The idea of catching a steam ship from Portland to Melbourne 100 years ago sounds romantic until one considers the stretch of coastline navigated to reach Melbourne – the Shipwreck coast. There have been over 200 wrecks along the entire stretch of coast and from Port Fairy to Apollo Bay alone there have been 80 shipwrecks.
Early settlers used steamers to transport wool and other freight to the Melbourne ports and back. Stephen Henty purchased his own steamers to make the trip. The steamers were also for passage, an alternative to the rough hair-raising ride of a Cobb & Co coach or later, the train.
One steamer that regularly made the journey from 1882 was the S.S.Casino, notching up 2,500 trips along the southern coastline. Owned by the Belfast and Koroit Navigation Company the ship was built in Scotland.
The Casino is the subject of the this week’s Trove Tuesday post because, on 10 July 1932, the steamer made its last voyage. Just short of the Apollo Bay pier, the S.S.Casino struck a sandbar and sunk. Ten lives were lost.
The Portland Guardian reported on the disaster, noting one of the survivors, eleven-year-old Joan Greer, was the daughter of a worker at the Richmond Hotel in Portland. Remarkably, while the girl was travelling aboard the Casino, her mother was taking the train for the return trip from Melbourne to Portland. One of the victims was Helena Gill, the stewardess with forty years service.
An unfortunate oversight was an advertisement that ran in the Portland Guardian on July 11, the day after the wreck. It advised passage was available to Melbourne weekly aboard the S.S.Casino “weather and other circumstances permitting”.
The S.S.Casino still lies at the bottom of the ocean off Apollo Bay and is now a dive wreck. The anchor is displayed outside the Apollo Bay Post Office. The propeller of the steamer became the centrepiece of a monument in Port Fairy’s Gipps Street.