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Davidson Shipbuilding Company
Building of the steamship "Australasia" in 1884.
  • Transcribed (September 2005)
  • Bay City Tribune - Thursday, August 28, 1884 - E.T. Bennett, Editor


    Description of Captain James Davidson's Monster New Steamship.
    The Largest Steam Craft on Fresh Water Will be the "Australasia."
    A Carrying Capacity for 100,000 Bushels of Grain.
    The Details

    Following the launch of the beautiful steamship Waldo & Crane’s yard, about a week later, will be that of the Australasia, the largest steam craft on fresh water. This port has had the honor in years past of sending out upon the great lakes for the various trades on the water highways, some of the best, staunchest and largest crafts. The building of the large boats has been carried on here with the same degree of progress as has characterized other ship building ports. Crafts construction dates back, of course, to the time of the first settlement here, but it has been until since the year 1875 that the bulk of the tonnage of the 80 boats built in Bay City was turned out.

    The construction of the mammoth craft was commenced in 1879 and has been since carried on, the vessels being larger and larger each year and the present season, 1884, has been characterized by the building of the very largest wooden vessel on the lakes. If the building continues to increase with the same rapidity for the next 10 years as it has in the past five, it will not be long before a steamer larger than the Great Mastera herself will have been turned loose upon Bay City waters.

    The launch of the lake levathan built by Capt. James Davidson on the west side of the river has been announced to take place on Saturday afternoon of this week, but from an interview with the owner and builder THE TRIBUNE mariner learns that owing to a delay the event cannot take place before Monday or Tuesday next. In the meantime every thing will be got ready for the slide of the monster into her aqueous element, and the hour of the launch will be given in THE TRIBUNE at the proper time so all can be present and witness the craft’s trip over the greased ways. It has been stated the new boat would be named after the Chicago Times, but such an impression is erroneous. Captain Davidson on has selected the name already given in this article, Australasia, (south Asia) the southwest division of the Oceanica. As in the cases of the steamships Oceanica and Siberia, Capt. Davidson went a long way after a name, but in so doing he thought he would be able to get one that would be novel, and one that is not likely to be “forged.”

    When George T. Hope, 287 feet long, 40 feet wide and 21-1/2 feet deep, was launched about a year since it was not thought that a boat of larger dimensions could ever be built here, but the success that attended the Hope encouraged her builder, and he straight-way proceeded to the construction of a craft that would eclipse any wooden steam vessel on fresh water in every detail so far as size and carrying capacity is concerned. The hewing and sawing of timber, the steaming and bending of planks, the pounding and riveting of bolts, guided by experienced hands, has formed, modeled, moulded and constructed such a monster, and it is this that is soon to make the water splash at Davidson’s yard.

    The dimensions of the Australasia are as follows:

    Extreme length305
    Length of keel285
    Breadth of beam40
    Depth of hold22
    Depth of lower hold12
    Distance between decks10


    Her keel was laid about November 1, 1883, and since then a crew from 75 to 150 men have been employed upon her.

    Her main keelson 16x16 inches, with assistant keelsons 14x16 inches, making thirteen in all. These immense pieces of oak are thoroughly edge bolted with three bolts of 1-1/4 inch and 1 inch iron into every frame. There are five strakes of bilge keelsons on each side, three at the turn of the bilge llx10 inches and two 9x10 inches. The ceiling is 7 inches in thickness from the bilge to the clamp strakes, all edge bolted between every frame. There are four strakes of clamps 8 inches thick by 12 inches wide, all bent out 2 inches and notched into the frames.

    The lower deck beams are 3x12 inches; upper deck beams 8x12 inches. The lower shelf pieces are 5 inches thick and 36 inches wide, with a tamarack knee 8 inches in thickness under each beam of the upper and lower decks. The planking is 6 inches in thickness, all edge bolted with two bolts through each plank on the outside and fore locked on the ceiling on the inside. Each of the bilge keelsons have 4 bolts of ½ inch iron through each frame. The frames are moulded 17 inches at the throat, 15 inches at the bilge and 7 inches on top. The boat has a double stern post 20x124 inches.


    The “skeleton” of the boat, so to speak, is enclosed in a complete network of iron bands, which the planking hides from view. It is used in the construction of such mammoth craft for the purpose of imparting strength, as can be imagined. A belt or girt of iron 10 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick extends from the stem to stern on the outside near the top of frames and on the inside is another band of the same dimensions. To this the outside cord is thoroughly riveted. To the latter are riveted straps 5 inches wide and ½ inch thick, which take a diagonal course to the turn of the bilge where they take hold of the long floor timbers. These diagonal straps commence at every opening of frame, cross twice, and are firmly riveted at each crossing.


