Historical information

The Viator, a Victorian ‘couta boat, was built by renowned boat builder J.R. Jones of Williamstown, Melbourne between 1890 and 1920. Its keel was red gum, stern and stern posts were jarrah, and the hull’s planking and ribs were New Zealand Kauri. The son of J.R. Jones (J.B. Jones) was also a ‘couta boat builder.

Viator served as a ‘couta fishing boat in the Warrnambool area until the mid-1930’s. Before then it may also have been used for fishing in the Apollo Bay and Queenscliff region. It seems that Viator also sailed the mail run between Port Phillip Bay and Apollo Bay. Viator then served as a mail boat across to Portland, and later 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 Maritime Village, where she is the most significant boat in the museum’s fleet.

‘COUTA BOATS

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. J.R. Jones was one of the early builders of craft with this design.

The Viator is a rare example of the ‘couta craft from the early days that were sailed by fishermen for many years. It is carvel planked, has an open cockpit, a vertical stem and straight Keel, single mast and a pivoting centreboard. These features are all characteristics of an early Bass Strait ‘couta boat, as confirmed by experienced Victorian couta boat restorer Tim Phillips.

OWNERS

The Viator was registered Port Fairy in 1940 and owned by G.J. Richards.
It was also registered in Port Fairy 1941-1945 and owned by Jens “Peter” Petersen.
“Brusher” Richards of Warrnambool and Port Fairy used it for fishing during the 1950’s.
Peter Watson and his son also went fishing in Viator.
Frank Ferrier, boat builder (and son of William Ferrier, hero for rescue of La Bella shipwreck survivors), also owned the Viator at one stage.
Arthur Rogers owned Viator too. He sold it to Terry Pridmore and Wayne Moorefield.

John Lindsay had been told that the Viator was stored in a paddock in Fairmont Avenue, Warrnambool, where it was gradually deteriorating. After discussing this with the Manager of Flagstaff Hill, Peter Ronald, John arranged to purchase the vessel at a very reasonable price from Pridmore in 1975.

John Lindsay then donated Viator to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village. In its very early days it was fondly referred to as “the old mail boat”.

RESTORATION

Shipwright Erik Mikkelsen soon started restoration on the Viator by after it arrived at Flagstaff Hill in 1975. (A photograph published by The Standard May 29, 1975 shows Erik Mikkelson working on the decking, watched by John Lindsay (Planning Board Chairman), Don Maxwell (Tourism Officer) and Leon Habel (Works Supervisor). Another photograph published by The Standard August 9, 1973, shows Arthur Hoey (Shipping Supervisor) working on a mast mounting. )

Maritime Museums of Australia awarded a grant in 2006 to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village to assist with the restoration and renovation of the Viator.

IMAGES

Six colour photographs are available showing the Viator the 1970’s; two are of the Viator in Port Fairy in 1971, the other four are of the Viator at the Warrnambool Breakwater in 1972 after preparing her to sail.

Other photographs published in The Standard in 1975 and 1976 show the restoration process underway.

Significance

The Viator received Heritage status with the Australia Maritime Museums Council in 2006 and is listed on the Australian Register of Historical Vessels (ARHV Number: HV000561)

The Viator is of Local, State and National significance as one of the oldest remaining Victorian Barracouta boats. It is an early and rare example of this type of craft, one of the last local ‘couta boat.

Due to its age, it is the most significant vessel in the fleet at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, according to Julie Winzar, Warrnambool City Council, June 2007.

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 carvel vessel with a wooden hull and a pivoting centreboard and is likely to have had gaff rigging. The keel was constructed from red gum, the stern and stern posts were jarrah, and the planking and ribs were New Zealand Kauri. Viator is listed on the Australian Register of Historical Vessels (ARHV Number: HV000561)

Inscriptions & markings

Marked "Viator"