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Advertisment for W M Ford, from 1951 Seacraft magazine.

WM Ford Boatbuilders

W M Ford Boat Builders

Over almost a 90 year period, Walter McFarlane Ford, senior and junior, ran the firm W M Ford Boat Builders that produced some of the finest craft on Sydney Harbour


W M Ford Snr was born at Millers Point, The Rocks, and Sydney in 1841. He served his time at Piles shipbuilding yard, and in 1870 he took over that yard on Millers Point. In 1874 Ford moved from Millers Point to Berry's Bay in North Sydney where the firm remained. In the mid 1880s his second son Walter Jnr (born 1870) became part of the firm and in 1892 Walter Snr handed over the firm to Walter Jnr. By this time Walter Snr also had a plantation at Thursday Island and ownership of a pearling lugger.

Known as honest builders, the yard was often referred to as 'Wattie Ford's'. Father and son both died in late 1934. Walter senior had lived to 93, but Walter junior, who at 64 was still active as a builder, suffered fatal complications from an appendix operation shortly after his father's death. Watty jnr left the yard in his will to his brother Arthur (‘Podge’), who died in 1950.The yard then remained in operation under the ownership of Isabella Newman (Ford junior's niece) until she died in 1958. Her sister Lillian Mabey wound up the business in 1962.

Berry's Bay still remains a home to boat yards. At the bottom of John St, McMahon's Point near the old Ford site is the current premises of Noakes Boat and Shipyards, while opposite, near Balls Head, was until recnetly Woodleys' yard another long standing business that closed around 2011.

Significant vessels and other projects:

Ford's first contract was for a vehicular ferry punt. He also built luggers and steamers, and refitted the HMS GALATEA. When a smallpox emergency broke out in the early 1870s Ford was given the contract to construct the quarantine station buildings at North Head. The contract stipulated that the timber be disinfected by being towed submersed to North Head.

At Berry's Bay he built the paddle steamer ferries ST LEONARDS, VICTORIA and WARRANE, vessels for CSR, and commenced yacht construction as well. Many of these became well known, including the SIROCCO and SAO in the early 1880s.Then followed a number of vessels designed by Walter Reeks including ELECTRA, ISEA, JESS, BETTINA, and MAISIE. Ford also built a number of signal and radio masts for local use and around the Pacific islands.

Walter Ford Jnr continued the high quality work the firm was known for and built the yachts AWANUI, WHITE WINGS, CULLWULLA II, (later modified by Reeks and called RAWHITI II, then TOOGOOLOOWOO), VALENCIA, CAPELLA, HURRICA V, EP Simpson's schooner MISTRAL II and the motor launches REVONAH, LOTUS I AND LOTUS II .The classic Edwardian steam yachts ENA and LADY HOPETOUN, both designed by Reeks, were built by Ford in the early 1900s. Famous names of the period such as Hordern, Elliott, Albert and Dibbs were listed amongst the clients, and Ford built yachts designed by Reeks, Fife, Mylne and Nicholson, the latter three from the UK.

Some of the first motor launches built in Sydney, such as Mark Foy's MARIONETTE and C.E. Relph's INVINCIBLE came from Ford's yard. He also built the James Scott designed ferry KULGOA and other ferries for Sydney Harbour along with schooners and ketches for island trading, missionary ships, colliers, pilot craft and around 500 flat bottomed phosphate vessels for Nauru and other Pacific Ocean islands. Ford was prominent in Sydney Harbour skiff racing as owner of several 18-foot skiffs named AUSTRALIAN, from about 1905 to about 1917, and one called GOLDING. All were helmed by Chris Webb.

Australian Coal Shipping, Steel and the Harbour, July 1922
The Australian Motor Boat and Yachting Monthly, December 1934
The Open Boat, December 1934
The International Power Boat and Aquatic Monthly, January 1935
Letter from Brian Mabey to Rae Fidock. July 1993. Private collection
Elliott, Robin 2006, unpublished research into 18-Foot Skiff Class
Hall, Lianne 1997, Down the Bay, North Sydney Council