Historical information

This small ship’s bell, possibly a ‘mess’ or dining room bell, was the smaller of the two bells rescued by the crew of the Schomberg when it was wrecked in 1855. All of the crew from the Schomberg wreck survived. They carried the two ship’s bells with them as they made their way along the coast, eventually arriving at the home of settler, John Manning, who lived at Hopkins Point near Warrnambool. Manning acquired the Schomberg bells, presenting them to two Warrnambool churches; the smaller one to St Joseph’s Catholic Church and the larger bell to St John’s Presbyterian church.

This small bell developed a crack after about a year at St Joseph's church and could no longer be used. Thomas Manifold imported a new bell for that church and the cracked belled was stored at his farm and stored. The property was sold years later to John Logan, who donated the discarded bell to the Warrnambool Museum when it first opened in 1886. The Curator, Joseph Archibald, displayed the bell in the entry.

The larger Schomberg bell was installed in St John’s Presbyterian Church. In 1887 a ‘massive’ new bell, made in Victoria, was installed at the Presbyterian Church, so the old bell was transferred to the nearby Woodford Presbyterian authorities. During World War II the 1887 bell cracked, and could not be repaired. In 1983 the old Schomberg bell from the Woodford church was loaned to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum and Village.

When the Schomberg was launched in 1855, she was considered the "Noblest” ship that ever floated on the water. Schomberg's owners, the Black Ball Line had commissioned the ship for their fleet of passenger liners. She was built by Alexander Hall of Aberdeen at a cost of £43,103 and constructed with 3 skins. One planked fore and aft and two diagonally planked, fastened together with screw-threaded trunnels (wooden rails). Her First Class accommodation was simply luxurious with velvet pile carpets, large mirrors, rosewood, birds-eye maple and mahogany timbers throughout, soft furnishings of satin damask, and an oak-lined library with a piano. Overall she had accommodation for 1000 passengers.

At the launch, the Schomberg's 34-year-old master, Captain 'Bully' Forbes, had promised to reach Melbourne in sixty days stating, "with or without the help of God." Captain James Nicol Forbes was born in Aberdeen in 1821 and rose to fame with his record-breaking voyages on the famous Black Ball Line ships; Marco Polo and Lightning. In 1852 in the ship Marco Polo, he made the record passage from London to Melbourne in 68 days. Unfortunately, there were 53 deaths on the voyage, but the great news was off the record passage by Captain Forbes. In 1854 he took the clipper “Lighting” to Melbourne in 76 days and back in 63 days, this record was never beaten by a sailing ship. He often drove his crew and ship to breaking point to beat his previous records. He cared little for the comfort of the passengers. On this, Schomberg's maiden voyage, he was determined to break existing records.

Schomberg departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage on 6th October 1855 flying a sign that read "Sixty Days to Melbourne". She departed with 430 passengers and 3000 tons of cargo including iron rails and equipment intended to build the Melbourne to Geelong Railway and a bridge over the Yarra from Melbourne to Hawthorn. She also carried a cow for fresh milk, pens for fowls and pigs, and 90,000 gallons of water for washing and drinking. She also carried 17,000 letters and 31,800 newspapers. The ship and cargo were insured for $300,000 a fortune for the time.

The winds were poor as she sailed across the equator, slowing Schomberg's journey considerably. The land was first sighted on Christmas Day, at Cape Bridgewater near Portland, Captain Forbes followed the coastline towards Melbourne. Forbes was said to be playing cards when called by the third mate Henry Keen, who reported land about 3 miles off. Due in large part to the captain's regarding a card game as more important than his ship, it eventually ran aground on a sand spit near Curdie's Inlet (about 56 km west of Cape Otway) on 26th December 1855, 78 days after leaving Liverpool. The sand spit and the currents were not marked on Forbes's map.

Overnight, the crew launched a lifeboat to find a safe place to land the ship’s passengers. The scouting party returned to Schomberg and advised Forbes that it was best to wait until morning because the rough seas could easily overturn the small lifeboats. The ship’s Chief Officer spotted the SS Queen at dawn and signalled the steamer. The master of the Queen approached the stranded vessel and all of Schomberg’s passengers and crew disembarked safely. The Black Ball Line's Melbourne agent sent a steamer to retrieve the passengers' baggage from the Schomberg. Other steamers helped unload her cargo until the weather changed and prevented the salvage teams from accessing the ship. Later one plunderer found a case of Wellington boots, but alas, all were for the left foot. Local merchants Manifold & Bostock bought the wreck and cargo but did not attempt to salvage the cargo still on board the ship. They eventually sold it on to a Melbourne businessman and two seafarers. In 1864 after two of the men drowned when they tried to reach Schomberg, salvage efforts were abandoned. In 1870, nearly 15 years after the wreck parts of the Schomberg had washed ashore on the south island of New Zealand. The wreck now lies in 825 meters of water and although the woodwork is mostly disintegrated the shape of the ship can still be determined due to the remaining railway irons, girders and the ship’s frame. A variety of goods and materials can be seen scattered about nearby.


The bell is particularly significant in that along with other items from the wreck helped in part to having the legislation changed to protect shipwrecks, with far tighter controls being employed to oversee the salvaging of wreck sites.
This bell forms part of the Schomberg collection at Flagstaff Hill maritime museum. The collection as a whole is of historical and archaeological significance at a State level. Flagstaff Hill’s collection of artefacts from the Schomberg is also significant for its association with the Victorian Heritage Registered Schomberg shipwreck (VHR S 612). The collection is of additional significance because of the relationship between the objects salvaged, as together they help us to interpret the story of the Schomberg.
The collection as a whole is historically significant for representing aspects of Victoria's maritime history and its potential to interpret social and historical themes from society at the time of the wreck.

Physical description

A small ship’s bell. The bell bears the ship’s name and year of construction on one side and the name and address of the ship’s builders on the other. These details are deeply engraved into the metal and formed in bold upper-case lettering.
The bell has two bell stands, a left and a right side. Both stands have an Iron pipe made into an inverted ‘Y’ shape with a hole made in the single length, and feet attached to a rectangular metal plate at the other two ends. Feet are bolted into a timber base that has a hole drilled through the centre for mounting.

Inscriptions & markings

Bell's front; “SCHOMBERG” with “1855” below.
Bell's back “HALL & SONS (crack splits letter “N”) / BUILDERS (in italics) / ABERDEEN” (crack splits letter “B”).