The notorious Ly-ee-moon

The Ly-ee-moon was a fast vessel with elegant lines and a beautiful interior. She was a favoured means of travel on the Australian east coast run, usually with a full complement of passengers. The maritime writer Dickson Gregory, in Australian Steamships: past and present, claimed, however, that in the end, no ship ever eclipsed her “great notoriety”.
She began life as a steam clipper in 1859, achieving in her trial “the greatest speed ever managed by any vessel,” stated the Illustrated London News. Every modern improvement and an interior decorated in “white enamel and gold” were included, the newspaper added. She was built for Hong Kong owners, Messrs Dent in the opium trade, and named after a channel forming a passage into Hong Kong. Initially the Ly-ee-moon was a blockade runner off Charlestown in the American War. Her “romantic career”, as Dickson Gregory calls it, involved trade in Asia, serious misadventures and a few “transformations”, which he outlines in his book.

Ly-ee-moon remodelled for the Australian route.State Library of Queensland Neg no: 132957.

Ly-ee-moon remodelled for the Australian route.
State Library of Queensland Neg no: 132957.

In 1878 the ASN Co bought her for the Australian coastal trade and changed her yet again. The Sydney Morning Herald described her as “one of the finest steamers that ever came into our port.”

The Ly-ee-moon’s fateful journey


Ly-ee-moonLy-ee-moon

The route of the Ly-ee-moon, 30 May 1886.Melbourne Argus, 1 June 1886, p 6.

The route of the Ly-ee-moon, 30 May 1886.
Melbourne Argus, 1 June 1886, p 6.

Illustrated newspapers featured line drawings of the drama: the crew, passengers and onshore participants.

Captain Webber of the Ly-ee-moon and James Fotheringham, 3rd Officer. Australasian sketcher with pen and pencil, 29 June 1886, p 108.

Captain Webber of the Ly-ee-moon and James Fotheringham, 3rd Officer. Australasian sketcher with pen and pencil, 29 June 1886, p 108.

What happened to the passengers?

The Rev William Poole, a Baptist minister in Brisbane, and former journalist, assisted in the rescue and recorded the experience for the newspapers.
The plight of individuals was recorded. Mr Fotheringham tried to save Mrs Alice Jennings, the only female for whom there was any attempt. Close to the shore she was killed by debris and later identified by a bracelet a friend had given her in Melbourne. She was the sister of Brisbane-based architect Francis Drummond Greville Stanley and engineer Henry Charles Stanley.

Rescue of saloon passengers including Harry Adams.Australasian sketcher, with pen and pencil, 29 June 1886, p 101.

Rescue of saloon passengers including Harry Adams.
Australasian sketcher, with pen and pencil, 29 June 1886, p 101.

Harry Adams was a 12 year old child whom Mr Poole and Mr Lumsdaine pulled through a porthole. His father had been chief steward of the Ly-ee-moon, but he had moved to the Maranoa. Harry recounted how his mother and her baby drowned.
The following also drowned:

  • Flora MacKillop was on her way to visit two of her daughters. She was the mother of Mary MacKillop, founder of the Josephite order and the first Australian saint. Flora’s body was the only one brought to Sydney.
  • Azarias Cook went to Melbourne in search of employment. Having been successful, he was returning to Sydney to bring his wife and child.
  • Charles Shattell had travelled from Sydney to Melbourne to marry Ellen Rogers. They were returning to Sydney with Mr Rogers, an uncle of the new bride. They were three of the lost steerage passengers.
  • Steerage passengers were not automatically recorded as they often boarded at the last moment. Some were miners who had arrived from New Zealand on their way to the Kimberley goldfields.

The aftermath and controversy




Ly-ee-moon

  • Who lied? The Ly-ee-Moon disaster and a question of truth, by Graeme Barrow (2010), and
  • The fatal light :Two strange tragedies of the sea, by Tom Mead (1993).

Who Lied? The Ly-Ee-Moon Disaster and a Question of TruthOne Search
The Ly-ee-Moon disaster: A postscriptOne Search
The mystery of the Ly-ee-Moon shipwreck

Stephanie Ryan, Senior Librarian

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I cannot find the names of the dead you mentioned in the NSW Registry website. As they have been identified by name why would they not be listed?

Unfortunately, due to the logistics of retrieving, identifying and burying the shipwreck victims at the time, many of the deaths were recorded without names, and only three people were identified in the inquest. If you search the NSW Registry for 30 May 1886, with Eden as the place of death, and the name as “female” or “male” with surname “unknown”, you will see several results. Another way of seeing these results is by searching for a known recorded victim, such as Flora MacKillop, noting the registration number, then searching registration numbers either side of that one. Graeme Barrow’s books "Who lied? The Ly-Ee-Moon disaster and a question of truth" and "The Ly-ee-Moon disaster: A postscript" also provide interesting insights into the difficulties of the investigation.

My Great Uncle says that my third great grandfather died during the ly-ee moon sinking. His name was DeCruise, though I know him to be other names. He was usually a cook. Id love your input if you have read anything on this man? He was thought to be French, but according to some documents he could have been from Culcutta or Mauritius.

Katrina, I will reply in more detail in an email however Graeme Barrow has researched the crew and passenger list over a period of time. His 2 publications mentioned in the blog deal with the difficulties of determining the names of all those involved as well as the correct form and spelling of their names.Meanwhile you may wish to check the list provided by the Sydney Morning Herald 1 June 1886 p8 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28358030Stephanie Ryan

I lived on Green cape Lighthouse as a child in the 60's. I loved it. You could still see a bit of the wreck of the Ly Ee Moon just under the light area. We often went to the cemetery. There was another wreck, much further around the cape towards Disaster Bay ( an apt name), called the New Guinea. This was an idyllic childhood.

I lived on Green cape Lighthouse as a child in the 60's. I loved it. You could still see a bit of the wreck of the Ly Ee Moon just under the light area. We often went to the cemetery. There was another wreck, much further around the cape towards Disaster Bay ( an apt name), called the New Guinea. This was an idyllic childhood.

My great grandfather was Harry Adams or officially Harry Willie Charles Smart Adams who was the 12 year old boy referred to in this article. He escaped the sinking ship via the porthole, albeit, his mother Ellen my great great grandmother and baby sister drowned. It has been a tragic tale told in our family for generations. Thank you for the article. Anthony Adams

it is indeed a haunting story Bridgit. Thanks for your response

Many people were affected by this disaster over time as you can see from the many items on the shipwreck.Thank you for sharing your story.

As a lad I was told that my Great Grandfather was the 4th Mate on the Lyee-Moon when she ran a ground. There was talk of a bronze Medal in the keeping of my Grandfather which was supposed to come to me as the eldest in the family. As I remember it was given to him for his effort during the rescue. As such stories develop it was said he swam ashore with a rope around his waist which was attached to something on land to assist those coming ashore. It was also said that the he only gained the lesser Bronze Medal because he refused to enter the water once he made shore. I belief he finished his days as Captain of a dredge operating on the Brisbane River and proof of such is that Hutchison's Shoal in Moreton Bay is named after him, as that is were they dumped the results from the dredging of the river.