Historical information

The artefact is a piece of ship’s timber from the wreck-site of the SCHOMBERG, a vessel which collided with the Peterborough reef on her maiden voyage in December 1855. This small wooden remnant of the disaster has been concreted on one side by the accrual of marine sediment while submerged. The build-up of sediment over the remains of the vessel is typical of the site as a whole. This artefact illustrates the reclaiming power of the ocean and the gradual disappearance of timber constructed vessels that have come to grief along this coastline (for example, the THISTLE in 1837, and the CHILDREN in 1838).

The SCHOMBERG was a 2,000 ton clipper ship, specifically designed for the Australian immigration trade (back-loading wool for Britain’s mills), and constructed in Hall’s shipyard in Aberdeen, Scotland. She was owned by the Black Ball Line and launched in 1855.

Alexander Hall & Son were renowned builders of sleek and fast 1,000 ton clippers for the China trade (opium in, tea out) and were keen to show they could also outclass the big North American ships built by Donald Mackay. Consequently the SCHOMBERG was ‘overbuilt’. Her hull featured five ‘skins’ of Scotch Larch and Pitch Pine overlaying each other in a diagonal pattern against a stout frame of British Oak.
Oak has been favoured by builders of wooden ships for centuries. Its close, dense grain made it harder to work, but also gave it great strength and durability. In addition, the lateral spread of its branches supplied a natural curvature for the ribs of a vessel’s hull, as well as providing the small corner or curved pieces (‘knees’ and ‘elbows’) that fit them together.

The shape and texture of this wood sample suggests a dense hardwood like Oak. The timber has been cut off at one end since its recovery from the sea, exposing a smooth and almost shiny surface. Seasoned English Oak has a similar light brown colour and tight grained finish.

At the launch the SCHOMBERG’s 34 year old master, Captain ‘Bully’ Forbes, had promised Melbourne in 60 days, "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 and a bridge over the Yarra from Melbourne to Hawthorn. She also carried a cow for fresh milk, pens for fowls and pigs, 90,000 gallons of water for washing and drinking. It 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 the captain's regarding a card game as more important than his ship, it 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 SS QUEEN at dawn and signalled the steamer. 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 after two of the men drowned when they tried to reach SCHOMBERG, salvage efforts were abandoned. Parts of the SCHOMBERG were washed ashore on the south island of New Zealand in 1870, nearly 15 years after the wreck.

The wreck now 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 scattered about nearby.

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


The SCHOMBERG collection as a whole is of historical and archaeological significance at a State level, listed on the Victorian Heritage Register VHR S612.

Flagstaff Hill’s collection of artefacts from the SCHOMBERG is significant for its association with the Victorian Heritage Registered shipwreck. 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

A piece of wood, concreted in sediment, from the wreck of the SCHOMBERG (1855). The limestone accretion includes sand, shell grit and marine worm casings. The exposed surface of the wood is broken and worn smooth along the grain. One end of the timber has been cut or sawn off across the grain, presenting a smooth and shiny surface.