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All aboard the S.S. ‘Indarra’: The Travelling Trunk of Mother Cecilia Cunningham

Adelaide Trunk S.S. Indarra


In the Mile End archives in South Australia, one of our prized heritage objects is the travelling trunk of Mother Mary Cecilia Cunningham whose family inheritance allowed for much expansion of the Adelaide congregation. What makes the trunk especially significant is the label still attached to its side that gives the port of departure; Tilbury and the “Orient Line” and S.S. Indarra as the vessel.  Mother Mary Cecilia Cunningham’s name is also hand written in ink on the label. The Port of Tilbury lies on the north shore of the River Thames, 25 miles (40 km) downstream of London Bridge, at a point where the river makes a loop southwards. In 1882, an Act of Parliament allowed the construction of the docks at Tilbury; work began a fortnight later, and the first vessel to enter the docks was on 17 April 1886.[1]


S.S. Indarra


In 1912 Mother Clare Murphy and Mother Cecilia Cunningham travelled to Argentina and did not return until early 1920 [2]. This would seem to fit nicely the timeline of the S.S. Indarra becoming a short lived part of the Orient Line and hence the attached “Orient Line”  label on the trunk. The S.S. Indarra had had a varied career on the sea since 1913 having been first used on the coast of Australia, sailing between Fremantle and Brisbane.


After the armistice she [S.S. Indarra] was used to repatriate British soldiers from India and other areas and in July of 1918 embarked Australian troops and carried them home. The liner was returned to the AUSN on 24th September but because of the uncertain state of the coastal trade at that time they decided against returning her to her former service. She was then chartered to the Orient Line [until 1923] but she was proved to be too slow and unreliable.”[3]


Adelaide Trunk S.S. Indarra


The trunk is still in remarkable condition and reminds us of a time when sea voyages for mercy mission were long. Mother Cecilia Cunningham died in her 88th year. “Always the dignified, courteous, accomplished lady, as well as meek, humble and self-forgotten Religious. She had a most loving heart, and was particularly distinguished by her benignity and generosity of nature. [4]



[2] McLay, A, Women on the Move, 1996, p.101


[4] McLay, A, Women on the Move, 1996, p.107


Photograph acknowledgment of S.S. Indarra from


Messages to: Annie Medley, Cultural Collections Curator


Mothers Clare Murphy, Cecilia Cunningham, and Claver Kenny, Adelaide