Historical information

The subject of this photograph is the S.S.Rowilla, a passenger steam ferry built in Hobart for use in Tasmania's rivers, the Derwent and the Tamar. The photograph shows her docked at the Charles Street Wharf in Launceston.

The S.S. Rowitta was built by Purdon & Featherstone, at Battery Point, Hobart (Tasmania) in 1909 from Huon Pine and Kauri planking. Her final configuration included three masts and a ship rig.

S.S. Rowitta took its first voyage from Hobart to Launceston in 1909 and operated for 30 years as a passenger ferry on the Tamar and Derwent Rivers. She also served as a freighter, an army supply ship, a luxury charter ferry and a floating restaurant as well as a prawn boat at Lakes Entrance. (She has also been named “Sorrento” and “Tarkarri”.).

In the very early days of Flagstaff Hill ‘Rowitta’ was purchased from Lakes Entrance by Warrnambool City Council and the Victorian State Government for $20,000. The Rowitta had a hull configuration very similar to a local boat named the SPECULANT, which played a key role in the Port of Warrnambool in the early 1900s. The Speculant was the largest ship ever registered with Warrnambool as her home port. Local owner and trader P J McGennan & Co, (Peter McGennan) used her as a freight carrier to Melbourne and timber trader between New Zealand and Victoria. She sunk at Cape Otway in 1911 on a voyage to Melbourne.

In 1974 Rowitta was delivered to Port Fairy and then later sailed to Warrnambool’s Breakwater where she was lifted out of Lady Bay and loaded onto the back of a long transport truck and slowly and carefully driven along Pertobe Road, through the Surfside Caravan Park and over the railway line, into Flagstaff Hill’s Maritime Village. Transfer arrangements were coordinated by Jack Morse, of Morse Engineering, a member of the Flagstaff Hill Planning Board, and Ken Goyen, a local crane operator.

The ‘Rowitta’ was originally acquired to be rebuilt to match the original SPECULANT. When finances became tight in 1976 a review of all plans ended in the decision to restore the “Rowitta” to her original configuration. She was then restored, renamed the original name of “Rowitta” and installed in the Village’s Harbour Lake to become one of the popular vessels on display for visitors to enjoy.

It was the decision of the Advisory Committee to Flagstaff Hill to have Rowitta demolished in April 2015 due to extensive deterioration.

Items associated with the Rowitta continue to be held in Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village’s Collection.


The photograph of the passenger ferry S.S. Rowitta.is significant for its association with Tasmanian history from the early to mid-1900s.
It is also connected to the history of the Rowitta, which was a large exhibit on display at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village from the museum’s early beginnings until the vessel’s end of life 40 years later.
The Rowitta represents the importance of coastal traders to transport, trade and communication along the coast of Victoria, between states, and in Australia before rail and motor vehicles.
The vessel was an example of a ferry built in the early 20th century that served many different roles over its lifetime of over 100 years.

Physical description

Black and white photograph of the steamship S.S. Rowitta at Charles Street Wharf, Launceston. It shows the vessel docked at the Charles Street Wharf in Launceston. Smoke is coming from its funnel and there are people on board. There is a handwritten inscription on the top edge of the photograph.
The vessel was built in 1909 by Purdon & Featherstone, Hobart.

Inscriptions & markings

Blue-green handwriting on top left margin "ROWITTA AT LAUNCESTON"