In heavy seas and extreme winds, the Blue Funnel steamer Autolycus was in danger of being wrecked. After a passage of 48 days from Liverpool, the ship had taken aboard a pilot off the entrance to Port Phillip when, around noon on November 17, 1937, her engines broke down. Two miles off Point Lonsdale and at risk of being driven on to rocks, a wireless message was sent asking for urgent assistance. In response, the tugs Eagle and Tooronga left Melbourne and raced to the rescue.
While passing through the Rip the tugs were almost overwhelmed by the huge seas, and it was not until 6pm that the Tooronga was able to take the hawser of the Autolycus. With the Eagle standing by, the Tooronga towed the endangered ship off the treacherous lee shore and in spite of the fierce conditions brought her safely into the bay by 8.30 that evening. The engines of the Autolycus were repaired and she continued her passage the following day. She was sunk in the Bay of Bengal by naval gunfire in March 1942.
For more than 40 years the Tooronga carried out towing work in Port Phillip, much of which was mundane and routine. As the most powerful tug in the port, however, she was often called on to assist when large ships had difficulties while docking or departing and many times when ships and their crews were in extreme danger. During her early years she often towed sailing vessels in and out of port and rescued those in distress. In 1939 the last sailing vessel, with a cargo of wheat from Melbourne to Europe, left Port Phillip behind the Tooronga.
Tooronga had demonstrated her ability to handle the wildest seas during her 12,000 mile delivery passage from Dartmouth, England. On that passage, extreme weather was experienced from the Bay of Biscay to the crossing of the Great Australian Bight. When she arrived at Williamstown in January 1923, her captain described her as “a splendid little sea vessel”. After more than 40 years of service, she was broken up in Melbourne in 1965.
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.