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.
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
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.
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
- 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).
Stephanie Ryan, Senior Librarian