The figurehead from the vessel Wave Queen depicts a young woman in a long white dress with a blue shawl. Her hair is dark and a crown of flowers rest on her head. She is holding a scepter in her outstretched right hand and her left arm is down by her side.
Figureheads, carved wooden sculptures which ornamented the bow of a sailing ship, embodied the 'soul' of the vessel and were believed to offer the crew protection and safe passage on the seas. They were also used to identify a ship, reflecting its function, or paying tribute to a person connected with the vessel. The South Australian Maritime Museum has a collection of seventeen ship’s figureheads - the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The figureheads were sourced and acquired by Vernon Smith, the Honorary Curator of the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum (from which the current museum evolved) over a period of fifty years. He thoroughly documented his search and as result, most of the figureheads are well provenanced with a recorded chain of ownership. The figurehead from Wave Queen references the perils of South Australia's shipwreck coast. The plight of the figurehead after the wreck also demonstrates how these objects were coveted and acquired by those outside the maritime trade.


  • Title: Wave Queen' Figurehead
  • Date Created: 1861-01-01/1861-12-31
  • Location: Port Adelaide, South Australia
  • Provenance: The 'Wave Queen' was a three-masted barque of 250 tons, built at Barnstaple, Devon, England in 1861. The vessel was acquired by Captain Hansford Ward in January 1874 and was registered at Port Adelaide. Wave Queen was driven ashore at Rivoli Bay, South Australia and wrecked about three kilometres from its anchorage after it dragged on 6 September, 1874. No lives were lost. Following the wreck, the figurehead was installed in a galvanized tank on a farm at Tantanoola, inland from Rivoli Bay, where it spent a number of years. In 1938, Mrs T F Stuckey from Millicent purchased the figurehead at auction in Mount Gambier, South Australia, to place in her garden, but instead decided to donate it to the Port Adelaide Nautical Museum. When presented to the Museum the right arm was loose on the figurehead, white ants had infested the leg, one foot was missing, nails were driven into the eyes and the nose was broken. The figurehead was repaired, painted and fitted with a new scepter. The figurehead is now on display at the South Australian Maritime Museum.
  • Rights: History Trust of South Australia, CC-0, photographer: Kylie Macey

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