Boating Disaster 1892

    120 Year Anniversary 2012 – The Fatefull Football Match of 1892 MORNINGTON v MORDIALLOC Football history is made up of stories of elation, sadness, humour, friendship and hardship, however there is one particular tragedy in May 1892 that is considered one of the worst boating disasters in Victorian history. It is certainly the greatest tragedy in football history.

    Newspapers and magazines of the day contained headline stories of the Mornington tragedy. On the night of May 21st, 1892, fifteen members of the Mornington Football Club returning home from a match at Mordialloc were drowned. This was just 4 years after the formation of the Mornington Football Club. There were no survivors and only one body was recovered. At a meeting during the week before the match, twelve of twenty members of the club decided to accept the offer of Charles Hooper to transport the team to Mordialloc in his 28 feet long fishing boat ‘Process’. Hooper was an experienced boatman, well known and respected in Mornington.

    At 1pm on Saturday, May 21, the ‘Process’ left the Mornington Pier for an uneventful and pleasant 15miles sail to Mordialloc. William Coles, one of the team, helped to pass the time for his fellow team mates by playing on his cornet during the trip. The match at Mordialloc ended in a draw and team was ready to re-embark for the homeward run about 5.30pm. Three of the players, Short, Coxhell and a boy named Schultz who went to Mordialloc by sea, decided to return by train. One of the four men who farewelled the team at Mordialloc Pier about 6pm, said later that the fishing boat captain Charles Hooper, expected to reach Mornington between 8 and 9 pm, as the fishing boat ‘Process’ had a leading wind that would take her to Schnapper Point on one tack.

    Apparently the first part of the journey went well as some fishermen near Frankston reported afterwards that the boat had passed them and that the passengers were singing and appeared to be in good spirits. The alarm was first raised around 9.30pm.Mr. Short and Mr.Hutchins, who had returned on the train from Mordialloc, decided to go to the pier and keep a look out for the returning boat. They abandoned their watch at 3.00am and aroused the Reverend Caldwell, father of the 3 Caldwell boys who were on the boat, who in turn went to the Police Station and aroused Sergeant Murphy. Sgt Murphy awakened the Post Mistress and asked her to ascertain by telegraph if the boat had left, but she could get no reply from Mordialloc. As relatives and friends of the football players were informed, they rushed down to the jetty and along the beaches, frantically searching for some sign.

    Three search boats were launched from Schnapper Point, They proceeded along the coast, narrowly examining every rock and crevice. They had barely sighted Pelican Point, near Mt Eliza, when an upturned boat could be seen lying on the reef. There were bags, coats and personal belongings of the occupants, whilst the tangled rigging and broken masts left little doubt as to their fate. The body of Alfred Lawrence, the only one to be recovered, was discovered tangled in the broken rigging. There was much activity at Mornington and at Frankston on Sunday morning as boats and skiffs joined in a vain search for survivors, but no other bodies were found. When the boat was examined, there were marks and scratches on the bottom, as if made by the crew clawing at the upturned hull, endeavouring to get a grip. One can only imagine the terrible scene in the darkness when these young fellows were fighting for their lives, until they were finally swept away by the cruel waves. There were many opinions as to the cause of the disaster, John Bunn, captain of the ketch ‘Maggie’, who was in the vicinity at the time, said that a sudden squall had struck his craft during the night, and he had had to shorten sail.

    Telegrams and expressions of condolence poured into Mornington from all over Victoria - many football clubs sent messages of sympathy. William S Cook, a Barrister and Solicitor of Mornington called a public meeting to raise funds for the dependents of the victims. A sum of 120 pounds was subscribed in the room. It was decided to circularise all football clubs in Victoria and the response to this appeal was generous. More than 1600 pounds was raised, all of which with the exception of 75 pounds which was voted towards erecting a suitable memorial to the victims, was devoted to the relief of needy dependents who suffered the loss of their breadwinners. A monument to the fifteen young men was erected on the corner of the Esplanade and Schnapper Point Drive (at the end of Main Street) Mornington. So next time you are in Mornington, take a stroll to the end of Main Street and spare a thought for these young men whose lives were lost following a game of football- notably the greatest single tragedy the game has seen in its 150 years.

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