People and Places
28/04/2020
All lives lost in Bass Strait tragedy

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“Hope Abandoned. No tidings of the missing steamer Orion have been received, and hopes for the safety of the vessel have been abandoned” –  The Argus, Melbourne, Monday, May 18, 1908. 

The s.s. Orion departed for Melbourne from Duck River, 13 miles from Stanley, on Wednesday, May 6, 1908, at 7pm. When she did not arrive the following evening, it was assumed that she had been delayed by the extreme weather that had raged in Bass Strait. 

The small steamer had departed in good weather but a violent storm arose later that night and continued through Thursday and Friday. Over the next few days there was no great anxiety. At first it was assumed that she had sheltered in the lee of one of the islands to wait for the weather to ease, and later that she had perhaps suffered damage to her engines. 

Ships were sent to look for her to tow her to port. These returned with the news that they were unable to find her, and she was not sighted by any of the ships that regularly crossed Bass Strait. After a week had passed it was assumed that she had been lost. This was confirmed when wreckage from the vessel was found on beaches on the west side of Flinders Island. Among the wreckage was one of the ship’s boats and some lifebuoys bearing the name s.s. Orion. The disaster resulted in the loss of 27 lives; 15 were passengers and 12 were crew.

By modern standards she was a tiny ship, being only 37.5m long, but typical of that time. Her wooden hull was built at Devonport in 1900. In February 1908 she was fully overhauled and pronounced to be in excellent condition. 

An inquiry into her loss, held at Stanley in July 1908, found that excessive amounts of deck cargo were the most likely reason for her being overwhelmed in the storm. 

The Orion had provided a weekly service across Bass Strait, departing from Melbourne every Saturday at 2pm with passengers and cargo, and she was usually back in Melbourne on the following Thursday evening.

BY MAURIE HUTCHINSON

President, Peninsula Ship Society

T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780

E: mauriehutch@gmail.com

The Peninsula Ship Society will not be meeting until further notice. 

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