Historical information

The photograph shows the wreck of La Bella in Lady Bay, Warrnambool, Australia. It was probably taken on 11th November 1905, the morning after she was wrecked.
“Foyle” written on the photograph is the name of Foyle’s Photographic studio. At the time of the photograph the studio was owned by both Charles and Lilian Foyle (sometimes known as Lillian or Lily), either of whom could have taken this photograph. They also worked together at a later date on the photographs, sketches and paintings of the famous and historical Pioneers’ Honour Board, which is currently on view in the Warrnambool Library.
Foyles Photography was the studio of James Charles Foyle. He owned “Foyle’s Photo Card Studios” in Liebig St , Warrnambool, which operated between 1889 – 1919 . A letter to the editor (by Mr Edward Vidler) in the Melbourne Argus, 3rd August, 1907, mentions that in that year Warrnambool would celebrate its 60th anniversary of its proclamation as a town, and that talented local artist Miss Lily Foyle would paint 200 portraits in watercolour of the pioneers who settled in the district prior to 1860. The Pioneer Honour Board can still be seen on display in the Warrnambool Library. In the Warrnambool Standard, Dec. 1917, “Mr Foyle’s studio was awarded contract to decorate rail cars on newly opened Trans-Continental railway, assisted by his sister, Miss Findlay.”
The subject of the painting, La Bella, has its own tragic story. Read on for further details …
On November 10th, 1905, the Norwegian-built barquentine La Bella approached Warrnambool at the end of her 37 day voyage. She was carrying a cargo of timber from Lyttleton, New Zealand, in heavy seas and evening mist. (On its only other visit to Warrnambool a year earlier the master had gone to shore to find a tow. He returned to the ship to find the crew drunk and unwilling to take up their posts, even though the ship was dragging its anchors and in a dangerous position.)
As Captain Mylius steered La Bella to Lady Bay Channel the ship was tossed onto its side by heavy breakers and ran aground on what is now known as La Bella Reef. The sea was so rough that it wrenched a one-and-a- half ton anchor from the vessel.
Several attempts were made by parties of volunteers in lifeboats to rescue the stricken sailors, but the rough conditions made this difficult for the boats to get close enough to the ship and the parties had to return to shore. The La Bella’s crew became exhausted and sailors were being washed overboard, one by one. By sunrise only five of the twelve crew still clung to the wreck.
A local fisherman, 25 year old William Ferrier, rowed his small dingy through the heavy seas and managed to rescue the captain, whilst the volunteer lifeboat crew rescued a further three sailors, returning to shore. Ferrier made a final attempt at rescue and was able to reach its stern as the conditions eased slightly, saving the last remaining, terrified sailor just before the ship broke up and sank.
William Ferrier became a national hero as news of the daring rescue spread. He was awarded the Silver Medal for bravery by the Royal Humane Society and was honoured by the Prime Minister and the Governor. He was presented with several other awards for his daring rescue. Ferrier’s rescue efforts are one of the most heroic in Victoria’s shipwreck history.
The wreck now lies in 13m of water and is home to an abundance of marine life.
Flagstaff Hill’s La Bella Collection includes a rail holder from La Bella, a photograph of William Ferrier with four of the five men rescued, a rail holder from the ship and the letter from the Prime Minister and other Members of Parliament that was sent to William Ferrier to commend him for his bravery.


La Bella has been protected under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act (1976) as a Historic Shipwreck since 23 April 1982 (VHR S401). It is archaeologically significant as the remains of an international and inter-colonial passenger and cargo ship.
Flagstaff Hill’s collection of artefacts from the La Bella is of historical and archaeological significance because of its association with the La Bella, which is on the Victorian Heritage Register, and because of the relationship between the objects.
The collection represents aspects of Victorian history, and the letter to William Ferrier demonstrates how important his rescue efforts were to Victoria and Australia.

Physical description

Black and white photograph of the wreck of the sailing ship La Bella in the bay at Warrnambool. The photograph shows the ship lying on its side in rough sea, with mast and rope rigging hanging loosely. Several large rocks are also visible.
The photograph is a rectangle shape, mounted on heavy card, with slightly ragged edges.
The photographer’s name, a title for the photograph and the location are hand written in white along the bottom third of the photograph. The back of the photograph is blank.

Inscriptions & markings

Printed in white hand writing “Foyle”, “WRECK OF “LA BELLA”, “W’Bool”