Port Phillip Steamers

In the early years of the colony of Victoria shipping was an important, and often the only mode of transport between Melbourne and the developing coastal towns.  Sail and steam powered vessels of various sizes and types plied their trade from the mid 19th century.  With the 1850s gold rush the demand for shipping grew especially between Melbourne and Geelong, and more services were introduced.

Port Phillip shipping operators included Howard Smith, Huddart Parker, Bay Excursions Co and Bay Steamers Ltd.  Ships from overseas were brought into service for the steamer trade.  The paddle steamers, designed for Port Phillip conditions, were mostly built at Glasgow.

The most famous Port Phillip steamers were the SS Edina, PS Ozone, PS Hygeia and PS Weeroona.  The paddle steamers sailed out from England under their own steam via Suez Canal, the East Indies, Torres Strait and down the east coast to Port Phillip.

Regular passenger and cargo services operated between Melbourne and ports around Port Phillip including Snapper Point, Sorrento, Portsea and Queenscliff.  On Corio Bay services operated between Melbourne, Geelong and Portarlington.  The steamer trade contributed to the growth of these towns, with grand hotels built near the steamer piers.

In holiday periods steamer excursion services carried large groups for club and company picnic outings and special events.  Picnic grounds became established near most steamer piers and many entertainments were on offer.  Steamer piers were built at other popular picnic areas such as Point Henry and Dromana.

Steamer patronage declined with the advent of railways, the motor car and the improvement in roads down the Bellarine & Mornington peninsulas.  World War II contributed to the decline and by 1943 all steamer services had ceased.

Steamer Displays

In the Museum are displays illustrating aspects of the steamer trade; these include:

  • SS Edina artefacts

  • PS Hygeia and PS Weeroona artefacts, plus model vessels on loan from Museum Victoria

The steamer models display has recently been enhanced in 2 ways.  The models now stand on glass shelves supported by stainless steel tubes.  Beneath the models is a display to illustrate the steamer services and the shipping companies which operated them.  The ships?#8364;™ china relics which the Museum has acquired over the years have been cleaned, identified and documented.  Most of the china was made in the UK, and we were able to use the comprehensive Staffordshire potteries website for this research.  The china display is interspersed with illustrations of steamer activity reproduced from our photograph, postcard and map archive.

Recently arrived steamer artefacts include promenade deck seats from SS Edina and PS Hygeia and a marvellous carved and painted wooden crest from the port side paddle box of the PS Weeroona.

SS EDINA; 380 tons, 171 feet long

Built in 1854 as a 3-masted sailing ship with auxiliary steam power the Edina sailed the North Sea and North Atlantic.  She ran the Melbourne-Warrnambool-Portland service from 1863, and also took passengers to the New Zealand gold rush.

Howard Smith & Co bought her in 1875 for the Melbourne-Portarlington-Geelong passenger and cargo service which she ran for 63 years.  In 1927 she was regarded as the world's oldest continuously operating steamer.

During her long career the Edina was involved in many incidents, colliding with ships and marine installations, and suffered the occasional grounding.  She was repaired, modified and refitted several times, and finished up with one mast.  Converted to a lighter in 1938 she operated around the Port of Melbourne until 1957 when she was broken up.

PS HYGEIA  986 tons, 300 feet long

Built in 1890 by Napier, Shanks & Bell of Glasgow for Huddart Parker & Co.  She was built to compete directly with the popular PS Ozone, and was generally regarded as one of the fastest and finest appointed paddle steamers ever built for Australian service with a top speed in excess of 22 knots.

Licensed to carry 1,600 passengers she operated regular excursion trips each summer between Melbourne, Queenscliff and Sorrento for 40 years and was often chartered for company picnics and special events.

PS WEEROONA 1412 tons, 310 feet 6 inches long

Built in Glasgow in 1910 by AS Inglis for the Huddart Parker subsidiary Bay Steamers Ltd.

With a capacity for 1,900 passengers she was the last and largest of the purpose-built Port Phillip Steamers and remained in service until 1942 when she was purchased by the US Navy. She was resumed by the Australian Government in 1945 and dismantled in Berrys Bay, NSW in 1951.

Page last updated 11/09/2013