SY Ena (1900) is the finest example of an Edwardian steam yacht in Australia and one of only three that remain extant in the world. It is of a comparable standard to past and present international steam yachts. SY Ena was designed by Sydney naval architect Walter Reeks and built by WM Ford Boatbuilders, both preeminent in their fields locally and nationally. The vessel represents the ability of Australian firms to design and build a luxury craft to a standard equivalent to the highest level in Europe and North America, in a period when the country was still relatively isolated from these centres of commerce and industry.
SY Ena had a varied career, undertaking war service as HMAS Sleuth in World War I, and then it became a commercial cargo and fishing vessel, renamed Aurore. SY Ena represents the resourceful nature of Australians, adapting and reusing items to meet their immediate requirements, and has strong connections to diverse levels of Australian society.
It was restored in the mid-1980s following best practice of this period to a configuration based on its original arrangement. The high quality workmanship of this project has brought it back to the standard of the vessel when it was launched, with concessions to available materials, contemporary use and survey requirements. The project has inspired further significant restorations of Australian heritage craft.
LOA: ………………………………35.4 metres
Beam: ……………………………5.05 metres
Displacement: ……………….72 tonnes (TBC)
Speed …………………….. ……12 knots
Survey ……………………………Class 1 D (- passenger vessel, sheltered waters)
Official Number ………………112529
SY Ena’s colourful background covers a contrasting range of themes that are all significant to Australian history. Whist the original luxury vessel that showcases Edwardian design and first-class construction is the existing interpretation; its story has two other important periods.
It is one of perhaps only two surviving craft that were requisitioned for war service by the Royal Australian Navy in World War I (SS Cartela, 1912, in Tasmania is the other vessel). Operating as HMAS Sleuth from 1916 to 1919 this connection to military service is a relatively unique aspect of its story, and military service remains a strong and valued element of Australian culture and history. The requisition of craft shows both the desperate situation the country found itself in, as well as highlighting the Australian way of adapting and making good with what was available, a streak of national character that has been a mainstay of the country’s spirit.
SY Ena was later adapted for use from the 1930s to the 1980s as a cargo vessel then fishing boat, where its elegant shape held it in high regard despite its age. Once again this shows the make-do spirit that is in evidence throughout regional industry in Australia, especially in the outback. This is the maritime equivalent of this bushman’s approach to using what is at hand. It also shows the longevity of the original construction and a testimony to the workmanship originally employed to build it.
Reeks designed a small number of large steam yachts and then the emerging replacement, motor vessels, and SY Ena is one of only three that are extant in 2013. The other craft currently identified are: Bettina 1886, Lady Hopetoun 1902 a VIP craft for The Sydney Harbour Trust, (extant), SS Merrie England 1913 a large federal yacht for the Papuan administrator that was not built, MV Merrie England 1918, a more modest motor vessel for the PNG administrator (sunk 1919) , and the launches Cambria 1907, Bronzewing 1908, the largest motor vessel in the world at the time of its launch, Modwena 1910 and Lotus II 1912 (extant, floating but not operational).
Comparative craft in Sydney at the time were the Government steamer SS Victoria and Harbour Trust vessel Lady Hopetoun, along with the private steamers SY Bronzewing ( designed and built in the UK), SY White Star, and SY Isis, all owned by senior Sydney businessmen. SY Isis was designed by highly respected Scottish naval architect Wm Fife and built in Sydney under Reeks supervision in Berrys Bay in 1892.
Walter Ford from WM Ford Boatbuilders was the builder of many first class racing yachts, and other luxury craft, as well as many commercial vessels and small craft. The luxurious Edwardian cruising yacht Hurrica V 1924 and the Lady Hopetoun remain extant.
