Historical information

This photograph of the 10 crew of the SPECULANT would have been taken prior to Feb 10th 1911, when the ship was wrecked on the south coast of Victoria at a place called Cape Patton.

The barquentine SPECULANT was a steel, three-masted sailing ship built in 1895 in Inverkeithing, Scotland, registered in Warrnambool, Victoria and wrecked at Cape Paton, Victoria, 10th February 1911.

The SPECULANT had been involved in the timber trade between the United Kingdom and Russia, until sold to its Warrnambool owners and timber merchants Messrs. P.J. McGennan & Co. (Peter John McGennan) in 1902 for 3000 pounds and had her sailed to Warrnambool as her new port.

Peter John McGennan was born in 1844 and worked as a builder and cooper in Holyhead, Anglesea, Wales. He immigrated to Australia in 1869 as a free settler and arrived in Warrnambool in 1871 and undertook management of a property in Grassmere for Mr. Palmer.

Peter met his wife Emily in South Melbourne and they married in 1873. They had ten children including Harry who lived to 1965, and Andrew who lived until 1958. (The other children were their four brothers - John who was killed in the Dardenalles aged 35, Frederick who died aged 8, Peter who died aged 28, Frank who died aged 5 weeks - and four sisters - Beatrice who died age 89, Edith who died aged 49, Blanche who died aged 89 and Eveline who died aged 48.)

In 1874 Peter starting a boating establishment on the Hopkins River.

In 1875 he opened up a Coopers business in Kepler Street next to what was Bateman, Smith and Co., moving to Liebig Street, next to the Victoria Hotel, in 1877. In 1882 he then moved to Lava Street (which in later years was the site of Chandlers Hardware Store).

He was associated with the establishment of the Butter Factory at Allansford. He started making Butter Boxes to his own design and cheese batts for the Butter Factory. In 1896 established a Box Factory in Davis Street Merrivale, employing 24 people at its peak, (it was burnt down in 1923); and in Pertobe Road from 1912 (now the Army Barracks building).

Peter was a Borough Councillor for Albert Ward from 1885 to 1891, he commenced the Foreshore Trust (including the camping grounds along Pertobe Road), and he was an inaugural Director of the Woollen Mill in Harris Street, buying an extensive share-holding in 1908 from the share trader Edward Vidler. They lobbied the Town Hall to have a formal ‘Cutting’ for the waters of the Merri River to be redirected from its natural opening south of Dennington, to its existing opening near Viaduct Road, in order to have the scourings from the wool at the Woollen Mill discharged into the sea. He sold Butter Boxes around the state, and had to ship them to Melbourne by rail.

Peter’s purchase of the SPECULANT in 1902 enabled him to back-load white pine from Kaipara, New Zealand to Warrnambool to make his butter boxes then, to gain profitability, buy and ship potatoes and other primary produce bound to Melbourne.

(McGennan & Co. had also owned the LA BELLA, which had traded in timber as well, until she was tragically wrecked with the loss of seven lives, after missing the entrance channel to Warrnambool harbour in 1905. It appears that the SPECULANT was bought to replace the LA BELLA.)

In 1911 the SPECULANT had been attempting to depart Warrnambool for almost the entire month of January to undergo docking and overhaul in Melbourne. A month of east and south-easterly winds had forced her to remain sheltered in Lady Bay, Warrnambool apart from one morning of northerlies, when an attempt was made to round Cape Otway; she had to return to shelter in Portland after failing to make any headway. With only 140 tons of sand ballast aboard, the ship would not have been easy to handle.

Captain Jacobsen and his crew of nine, mainly Swedes, decided to make for Melbourne, leaving Portland Harbour on 5th February 1911. By the 9th they had reached Cape Otway, where they encountered a moonless night, constant heavy rain, and a heavy sea with a south-easterly wind blowing. After safely rounding Cape Otway the course was changed to east, then north-east to take the vessel to a point six miles off Cape Patton, following the orders of Captain Jacobsen, who told the crew to be very careful with the steering, as the wind and sea was running to leeward.

