Historical information

A “Bill of Fare” is a menu or list of food offered for a meal. This Bill of Fare from the sailing ship Schomberg is handwritten in pen in hard-to-read script on the printed pages specifically for the Schomberg ship, of the Black Ball Line of Australian Packets. (‘Packets’ were vessels that had a regular trade run of cargo, passengers and mail; the sailing ship Schomberg was designed for long voyages between England and Australia.)

These menus posed a puzzle as they have the handwritten dates of, May 10 and 12, 1856, by which time the Schomberg had sunk (she sunk on December 26, 1855).

The donor of these pages of Bill of Fare is a stamp collector from Melbourne. He came across the menus in a package that he bought in 1980 at a stamp auction in Tasmania. He decided to give the menus to Flagstaff Hill this year during his annual family holiday in Warrnambool.

A 1981 newspaper article about this donation included an interview with Flagstaff Hill’s curator Mr Peter Ronald, who said that the stationery of these menus is genuine. He went on to say that there would have been much stationery printed for use on the Schomberg although she sank on her maiden voyage. These menus could have been written at a dated late because the surplus Schomberg stationery could have been used for menus on other ships.

We will probably never be sure of the answer but none-the-less the pages are still connected to the Schomberg.

Below is what we believe the menu consists of although some of the writing is indecipherable -
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(first menu)
Roast Mutton
Boiled Mutton?
Ox Tail Mulligatawny? Or possibly Ox Tail Vegetables?
Mutton Pies?
Fruit Puddings?
Saturday May 10, 1856
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(second menu)
Boiled Mutton
Roast Mutton?
Roast Geese?
Ox Tail??
Calves Head Broth?
Rice Pudding?
Monday May 12, 1856
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Background of “SCHOMBERG”

When SCHOMBERG was launched in July, 1855, she was considered the “Noblest ship that ever floated on water.” SCHOMBERG’s owners, the Black Ball Line (one of three companies by that name), commissioned the ship for their fleet of passenger liners. She was built by Alexander Hall of Aberdeen, UK at a cost of £43,103. She was 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 luxurious: velvet pile carpets; large mirrors; rosewood; birds-eye maple; mahogany; soft furnishings of gold satin damask; an oak-lined library; and a piano. Overall she had accommodation for 1000 passengers.

SCHOMBERG’s 34 year old master, Captain James ‘Bully’ Forbes, had promised Melbourne in 60 days at the launch, "with or without the help of God." 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 MARCO POLO he made the record passage from London to Melbourne in 68 days. There were 53 deaths on the voyage but the great news was of the record passage by the master. In 1954 Captain Forbes took the clipper LIGHTNING to Melbourne in 76 days and back in 63 days, this was never beaten by a sailing ship. He often drove his crew and ship to breaking point to beat his own records. He cared little for the comfort of the passengers. On this, the SCHOMBERG’s maiden voyage, he was going to break records.

SCHOMBERG departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage on 6 October 1855 flying the sign “Sixty Days to Melbourne”. She departed with 430 passengers and 3000 tons cargo including iron rails and equipment intended to build the Melbourne to Geelong Railway as well as 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. SCHOMBERG also carried 17,000 letters and 31,800 newspapers. The ship and cargo was insured for $300,000, a fortune for the time.

The winds were poor as she sailed across the equator, slowing SCHOMBERG’s journey considerably. Land was first sighted on Christmas Day, at Cape Bridgewater near Portland, and 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 Forbes regarding a card game as more important than his ship, SCHOMBERG eventually ran aground on a sand spit near Curdie's Inlet (about 56 km west of Cape Otway) on 26 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 steamer SS QUEEN at dawn and signalled it. The master of the SS QUEEN approached the stranded vessel and all of SCHOMBERG’s passengers and crew were able to disembark safely. The SCHOMBERG was lost and with her, Forbes’ reputation.

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 salvage efforts were abandoned after two men drowned when they tried to reach SCHOMBERG. Parts of the SCHOMBERG were washed ashore on the south island of New Zealand in 1870, nearly 15 years after the wreck.

The wreck of the SCHOMBERG lies in 825 metres of water. Although the woodwork is mostly disintegrated, the shape of the ship can still be seen due to the remaining railway irons, girders and the ship’s frame. A variety of goods and materials can be seen surrounding the wreck, by divers.

Flagstaff Hill holds many items salvaged from the SCHOMBERG including a ciborium (in which a diamond ring was concealed in concretion), communion set, ship fittings and equipment, personal effects, a lithograph, tickets and photograph from the SCHOMBERG.


These Bills of Fare are significant due to their connection to Flagstaff Hill’s collection of artefacts from the Schomberg, which is significant for its association with the Victorian Heritage Registered shipwreck S612. The collection is primarily significant because of the relationship between the objects, as together they have a high potential to interpret the story of the Schomberg.
The Schomberg collection is archaeologically significant as the remains of an international passenger ship.
The shipwreck collection is historically significant for representing aspects of Victoria’s shipping history and its potential to interpret sub-theme 1.5 of Victoria’s Framework of Historical Themes (living with natural processes). The collection is also historically significant for its association with the shipwreck and the ship, which was designed to be fastest and most luxurious of its day.
The Schomberg collection meets the following criteria for assessment:
Criterion A: Importance to the course, or pattern, of Victoria’s cultural history.
Criterion B: Possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Victoria’s cultural history.
Criterion C: Potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Victoria’s cultural history.

Physical description

Menu, or Bill of Fare, on cream coloured stationery from the sailing vessel “Schomberg”. Two rectangular pieces of paper, each bears the printed words “Black Ball Line of Australian Packets, Bill of Fare, Ship, Schomberg”, a printed symbol of the Black Ball line (a black ball on a red flag) and a decorative border.
Both pages are handwritten, in similar but different sized writing, with a Bill of Fare and a date, Page (1) dated May 10th 1856 and (2) dated May 12th ’56,
(Both dates are AFTER the Schomberg sank in December 26th 1855.)
Both pages have three fold lines spaced across their width. To be used for the return voyage.

Inscriptions & markings

Printed on the pages ““BLACK BALL LINE OF AUSTRALIAN PACKETS.” “Bill of Fare, / SHIP / “SCHOMBERG”.”
Handwritten list of food, and on one page “Saturday May 10 1856” and on the other page “Monday May 12”