Queensland Places - Torres Strait - Ships' Bells recovered from wrecks

Volga (ship), John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 179796

Volga (ship), John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 179796

Of the many relics of various shipwrecks in the Torres Strait region, old ships’ bells are among the most poignant.  Many have been located over the years, by divers and others, with these bells acting as reminders of the dangers of shipping, particularly in our early history.

Iama (Yam Island) is said to be the location of two bells, one of which belonged to the Golden Gate and the other bearing the inscription Joseph Tradestrand.  This ship is said to have been lost off Horn Island, with its and the other bell both being later recovered.  On Moa is the bell of the Bona Fides and at Poruma (Coconut Island) and Ugar (Stephens Island) are bells without inscriptions, salvaged from wrecked vessels in the vicinity.

A large bell, bearing the inscription Integrity 1843, taken off a wreck off Mabuiag late in the 19th century, eventually made its way into Somerset.  The ship to which this bell belonged was on a voyage from Sydney to China in around 1849 but was lost in the area of the Napoleon Passage.  A mystery bell on Thursday Island was found on a nearby reef and bears two inscriptions, Ship Sally and Schooner Triumph, however no more is known about the origin of this bell.

At Thursday Island, the bell which rings out from the belfry of All Souls Cathedral is the ship’s bell which was brought up from the wreck of the ill-fated Quetta, which was lost tragically, with a great loss of life, in 1890.  In around 1907, a bell was recovered in the vicinity of Thursday Island, bearing the name Volga and which then found its way south into New South Wales as a souvenir.  It is recorded that for many years it was used as a dinner bell at a home in Mosman, Sydney.  Subsequent research has revealed that the Volga was lost with all hands in the late 1870s.

The above image, undated but probably from around the mid-1870s, shows the Volga at anchor, prior to its eventual demise in the waters of the Torres Strait.

Brian Randall - Librarian, State Library of Queensland

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