The patent log (used to measure speed) had been out of order for the last four months as no-one in Warrnambool was able to fix it: it was intended to have it repaired in Melbourne. In the meantime the crew measured the vessel's speed by looking over the side and estimating wind strength. This compounded the difficulties of imprecise positioning, as the strong cross wind and sea were acting on the lightly laden vessel to steadily drive it towards the shore.

At 3.30am on Friday 10 February 1911 Captain Jacobsen and the first mate were looking over the side of the vessel when they heard the sound of breakers and suddenly struck the rocks. The crew immediately knew they had no chance of getting the SPECULANT off, and attempted to rescue themselves by launching the lifeboat, which was instantly smashed to pieces. One of the crew then volunteered to take a line ashore, and the rest of the crew were all able to drag themselves to shore, some suffering hand lacerations from the rocks. Once ashore they began to walk along the coast towards Lorne, believing it was the nearest settlement. Realising their mistake as dawn broke they returned westwards to Cape Patton, and found a farm belonging to Mr C. Ramsden, who took them in and gave them a change of clothes and food. After resting for a day and returning to the wreck to salvage some of their personal possessions, at 10am on Saturday they set out for Apollo Bay, a voyage that took six hours, sometimes wading through flooded creeks up to their necks.

The Age described the wreck as "listed to starboard. All the cabin is gutted and the ballast gone. There is a big rock right through the bottom of her, and there is not the slightest hope of getting her off". A Board of Marine inquiry found that Captain Jacobson was guilty of careless navigation by not taking steps to accurately verify the position of the vessel with respect to Cape Otway when the light was visible and by not setting a safe and proper course with respect to the wind and sea. It suspended his certificate for 6 months and ordered him to pay costs.

The location of the wreck site was marked for a long time by two anchors on the shoreline, until in 1970 the larger of the two anchors was recovered by the Underwater Explorers' Club and mounted on the foreshore at Apollo Bay. The bell from the wreck was also donated to the Apollo Bay Surf Lifesaving Club but is recorded to have been stolen. Rusting remains of the wreck can still be found on the shoreline on the southern side of, and directly below Cape Patton. Parts of the SPECULANT site have been buried by rubble from construction and maintenance works to the Great Ocean Road, as well as by naturally occurring landslides.

Peter J McGennan passed away in 1920. The Gates in the western wall of the Anglican Church in Henna Street/Koroit St are dedicated to him for his time of community work, which is matched with other prominent Warrnambool citizens; Fletcher Jones, John Younger, J.D.E (Tag) Walter, and Edward Vidler.

After Peter J McGennan's death Harry, Andrew and Edith continued to operate the family business until July 11th 1923 when the company was wound up. (Andrew lived in Ryot Street Warrnambool, near Lava Street.)

Harry McGennan (Peter and Emily’s son) owned the Criterion Hotel in Kepler Street Warrnambool (now demolished). His son Sid and wife Dot lived in 28 Howard Street (corner of Nelson Street) and Sid managed the Criterion until it was decided by the family to sell, and for he remained Manager for the new owners until he retired.

Harry commenced the Foreshore Trust in Warrnambool around 1950. The McGennan Carpark in Pertobe Road is named after Harry and there are Memorial-Stone Gates in his memory. (The Gates were once the original entrance to the carpark but are now the exit.).

Peter’s great-grandson, also called Andrew, is a Security Officer in Warrnambool.

The Patent Log (also called a Taffrail log) from the SPECULANT, mentioned above, and a number of photographs, are now part of the Collection at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village.


The SPECULANT is historically significant as the largest ship to have been registered in Warrnambool, and is believed to have been the largest barquentine to visit Melbourne. It is evidence of the final days of large commercial sailing vessels involved in the Victorian and New Zealand timber trade. The SPECULANT is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register VHR S626

Physical description

Photograph, black and white. of the 10 crew of the SPECULANT on board the ship holding two 'Speculant Warrnambool' lifebuoys. Taken early 1900's