A History of the Eliza Ramsden wreck

The Eliza Ramsden was commissioned and owned by a Melbourne businessman, Samuel Ramsden.

Samuel Ramsden was an uneducated stonemason that emigrated to Melbourne from Manchester in 1840. His first job was to build the footpath out the front of the Union Bank, which was located at the corner of Collins and Queens Streets, Melbourne. He worked hard and undertook a number of projects including the quarrying of the stone used for the Asylum at Yarra Bend, and building St Peters Church is East Melbourne. (photo below)

He went on to run a number of businesses including flour mills both in Castlemaine and Melbourne. He also built and ran a paper mill on the banks of the Yarra (photo below), that was later acquired to form APM (Australian Paper Mills).

He later built himself a mansion named “Verona” (photo below) on the corner of Claredon and Grey Streets in Fitzroy, opposite the Fitzroy Gardens, which was only demolished as recently as 1966.

He returned to England during his business career for a visit in 1874, and later  returned to Melbourne. Whilst in England, he commissioned a vessel to suit colonial trade.

The Eliza Ramsden was a three masted iron barque built in Clyde, Scotland in 1874. She was one of the finest vessels of her time, costing 10,000 pounds. She was around 45 metres in length, 8 metres wide and drew 4 metres. She was estimated to weigh 395 tons.

The vessel was named after Mr Ramsdens wife. The Eliza Ramsden was of a similar construction to the “James Craig” that was built during the same period (photo below). The James Craig has been restored, and is operational as a tourist attraction in Sydney. She is one of only four operational Barques from the 19th Century still capable of sailing.

The Eliza Ramsden completed her maiden voyage from to Melbourne without incident, and a further trip from Melbourne to Mauritius and back.

On the 24th July 1875, she set sail for Newcastle on a voyage out of Melbourne. There were 14 crew aboard, including Captain Steaurt. There was only one passenger, Samuel Ramsdens son.

The crew included a boy named Tom Pearce, (photo below) one of only two survivors from the LochArd which sunk off Port Campbell three years later in 1878.

During the departure from Hobsons Bay (now Williamstown), there was a fresh northerly wind blowing. Near Queenscliff at nightfall, the Captain burned a blue light to attract the pilot to guide them through the heads, but alas, no pilot came, and the Captain proceeded to attempt to transit the heads without the guidance of a pilot.

The Captain misjudged his position and the ship became lodged on Corsair Rock. The crew and the sole passenger were taken aboard a lifeboat from the steamboat, Warhawk. It was reckoned that once the tide rose, that the ship would take on water and sink, so it was a race against time for the new skeleton crew consisting of the cutter Ben Bolt’s captain, Richard Legget and two passing fishermen, to attempt to bring it to Queenscliff.

It became clear once the vessel floated free from Corsair Rock that the inflicted damage included the disabling of the rudder. The flood tide brought her back inside where she took on a great deal of water and sank where she lies upright today next to the shipping channel near Quarantine station, Portsea. There was no loss of life, however the crew and sole passenger lost most of their personal effects and the cargo of ballast she was carrying.

Captain Steuart was found to be negligent, having disregarded the Queenscliff lights and misjudged his position. He was highly regarded and had his certification and licences suspended for 6 months. Bidding for the salvage of the wreck began at 500 pounds and was “reluctantly” sold to Captain Steuart for 1000 pounds. Maybe he knew something was on board that no-one else did?

Mr Ramsden died 2 years later in 1877.

For many years the masts of the wreck remained above sea level and so she wasn’t a real danger until her masts finally collapsed in the 1960’s and posed a danger to vessels using the channel. Her masts were then demolished with explosives to ensure that shipping traffic was not impeded.

Diving the Eliza Ramsden

The Eliza Ramsden is still very recognisable and a great place to scuba dive.

The anchor to the Eliza Ramsden is located at the front of the Queenscliff Historical Museum in Queenscliff.

The Eliza Ramsden sits in approximately 18 meters and is suitable for Open Water qualified Scuba divers. Diving the Eliza Ramsden can only be conducted during slack water, and great care has to be taken to not impede shipping in the channel. The Eliza Ramsden has a great deal of marine life, including soft corals and bright yellow zoanthids.

The Eliza Ramsden wreck is sometimes scheduled by RedBoats, and their schedule can be found here. If you wish to dive it, call them and they will schedule it.