The design and construction of SY Ena highlight the typical methods for the period. Reeks worked by hand preparing the calculations, plans and specifications needed to build the craft, and some examples of the drawings for this vessel are extant. The wooden construction and fit out for the period shows standard methods of construction and cabinet making completed to the highest standard. The restored vessel retains as much original material as possible, and whilst the replacement fit out has been done to closely replicate the layout of the original vessel, relatively minor variations have been introduced in response to available materials, modern requirements and survey demands.
SY Ena is an outstanding example of early 20th century steam vessel design, where the naval architect had to balance the necessary structural, engineering and accommodation requirements against a competing requirement for good performance. Reeks was very experienced in this area with a progression of steam ferries for Sydney, Hobart and other locations around Australia, where economic operation was paramount, so maximum passenger capacity had to be met with maximum engine efficiency and vessel performance. This is documented in papers he presented to the NSW Engineering Society, and elements of this are apparent in the design of SY Ena.
One of Reeks’ design principles was to reduce surface area and friction, and the flowing cutaway forefoot with a gentle camber to the keel line, straightening out at midships, is typical of his approach, and comparable with the fore part of his yacht designs. The large aperture in the deadwood is another feature and common to his ferry designs, while the veed hull and moderate curve to the bilge share both ferry and yacht influences when compared with the lines of designs he prepared for these craft.
The narrow hull, long over hang aft with drawn out longitudinal lines is an ideal shape for best performance on the harbour’s enclosed waters; it has low resistance and also forms the basis of the elegant profile.
The construction is typical for a carvel-planked vessel, with the standard longitudinal arrangement of stringers and keel centreline members, crossed with floors and frames athwartships, a planked deck on beams, with the required knees and other supporting structure at joints and connections. The 30 metre long hull was built largely with Australian timbers, the exception being the choice of lighter New Zealand kauri for the topsides planking. This reflected the designers and builders desire to form a light but durable structure that would achieve a good speed. The machinery was made in Australia as well, and was typical for the period. It was a Chapman Bros compound surface condensing engine, with the boiler supplied by Dalgleish of Glasgow Scotland. It is now fitted with a replica of a 1914 Plenty and Sons double expansion or compound steam engine, and the new Maxitherm boiler is a reconfiguration as well.
The vessel also featured a short aspect ratio schooner rig, with sails that provided some assistance on a passage and some balance in a seaway. This was an arrangement virtually phased out in steam craft by 1900, but retained here for practical purposes and to enhance the appearance.
The requirement was for a vessel suited to day trips and entertaining guests, and the layout provided for two cabins and a large open but covered deck area. The interior fit out was designed and built by Beard Watsons Ltd, another well-known firm in Sydney’s commercial and retail history, and the craft was an early example of a private vessel with electric lighting.
SY Ena‘s styling is very well proportioned and coordinated, standing out as a classic example of the Edwardian period. The principal features are a clipper bow, long counter stern, concave sheer line, raked cabin, raked funnel and raked masts, with typical shipwright and cabinet making trim and detailing throughout. The combination of white painted hull set with a varnished cabin, spars and trim, along with detailed gold leaf scroll work at the stem is an elegant and stately pattern used in many craft. The deck and interior fit out was also created in a style suited to a luxury vessel, and includes the rounded skylights and seats as superstructure over the two below deck cabins.
The vessel is an excellent example of how a designer manages to balance the lines and appearance against the engineering requirements with both areas achieving their desired outcomes.
12 of Reeks’ craft remain extant, the Edwardian schooner Boomerang (1903) presents a similar elegance, while Lady Hopetoun with its vertical stem and straight keel provides a modest contrast. The motor vessel Lotus II carries the similar Edwardian styling but the raised deck, slightly curved bow, and cruiser stern reflect the changing nature of vessel styling over the first decade of the 20th century. The remaining surviving Reeks craft, including a ferry, yachts and a tug, represent other aspects of Reeks varied output, as well as showing some of his unorthodox but successful design ideas.
