News from 1869 Wreck of Victoria Tower

Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
The Argus, Melbourne, 18 October 1869
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,

The startling and altogether unexpected intelligence that the fine new iron
clipper ship Victoria Tower, of the White Star line, which has been daily
expected here from Liverpool, had gone ashore to the westward of Barwon
Heads, on Saturday night, was received in town by telegram from Geelong,
about noon yesterday. This magnificent vessel was built expressly for the
Australian trade by Messrs. R. and J. Evans, of Brunswick Dock, Liverpool,
for Messrs. T. H. Ismay and Co. She was of 1,750 tons builders' measurement,
and 1,550 tons register, and save that she had finer lines, she was in
almost all respects a sister ship to the large iron clipper Hoghton Tower,
at present in port. She was classed AA1 at Lloyd's, with special
mark, and her outfit and finish in every detail were of the highest and most
elaborate character. In order further that the ship should be complete in
men as well as material, the services of Captain John Kerr, who had for
years successfully commanded the large clipper ship White Star, were secured
for the Victoria Tower, and a long and prosperous career was anticipated for
her. This warrantable expectation, however, has probably been frustrated by
the catastrophe of Saturday evening.

The telegrams first to hand containing the news were from Geelong, and
stated that the ship Victoria Tower, 85 days out, from Liverpool, and with
40 passengers, had gone ashore on Saturday night, at Bream Creek, near
Barwon Heads; that the masts were gone, and that the vessel was expected to
break up. Later accounts stated that the passengers were still on board, and
that only six of the crew had landed. A special messenger was despatched by
Mr. Noble, of Bream Creek, to Geelong, for assistance; and a special
messenger was also sent to Queenscliff for the rocket and mortar apparatus,
which were forwarded overland with all despatch. The harbour-master of
Geelong, with Mr. Lane (of the Customs) and Mr. A. B. White, at once started
for the scene of the wreck, and were accompanied by Captain Williams, of the
ship Lanarkshire, and others, who hurried to render assistance to whatever
extent they might be able. On the news being received by the Harbour
department, in Williamstown, the utmost activity was manifested by Captain
Fullarton, and the secretary, Mr. W. Collins Rees, who lost no time in
communicating the circumstances to the Chief Secretary and the Commissioner
of Customs. Messrs. Norton, Graham, and Co.'s steam-tug Resolute, which
seems to be always handy in such emergencies, was at once engaged, and
after taking on board rocket apparatus and other appliances for the rescue
of shipwrecked people, the Resolute, with Captain Fullarton and two men of
the harbour boat's crew, started for Queenscliff, where she was to take the
life-boat in tow, and proceed at once to the wreck.

The latest telegrams from Geelong state that the ship had stranded between
midnight and 1 o'clock yesterday morning, about one mile and a half S.W. of
Bream Creek, near Barwon Heads, and about half a mile from where the ship
Earl Charlemont was wrecked some years ago. She was reported as being
broadside on, about 400 yards from the beach, which was sandy, and the sea
was breaking over her. The foremast was gone, and it was believed that her
back was broken from the mainmast having gone right through her. When the
ship struck, the safety of the passengers and crew became a paramount
consideration, and the sea, which had been high, having subsided, they were
all landed in two of the ship's boats, about 3 o'clock in the morning. The
disaster is alleged to be attributable to the foggy weather, Captain Kerr
having been unable to take an observation during the whole of Saturday, and
to the fact that the ship's compasses, four in number, were out of order.
The agents at this port for the ship, Messrs. Lorimer, Marwood, and Rome,
telegraphed instructions to Geelong that everything was to be done for the
welfare of the passengers and crew, who are all expected to arrive in town
to-day by train. It may also be stated here, that the hon. the Commissioner
of Customs, on hearing of the disaster, with commendable promptitude, gave
orders for the Government s.s. Pharos to proceed immediately to the spot.
This step, however, was rendered unnecessary, when it was known that the
passengers and crew had been safely landed. On the occurrence being heard of
in Geelong a number of persons proceeded at once to the scene of the wreck,
taking with them provisions and other necessaries for passengers and crew.
The Victoria Tower sailed from Liverpool on July 23, with about 2,400 tons
of cargo, consisting chiefly of iron pipes, bottled beer, hardware, salt,
slates, &c. The vessel herself cost some £25,000, and the value of her cargo
is also something considerable.

