This Week in Port Phillip 1841: January 16-23 1841


On the 15th and 16th January, the two ships sent to rescue the Clonmel survivors arrived back in Port Phillip, after the wreck of the Clonmel a fortnight earlier.

MELBOURNE   THE CLONMEL. The Sisters, from the Clonmel, arrived on Friday, and the Will Watch on Saturday, bringing up the crew and passengers of that ill fated vessel. From what we can learn, it seems that the steamer having gone ashore during a spring tide, is now embedded in the sand at some considerable distance from the outer edge of the sand spit at low water mark; she is consequently comparatively safe from the waves. Her hull is sunk in the sand so that there is ten feet water in the hold, the cargo, it least so much of it as would damage from salt water, is consequently destroyed. As she swings at high water, and had not when the vessel left sustained any very material injury, sanguine hopes are entertained that she will ultimately be got off. We confess however, that there is but a remote possibility that a consummation so devoutly to be wished will ever be effected. The engines at all events are safe, and it may be that when the cargo is removed, the Clonmel will float again ; this. however, is rather to be hoped than expected. The rumours regarding the misconduct of the crew which have been afloat since the intelligence of her loss arrived have, we are glad to say, proved to be groundless. Some trifling peculations were committed, and one individual is in custody, charged with the commission of a petty theft but no robberies of such magnitude as were stated ever occurred. The natives made their appearance only once to the shipwrecked mariners, just before the Sisters and Will Watch sailed, but they offered no molestation of any description. What brought the steamer into such a predicament remains still unexplained. It is obvious even to persons unacquainted with nautical matters, that provided the vessel had been steered her course, she never could have been carried so far out of the way by the force of the current. We refrained from observations of this nature when Captain Tollervey and his officers were not present to answer for themselves, but we are conscious we are only giving utterance to the general feeling, when we say, that if as much attention had been paid to the navigation of the vessel as to the the comforts of the saloon, a catastrophe so very injurious to the interests of this community could not have occurred. The goods on board were chiefly the property of Messrs. J. M. Chisholm & Co., Mr. Cashmore & Co., Hamilton & Goodwin, Turnbull Orr & Co., and Capt. Cain. A small portion only, we fear, was insured

Geelong Advertiser 23 January 1841


But the wreck of the Clonmel wasn’t bad for everyone. Captain Lewis, who captained one of the ships that picked up the survivors, entered Corner Inlet and noticed a huge expanse of water.  In a reminder to us of how new the white settlement of Port Phillip was, hopes of the mythical inland sea were kindled:
Captain Lewis is all but certain that this Inlet communicates with a large inland sea, which he discovered and entered from shallow inlet, where the Clonmel at present lies. Time did not permit to examine the communication between corner inlet and the inland sea, but from his observations from the mast head, he is of opinion it is about a mile wide without a bar…. Thus, then, there is every probability of a most valuable tract of country being made available for colonial enterprise, should the Government order the necessary surveys.
Port Phillip Herald 19 January 1841
The wreck of the Clonmel wasn’t good for Mrs Beard though, who had previously worked as Superintendent on the vessel. She now had to find a new position.
Mrs Beard, lately Stewardess of the Steamer Clonmel begs to inform the respectable portion of Melbourne, that having, in consequent of the wreck of that vessel, lost all she possessed, and being a Widow without incumbrance, she will be most willing to engage herself as either a Lady’s Maid, Housekeeper, or Forewoman in a shop. The most respectable references can be given
Port Phillip Herald 19 January 1841

THE TRADESMEN’S BALL  After so much excitement in the last week (the regatta, the races, the cricket, the ball) , on Wednesday 18th January the inaugural Tradesmen’s Annual Ball was held at the Caledonian Hotel. This hotel, which was located somewhat out of town on the south-west corner of  Swanston and Lonsdale Streets, had originally been the large residence of the Rev.Clow and comprised 13 rooms as well as outhouses.  It was a commonly-used venue for large entertainments.  As might be deduced from the name of the ball, it was not a vice-regal occasion, and did not attract the clientele of ‘good’ Port Phillip Society. Nonetheless, a good time seems to have been had by all:

There were upwards of 80 couples present, dancing commenced at 9 o’clock, and after enjoying the pleasures of the ballroom until 12, the whole party partook of a rich banquet served up in that sumptuous and tasteful style for which my host of the Caledonians is so justly celebrated. Dancing, in all its varieties, was renewed and kept up with, if possible increased animation, until the golden tints which streaked the instant horizon proclaimed that the night was spent… Throughout the entire evening not the least commotion or unpleasant consequences took place.

Port Phillip Herald 19 January 1841


But it was a very bad start of the year for Mr William Ker Senr. and his family when their New Year’s vacation was cut short by an untimely death on Saturday 16th January

SUDDEN DEATH.  On Saturday last, Mr Ker proceeded to the beach with his family intending to erect a tent for their temporary residence during the summer. He left his family at the Marine Hotel and went for the purpose of erecting the tent. Being absent for some time, Mrs Ker walked in the direction he went and not far from the Marine Hotel she discovered the body of her husband in the water, rolling about in the surf.”

Port Phillip Herald 19 January 1841

The Marine Hotel at this time was in Sandridge (Port Melbourne), and I’m rather amused by the description of the water there as ‘surf’.  A post-mortem was carried out by Dr Cussen, the colonial surgeon, who found “very extensive tubercular disease of the brain, accompanied by a serious effusion.”

At first I wondered whether this was a holiday-trip-gone-wrong, with Mr Ker the fore-runner of those Mornington Peninsula campers in their tents and caravans on the foreshore today? Or were Mr Ker and his family homeless and taking advantage of the balmy summer weather to live by the sea instead of in the township?  After all, as Bill Garner reminds us in his book Born in a Tent, living under canvas remained an important form of housing in Australia for much longer than we realize.  On reflection, I think the former. Some days later a well-attended funeral service was held for Mr Ker in the newly opened Independent Chapel, so it would seem that the family was well-established in Port Phillip and that it was likely to have been a beach-side holiday.


On 22 January the foundation stone was laid for the Scottish Presbyterian Church on the corner of Collins and Russell Street, the site of the present Scots Church (constructed between 1871-1874 to replace this 1841 building). Although they had been in Port Phillip right from the start, the Presbyterians were the last to establish a permanent church, after holding services in several other locations (including this one) up until this time. See an image of the original church here and the plans and ground elevation here.

The Port Phillip Herald of 26th of January reported that it was a rainy day but that a “goodly concourse of the Presbyterian population and friends of the cause” attended, including several ladies who had come a considerable distance to be present. During the ceremony a bottle was deposited below the foundation stone with a copy of Mr Kerr’s Almanac for 1841, copies of the daily newspapers and a certificate.


No daily weather report this time, but the Meteorological Journal reprinted in the Government Gazette shows that the highest temperature for the week was 94 degrees (34.4 celsius) on the 19th January with the lowest recorded 55 (12.8 degrees). The week was described as “dry clear weather, but horizon seldom free from clouds; strong winds and squalls from South still frequent”.

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