The Paddle Steamer PS ‘Clonmel’ was a wooden passenger & cargo ferry running from Sydney to Launceston, via Port Phillip.

The addition of the paddle steamer ‘Clonmel’ to service the Launceston – Port Phillip – Sydney run was of great pride and of great need in the early 1840’s.

” . . . The beginning of December, 1840, witnessed an arrival, the most remarkable of the notabilia of our early shipping annals, for on the 5th, the steamer ” Clonmel,” 250 horse power, and 500 tons, made her appearance in Hobson’s Bay.  She was sent from England for the Sydney, Melbourne and Launceston trade, and her coming was hailed as a significant indication of the importance which the Australian colonies were assuming in the commercial mind of the Mother-country.  The most exalted notions were entertained as to what the ” Clonmel” would do for Port Phillip—notions doomed to be shattered in the wreck of the steamer, which occurred on her second trip from Sydney.  She left Sydney on the 1st, and made the passage here in seventy-two hours.  The day after her arrival (Sunday the 6th) was scorchingly hot, and crowds from Melbourne had a broiling tramp of it through the burning sands to Sandridge to view the interesting stranger.  The ” Clonmel” left for Launceston on the 7th, returning on the 14th, and steamed back to Sydney on the 16th, but she did not enter Port Phillip waters again.  The fares by her to Sydney were thus notified :—Ladies, ,£12 12s.; gentlemen, ,£12 12s. ; on deck, £6 . . . “

Source:  Excerpt – ‘The Chonicles of Melbourne 1835 to 1851 – Vol. II’ – by Garryowen – published 1888

Being amongst the first of the steamers to service the coastal runs, the PS ‘Clonmel’ featured two masts for sail, combined with side paddles which were powered by a 220 HP steam engine manufactured by Forrester & Company of Liverpool, England.  The steam engine could achieve 10 knots at maximum speed consuming a massive 610 kg of coal per hour.

PS Clonmel

PS ‘Clonmel’

Gross Tonnage:  500

Net Tonnage:  297

Length:  154 ft (46.94 m)

Width:  27 ft (8.23 m)

Depth:  16 ft (4.88 m)

Draft:  4 ft 9 in (1.49 m)  

An extract of an article published in the ‘Sydney Herald’ on the 23rd December 1840 notes the excitement of the successful maiden voyage from Sydney to Port Phillip:

” . . . This vessel arrived in port yesterday afternoon, having been absent from Sydney twenty-one days.  She has succeeded admirably, all the passengers by her expressing themselves in the highest terms of her efficiency in every respect.  She will return to Port Phillip in a few days, and it is hoped that such arrangements have now been made that there will be no more delay for want of fuel.  We have great pleasure in laying before our readers the following documents, which shew the estimation in which a numerous body of passengers hold the Clonmel, and also that the urbanity of Captain Tollervey is justly appreciated . . “

Click here for the full article.


Sadly, just over one week later, the PS ‘Clonmel’ ran aground:

” . . . The Clonmel ran ashore at 3 o’clock in the morning of the 1st January, on some reefs near Corner Inlet, off Ninety Mile Beach, a low sandy coast of great extent.  There were thirty-six passengers on board, all of whom were saved.  The cargo is small, and of no great value.  It was expected that the vessel would go to pieces in less than twenty-four hours . . . “


” . . . This vessel was by far the most splendid that ever visited our shores ; and it was only a few weeks since that we were congratulating these colonies on having such a craft plying between them.  The loss of property cannot be estimated under forty thousand pounds, the steamer alone having cost it owners, at Sydney, about thirty thousand pounds . . . “

Source:  Excerpts – ‘Launceston Courier’ – Article “Wreck of the Clonmel Steam Ship” – published 18th January 1841

Click here for the full article.

The Loss of the Paddle Steamer PS ‘Clonmel’

The following is an account of the demise of the PS ‘Clonmel’ which provides an insight into the bravery and resourcefulness of the passengers and crew in a time when all could have been lost.