The following is her list of passengers: Saloon---Mr. and Mrs. Ledbetter;
Misses Maggie, Amy, and Ida Ledbetter; Mr., Mrs., and Miss Benning; Messrs.
F. W. Whiteley, W. Fleming, W. Wirdman, and C. Lloyd. Second Cabin---Miss
Julia Brown, Messrs. Geo. Davenport, Jonas Horsfall, Joseph Blair, and P. F.
Griffin, Steerage---J. Rasmussen, W. Grainger, Ellis Hamer, F. Korber, Wm. and
Mary Earsman, Thos. French, J. Hoban, G. Walker, H. S. Carter, Henry and
Mary Higginbottom, Jas. Johnson, Wm. Hinchley, and Mary Holme.

Appended is the manifest of the cargo of the Victoria Tower:---

[Not transcribed due to length.]


Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
The Argus, Melbourne, 18 October 1869
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,

The intelligence in yesterday's publication relative to the wreck of the
clipper ship Victoria Tower, on her passage from Liverpool, contained the
main facts of the disaster, and but little more concerning the details need
be recorded until the official investigation into the cause of the loss of
the ship is held. Statements more or less conflicting and conjectural
relative to the occurrence are sure to be in plentiful circulation, and can
only be confirmed or disproved when the matter comes before the Steam
Navigation Board. The commander of the ill-fated ship, Captain John Kerr,
arrived in town yesterday forenoon from Geelong, and the following further
particulars with regard to the vessel, the voyage out, and its tragic
termination, have been supplied by him. Captain Kerr reports that the
Victoria Tower left the Mersey on July 24, and passed Tuscar on July 26.
Light contrary winds were experienced to the Equator, which was crossed on
the 29th day out. In the latitude of the S.E trades the winds were well from
the southward, and the ship was close to the Brazilian coast. Very
tempestuous and unsettled weather prevailed afterwards, until passing
Kerguelen, where a number of icebergs were seen. From the meridian of Cape
Leuwin light N.E. winds continued until abreast of Cape Northumberland,
which was passed at noon on Thursday last, and the wind then freshened into
a strong breeze from the S.W. Land was made on Friday, and the ship passed
Cape Otway at 6 p.m. on Saturday, and soon afterwards sail was shortened,
and the ship ran down under easy canvas until half-past 9 p.m. The weather
was stormy and squally, and the haze increased in density as the night
advanced. At this time blue-lights were burned, and rockets sent up every 10
minutes, but at 10 o'clock, the signals not having been answered, Captain
Kerr close hauled the ship on the starboard tack, and stood towards Cape
Schanck. [Sic.] At half-past 11 p.m., judging the vessel to be near enough
to Cape Schank, [sic] he called all hands and wore ship on the port tack,
and stood out west, the weather gradually becoming thicker and dirtier, and
the wind increasing to a gale. Fully an hour afterwards she took the ground,
about a mile and a half S.W. of Bream Creek. On the ship striking, both
anchors were lot go, and orders were given to get out the starboard lifeboat
with the second mate and four hands in it, to be in readiness to take the
women and children on shore. Almost as soon as the lifeboat was lowered the
foremast went by the board, smashing the pinnace and cutter as it fell, and
to escape a similar fate the lifeboat that was in the water had to put off
from the ship. Several attempts to regain the ship were made by the
lifeboat's crew, but they proved altogether ineffectual. The wind was still
blowing a heavy gale, and soon afterwards the maintopgallantmast and mizen
topmast were carried away, the ship all the while rolling and striking
heavily. The women passengers were then ordered into the saloon, and the
crew proceeded to get the starboard lifeboat aft on to the poop, when it was
placed on the skylight and the lee pooprail, and, with a long painter
attached, it was safely launched and hauled up under the lee of the vessel.
The boat, with the third officer and four of the crew in it, was kept for
the women and children in place of the one which had to leave the ship.
Although the ship was still striking heavily, there was no immediate danger
to life apprehended, and the passengers, with wonderful equanimity, remained
quietly in the cabin until daylight. As soon as it was clear enough to make
out a safe landing-place the women and children got into the lifeboat, which
was placed in charge of Captain Liddbetter, one of the saloon passengers,
who proved himself of great service. The bulwarks of the ship were now level
with the water. After getting the women and children safely in the boat, a
line was passed to it to be made fast on shore, so that the boat might be
hauled backwards and forward; but on getting into the surf the boat filled,
and as it was found impossible to drag the line along, Captain Liddbetter
had to cut it away. The women and children were, however, landed in safety.
During the next six hours all attempts to launch either of the boats from
off the beach were unsuccessful, although both boats' crews, and a number of
bystanders who had collected, tried their utmost. In the meantime Captain
Kerr and the crew had constructed a raft of size sufficient to hold all who
were left on board, and after testing it and finding it reliable, they got
on board ship again, keeping it fast to leeward. Captain Kerr had the raft
made with a view to the saving of life, lest the ship should break up before
assistance was rendered from on shore. The lifeboats, after the weather had
moderated, put off to the ship, and at 3 p.m. the whole of the passengers
and crew, and Captain Kerr and his officers, were safely conveyed to land.
Of the behaviour of passengers and crew during the trying emergency, Captain
Kerr speaks most feelingly.

