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SS Casino

50 Years Steaming in Victoria's Western District

The steamship SS Casino served the Western District of Victoria for almost fifty years during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A popular cargo ship, the Casino was a regular sight on the Moyne river and along the coast. The ship was an integral part of coastal life until she was shipwrecked in the 1920's, and objects from the Casino can now be found in collections from across the region and gathered here on Victorian Collections for the first time.

Transporting large quantities of wool, potatoes, onions, grain, sheep, cattle and other produce provided a great economic opportunity to business men in Port Fairy and in March, 1882, the Belfast & Koroit Steamship Company was formed with a capital of £20,000 in 10,000 shares. The SS Casino on her delivery voyage from England was due in Warrnambool to load potatoes for Sydney and the Directors inspected and purchased her there.

She arrived in Port Fairy on 29th July, 1882, steaming triumphantly up the Moyne River, and was greeted with cheers by a large crowd, many of whom had come from the surrounding countryside. She operated alone for almost all of the next 49 years. She was much loved by the whole Port Fairy community and the coastal ports that she serviced, bringing news and goods from far away and transporting passengers.

A celebration for the Casino's fiftieth anniversary was planned for the 29th July, 1932. Unfortunately soon after 9 o'clock on the morning of Sunday I0th July, 1932, disaster struck when the Casino was lost at Apollo Bay together with the lives of the Captain and 9 crew members.

BKSN Flag - The Belfast & Koroit Steam Navigation Company Flag

Apollo Bay Museum

The house flag of the Belfast and Koroit Steam Navigation Company flew proudly aboard their ships Casino (1882-1932), Bellinger (1884-1887), Dawn (1885-1896), Coramba (1932-1934) and Wannon (1935-1939). Their office, warehouse and wharf were located on the Moyne River. Agents were appointed in Portland, Warrnambool, Apollo Bay and Melbourne to make shipping arrangements.

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Photograph - SS Casino

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

The steamers transporting cargo and passengers along the West Coast were built with masts for rigging sails, and in the early days the captains used these to save on fuel consumption. In this photograph SS Casino has her three original masts. After 1924 she was modified and only the fore and aft masts remained.

The steamer had several brushes with disaster; it collided with another boat off Point Gellibrand, ran aground on a reef near Grey River, and was beached at Warrnambool while entering Lady Bay in a power blackout. Following each incident the steamer was repaired and returned to its West Coast run.

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Photograph - SS Casino

Port Fairy Historical Society

Port Fairy was busy with steamers from other companies in the early years, transporting cargo in competition with the Casino. Clearance for berthing at Steam Packet wharf was tight and Casino only had to touch one of the reefs or have her bow swung by a combination of wind and tide to collide with one or more of the couta boats.

In 1929 Casino ran into “Bun” Presnell’s Royal, which was crushed and sent to the bottom. Fortunately Presnell jumped clear and survived. On another occasion Casino crashed into the wall at Martin’s Point, blocking the river until the damage could be assessed.

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Photograph - Captain Chapman

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Captain Chapman was the Casino's longest serving captain, and was known as a very competent seaman. He captained the ship from 1900-1922, retiring after 20 years at sea.

He followed Captain Boyd, (1882–1900), who retired due to ill health and opened a navigation school in Melbourne. Captain Robertson (1922–1924) was in the Navy for 27 years, warrant officer in charge of naval cadets and reserves at Port Fairy and became second officer of Casino before becoming Captain. Robertson was followed by Captain Middleton (1924–1932), who collapsed and died in the surf at Apollo Bay.

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SS Cassino Sailing Notice used at Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay Museum

Casino could accommodate 25 passengers, and amongst her cargo she often carried pianos, books, horses, pigs, chickens, cases of eggs, butter, beeswax, horns and hair. Advertisements appearing in the newspapers across the Western District allowed the population to arrange trips, or send cargo to other towns along the route.

This board was displayed on the dock at Apollo Bay confirming the departure of SS Casino.

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Photograph - SS Casino Saloon

Port Fairy Historical Society

This photograph shows the saloon on the Casino dressed ready for the passengers to dine.

A first hand account of a meal being served described “the soup bowl was lifted and hot water poured into the plate underneath to stop the bowl from sliding, then the stewardess ladled in the soup, however the motion of the ship caused the soup to move around the plate, it was a case of leaving the spoon and allowing the soup to catch up with it”.

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Casino embroidery - SS Casino

Warrnambool and District Historical Society Inc.

The “Old Cas” or “Cassie” as she was fondly known inspired many to depict the ship in countless ways, such as embroidery, paintings and models. She was also much photographed and many postcards were produced and sent to friends and family all over the country.

Young boys, who frequented the wharf whenever they could, came running when the whistle sounded as she entered the river. They would watch her turning in the basin, being loaded and unloaded and talk to the crew.

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BKSN Life Preserver from SS Casino

Apollo Bay Museum

On the morning of 10 July 1932 after attempting and failing to berth at Apollo Bay jetty in heavy seas, Captain Middleton decided to take her out into the bay and wait until the seas abated. It wasn't realised that the fluke of the anchor used to steady her as she manoeuvred to her berth had pierced her hull. She put about again and headed for the beach, but sank.

The stewardess Mrs Helena Gill helped passengers with lifebuoys and lifebelts, but had no time to put on her own. She was one of the ten lives lost that day.

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Photograph - SS Casino Memorial, Pt Fairy

Port Fairy Historical Society

This memorial displaying the Casino’s propeller and the town wreck bell was unveiled on 8 July 1934 by Mrs. C.A. Melhuish, daughter of Captain Thomas Boyd. Another plaque was added in 1982 on the 100th anniversary of the registration of the ship. Such is the significance of the Casino to the town and the Western District, that a memorial service still takes place each year on the 10 July at 11 a.m.

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