government's Australian National Line. It proved so popular that its initial schedule of three or four times per week was increased to six times. The vessel was fondly remembered by many former passengers throughout Australia as the POT.

Shortly after the "Princess of Tasmania" was launched, the "Bass Trader", the first roll-on roll-off container ship in Australia, was built for the Tasmanian service. The "Bass Trader" only carried heavy vehicles and no passengers and operated regularly between Melbourne, Burnie, Devonport and Bell Bay on the Tamar River, north of Launceston. In 1969 they were joined by the much larger "Australian Trader", which operated mostly on the preferred Devonport to Melbourne route.

The "Princess of Tasmania" was replaced in 1972 by the much larger "Empress of Australia", which had been completed in 1965 and transferred from the Sydney to Hobart run. The "Princess of Tasmania" was sold the following year and apparently spent another thirty years in service in the Middle East. The "Australian Trader" was later sold to the Royal Australian Navy for conversion into the training ship "Jervis Bay".

In 1985 the Australian National Line decided to pull out of the Bass Strait ferry service and the Federal Government, as part of a compensation package for not allowing the Tasmanian Government to build a hydro-electric scheme on the Gordon River, funded the setting up of a new Bass Straight ferry service. This was the TT-line, owned by the people of Tasmania operated by a Board of Management reporting directly to the Tasmanian State Government. The first vessel acquired was the former European ferry, "Nils Holgerson", and renamed "Abel Tasman". This vessel was replaced in 1993 by the much larger "Spirit of Australia". In 1998 a Tasmanian-built wave-piercing catamaran, the "Devil Cat", began a six-hour service from George Town, in northwest Tasmania, to Port Melbourne. The twin ships "Spirit of Tasmania I" and II came into service in 2002 while "Sprit of Tasmania III" began sailing from Sydney to Devonport from 2004, the first in thirty years.


Credit Line

Made by Iain Scott-Stevenson, Powerhouse Museum, 2004

Acquisition Date

31 August 2004

Cite this Object


Model of 1958 Bass Strait passenger ship, 'Princess of Tasmania' 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 10 May 2021, <https://ma.as/346204>


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