The agents of the ship, Messrs. Lorimer, Marwood, and Rome, have not abated
the activity and zeal manifested by them on Sunday for the welfare of the
passengers. Acting on their instructions, Messrs. Holmes, White, and Co., of
Geelong, despatched coaches to the scene of the wreck yesterday, to convey
the shipwrecked people to Geelong, from whence they would reach Melbourne
by train. About one-half the number availed themselves of this opportunity,
and reached Melbourne at a quarter to 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon. The
women, some of them, were accommodated at the Government Immigration Depot,
where preparation for their reception had been made by Mr. L. A. Moody and
Mrs. Connor, the matron. The crew was sent to the Sailors' Home, and the
passengers were distributed over various hotels and boardinghouses, by
direction and at the expense of the agents. The steamer Resolute, which left
the bay on Sunday afternoon with a quantity of material from the Government
dockyard, arrived at Queenscliff towards dark, and Captain Fullarton found
the lifeboat ready manned, but, as it so happened, its services were not
needed. Yesterday morning the Resolute arrived at the wreck, and was
followed by the Titan, another of Messrs. Norton, Graham, and Co.'s steam
tugs. The Titan went alongside the ship, to which a number of the passengers
and crew had returned. All the saloon passengers' luggage, together with the
greater portion of the cabin fittings, barometers, cushions, plate,
crockery, shelves, trays, &c , and a piano and harmonium, were placed on
board the Titan, and the remainder of the passengers and crew, with their
effects, returned with her to Melbourne, where she arrived last night. The
property recovered was sufficient to fill three trucks. The passengers and
crew who came up in her were accommodated similarly to those who had arrived
by train earlier in the day. The ship lies in three fathoms water, and
although opinions vary as to her ultimate fate, it is generally believed
that there is very little hope of saving her. Should the weather keep
moderate, however, there is every reason to believe that the bulk of her
cargo will be recovered. To this end Messrs. Lorimer, Marwood, and Rome have
taken prompt and energetic action, and completed arrangements yesterday for
the immediate discharge of cargo. The work has been undertaken by Mr. J. K.
Collins, stevedore, and the lighter Salsette, in tow of the Titan, with a
double gang of men, left the bay last night, and are expected to be hard at
work this morning. The agents have also determined to make ample and
effective arrangements for the comfort and safety of those working at the
wreck, in order that there may be no loss of life or limb. The action taken
by the agents with regard to the wreck has been cordially approved of by the
underwriters here. With regard to Captain Kerr, the commander of the
Victoria Tower, there has been but one expression, that of profound
sympathy. He has been long and favourably known in this port, and during his
career in the Australian trade he has gained the esteem and respect of all
grades of passengers, from the highest to the humblest. Amongst his brother
shipmasters he is also regarded with great favour. Great sympathy is also
expressed for Mrs. Kerr, who accompanied Captain Kerr on this voyage, but
whose name did not appear in the list in yesterday's paper. Although but ill
fitted in her present critical condition of health to undergo such peril and
anxiety, she endured the trial most unflinchingly, and did her utmost to
second the exertions of Captain Kerr and those who worked so ably and nobly
with him.