The Australian Register of Historic Vessels currently lists six Ford built craft at present, and it is anticipated there are other Ford built craft also extant. The cruising yawl Hurrica V (1924) is a later Edwardian craft, restored in 2011 back to the style and elegance of the period and Lady Hopetoun as noted provides a contrast. SY Ena respectively represents the highest quality design and construction capabilities for both Reeks and Ford.
The vessel was Dibbs’ second vessel with this name, which is taken from Dibbs’ wife Tryphena. Papers carried reports of the vessel during 1900, and showed much anticipation throughout the nation: The Brisbane Courier 10 November 1900 reported:
“ A new 100-ton steam yacht which Ford of Sydney is building for Mr TA Dibbs is expected to be launched early next month. It is said to be one of the finest specimens of a modern steam yacht in the Australian colonies. “
On the same date, Australian Town and Country reported:
“The new 100-ton steam yacht which Ford is building for Mr TA Dibbs will be one of the finest yachts ever launched in Australian waters.”
It was launched in late 1900, and once the machinery was installed it began steaming on the harbour during 1901.
The Sydney Morning Herald carried a report on Monday 10 December 1900:
“LAUNCH OF MR T.A. DIBBS’ NEW STEAM YACHT.
Shortly after 9.0’clock on Saturday morning a handsome steam yacht, built for Mr TA Dibbs was launched from Mr Fords yard, Berrys Bay. As she left the ways she was christened ‘Ena’ by Miss Dorothy Dibbs. “
Dibbs used SY Ena on Sydney Harbour for entertaining guests up until World War I. The small number of vessels in the navy at the outbreak of the war meant that private and commercial craft were sought out and requisitioned for support use when needed. SY Ena was considered and bought by the Royal Australian Navy in November 1916 to become a patrol boat in Torres Strait. Renamed HMAS Sleuth, the ship was used to patrol the area for armed German raiders. It was painted a dark grey all over, aspects of the arrangement were modified and it was armed with a three pounder on the foredeck. It eventually proved unsuitable for this work and was brought back to Sydney to be refitted and used for patrol work on the east coast as far north as Cooktown. It was later used for naval training work on Sydney Harbour.
In 1919 it was decommissioned and sold to a ship chandler, then sold on to a new private owner Edward Budrodeen. He refitted it as a steam yacht, returned it to its original name and used it on Sydney Harbour for a short period. It was sold again in 1921 to William Longworth who used SY Ena to travel between his residence in Karuah near Newcastle and Sydney.
In 1928 his deceased estate sold the vessel to Vernon Armfield, an employee from the Ford yard. Soon after he sold it to Walter Driscoll from Hobart, Tasmania who took it south in 1933 to work as a trading vessel shipping apples, a typical Tasmanian cargo and trade. This operation did not last long, as Driscoll became caught up in legal disputes and SY Ena was seized by his creditors for a long period.
It had little use until 1940 when the Roche Bros bought it from Driscoll and set the vessel up for trawling work and harvesting scallops. In 1945 they installed a diesel engine for better economy. A wet well was added for keeping live fish, refrigeration was put in aft, the stem was cut back and the vessel renamed Aurore - goddess of dawn. SY Ena still attracted attention, with the Hobart Examiner running a story in May 1946:
“ Former Luxury Steam Yacht, Naval Patrol, Now in Scallop Industry.
Among the most beautiful pleasure craft in Australian water years ago, the ocean going steam yacht Ena is now one of the ships engaged in the Hobart scallop trade. Her life has been full of ups and downs since 1900 and she is far from being permanently down.”
The Roche Bros operated it for 30 years, even taking Aurore up to Queensland fishing for shark. When their interests changed to ferries they sold it in 1974 to Kevin Hursey from Dover. He used it for six years then sold it in 1980 to the Harpur Bros. It was operating as a fishing boat when it hit an unidentified object in the D’Entrecasteau Channel and sank on March 4 1981. The Harpur’s salvaged the vessel when it was raised four months later.
