Inconstant (ship)

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Career (Canada) Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: Inconstant
Owner: T.D. Archibald
Port of registry: Sydney, Nova Scotia
Official No. 9012761
Builder: George Olds, Big Bras d'Or, Nova Scotia
Launched: 1848
Maiden voyage: Sydney, Nova Scotia to London, England, 1848
General characteristics
Tonnage: 601 gross tons
Length: 121.8 ft (37.1 m)
Beam: 27.4 ft (8.35 m)
Depth: 23.4 ft (7.1 m)
Decks: 2
Propulsion: Sail
Sail plan: full rigged ship
Crew: 33

Inconstant was a wooden full-rigged sailing ship built in 1848 at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and which later played an important role in the development of Wellington, New Zealand known as "Plimmer's Ark". The ship's hull remains in Wellington today as an important archaeological site.

Built by George Olds at Big Bras d'Or, Nova Scotia Inconstant was the one of largest wooden ship ever built in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and the largest ship built by Olds, a shipbuilder who started with schooners before focusing mainly on brigs. The ship was sold to owners in London, England and made a voyage to Australia carrying immigrants. On a subsequent Australian voyage, she was wrecked at Wellington, New Zealand in 1851 when she put in for water and ran aground.

After the ship was deemed too badly damaged to sail again, the hull was purchased by John Plimmer, an entrepreneur later known as "the Father of Wellington". The hull was converted to a prominent wharf on the Wellington waterfront where it became known as "Plimmer's Ark". Linked to the shore by a bridge the ship served as one of the first piers in Wellington with the interior serving as a warehouse and auction room. It also served as a bonded customs store, immigration pier and office for the first Wellington harbourmaster. A light mounted at the seaward side of the ship became the first harbour light in Wellington.[1]

The hull later became a ship chandlery and gradually became landlocked between 1857 and 1860 as the Wellington waterfront was expanded. Inconstant became surrounded by Lambton Quay, Customhouse Quay and Willis Street in a wedge shaped piece of land. The upper works were demolished in 1883 and the lower hull disappeared under the first Bank of New Zealand. In the late 1990s when a new commercial development was built on the bank site, the remains of the hull were discovered and excavated by archaeoloists. The lower bilges of the ship were found, running 38 metres (125 ft) from bow to stern. Several important early Canadian shipbuilding features were documented including the use of birch for main ship timbers some of which still bore layers of birchbark. The bow of the hull was preserved under glass and displayed with various associated artifacts in the arcade of the new development.


  1. Leigh Sutton, "Grant Preserving piece of city and world maritime history", Lottery Grants Update, Issue 46, June 1999, p. 2

John Parker, Cape Breton Ships and Men, (London: Hazell Watson & Viney, 1967) p. 75, p. 178.

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