Simon Koncz

Oct 10, 2010
An iron clipper ship! Fascinating. I visualise a smaller version of HMS Warrior.
Are there any photos of her extant?

Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
Are there any photos of her extant?

All I know, Simon, is that there are no illustrations with any of the contemporary news articles I've seen, which isn't unusual for 1869.

Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
The Argus, Melbourne, 28 October 1869
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,

An inquiry was commenced on Tuesday, by the Steam Navigation Board, into the
circumstances which led to the loss of the ship Victoria Tower, on the 17th
instant, outside Port Phillip Heads. The members of the board in attendance
were Captain Payne, R.N. (chairman), Captain Fullarton, Mr. Stephens, and
Mr. Sutherland.

Before the inquiry took place, a meeting of the board was held, and the
following minute of their proceedings was handed to us for publication:---"The
secretary reported the appointment of Captain Payne as member of the
board. Moved by Mr. Stephen and seconded by Mr. Sutherland, that Captain
Payne be appointed chairman of the board. Captain Fullarton objected to the
motion, on the ground that, Captain Devlin having for a long time occupied
the chair, he should continue as chairman. In the next place, as he (Captain
Fullarton) being the next senior member, is slighted by not being nominated
to the chair if Captain Devlin is not elected. Captain Payne informed the
board that he accepted the chairmanship on public grounds, and not for any
personal motive whatever. Captain Fullarton intimated that he had another
objection to raise, and that was, that the board had no legal right to
appoint a permanent chairman, and if Captain Payne were appointed, it
could only be for this meeting. Captain Devlin then retired."

The following evidence was then called, Mr. Lorimer (of Lorimer, Marwood,
and Rome, the ship's agents), and Captain Kerr of the Victoria Tower, being

David Rowland, chief officer of the Victoria Tower, said.---I hold a
master's certificate. The ship was lost on the morning of Sunday, the 17th.
We made what I reckoned to be the Otway at 5 p.m on Saturday. The wind was
S.W., and we were steering N.E. by N. by the standard compass. I went below
at 6, and came on deck again at 12 (midnight). The orders given to me were
to stand on W. 1/2 S. for thirty minutes, and then lower down the
foretopsail and back the maintopsail. I called the boatswain up to the
bridge, and repeated the orders to him respecting these sails. I then went
below to see what time it was. Before the mainsail was backed the ship took
the ground. I had seen no lights up to that time. We wore ship just before
12. It was very stormy, dirty weather, and hazy. When the captain left me,
which was about 10 minutes before we struck, he told me that Cape Schanck
light was a-head, bearing N.E, of us. A pilot-boat's light was reported
about an hour before I came on deck, but I saw no light whatever. When we
felt the ship was aground, we tried to wear her, but it broke a little
light, and I saw it was no use doing anything. It was then about one
o'clock. We got the lifeboats ready, and we began to land passengers at
daylight; all were landed safely. I have never been to this port before.
When we sighted Cape Otway, it was 10 miles off. We had all sails set, and
were going 13 knots. It was about 20 minutes after I got the orders from the
captain that the ship struck. We got no intimation that we were approaching
the shore until we were aground. Signals were made for a pilot before the
report about the flashlight. The compasses we had worked badly, and the
standard compass was sometimes out as much as forty degrees, deviation and
variation combined. Every day there was a deviation, and we knew the extent
of it. Azimuths were repeatedly taken. The lead was not hove after I came on
deck, because we were pretty sure of our position. We could see half the
length of the ship. I saw no lighthouse upon what I supposed to be Cape

To Captain KERR--.-The report of the flashlight was a sailor's report, and
no dependence could be placed upon it. I am almost sure the captain was on
deck when the ship struck.

