north of West Channel, Port Phillip Bay

VHR Number


Date lost

19 Nov 1865

Year of construction


Official number



Statement of Significance

The City of Launceston is one of Victoria's most significant shipwrecks. The discovery and reporting of the wreck and subsequent lobbying of the State Government led to the proclamation of the State Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981. It is one of the most intact iron steamship wrecks of its age in Australian waters, is technically and scientifically significant for the remains of its engine and boiler, and evidence of the experimental salvage attempts using Patented Maquay hydrogen gas generating devices. The City of Launceston is archaeologically highly significant for the state of preservation of a complete intra-colonial steamship with evidence of its cabin fittings, passengers luggage and cargo.

Physical Description  
Construction Material Iron
Rig Schooner
Hull Details Iron, clipper bow, elliptic stern
Propulsion Steam - Screw
Engine Specification Blackwood & Gordon
Engine Builder direct acting inverted 2 cylinder, 80 HP, fitted with Thomas Silver s Patent steam governor, cylinders 34" diameter with 27 inch stroke, boiler 30lbs psi
Number of Masts 2
Length / Breadth / Depth 177.2 Feet / 24.4 Feet / 11.7 Feet
Builder Blackwood & Gordon
Built Date 1863
Built Port / Country Newark, Glasgow / Scotland
Registration Number 11 of 1863
Registration Port / Country Launceston / Australia
About 9 pm, incoming SS Penola ( 500 tons) struck and ran down City of Launceston which began to settle almost immediately. Passengers and crew transferred with difficulty to Penola. Sunken vessel valued at about 17,000 pounds - not insured. Sold by auction to Barrett, engineer of City of Launceston, who sold to a syndicate but salvage attempts eventually abandoned. Victorian Steam Navigation Board Inquiry held City of Launceston to blame for accident. Two separate Supreme Court actions by the respective owners for damages found in favour of the plaintiff in each case! An appeal by the aggrieved owner of the Penola for a non suit or a new trial was ultimately refused. Eleutheria, lighter, exhibited light at wreck site until it too sank. City of Launceston was the first shipwreck to be declared an Historic Shipwreck under new Victorian legislation. Built for the Melbourne to Launceston Bass Strait run, it was a regular trader across Bass Strait.
Uses of Vessel  
Primary Use Services
Secondary Use Passenger - Coastal
Voyage Details  
Date Lost 19 Nov 1865
Voyage from Melbourne to Launceston
General cargo including English mails, luggage, drapery inc. crinolines, cases of brandy, port, rum, cigars, tea, boots, sheepwash
Owner G. Fisher and partners, trading as Launceston and Melbourne Steam Navigation Co.
Master of Vessel Capt. William Thom
Weather conditions
Clear; starlit night; calm seas
Cause of Loss
confusion between ships masters, collision
Further Details  
Number of Passengers 25
Comments on Passenger
Mr & Mrs Bowland, Mr & Mrs Horne and their 2 children, Mrs Woods (wife of the vessel's usual captain), Mrs Richards, Mrs McDonald, Dr Brook, Dr Moore and Messrs. J Moore, Chesterman, Thom, Bowland, M. Miller, E Miller and Roff. Included in the steerage passengers Messrs. Lister, Hancock and Pilkington. The other steerage passengers are unknown as they bought their tickets onboard. 18 cabin, 7 steerage
Number of Crew Members 23

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