” . . . During the end of 1840, the Melbourne newspapers were loud and joyous in their pæans on the arrival of the ” Clonmel,” a steamer sent out from England to trade between the ports of Sydney, Melbourne, and Launceston; but the vessel on her third trip to Port Phillip met with a watery grave under the following circumstances:—On the afternoon of the 30th December, the ” Clonmel” left Sydney for Melbourne with passengers and crew consisting of seventy-five individuals, and a valuable general cargo.  At daylight the 1st January, Cape Howe bore W . S. W., and in the course of the morning Ram Head was sighted, and a fresh departure taken, steering for Wilson’s Promontory.  The wind was fair, with smooth sea; the course S. W . ½ W., with wind and sea continuing favourable during the day and night.  A little after 3 a.m of the 2nd, all the passengers were startled by the ship striking heavily.  Rushing on to the deck, breakers were perceived ahead.  Finding that the engines were of no avail, orders were given to lighten her by throwing overboard some of the cargo, but without the desired effect, the vessel still surging higher upon the reef.  The anchors were then let go, when after a few more bumps, she swung head to wind, taking the ground with her stern, and bedding herself, with the fall of tide, upon the sand, rolling hard and striking occasionally.  During the whole of this trying scene the most exemplary conduct was shown by the crew in obeying the orders of the captain and officers.  When daylight, made its appearance, it was ascertained that the steamer was on shore on a sandspit at the entrance of Corner Inlet, Gippsland, about half a mile from the beach between which and the vessel a heavy surf was rolling.  Captain Tollervy’s conduct had hitherto been that of a careful and watchful commander; he was on deck during the whole of the middle watch which he himself kept, anxiously on the look out, and was on the paddle-box at the time the vessel struck; but as the night was misty, nothing could be seen beyond the length of the vessel.  The captain, on finding all attempts to get the vessel off unavailing, and a strong sea rising with the flood tide, turned his attention to the safety of the passengers and crew.  After several trips by the whale-boats first, and assisted by the quarter-boats afterwards, every soul was landed in safety by 2 p.m., the captain being the last to leave the vessel.  A sufficiency of sails, awnings, and lumber was brought on shore to rig up tents for all hands; and everybody set to work to form an encampment.  In a short time the female passengers were comfortably camped, having beds placed for them in a weather-proof tent ; the male passengers and crew were equally well accommodated by means of spare sails and awnings.  Provisions, consisting of live stock, hams, bread, flour, biscuits rice, tea, sugar, wines, and beer, had been landed during the forenoon, and water, though rather brackish to the taste, was found in abundance by digging.  The captain next evolved order out of the chaotic mass.  Provisions were stowed under a boat turned upside down, to guard them as well from petty depredations as from the weather, and sentinels posted.  When order was thus established and provisions distributed for supper, the captain consulted with Mr. D. C. Simson, one of the passengers, and a brother tar, and they agreed upon the desirability, if possible, of starting a boat to Melbourne to obtain succour.  Simson, who knew the route, volunteered as leader, and was joined by five others, including Mr. Edwards, of the firm of Edwards and Hunter, and the next morning, amidst the cheers of the derelicts, were launched from the beach by them in the whale-boat.  Proceeding to the vessel to lay in a store of provisions, they were nearly two hours before they reached the ship, being every moment in danger of swamping.  

Time was short and precious, and so the most should be made of the present.  They procured a supply of such provisions as came within their reach, and after hoisting the Union Jack reversed from the mast-head, the boat’s crew shoved off, and committed themselves to the care of a merciful Providence.  At 8 a.m. of the 3rd they took their departure, outside the bank, steering for Sealer’s Cove.  The boat was manned by five seamen, and besides oars, had a small lug-sail made out of the awning.  Their provisions consisted of biscuit, a ham, a breaker of water, three bottles of wine, twelve of beer, and one of brandy; of the latter article Simson would not take more, dreading its effects upon the crew; but the small quantity was found very beneficial when subsequently administered in moderate portions.

The voyage in the open boat was attended with its own perils, and as it was the first of its kind a narrative of its progress will be interesting.

Shortly after leaving the “Clonmel” the wind came from the westward, and they were obliged to down sail, and after six hours’ vain struggling against the wind to reach the main land, were under the necessity of running for one of the seal islands, where was found a snug little cove, into which the boat was steered.  Here, after refreshing by a three hours’ rest and hearty meal, they again pulled for the mainland, and reached Sealer’s Cove about midnight, where they landed, cooked supper, and passed the remainder of the night in the boat anchored in deep water.  At half-past three a.m. on the 4th three men were sent on shore to get the breaker filled with water.  They had scarcely done so and brought it down to the beach when several natives were observed rushing towards them.  The men hurried on board and the boat got under weigh, the wind blowing hard from the eastward at the time.  After a severe pull of four hours they were at last able to weather the southern point of the Cove, to hoist sail and run for Wilson’s Promontory, which was rounded at 10 a.m., the sea running very high.

