Museum History

Museum History

The Museum was established in 1986, when the then Secretary of the Townsville Harbour Board (position known today as the Chief Executive Officer), R E Kenny, proposed to the Seafarers Association to set up a nautical display on the upper floor of the 55-year old former Pier Master’s office building, which had been newly refurbished. The Seafarers Association had a membership of former and serving Navy and Merchant Navy men and women and was established in 1969.

The Pier Master’s office building was situated between Berths 4 and 5 at the port. It was a 1930s double-story timber building and from this the pier master controlled all vessel movements in the port.

The Seafarers Association agreed in consultation with the Harbour Board to establish a maritime museum, named the Maritime Museum of Townsville. A Board of Directors was appointed and Neville George (after whom the park adjacent to the Museum is named) became the first Curator.

Neville George, Royal Australian Navy veteran

The Seafarers Association appealed to the public to loan or donate artefacts, which received a good response, and, together with the items provided by Seafarers members, it was possible to open the Museum to the public on 1 July 1986. The official opening took place on 15 July 1986 by the then mayor of Townsville, Alderman Mike Reynolds. The new Museum was located on the upper floor of the former Pier Master’s Office, whilst the lower floor was converted into a Port Information Centre. The Harbour Board and the State and Federal Governments ensured the sustainability of the Museum through grants and subsidies.

Due to the steadily expanding collection the Museum soon outgrew itself. The Townsville Port Authority (replacing the Harbour Board in 1989) made available a portion of reclaimed land between Ross Creek and Palmer Street for the relocation of the Museum, where it would have larger and better facilities and also would be more accessible for visitors. The Pier Master’s building (known by that time as the Port Building) and also the defunct Bay Rock lighthouse were relocated to this site and the Museum was reopened in April 1992. This was made possible through funding by the Port Authority and the Townsville City Council, who had become the major sponsors, as well as financial donations and donations in kind from business and individuals.

Because of its association with the early years of the Port of Townsville, the Port Building is listed on the Local Heritage Register.

Two years later a new exhibition gallery space was built, known as the Seafarers Gallery.

The running of the Museum had become too large for the Seafarers Association to run on a purely voluntary basis and in 1997 the Townsville Maritime Historical Society Incorporated was formed to take over the Museum.

Funded by a Federal grant for capital works, the Museum complex was architecturally redesigned with a footprint in the shape of a ship to include a viewing deck, a new gallery adjacent to the Seafarers Gallery (the Federation Gallery), an annex to the Port Building to house the Hayles Maritime Memorial Library, a memorial garden, BBQ area, model ship gallery, boat shed and workshop. This project was completed in 2001.

In 2007 HMAS Townsville, a Fremantle Class Patrol Boat, was gifted to the Museum by the Commonwealth Department of Defence.

In 2015 a new not-for-profit company, known as Townsville Maritime Museum Limited, with a board of directors, came into being. Established for the purpose of ensuring the ongoing viability and financial sustainability of the Museum, this company took over the management of the Museum from the Townsville Maritime Historical Society on 1 July that year.