At this time Sydney businessman Pat Burke had been seeking a suitable craft similar to the Lady Hopetoun for use as a charter vessel on Sydney Harbour and his shipwright Nick Masterman recommended SY Ena, even though it was still underwater. Burke was unable to secure it immediately, but negotiated its purchase and in 1982 it was brought to Sydney. The deal was finally completed in 1984 after protracted negotiations concerning the condition of the vessel. Burke had formed syndicate with flamboyant stockbroker Renee Rivkin and his solicitor David Baffksy, and the three became owners and oversaw the reconstruction in the hands of Masterman.
The project was completed in Sydney in 1986. The structure and arrangement was restored or recreated where needed as accurately as possible to replicate how it was built originally. A new steam engine was made, based on the remains of an existing steam engine used in another Reeks designed ship that had also been used in Tasmania. The project cost over $2 million and created a restored vessel that was supplemented with modern requirements so that it could be put into commercial survey for passenger charter work on enclosed waters.
In 1986 SY Ena steamed to Fremantle for the America’s Cup and then returned. During this voyage it circumnavigated the mainland, passing through Torres Strait again. Back on Sydney Harbour it was used as a charter vessel until it was once again seized in 1989 when Burkes’ company Hartogen Energy went bankrupt, and then one of Rivkin’s creditors seized the vessel in lieu of payment. SY Ena was bought in 1991 at auction by art dealer John Buttsworth on behalf of a private buyer.
Walter Reeks (1861 - 1925) is one the country’s most significant naval architects. He designed a large number of important vessels, and some of these created a class or type that had a significant impact on the industry they worked in. These included ferries in a number of ports around Australia, the Manly ferry service in Sydney, trading vessels in Tasmania and on the north coast of NSW, and pearling luggers and schooners in Torres Strait. His individual yachts and craft for racing and recreational purposes were the largest yachts seen in Sydney at the time including Era, Volunteer and Thelma, the dominant racing yachts of the 1880s and 90s. MV Bronzewing (1908) was the largest motor vessel in the world when launched.
Reeks’ also has strong claims to being Australia's first full time professional naval architect. He worked as a naval architect, marine engineer and even shipbuilder throughout his time in Sydney, and available records indicate that no one before him appears to have had this occupation as their sole means of employment.
Reeks career was marked with numerous successful vessel designs, many with unorthodox features. 12 craft of his design remain extant in Australia.
Reeks was born in Christchurch, England in 1861 and trained there with apprenticeships to naval architect Alex Richardson and then George Inman and Sons, Shipbuilder, before leaving England and coming to Sydney in 1885 Walter Reeks was generally a popular figure and well respected throughout his career. He was a very active member of engineering associations and yacht clubs, Rear Commodore for the RSYS from 1906 to 1910, honorary official measurer for the major Sydney clubs, and an excellent helmsman on many yachts. He also had interests in gold mining, good connections to artists such as Roberts and Streeton, and was a mason. He designed his own house, 'Twynham' in Mosman NSW the late 1880s, and died there aged 64 in October 1925.
