The Grain Trade: Windjammers and Cape Horners

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Date range: 
19th century to 1950
Port Adelaide,
South Australia,
Aland Islands,
Yorke Peninsula,
Cape Horn

In the early 20th century, only a few trade routes remained viable for the world’s big sailing vessels. The Australian grain trade was one and it was on this route that Finnish ship-owner Gustaf Erikson made his name. He invested in second-hand barques or ‘windjammers’ and eventually became the owner of the world’s last fleet of commercial sailing ships. The voyages from South Australian wheat ports on the Yorke Peninsula to Europe received much media coverage. In Britain, people bet on which ship would make the fastest voyage of the year, coining the expression ‘Grain Races’. The windjammers Passat and Pamir left South Australia’s Port Victoria on 28 May 1949 loaded with grain for Europe. They were the last commercial sailing ships to ply one of the world’s longest trade routes.


This collection includes a diversity of objects and images linked to the last windjammers and those who crewed them including personal papers and memorabilia, diaries, sailors’ crafts, ship portraits, and ship models. The museum holds original photographs documenting life on board Pamir and Passat during the last great grain race in 1949. Cape Horn, at the tip of South America was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around the Cape are particularly treacherous owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors' graveyard. The International Association of Cape Horners was established for sailors who have rounded Cape Horn as part of a non-stop passage under sail of at least 3000 nautical miles. The collection also includes memorabilia from now South Australian Cape Horner’s associations (now redundant) including Cape Horners’ uniforms, penants, badges, publications, film footage and voyage souvenirs. 

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