Captain DEVLIN here took his seat at the board, remarking that since the
inquiry had commenced he had seen the Commissioner of Trade and Customs,
and, at his request, and after explanations, he again took his seat at the

John Martin, second officer of the Victoria Tower, said.---It was my watch
from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday. About 5 we sighted land that we judged to be
the Otway. It was about two miles off. From 4 to 6 we were steering S.E. by
the standard compass. The wind was blowing a strong gale from S., and the
weather thick, with passing squalls. I saw the Otway lighthouse. The chief
officer came on at 6, and I relieved him again at 8. The ship was then under
shortened sail, and going about 10 knots, and the course was N. by E. We
made the land on the lee beam about 20 minutes past 8. We then hauled the
ship to N.E. by E. (by compass), and the rate of speed was about 11 or 12
knots. At half-past 9 we made Cape Schanck light about two points on the
starboard bow. It was a fixed light, flashing occasionally. We were within
about five miles of the range of the light. I should say it was 15 miles
off. Immediately after seeing the light we rounded to on the starboard tack,
heading to S.E. by E.; rate of speed, about seven knots. We were at
half-past 11 p.m. It was then very thick and showery. I went below at 12,
and at about 10 minutes to 1 the ship struck. The lead was not hove during my
watch; we were preparing to heave it when we saw the light. I did not see
any pilot-boat light. I am sure we did not mistake the pilot-boat light for
Cape Schanck light. When my watch was up, we could see about three ships
lengths off. I have not been at this port before. I did not hear it reported
that a pilot boat was seen. From the time we saw the Cape Schanck light up
to the time we wore ship, we fired rockets and blue lights as signals for a
pilot. I had nothing to do with the navigation of the ship, and merely
obeyed others. During my watch the third mate was on the look-out. (The
witness stated that the compasses worked badly during part of the voyage,
but he did not know that from his own observations. A box compass had to be
shipped when they came down the coast.)

Peter l'Anson, an able seaman on board the Victoria Tower, said.---I had the
lookout on the foreyard from 10 to 12 p.m. on Saturday. I reported a light
at 10 o'clock two points on the starboard bow. Tho ship was on the
starboard tack. The weather was thick and rainy, and the wind blowing hard.
I lost sight of the light about 11. It had been on the starboard bow all the
time. When we saw the light we were hauled on the wind. The yards were
braced up. It was not a revolving but a flash light. (The witness could not
say what time elapsed between the flashes, but was sure that it could not
have been a ship's light.)

To Captain Kerr.---The ship was hove-to on my reporting the light.

Jocelyn Fitzgerald Ruthven, quartermaster on board the Victoria Tower,
said.---I was at the wheel from 8 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, the 16th inst. I
was steering about N.E., partly by compass. The captain was partly conning
the ship. If any alteration was made it was about from half to three
quarters of a point to the northward. No change was made other than this
until the ship was brought to the windward at half-past 9 p.m., heading
S.S.E. The wind was pretty steady. Between 8 and half past 9 I had seen the
land about five miles off. Up to 10 p.m. the ship was heading S.S.E. No cast
of the lead was taken while I was at the wheel. I saw the light that was
reported. It was two or three points on the starboard bow---a fixed and
flash light. The steering compass had not been working well, and could not
be depended upon. The captain was backwards and forwards between the
standard compass and the poop during the whole of the evening. I was
steering by a box compass. No alteration had taken place in the compasses
other than that the magnet had been removed from the steering compass and
replaced again. I am positive it was the Cape Schank light I saw. I saw it
before the ship was brought to wind. I did not notice it sufficiently to
ascertain the length of the intervals between the flashes.