WM Ford Boatbuilders
For over almost a 90 year period, Walter McFarlane Ford, senior and junior, managed the firm WM Ford Boat Builders that produced some of the finest craft on Sydney Harbour. W M Ford Snr was born at Millers Point, The Rocks, and Sydney in 1841. He served his time at Piles shipbuilding yard, and in 1870 he took over that yard on Millers Point. In 1874 Ford moved from Millers Point to Berry's Bay in North Sydney where the firm remained. In the mid-1880s his second son Walter Jnr (born 1870) became part of the firm and in 1892 Walter Snr handed over the firm to Walter Jnr. Father and son both died in late 1934. Known as honest builders, and often referred to as 'Wattie Ford', their yard remained in operation under the ownership of Isabella Newman (Ford junior's niece) until she died in 1958. Her sister Lillian Mabey wound up the business in 1962. Ford's first contract was for a vehicular ferry punt. He also built luggers and steamers, and refitted the HMS GALATEA. When a smallpox emergency broke out in the early 1870s Ford was given the contract to construct the quarantine station buildings at North Head. At Berry's Bay he built the paddle steamer ferries ST LEONARDS, VICTORIA and WARRANE, vessels for CSR, and commenced yacht construction as well. Many of these became well known, including the SIROCCO and SAO in the early 1880s.Then followed a number of yachts designed by Walter Reeks including ELECTRA, ISEA, JESS, BETTINA, and MAISIE. Walter Ford Jnr continued the high quality work the firm was known for and built the yachts AWANUI, WHITE WINGS, CULLWULLA II, VALENCIA, CAPELLA, HURRICA V, EP Simpson's schooner MISTRAL II and the motor launches REVONAH, LOTUS I AND LOTUS II .
The classic Edwardian steam yachts ENA and LADY HOPETOUN, both designed by Reeks, were built by Ford in the early 1900s. Famous names of the period such as Hordern, Elliott, Albert and Dibbs were listed amongst the clients, and Ford built yachts designed by Reeks, Fife, Mylne and Nicholson, the latter three from the UK. Some of the first motor launches built in Sydney, such as Mark Foy's MARIONETTE and C.E. Relph's INVINCIBLE came from Ford's yard. He also built the ferry KULGOA and other ferries for Sydney Harbour along with schooners and ketches for island trading, missionary ships, colliers, pilot craft and around 500 flat bottomed phosphate vessels for Nauru and other Pacific Ocean islands. Ford was prominent in Sydney Harbour skiff racing as owner of several 18-foot skiffs AUSTRALIAN, from about 1905 to about 1917, and one called GOLDING.
The owner, businessman Thomas Dibbs (later Sir Thomas) was manager of the Commercial Banking Company and a past commodore of the Royal Sydney yacht Squadron. It was the second steam yacht for the owner, and was significantly larger than his first vessel Ena.
The following is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography, (edited):
Sir Thomas Allwright Dibbs (1832-1923), banker, was born on 31 October 1832 in Sydney, the second son of John Dibbs, master mariner, and his wife Sophia Elizabeth, née Allwright. He attended the Australian College and at 14 began work in the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney. He became its accountant in 1857, inspector in 1860, manager in March 1867 and general manager in 1882. .
The bank's annual report for 1923 recognized that 'the Bank, as it stands today is a monument to [Dibbs's] ability and faithful service'. Under his prudent management the bank progressed and was extolled for its success, particularly for its high annual dividends in 1867-92. In 1893 when several Sydney banks foundered, it weathered the crisis through Dibbs's ability to do 'the right thing at the right time'. This increased his repute for skilful management, clear judgment, quick perception, decisive action and genuine concern for the welfare of the bank's employees.
In his last thirty years with the Commercial Bank Dibbs became a doyen in the Australian banking community; his opinions on banking and finance were much respected and his advice was often sought by the New South Wales government. His brother George was premier in 1891-94. Dibbs published a useful booklet, Interest Tables, in 1877 and was also responsible for shaping some important banking practices in Sydney, particularly the form of the daily settlement and the exchange system set up in 1888. He also had a long association with the Bankers' Institute of New South Wales and was its president in 1901.
His family connections, his standing in financial circles and his wide interests won Dibbs prominence in New South Wales. A keen yachtsman, he was a commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. He was active in diocesan affairs of the Church of England and his philanthropic interests included the Sydney Naval Home and the Queen Victoria Home for Consumptives; in June 1915 he gave his home, Graythwaite, to the Commonwealth government as a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. Equipped and furnished from the proceeds of a public appeal it was opened in 1916 under the control of the Red Cross Society. Dibbs was knighted in 1917. He died in Sydney on 18 March 1923, survived by his wife Tryphena and six daughters.