Alma’s historic model ship to be given a new lease on life

Alma’s historic model ship to be given a new lease on life
Brendan Rees

A century-old piece of priceless treasure that was used to help build the tall ship, the Alma Doepel, will be restored to its former glory.

The Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS) announced it would provide a $6420 grant for the Alma Doepel Museum to help conserve the original display plans and a model of 1903 topsail schooner Alma Doepel.

With 30 project applications requesting more than $271,814 in funding and five internship applications, the Alma Doepel Museum made the final selection of 23 projects.

The wooden model of the ship, which is a carving of the hull and about the length of an arm, was used during the construction of the Alma 119 years ago.

Alma Doepel restoration director Dr Peter Harris and his team said they were excited by the news, in which he described the artefact as “the foundation document of our museum display.”

“It’s amazing that is survived, one of the Doepels that gave it to us said he remembers playing with the model in the sandpit at his grandparents’ house,” he said.

Dr Harris said the plan consisted of a large sheet of paper which had “been tossed around various families and back rooms for many years and was almost certainly hung up in a frame when they were building the ship.”

The actual ship was built on the banks of the Bellinger River on the North Coast of NSW in 1903 by trader, boat builder and shipping entrepreneur Frederik Doepel using local timber.

Although the Alma’s history is well documented, no building plans for the ship were found until 2019 when the great-great-grandson of Frederik Doepel, Paul Webb, discovered, while sorting through family papers for his grandmother, the original plans and later versions, as well as a builders half model of the ship.

Professionally conserved and presented, the plans and half model will be the centrepiece of the recently created Alma Doepel Museum in Docklands.

At this stage, the plans, which includes a third set from the 1980s for the preparation of the first refit of the ship after it ceased active trading, are being professionally conserved and are due back in April.

The funding comes as the Alma undergoes a mammoth restoration – with the vessel having returned to the water late last year.

However, the team needs another $1.5 million to complete the whole restoration having raised $3.5 million during the past decade.

Dr Harris said the team also checked the way it had restored the ship against the original wooden model to “make sure it fits the plan”.

“The deck project is progressing well with deck beams in place and faired to shape prior to laying the composite plywood and fibreglass sub-deck to be followed by the top layer of Queensland white beech recovered from the previous deck,” he said.


Volunteers are busy lining the master’s cabin aft, and the chain locker forward.


Dr Harris said his team was grateful for the funding as maritime history was an important part of our national story.

Tanya Bush, interim director and CEO of MMAPSS, said, “Museums and historical organisations play a key role in preserving and sharing Australia’s maritime heritage.”

“Through these grants, we are supporting communities throughout the nation to ensure that significant objects are preserved, along with their important regional stories, which are such a valuable part of our collective maritime history.” •

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