John Foley, quartermaster on board the Victoria Tower, deposed.---I was at
the wheel from 10 to 12 p.m. When I went to the wheel the ship was hove to,
heading S.S.E., and forcing a-head at about two or three knots. The weather
was misty. Could have seen another ship about a mile off. A light was
visible about two points and a half on the starboard bow. It was a fixed and
flash light---not a light from a ship. From 8 to 12 p.m. we fired about five
rockets and as many blue lights. I don't think I could have mistaken the
light for a pilot-boat's light. The ship was wore at 12, and it took about a
quarter of an hour to wear. She was then under topsails and foresails, and
the jibs were set. After she was round the yards were braced on the port
tack. Her head was then W. a little S. Saw the land on the port beam about
half-past-8, when it was pretty clear. Over an hour elapsed before the
ship's course was altered. The light flashed regularly about every five

William Tapper, quartermaster on board the Victoria Tower.---I had the watch
from 12 to 4. The course was W. 1/2 S. The ship was going about five knots.
The weather was very thick. About an hour after I was on deck the wheel was
thrown out of my hands through the ship taking the ground. I put the helm
down, but she would not answer either way. There was no light visible. The
captain was standing between me and the mizenmast, the mate forward. The
deep-sea lead was hove between 6 and 8, but it did not answer. As soon as
we struck, we let go both anchors; the ship lay broadside to the beach. I
saw the Otway light between 7 and 8 o'clock. It was red on one side and
white on the other.

Captain Fullarton.---That's not the Otway light.

Thomas Ledbetter, average stater and notary public---I hold a master's
certificate. I was a passenger by the Victoria Tower. Land was announced as
in sight about 10 minutes past 12 on Saturday afternoon. We were steering
along the land, which was visible from the bow to the quarter. The captain
was on deck all the afternoon. After crossing the line, the compasses were
very much out, from local deviation. When to the southward, and steering to
the eastward, there was a great difference between the steering and standard
compasses. We made out the light to the westward to be moonlight, and were
eight or ten miles off the land. The shore was sighted between 5 and
half-past 5 p.m. The lighthouse was seen for an instant. It was four or five
points on our port bow, and nine or ten miles off. About half-past 6 we
bore up. About 8 we were running before the wind, and the same at 10
o'clock. At a little to 10 I was on the poop, and the captain pointed me out
Cape Schanck light about half a point on the starboard bow. I saw it very
plainly. I went on deck immediately after she struck. I saw the land, but
no lights. The captain used to take every opportunity of correcting the
compasses. I think the land ought to have been seen before we struck. The
first thing done after striking was to clew up the sails, then let go the
anchors, and get out the life-boats. Everything was done that could be
done for the purpose of saving life, and all on board were saved. I can't
account for our being where we were. I have no doubt in my own mind that it
was Cape Schanck light we saw. It was nine or ten miles off when I first saw

Carl Miller, an able seaman, said.---I was on the look-out from 12 midnight.
I was upon the spar before the foremost, and could see plainly under the
foresail. I saw nothing whatever. I could see about 100 yards to leeward. I
saw nothing when the ship struck, but I saw the land four minutes before. It
had cleared away a little. It was blowing pretty hard, thick, and raining.
The boatswain told me to keep a good look-out.

Hugh M'Quirker, boatswain of the Victoria Tower, after going over points
brought out in the evidence of former witnesses, said that he saw the
look-out at his place five minutes before striking. He looked all round the
ship and saw nothing. It was about three-quarters of an hour after the ship
wore that she struck. She was going about 10 knots when she struck.

At the conclusion of this witness's evidence the board intimated that they
should not take any further evidence.

After the board had deliberated,

The Chairman said that, according to the 23rd section of the Merchant
Shipping Act, no certificate could be cancelled or suspended unless a copy
of the report, or statement of the case upon which the investigation was
ordered, had been furnished to the owner of the certificate before the
commencement of the investigation. Now he believed that Captain Kerr had
been applied to for a statement relative to the loss of the Victoria Tower,
and had declined to forward it.

Captain Kerr.---No, I have not declined to forward it.

