Historical information

This photograph was framed and mounted then presented to the South Warrnambool school by the South Warrnambool Centenary Committee in 1977 on the school's centenary year. The school was decommissioned and closed in the 1990s.

In the photograph, people unload the coal from the ship beside the Breakwater and load it into the row of tramway carts. The coal would be sold to businesses and householders for the purpose of fuel for warmth, cooking, heating water and running machinery.

The image shows the early days at the Port of Warrnambool. The building of the Warrnambool Breakwater had only just been completed. Steamships and sailing ships were frequent visitors to the port. Steam Navigation companies were plentiful, carrying passengers and freighting cargo such as coal, timber, food, livestock, furniture, hardware and haberdashery between Melbourne and the ports along the southwest coast of Victoria, including Warrnambool. The carts would take their loads into the township for distribution.

The ship carrying the coal is thought to be the "S.S. Chillagoe" previously named "Speculant". In 1903 the Chillagoe was registered at the Port of Melbourne, and it sailed between Melbourne and Newcastle, New South Wales, where coal was mined and sold in significant quantities.

In March 1890 a tragedy occurred when coal was being unloaded at the Warrnambool Breakwater. A local young man, David Ferrier, was working in the hold of the steamship Kurrara as its delivery of coal was being unloaded. A basket of coal fell from a sling onboard and came down upon Ferrier, breaking his back. He was not expected to live.

In September 1890 there was a strike of coal workers but the Geelong Advertiser reported that a Warrnambool firm of coal merchants had recently received some large cargoes from Newcastle.


The photograph is historically significant as it is connected with the local areas of the Warrnambool Breakwater, Lady Bay, and the South Warrnambool Primary School.
The scene shows a moment in time when a steamship was unloading a shipment of coal onto tram carts on the Breakwater, which had only just been completed that year.
The photograph was taken about 13 years after the opening of the South Warrnambool School, which was decommissioned around 20 years after it celebrated its centenary..

Physical description

Photograph, black and white, in a gilded rectangular wooden frame, behind glass. The maritime scene shows figures on ships beside the Warrnambool Breakwater jetty and figures on the jetty, standing next to rail carts containing coal. There is a steamship further out on Lady Bay. A card below the photograph has an inscription and there is a pencil inscription on the back of the frame. The coal ship is thought to be the SS. Chillagoe.
The photograph was taken in 1890 and was presented to the South Warrnambool School in its centenary year, 1977, by the South Warrnambool Centenary Committee.

Inscriptions & markings

Typewritten on card: "UNLOADING COAL AT WARRNAMBOOL BREAKWATER"- 1890 - "Presented to Sough Warrnambool School by the SOUTH WARRNAMBOOL CENTENARY COMMITTEE - 1977 - "
Handwritten in pencil on the back:"Speculant" as "SS Chillagoe" at Breakwater"