Historical information

This sheet of copper sheathing or Muntz metal has been recovered from the site of the wrecked ship Schomberg. It has been damaged by the reaction of the metals to the sea, it has encrustations from the sea such as sand, and another damage has caused the edges to break away or fold over.

Early sailing ships had a problem of the timber hulls being eaten through by the marine animals called Teredo Worms, sometimes called ‘sea worms’ or ‘termites of the sea’. The worms bore holes into wood that is immersed in seawater and the bacteria inside the worms digest the wood. Early shipbuilders applied coatings of tar, was, lead or pitch onto the timber to prevent this. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the outsides of ships’ hulls were encased in either copper sheathing or Muntz metal, which is a combination of 60 per cent copper and 40 per cent zinc. The ships would be re-metalled periodically to ensure the sheathing would remain effective. In more recent times the ships are protected with a toxic coating.

About the SCHOMBERG-
James Blaine’s Black Ball Line had commissioned the luxury sailing ship, Schomberg, to be built for its fleet of passenger liners The three-masted wooden ship was launched in 1855, designed by the Aberdeen builders to sail faster than the quick clippers designed by North American Donald McKay. The material used for the diagonal planking was British oak with layers of Scottish larch.

The Schomberg’s master Captain ‘Bully’ Forbes commanded the ship on its maiden journey between Liverpool and Melbourne, departing on 6 October 1855 with 430 passengers and 3000 tons of cargo including iron rails and equipment intended the build the Geelong Railway and a bridge over the Yarra from Melbourne to Hawthorn. After sailing for 78 days she ran aground on a sand spit at Curdies Inlet near Peterborough, Victoria, on 27 December 1835. At dawn on the next day, the ship’s Chief Officer signalled a passing steamer, SS Queen, for help and all of Schomberg’s passengers were able to disembark safely.

The passengers’ baggage and some of the cargo were later collected from the Schomberg. Local merchants Manifold & Bostock bought the wreck and the remaining cargo but did not attempt to salvage the cargo that was still on board. They eventually sold it and after two of the men drowned in the salvage efforts the job was abandoned.

In 1975, divers from Flagstaff Hill, including former Director, Peter Ronald, explored the Schomberg wreck site and recovered many artefacts that are now on display at the Museum.


The copper sheathing is significant for its connection with the Schomberg, which is on the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR S612), has great historical significance as a rare example of a large and fast clipper ship that sailed on the England-to-Australia run, carrying emigrants at the time of the Victorian gold rush. She represents the technical advances made to break sailing records between Europe and Australia.

Flagstaff Hill’s collection of artefacts from the Schomberg is significant for its association with the shipwreck. The collection is primarily significant because of the relationship between the objects, as together they can interpret the story of the ship, Schomberg. It is archaeologically significant as the remains of an international passenger Ship. It is historically significant for representing aspects of Victoria’s shipping history and for its association with the shipwreck and the ship, which was designed to be the fastest and most luxurious of its day.

Physical description

Copper sheathing; rectangular sheet of copper, shaped for use on a ship's hull, buckled, with fibres protruding from one edge. The object was recovered from the wreck of the SCHOMBERG.