The Chairman.---Then it had not been forwarded, and, of course, there was no
statement of the case. Under the circumstances, it would be necessary to
forward to Captain Kerr a copy of the report or statement, and to provide
him with a copy, in writing, of the charge which it was intended to have
investigated. It would then be in his power to produce whatever evidence
he considered necessary to answer the charge. This was a preliminary
investigation, and of course they should have to commence de novo, unless
the captain was prepared---as the board were---to admit the evidence already
taken, and he could then be called upon for his rebutting evidence.

Captain Kerr said he thought he had no evidence beyond his own statement.

The Secretary then pro formâ read the charge, which accused Captain Kerr
with having caused the loss of the ship through culpable negligence, and the
board appointed half-past 10 o'clock on the following day as the time for
hearing Captain Kerr's defence.


The Steam Navigation Board to-day proceeded upon the charge against
Captain Kerr, of the Victoria Tower, of having caused the loss of the ship
by not taking such precautionary measures for the safety of the ship as
circumstances required. The members of the board present were---Captain
Payne (chairman), Captain Devlin, Captain Fullarton; Messrs. Stephens and

By consent, the evidence heard on the previous day was taken as the
evidence in support of the charge, and the captain was called upon for his

The following statement was handed in by Captain Kerr, and read by the

"To the Steam Navigation Board.

"Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,---I beg to offer a few remarks as regards the
loss of the ship Victoria Tower. My remarks are principally in elucidation
of the chart which I lay before you, with the courses and distances
carefully pricked off. At 5 p.m. on the l6th inst., Cape Otway bore N. by W.
(magnetic), a fresh gale and weather rather thick, wind at S.S.W.; shaped a
due east course, and stood on in company with a lead-coloured barque bound
through the Straits for 15 miles. At a quarter past 6 squared the yards and
hauled the mainsail up, and stood on an N. by E. course for two hours,
keeping the foreyard braced up; made the land quite plain about Cape Paton;
hauled off on an N.E. by N. course, with two points easterly deviation,
until 20 minutes to 10 p.m., when the look-out on the foreyard reported a
light ahead a little on the starboard bow; it was seen soon after from the
deck, and I myself saw it plainly from the poop in a few minutes afterwards.
Having satisfied myself that it was the Schanck light, it being good
moonlight at the time, I hauled the ship up S.S.E. with two points easterly
deviation, and commenced showing blue lights and rockets, keeping the
maintop sail to the mast; and as the whole foresail, and whole fore and
mizen topsail jib and foretopmast staysail were all full, I judged the ship
to be going six knots ahead. At 10 p.m. it became very thick, and we could
only see the light at intervals. At half-past 11, as the glass was low, viz.
29 50, and I could not see the light, it being very thick, I called all
hands, wore ship, and lowered the upper mizentopsail to assist in wearing.
In wearing, the foresail blew adrift, and hands were sent aloft to bend it,
ship standing out west on this tack. About 1 a.m. the ship struck near Bream
Creek. My reason for not heaving the lead after wearing is that I would have
lost half a mile every time I did it, by heaving the ship to, and so would
have hastened rather than delayed the accident; and, moreover, after
allowing the greatest possible speed to the ship, and greatest rate to the
current, as given in the latest Admiralty charts, I had, on the course the
ship was standing a clear run of 30 miles. My reason for standing on that
course was, with a low glass nine times out of ten, the wind would have
hauled to the northward of west, and I considered it the safer course to
stand in for a pilot rather than risk the ship in Bass's Straits, with a
heavy westerly gale indicated. Last year I put my ship in a similar position
to the Schanck, and was boarded by Mr. Hanna, and anchored inside the Heads
without further trouble. As regards the number of blue lights and rockets
shown, I cannot state positively the number, but the ship was supplied with
the usual number, and when we struck there were only four or five of each
left. The only reason I can assign for the loss of the ship is that there
was a very strong current running into the bight, and of which there is no
intimation given in the Admiralty charts. One quarter of a mile from where
the ship struck there is 15 fathoms of water. I may beg also to state that
this is my seventh voyage to this port, and my eleventh to the Australian
colonies, eight of which I have been as master, and this is my first
accident, my former ship, the White Star, being 800 tons larger than the
Victoria Tower."

