Although the main claim to fame for the ILLAWARRA was the fact that she was one of Davitt & Moore’s cadet ships, she did not start out her life this way. For twenty years before she became a school ship she voyaged regularly to Sydney in Devitt and Moore’s service. She was built by Dobie & Co., of Glasgow and launched in October, 1881. Her measurements were: length, 269 feet 1 inch; breadth, 40 feet 6 inches; depth, 24 feet. She registered 1,887 tons. Her poop was 54 feet long and she was designed to carry passengers but also to be able to handle any kind of cargo as well. Specifically, she was s first-class iron cargo carrier. She was a very useful type, up to date in every way, with medium lines, easily capable of a 300-mile run in the “roaring forties”, but slow , compared with the clippers, in light and moderate winds. Her sail plan was correspondingly moderate with double topgallant yards and nothing above the royals.

Command of the ship was given to veteran Captain David B. Corvassso. He was a splendid seaman with a very strong personality. He ruled his passengers as he did his crew, with more than a touch of the martinet. An example of this is when he had ninety single women and a few married couples as emigrants aboard the Dunbar Castle. The women decided to mutiny. These girls chased their matron and the ship’s doctor out of their quarters with much screaming and yelling, threats, and exhibitions of muscular arms and legs. Captain Corvasso came forward to see what the problem was and was met at the foot of the women’s companion by a sturdy North Country lass, who was stripped to the waist for battle and, shaking a huge fist in the martinet’s face, dared him to advance. Captain Corvasso immediately ordered the hose-pipe to be screwed on to the force-pump. This method of quelling a mutiny was too much for even the most courageous of the rebellious maidens; they very quickly quieted down, and went to their bunks without further trouble.

Captain Corvasso commanded the ILLAWARRA throughout the ‘eighties. Her first voyage she left Liverpool on January 12th, 1882, had a lengthy passage to the Line, and reached Sydney on April 29th, 107 days out. He then loaded coal at Sydney for San Francisco, and proceeded to make the run across the Pacific in the splendid time of 51 days. She then left San Francisco with a cargo of wheat and barley for Grimsby.

Her second voyage to Sydney resulted in a much better time of only 86 days. She then again crossed to San Francisco - this time in 61 days - and again sailed for the Lizard with a full cargo from California reaching he destination in 129 days. This was the last time she did this. On her third and subsequent voyages she left the Colonies for home with either wool or wheat; the first time she loaded wool she made the very good time of 86 days to the Start. Between 1884 to 1899 15 voyages were made in the Sydney trade, out with general and home with a wool cargo. Her best outward run was 85 days. Her best homeward run was 83 days. These runs were good, steady work but nothing really exceptional - for an iron ship they were very good, however. Captain Corvasso was succeeded by Captain Smith in the ‘nineties.

In 1899 the ILLAWARRA was chosen as the most suitable ship to become a cadet-training ship. Captain Harwood Barrett was chosen as the new captain, but he died at sea on his first voyage while outward bound for Melbourne. Captain Maitland was ordered to take command. Since he was just married, he took his wife out with him and brought her back home in the ILLAWARRA. He commanded the ship of the next seven years.

The cadet system which was used by Devitt & Moore was very expensive but also very good. The cadets themselves lived in luxury, compared with the ordinary sailing-ship apprentice. They were also taught their profession by picked instructors, with the added advantage of usually a start as junior officer in one of the first-class passenger lines as soon as they had passed their second mate’s examination. The boys were divided into two watches, each of two divisions. During the day one division kept the deck, doing all the ordinary ship’s work with the seamen, while the other division attended classes below for navigation, seamanship and nautical astronomy under the instructor.

During her years as a cadet ship the ILLAWARRA was diverted from the Sydney run to that of Melbourne. On her first passage to Hobson’s Bay she went from Brixham to Melbourne in 83 days. In 1900 she left London and reached Port Phillip Heads 85 days out. Since she was a cadet ship she was very well manned and always made good passages although they did not push it - her best days run in 1900 was only 301 miles.

In 1907 the ILLAWARRA was retired and sold to the Norwegian’s. She loaded wood at Christiania and a deck cargo of deals. Under Captain J. Jobson she made the run to Melbourne in 104 days. The end of this fine old ship came three years later. On February 12th, 1912, she left Leith for Valparaiso. On the way she met with disaster off the Old Head of Kinsale on March 7th and was in a sinking condition, leaking after a violent storm. Her crew was rescued by a British steamer, Bangore Head. Although the report does not say so, it is assumed that she sank off this rugged Irish coast.