Back in the 1800’s at Mornington, a small seaside town on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia, the main event of the day was the arrival of one of the Paddle Steamers at the Mornington Wharf. The local hotels and guest houses sent wagonettes and porters to the pier to escort guests to their establishments. When the paddle steamers departed to continue their journey to Sorrento, a procession of porters, trolleys and passengers headed towards the Main Street.
Paddle Steamers were a luxury form of transport on Port Philip Bay in the late 1800’s. They were used to transport tourists from Melbourne to Mornington, Dromana and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, and Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula.
The Port Philip Steamship and Hotel Company owned the Golden Crown and the Lonsdale paddle steamers. They ran daily excursions from Melbourne to Mornington, Dromana, Sorrento and Queenscliff.
Golden Crown was built in Auckland New Zealand by Duthie and Ross in 1870. The plates, frames, engines and boilers were made in England and exported for assembled in Auckland, However, the vessel carrying the plates and frames was wrecked on her voyage to New Zealand, so the design was altered to construct her of timber. She was 200 feet long and weighed 330 gross tons. After being used in the North Island on the Thames River she was sold in 1874 to the Port Philip Steamship and Hotel Co. where she became a regular on the Mornington, Sorrento, Queenscliff route. Golden Crown was broken up in Melbourne in 1892.
Lonsdale was built in 1882 at Greenock , Scotland . She was 228 feet long, made of iron and weighed 228 tons. During a storm in June 1889 she broke her moorings at Port Philip Bay and was stranded at Port Melbourne Beach . It wasn’t until January 1891 she was refloated but it was determined that repair costs were so high she would be dismantled.
George Coppin a Theatre entrepreneur and owner of the Continent Hotel, the swimming baths and a tramway that carried visitors from the bayside beach to the wild open back beach at Sorrento, started the Bay Excursion Steamer Company Ltd. and commissioned the construction of the first Port Phillip Bay paddle steamer 1886.
By the turn of the century, there were 3 Port Phillip Bay paddle steamers in operation, the Ozone, the Hygeia and the Weeroona.
The Ozone, was built in Glasgow, she was 260 feet long (80 metres), built of steel and weighed 572 tons. Her two paddle wheels each measured almost 22 feet in diameter (approximately 7 metres) and she could travel at up to 20 knots. At the time she was considered the finest paddle steamer to be built.
Ozone had three decks, a luxurious dining room, bars, and a ladies hair salon. She had a dark green hull, white upper sections and two orange funnels. She could carry up to 1600 passengers. So up to date was the Ozone, her lighting was by electricity which had been invented by Thomas Edison only 7 years earlier.
Leaving Glasgow on the 25th August 1886, Ozone travelled through the Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal and down to Thursday Island where she was put in quarantine. Ozone finally arrived in Port Philip Bay on 26th November 1886.
Her maiden voyage on Port Philip Bay was on the 18th December 1886. First stop was Mornington, then Sorrento and on to Queenscliff where she collided with the pier! She was also involved in other incidents during her life. In 1889 she collided with a schooner called Elfin. There was no serious damage to either vessel. 1890 saw a near miss with the coastal trader Coogee, but in 1894 Ozone ran down the fishing vessel May causing considerable damage to May.
Due to declining patronage the Ozone was withdrawn from service in 1918. She was sold to George Hill & Company, a Melbourne Shipbreaker who stripped all the fittings and sank the hull at Indented Head near Queenscliff.
The next paddle steamer to go into service was the Hygeia. Built by Napier, Shanks and Bell of Glasgow in 1890 for Hubbart Parker and Company, Hygeia was designed to compete directly with Ozone.
Hygeia was 300 feet long (92 metres), was built of steel and weighed 986 tons. She was capable of 22 knots under full steam and was considered the most luxuriously appointed paddle steamer ever built for Australian service.
Licensed to carry over 1600 passengers, Hygeia operated for 40 years servicing Port Philip Bay. She had a promenade deck, licensed saloons, luxuriously appointed dining rooms and a barbers shop.
Hygeia was taken out of service in 1930. During her time she was involved in a few incidents. In 1894 she was involved in a collision with the tug, Sprightly. On the 8th December 1911 she collided with an unnamed cutter on Port Philip Bay and a few days later on the 22nd December was stranded at Sorrento.
Hygeia was laid to rest after being stripped of all her fittings at Barwon Heads just outside the western head of Port Philip Bay in June 1932.
Weeroona was the last of the Port Philip Bay paddle steamers to be built. She was built by A.S Inglis of Glasgow in 1910 for Hubbart Parker and Company.
Weeroona took 70 days to complete her maiden voyage from Glasgow to Melbourne via the Suez Canal, Jakarta, Thursday Island, Brisbane and Sydney.
Larger than the other two paddle steamers, Weeroona was 310 feet long (95 metres), constructed of steel, weighed 1412 tons and licensed to carry 1900 passengers. Again she was extremely luxurious with spacious promenade decks and impressive lounges and dining rooms.
Weeroona serviced the resorts of Port Philip bay until 1942 when she was purchased by the US Navy who intended to refit her as a convalescent and accommodation ship. Leaving Melbourne in 1943, Weeroona travelled under her own steam to Sydney and then she was taken under tow to the Philippines via Brisbane and New Guinea.
The Australian Government purchased Weeroona from the US Navy in 1945 and sold her for scrap in 1951 when she was stripped and sunk off Berry Bay in NSW.
The era of luxurious paddle steamers on Port Philip Bay is now long gone, however, the wonderful resort towns of Mornington and Sorrento can still be enjoyed and the history re-lived.
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