At 8 p.m. they succeeded in bringing up in a small bay at the eastern entrance of Western Port, and were glad to get on shore.  After a refreshing night’s repose on the sandy beach they started the next morning at the break of day, with a strong and steady breeze from the eastward, although they were in imminent danger of being swamped, the sea having risen very considerably, and breaking over them repeatedly.  At 2 p.m. they were abreast of Port Phillip Heads, but to their mortification the strong ebb tide caused so much broken water that Simson did not consider it prudent to run over it.  A cutter was descried making for the Heads, and bearing down upon her she was found to be the “Sisters,” from Launceston, by which they were taken on board and very hospitably treated.  Both boat and party arrived in safety at Williamstown at 11 p.m., having been sixty-three hours from the time they left the ship.

The cutters ” Sisters” and ” Will Watch ” were at once despatched for the scene of the wreck, having on board Mr. Lewis, the Harbour Master, Captain Roach, the agent of the “Clonmel,” and Lieutenant Russel, with a detachment of the 28th Regiment.  The passengers and crew were brought in safety to Melbourne.  The mail was also with difficulty fished from the wreck.

Amongst the passengers were Mr. and Mrs. Walker, of Sydney; Mr. Goodwin, of the firm of Hamilton and Goodwin of Melbourne, to whom one-half of the cargo belonged ; Mr. Robinson, of the Union Bank, having in his charge £3000 of the Bank’s notes for the Melbourne branch, which sum was lost and supposed to have been stolen ; Mr. and Mrs. Michael Cashmore, of Melbourne, newly married, and bringing a large quantity of goods for a new drapery establishment intended to be opened at the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets.  There were on board 300 tons of coals and 200 tons general cargo.

It was a stormy honeymoon for Cashmore, and all he saved was his newly won wife and an old silver watch, both of which remained with him, keeping good time for many years thereafter.  Much of the uninsured cargo was destroyed, and several local merchants were heavy losers.  Captain Tollervy sustained a severe injury to one of his ankles, by the tendon of the joint breaking, and it was thought the foot would be rendered useless for life.  The ” Clonmel” ultimately became a total wreck ; about ,£1000 worth of cabin furniture, a gig, some spirits, and general stores were saved.  The vessel had been insured for £17,000 . . . “

Source:  Excerpt – ‘The Chonicles of Melbourne 1835 to 1851 – Vol. II’ – by Garryowen – published 1888



1836 → built in Birkenhead, England for the Waterford Steamship Company

Oct 1840 → acquired by Edye Manning & Partners to join the fleet of coastal steamers

Jan 1841 → ran aground at Clonmel Island, Victoria, → wrecked


An article written in 1919 details the happenings of the passengers and crew following the shipwreck – click here.


The Marine Board of Enquiry found:

” . . . Port Phillip

(From the P.P. Gazette, Jan. 20, 1841.)


Marine Board of Enquiry. – On Monday a board, consisting of Captains Lewis, Collins, and Roach, were assembled at Captain Cole’s stores, for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of the wreck of the Clonmel.  Many of the passengers and of the crew gave their statements, which were embodied in affidavits to be sworn before the Police Magistrate.  From the general tenor of the evidence thus tendered, it would appear that a departure from the orders given by Captain Tollervy, on the part of the chief mate upon taking his “watch,” led to the catastrophe.  The course directed by the commander after quitting Ram Head, keeping S. W. ½ W., would have cleared Wilson’s Promontory, but the mate conceiving “that the captain was too timid of hugging the shore,” gave orders to steer the vessel more to the westward.  After striking, had the Clonmel’s engine been “backed,” (as it is supposed) she might have been saved, but keeping “way” upon her, in hopes of driving over the sand bank, is the cause of her now being imbedded five miles inland upon the spit.  A vessel is about to be despatched immediately to endeavour to recover the vessel, or at least her engine, and also to bring up the remainder of the crew who have been left in charge . . . “

Source:  Excerpt – ‘Sydney Monitor & Commercial Advertiser’ – published 1st February 1841


The wreck of the PS ‘Clonmel’ is located at co-ordinates:  -38.744000; 146.677800.  This is a Shipwreck Protected Zone which means that it is an offence to enter, anchor, fish, trawl or dive within a 50 m radius of the wreck without a permit.  Please note that hefty fines apply should anyone be caught within the said protected zone, without the correct permit.

The sandy island adjacent to where the PS ‘Clonmel’ ran aground on the eastern most spit, now bears the name ‘Clonmel Island’ as pictured at the base of the Survey Map below …


View other important events in the history of Australia’s National Shipping . . .