Opened in 1990 in the two-room former District Council Offices on Meylin Street, the museum moved into a new purpose-built complex across the road offering over four times larger display area at the end of 2011, sharing the space with the public library and a temporary exhibition gallery. The new museum space was officially launched in May 2012.
The museum documents Port MacDonnell’s important role as an historic trading port and displays poignant stories, photographs and artifacts relating to the 30 ill-fated ships that foundered on that rugged stretch of local coastline, including five vessels that left the port never to be seen again. Exhibits include ship logs, diaries, communication equipment and timbers from numerous shipwrecks. Its most significant collection is that connected to the famous shipwreck of the SS Admella, one of Australia’s worst maritime disasters in history, in which 89 lives were lost. This includes the salvaged ship’s bell and signal cannon as well as a professional model of the historic steamer, which crashed into an off-coast reef on 6 August 1859. Stories are also included about the early industries that made the town the second largest trading port in South Australia. Learn about the crayfishing industry and how Port MacDonnell became Australia's Southern Rock Lobster Capital.
Visitors to the museum may also choose to follow a self-drive touring route within 130 km radius of Mount Gambier which emotively recounts the tale of the Admella. The 21 maritime-themed interpretive trail markers were set up for the 150th anniversary of the shipwreck in August 2009.