The heyday of excursion ships on Port Phillip lasted more than 50 years from 1886 to 1942. After the 1920s, the availability of motor vehicles and improved roads provided Melburnians with more opportunities for a weekend outing than the previous choice of a ‘trip down the bay’. The arrival of the Ozone, the first of three large paddle steamers, began this extremely popular service.
Many trips to towns around the southern end of the bay were day trips, but the paddlers also provided transport for people having an extended holiday at one of the hotels or guest houses. Usually they called at only two or three ports and the procedure was for the vessel to remain for several hours at the final destination before returning to Melbourne. Picnics to Sorrento were particularly popular with family groups, larger social groups and business associations. They were also popular with church groups, workers’ associations such as butchers, and market gardeners. Many large businesses also held picnics for their employees. Often a brass band played while the children enjoyed their games and the adults enjoyed their picnic.
After the success of the Ozone, which began in 1886, two other large paddle steamers joined her in providing a similar service. These were the Hygeia in 1890 and the Weeroona in 1910. All three of these vessels were built in Glasgow and made the voyage to Port Phillip under their own power. The smallest, the Ozone, had a length of 79m and carried 1600 passengers. The Weeroona, at just short of 95m, carried about 2000 passengers and was one of the largest excursion steamers ever built.
Services were provided on many weekdays as well as weekends during the warmer months. In keeping with the times, both ladies’ and gentlemen’s lounges and dining rooms were available as well as similar shared facilities, all fitted out with luxurious furnishings and decorated panelling. Dancing to popular city bands, strolling on the wide promenades and socialising in the bars were all popular. The final voyage of the Weeroona in March 1942 brought the era to a close.
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.