The Screw Steamer SS ‘Alert’ was a 1 Masted, Iron Hulled Propeller Driven Steamer, built by Robert Duncan & Co, in Port Glasgow, Scotland, in 1877.

The screw steamer SS ‘Alert’ was built for Huddart Parker Ltd of Melbourne, under the direction and supervision of Captain Thomas Webb, a partner in the company at a cost of £12,000.  Incidentally, a ‘screw’ was the terminology at the time for what we call a propeller today . . .

She sailed from the United Kingdom to Australia as a three masted schooner carrying her funnel and her propeller in the hold.


SS ‘Alert’ Foundered off Cape Schanck – 28 Dec 1893

Gross Tonnage:  243

Net Tonnage:  116

Length:  169 ft (51.51 m)

Beam:  19 ft 7 in (6.02 m)

Draft:  9 ft 10 in (2.30 m)  

Masts:  One Single Foremast

Engine Builder:  Rankin & Blackmore of Greenock, Scotland

Single Engine:  Compound, Inverted, Cylinders 24″ & 46″ – 26″ stroke – 70 lbs, 90 hp

Lifeboats:  Two:  1 x 20′ & 1 x 14′ – slung in:  the Starboard Davits located Foreside of the Bridge, and, atop the Engine Room Skylight.

Owner:  Huddart Parker Ltd



1877 → the SS ‘Alert’ sailed to Australia rigged as a 3 Masted Schooner.  She was reported to be insured for £12,000 for the journey

1877 to 1893 → the SS ‘Alert’ primarily ran passengers and cargo across Port Phillip Bay – from Melbourne to Geelong.  She was a faithful little steamer on this run with no reports of incidents involving her in the 16 years that she plied the waters of bay being evident

Feb 1893 → the SS ‘Alert’ was initially fitted with 2 boilers which were replaced by a single boiler in the February of 1893 – the cost of the refit was £7,000.  The new single boiler was in fact, the same size of the original 2 boilers, which, coupled with the engines, weighed in at 150 tons

1893 → the SS ‘Alert’ was allocated to the Gippsland to Melbourne run whilst the SS ‘Despatch’ was being refitted

” . . . The Alert, an iron screw steamer of 243 tons, was engaged for a number of years in the Melbourne-Geelong service, in conjunction with the Excelsior.  At the time of the disaster, however, the regular trader on the Gippsland Lakes-Melbourne run (the Despatch) was in dock for overhaul, and the Alert was commissioned to replace her.  It has been stated, in this respect, that the Alert should have been used only for Bay excursion traffic, and that this circumstance contributed to the loss of the vessel . . . “

Source:  Excerpt – ‘Age’ (Melbourne, Vic) – Article “Wreck of the Alert – The 48th Anniversary” – published 27th December 1941

28 Dec 1893 → the SS ‘Alert’ was sunk as she rounded Cape Schanck and struck mountainous seas and hurricane force winds – fifteen lives were lost – one survivor was discovered on Sorrento’s ‘Back Beach’ the next morning, unconscious, but clinging to life.  The prompt actions of those who found him ensured he lived to tell the tale . . .


Mercury (Hobart, Tas) – 20 Feb 1894

It is believed that the loss of the SS ‘Alert’ was the final catalyst which lead to the building of the ‘Life Saving Track‘ along the Bass Strait coastline from Sorrento to ‘Number Sixteen Beach‘ in Rye. The track was intended to provide rescue access points along the rugged coastline thereby being able to transport rescuers and their equipment to foundering ships so that they could quickly be there to rescue and administer aid to survivors, as well as provide lookout points to spot ships in trouble

20 Feb 1894 → the Marine Board findings regarding the loss of the SS ‘Alert’ found the captain and owners exonerated of all blame as reported in the ‘Mercury’ (Hobart, Tas) on the 20th February 1894

Feb 1895 → The widow of Engineer, J Kilpatrick, proceeded to sue the Owners, Huddart Parker Ltd, for damages.  The following article is an interesting report of the proceedings:


Australasian (Melbourne, Vic) – 16 Feb 1895


View other important events in the history of The Steamers of Port Phillip Bay . . .

View other important events in the history of Victoria’s Coastal Runs . . .