Captain Kerr was then examined by the board, in reference to the chart which
he handed in for the purpose of showing the position of the ship after
making Cape Otway. Some further facts were also got out. As to the working
of the compasses, it had nothing to do with the loss of the ship. Whilst in
the northern latitudes, the compasses acted as well as if the Victoria Tower
had been a wooden ship. When Kerguelen's Land was reached, the deviation was
great, and he took alitudes [sic] and azimuths whenever he had an
opportunity. From the observations taken, they tallied almost exactly with
the dead reckoning, so he had the greatest confidence in his compasses. At
twenty minutes to 10 p.m. tho Schanck light was seen from the foreyard. He
saw the land on the lee beam for 20 minutes. This was in the vicinity of the
Paton. He could not get a bearing of the light by the compass. He had always
been recommended by the pilots to keep well under the Otway land if there
was any indication of westerly winds, and the low barometer on this occasion
indicated such a change. His reason for altering the ship's course at
half-past 11 p.m., and standing to the westward, was that his experience led
him to imagine the wind would haul into the north-west. He went below five
minutes before the vessel went ashore, for the purpose of pricking off the
position on the chart. At that time nothing could be seen of the land. The
patent log was not used because it was useless in a seaway. No cast of the
lead was taken after making the light on the weather bow. Having lost sight
of the Schanck light he did not consider it of great value to take a cast of
the lead as the few soundings marked on the chart he had would not have
indicated his positions. He intended to have taken soundings at 2 a.m., when
he wore ship. He had no charts of the entrance to the Heads. He attributed
the loss of the vessel purely to the strength and set of the current, which
he had since learned ran at the rate of six miles an hour with southerly
gales. He came in with the White Star last year in similar weather, and did
not perceive the undue current then. On that occasion the wind was S.W.; on
this occasion it was S.S.W., which would account for the set into the Heads
being greater.

The Chairman here drew attention to Captain Ferguson's sailing directions
for the port, first issued in 1854, which spoke of a current at this point
during certain winds.

Captain Kerr said that he had never heard of those sailing directions until
within the last few days, and he believed that two-thirds of the captains in
port did not know of them. The Victoria Tower was 1,560 tons, registered at
Liverpool, and owned by T. H. Ismay and Co. In his former voyages he never
overran his distance. Had the weather been clear he should have seen the
Heads light. He had no doubt then, and had none now, that the light he saw
was the Schanck light.

Robert Formby, a fisherman living on the coast about half a mile to the
westward of the wreck, was examined as to the nature of the current. He said
that he had never measured the force of it, but from its action on the
crayfish nets he estimated that its strength was six knots when the wind was
strong from the S. to the S.W. in 15 fathoms water, and even out as far as
40 fathoms. The current would set in six hours before a gale came on, and
when the gale ceased, it would be running in the opposite direction.

The board then deliberated for about an hour and a quarter on the evidence,
and when the doors were thrown open again, the secretary read the following
decision:---"The official court of inquiry, after deliberating on the
evidence taken in the case of the loss of the Victoria Tower, is of opinion
that the loss of the ship is attributed to the default of Capt. Kerr, he not
having, under the circumstances of the case and the state of the weather,
sooner hauled the ship to the S.E., on the starboard tack and further for
not having got an occasional cast of the lead to verify his position. The
court, taking into consideration the long service and good character of
Capt. John Kerr, desire to pass a lenient sentence, and hereby suspend his
certificate, No. 274, issued by the Board of Trade, in July, 1861, for a
period of six calendar months from this date."

The CHAIRMAN said that he [sic] had been desired by the board to correct a
statement which appeared in that day's Age, in reference to the former day's
proceedings, to the effect that, after the day had been spent in taking
evidence, it was suddenly discovered that no notice had been served
upon Captain Kerr, so that unless he thought fit to admit the evidence
already taken, the proceedings would have to be commenced de novo. That was
incorrect, for it was necessary to take a certain amount of evidence before
any charge whatever could be framed against Captain Kerr in consequence of
his having forwarded no statement to the board.

The proceedings then closed.


Similar threads