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The Royal Humane Society of Australia certificate

Date: 23 February 1886
Overall: 415 × 295 mm
Medium: Paper, cardboard
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from descendant Daniel Meigan
Object Name: Certificate
Object No: 00054873
Related Place:Melbourne, Fiji,

User Terms

    Certificate from the Royal Humane Society of Australia awarded to Daniel Whelan in 1886, on parchment and in a leather pouch.
    SignificanceThis certificate is an excellent example of bravery awards for shipwreck rescue efforts from the late nineteenth century and is a tangible reminder of the tragic story of the SS LY-EE-MOON.
    HistoryThe Green Cape Lighthouse was built in 1883 and was the first cast concrete lighthouse tower in Australia. At 29 metres it is the state's second tallest light.

    The lightstation is situated on a point of land projecting from the current Ben Boyd National Park. It is the southernmost lighthouse in New South Wales.

    Despite the presence of the lighthouse a major shipwreck occurred in May 1886. The SS LY-EE-MOON en route to Sydney from Melbourne, struck rocks close to the Green Cape light at night and 71 people died. The light keepers could only save 15 people under the poor conditions.

    The LY-EE-MOON was built as a paddle steamer in 1859 by the Thames Shipbuilding Company of Blackall, London, England. It was designed specifically for use in the opium trade to China. The ship, just over 280 feet long, was powered by a coal fired steam engine that turned paddle wheels and had three masts and sails. At trials, the new ship attained 17 knots, an amazing speed for the time and the fastest speed ever attained to that time by a British built vessel. Not only was it the fastest steamer, it was also lavishly furnished - aparently a sistership to the Royal Yacht, VICTORIA AND ALBERT.

    In 1860 or 1861, the speedy LY-EE-MOON was used as a blockade runner during the American Civil War. At the end of the war in 1865, it moved to Hong Kong. It was used by Jardine, Matheson and Company of Hong Kong and in Chinese waters until converted to a screw ship and sold to the Australasian Steam Navigation Company Ltd (ASNC) in 1877 and brought out to Australia for use on the Fiji and Pacific Island runs.

    Just after arriving in Australia, the ship caught fire while being refitted in Sydney at the ASNC's wharves at Pyrmont and it was scuttled in order to put the fire out.

    The ship was raised and in 1878 returned to service and ran on the Sydney to Melbourne route. The refitted ship was quite popular and held in high esteem by passengers.

    On Saturday 29 May 1886 the SS LY-EE-MOON left Melbourne bound for Sydney. Aboard were 55 passengers as well as 41 crew. Captain Webber was the skipper. At about 7.45 pm on 30 May 1886, Webber left the ship in charge of the Third Officer, J. Fotheringhame. The ship was approaching Gabo Island (just south of the New South Wales/Victoria border) and the light there had been sighted. Webber instructed Fotheringhame of the course to steer and told him to call him when the ship was nearing Green Cape. Green Cape is just north of the border and about 26 kilometres south of Eden. The light was 44 metres above sea level and the light could be seen 18 kilometres away.

    Unconfirmed stories have it that Captain Webber was drunk in his cabin and that Mr Fotheringhame attempted many times to get him to come to the bridge before he actually did come up.

    In any case, at about 9 pm the Captain returned to the bridge and found that the vessel was heading straight for the rocks on Green Cape. As he ordered the engines to be reversed, the ship hit the rocks under the lighthouse. Within 10 minutes the ship was broken into two sections. The stern was on the outer reef and the bow floated towards the shore.

    The bow section was close to shore and after a while, the foremast fell and reached a rock platform. Three seamen and the boatswain crawled along the mast to safety. They joined the light keepers and attempted to rescue the remaining crew and passengers. An attempt was made to fire a light line from the shore to the bow section but this failed. A fishing line was thrown to the ship and a rope was tied to it and hauled to shore. A passenger, Herbert Lumsdaine, went hand over hand along the rope and made it to the shore. Fotheringhame and Alfred Smith (an employee of ASNC) tried to carry another line ashore but failed. However, Fotheringhame's family's oral history records that he did make it ashore with a line. He apparently kept a penknife that he cut the line with and eventually gave it to his grandson.

    According to newspaper reports of the time, the Chief Steward, W. Thomson, was successful in taking a line ashore and the remaining 11 people alive on the bow section made it ashore, including the Captain who was the last to leave the wreck.

    The lightstation keepers assisted in the rescue. Daniel Whelan, the Second Light Keeper, was recommended for an award from the Royal Humane Society for saving six persons. Ola Thorpe, boatswain, and George Walters, telegraph operator at the lightstation, were also recommended for an award for saving two persons. Andrew Bergland (a passenger) and James Fotheringhame were recommended for an award as well for attempting to save a lady. Mr Fotheringhame was awarded a Gold Medal by the Society and it is now with his descendents.

    About 3 or 4 am the famous CAPTAIN COOK pilot vessel from Sydney Harbour came down to Green Cape to assist. There were about 20 people on the stern section and they could be heard during the night but by morning, they were all dead and the stern washed into the sea.

    An Inquest was held at Eden and its verdict said in part that 'gross neglect has been shown, but there has not been sufficient evidence before us to point to the guilty person or persons'.

    The CAPTAIN COOK stayed in the Green Cape area and collected several bodies, including one of an elderly lady - Mrs Flora Hannah MacKillop of St Kilda, Melbourne. Mrs MacKillop was an 'elderly lady, mother of the Mother Superior of St Joseph's Provident Institution' - Mother Mary MacKillop (now Saint Mary Mackillop). Mrs MacKillop, one of the Saloon passengers, was on her way to Sydney to see her two daughters, Mary and another who was also a nun.

    Mrs MacKillop's funeral was held on 7 June 1886 at St Michael's Church, Lower Fort Street, The Rocks in Sydney. The church was said to be filled to overflowing.

    A total of 71 people died, 21 out of 26 saloon passengers (17 men, 6 women and 3 infants), all 19 steerage passengers and 31 of the 41 crew. Five of the bodies recovered were buried at Green Cape on 4 June 1886.


    Jack Loney, Wreck of the Ly-ee-moon, Marine History Publications, Geelong, Vic., 1979

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