The SS Coogee was a screw steamer launched at Sunderland in 1887, with the name Lancashire Witch. Of 760 tons with a length of 69m, she had a top speed of 17 knots. Bought by Huddart Parker & Co, she was sailed to Victoria and began service on the Melbourne-Geelong run in February 1889. The following year, after alterations, she was transferred to the Melbourne-Launceston overnight service.
A few hours after departing from Launceston, at 7.30pm on Christmas Eve 1903, the Coogee, with 30 passengers aboard, ran into fog. At 2am on Christmas Day, when the fog thickened, the Coogee slowed to half-speed and for a short period the engines were stopped. When the fog cleared a little, Capt Carrington decided to continue at half-speed. Unfortunately, a large Italian iron four-masted barque, the Fortunato Figari, lay hidden in a patch of dense fog directly ahead of the Coogee.
As the sailing vessel appeared out of the fog, the Coogee turned hard to port in an attempt to avoid a collision. She avoided driving into the hull of the Fortunato Figari but tore a large hole in its bow. The Coogee, however, had almost everything destroyed above the level of the main deck as she passed under the iron bowsprit of the barque, with its chain rigging and bobstay (a 100mm iron bar). The masts, the open bridge, the funnel, deck houses and boats were all flattened. The captain was killed, the helmsman died later and the other man on the bridge was seriously injured. There were no casualties on the Fortunato Figari. Capt Carrington was an experienced and highly regarded captain but the court of inquiry found that on that foggy night he was operating his ship at a dangerous speed.
Both vessels were later towed to Melbourne, repaired and returned to service. The Coogee continued on the Bass Strait run until replaced by the SS Loongana in 1910. She was returned to the Melbourne-Geelong service until 1917, used as a minesweeper late in World War I and taken out of service in the mid-1920s.
BY MAURIE HUTCHINSON
President, Peninsula Ship Society
T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780
The Peninsula Ship Society meets at Hastings Yacht Club on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 10am. Visitors always welcome.