Historical information

The historic Victorian ‘couta boat “Viator” was built by renowned boat builder J.R. Jones of Williamstown, Melbourne, between 1890 and 1920. He was one of the early builders of this design. The son of J.R. Jones (J.B. Jones) was also a ‘couta boat builder. The features of Viator - carvel planked, open cockpit, vertical stem and straight keel, single mast and a pivoting centreboard - are all characteristics of an early Bass Strait ‘couta boat. This has been confirmed by experienced Victorian ‘couta boat restorer Tim Phillips.

Viator served as a ‘couta fishing boat in the Warrnambool area until the mid-1930s, then some say she served as a mail ferry across to Portland. Later it was used as a fishing and recreation boat for local families. For years Viator sat in a paddock in East Warrnambool until purchased in 1975 and donated to Flagstaff Hill.


The ‘couta design for vessels is believed to have originated at Port Phillip, Victoria, for the purpose of the Barracouta (‘couta) fishing industry, being both fast and seaworthy. , The 'couta fish was an important food fish in Australian waters, supplying Melbourne with plenty of inexpensive fish.


Some of Viator’s history is known:
- 1940, registered Port Fairy and owned by G.J. Richards.
- 1941-1945, registered in Port Fairy and owned by Jens “Peter” Petersen.
- 1950’s “Brusher” Richards of Warrnambool and Port Fairy used it for fishing.
- Peter Watson and his son also went fishing in Viator.
- Frank Ferrier, boat builder, was an owner (son of ‘La Bella’ hero, William Ferrier)
- Arthur Rogers owned Viator too, then sold it to Terry Pridmore and Wayne Moorefield
- The Viator was stored in a paddock, unused for years, in Fairmont Avenue, Warrnambool, where it was gradually deteriorating.
- 1975 Viator was purchase at a very reasonable price from Pridmore, then donated to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.


Shipwright Erik Mikkelsen soon started restoration on the Viator after it arrived at Flagstaff Hill in 1975. In 2006 the Maritime Museums of Australia awarded a grant to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village to assist with the restoration and renovation of the Viator. Its restoration continues today in the care of Flagstaff Hill’s boat builder.


The Viator is the most significant boat in the Flagstaff Hill's fleet, being the last remaining local 'couta boat and one of few existing examples of this craft.
Viator received Heritage status with the Australian Maritime Museums Council and is listed on the Australian Register of Historical Vessels in 2006 (ARHV Number: HV000561).
Viator was built in Victoria in the early days by renowned boat builder J.R. Jones, and sailed by fishermen for many years, both local and on the coastal waters of Victoria, and was possibly used for the mail service.
It is significant for being used for the fishing trade, for government service, perhaps as a mail boat, and for recreation by local families.

Physical description

Vessel, the ‘Viator’, an historic Victorian ‘couta boat, handmade by renowned boat builder J.R. Jones of Williamstown, c.1890-1920. Single masted vessel has a Caravel hull built from New Zealand Kauri, blackwood, with a red gum keel and a jarrah stem and stern. It has a pivoting centreboard.

Inscriptions & markings

Marked "Viator"