Schomberg was a large three-masted full-ship rigged wooden ship built in 1855 by Alexander Hall and Co in Aberdeen, Scotland for James Baines' famous Black Ball Line at £43,103. The vessel was 288 feet (88 meters) in length, with a beam of 45 feet (14 meters), a depth of 29.5 feet (8.99 meters) of 2,284 tons. The mainmast was 210 feet (64 meters) high and she carried 3.3 acres of sail. The vessel was constructed with three skins. One planked fore and aft, and two diagonally planked, fastened together with screw-threaded trunnels (wooden rails).
The Schomberg is one of only three clipper wrecks in Victorian waters that operated the England to Australia run. While the other two, Empress of the Sea and Lightning, were built by the famous American shipbuilder, Donald Mac Kay. Schomberg was an attempt to build a faster ship than Mac Kay and a vessel fast enough to break the sailing record to Australia.
The Schomberg sailed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool on 6 October 1855, under the command of Captain James Forbes, on its maiden voyage to Australia with a general cargo, jewellery, spirits, machinery, and 2,000 tons of 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, plus 90,000 gallons of water for washing and drinking. She also carried 17,000 letters and 31,800 newspapers. There were approximately 473 passengers and a crew of 105. It was hoped that Schomberg would make Melbourne in sixty days, setting a record for the voyage, but light winds at the equator dashed those expectations.
The ship sighted Moonlight Head in south west Victoria on Christmas Day but through a deadly combination of wind, currents and unmarked sand spits, the vessel gently ran aground on 26 December 1855 on a spit that juts into Newfield Bay, just east of Curdies Inlet, and the present town of Peterborough. Fortunately, the SS Queen was nearby and managed to save all passengers and crew.
The steamers Keera and Maitland were dispatched to salvage the passenger's baggage and the more valuable cargo. Other salvage attempts were made, but deteriorating weather made the work impossible, and within two weeks the Schomberg's hull was broken up and the vessel abandoned. The wrecking of the Schomberg caused quite the public stir particularly in light of the fact the vessel was supposed to be, the most perfect clipper ship ever built. Captain Forbes was charged in the Supreme Court under suspicion that he was playing cards with two female passengers below decks when his ship ran aground. Despite a protest meeting, two inquiries and the court proceedings, he was found not guilty and cleared of all charges.
In 1975, divers from Flagstaff Hill, including Peter Ronald, found an ornate communion set at the wreck. The set comprised a jug, two chalices, a plate and a lid. The lid did not fit any of the other objects and in 1978 a piece of the lid broke off, revealing a glint of gold. As museum staff carefully examined the lid and removed marine growth, they found a diamond ring, which is currently on display in the Great Circle Gallery at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime museum that also displays ship fittings and equipment, personal effects. Most of the artefacts were salvaged from the wreck by Peter Ronald, former director of Flagstaff Hill.
The Schomberg has historical significance as one of the first luxurious ships built to bring emigrants to Australia to cash in on the gold rush era. And is included on the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR S612). The collection of Schomberg artefacts held at Flagstaff Hill Museum is primarily significant because of the relationship between these recovered items having a high potential to interpret the story of the Schomberg and its foundering during a storm. The shipwreck is of additional historically significance for representing aspects of Victoria’s shipping history and for its association with the first passenger ship, which was designed not only to be the fastest and most luxurious of its day but foundered on its maiden voyage to Australia.
Bilge Pump Barrel, recovered from the wreck of the Schomberg.
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