    The Australasia has probably the largest engine on the lakes. It is a duplicate of the Hope’s and Siberia’s with the exception that it is of larger dimensions. It is a fore-and-aft compound, the high pressure cylinder being 30 inches bore and 45 inch stroke; the lower pressure 54 inch bore with same stroke. It was the production of the King iron works of Buffalo and is now in place ready for operation.

    The boilers are made of Otis steel. They are two in number, 8 feet shell and 27 feel long, made by Riter Bros. of Buffalo. They rest on the lower deck.

    The shaft is 11 inches in diameter; the wheel 12-1/2 feet in diameter with 14 feet load.

    She has one of the Providence steam windlasses, made by the American windlass company. It is the same as used on ocean steamships, and is one of the most improved pattern. The pawl, etc., are all one heavy iron band plate combining strength and neatness. All capstans are on deck and are to be worked by steam.

    There is a strong hoisting engine on deck for raising sails, freight and for doing general heavy lifting.

    The two anchors, are of the Boston patent make, each weighing about 3,000 pounds. They are furnished with Sterling chain 1-3/4 and 1-1/8 inch in diameter.


    The upper works resemble those of the Hope. The pilot house, captain’s and officers’ quarters are forward; the crew’s between decks aft, and the engineer’s, steward’s aft. They are all large and commodious, conveniently arranged and handsomely furnished.


    The net tonnage of the boat is being figured upon now by the government officer. Her carrying capacity is estimated at 3,000 net tons, 100,000 bushels of corn, or 2,000,000 feet of lumber.


    The cost of the Australasia was between $140,000 and $150,000.

    No appointments of officers have yet been made. Capt. Davidson will command the craft on her first two trips.

    The hull of the craft is painted in light green.

    There are three spars, with wire rigging and steel wire lifts.

    The monster is destined for the iron ore and grain trade. Her maiden trip will be from Bay City with salt for Duluth or Chicago.

    In her construction 1,500,000 feet of oak timber and 300,000 feet of pine were consumed.

    She presents a very handsome appearance from the river side. Passengers on river steamers are loud in their expression of astonishment regarding her size.

    Related Notes & Pages
    Capt. Davison History.
    Capt. {James Davidson}

    Click to view large image.

    The steamer Australasia coast the $140,000 and was the largest afloat on the lakes at the time. On October 17, 1896, the ship caught on fire and was totally destroyed while traversing Whitefish Bay in Lake Michigan. It was about 7 miles from shore and Captain Robert Pringle and his crew were able to escape in the ship's yawlboat.

    Davidson Shipyard
    People Referenced
    Davidson, James Capt.
    Subjects Referenced
    American windlass co.
    Australasia steamship
    Bay City
    Boston patent
    Buffalo, NY
    Chicago, IL
    Chicago Times paper
    Davidson shipyard
    Duluth, MN
    Geo. T. Hope ship
    Great Mastera
    Lake Levathan ship
    Oceanica ship
    Otis steel
    Providence steam windlasses
    Riter Bros.
    Siberia ship
    Sterling chain
    Waldo & Crane's yard
    Other News On Same Page
    City Treasurer's Office.
    Bay City, Aug. 20, 1884.

    Take notice that the city tax roll of Bay City for the year 1884 is now in the hands of the treasurer of said city, that a tax assessed thereon against you is now due; that if said tax is not paid on or before the 30th day of September instant, interest will be added at the rate of one per cent. a month or fraction of a month thereafter ensuing before the payment of said tax.
    Yours respectfully,
    CHAS. BABO, Treasurer
    Political Notes.

    John Gorman is after the democratic nomination for sheriff.

    August Kaiser is said to be willing to take a share of the democratic load on his shoulders and doesn't mind if the democracy ties the nomination of treasurer to him.

    George Washington positively refuses to accept any nomination this fall. He is engaged in mercantile business and political honors, of which he thinks he has had his share, are far from his mind.

    The congressional fight on the domocratic side of the house is beginning to wax warm. Maxwell is close upon Fisher's heels and is leaving no stone unturned to secure the Bay county delegation. He is working quietly but when the convention meets Fisher will find that Andrew has not been laying around loose for nothing.
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.