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Author: Tara Oldfield
New to our collection this month are some fascinating records from the Victorian Ports Corporation (previously known as the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners and the Port of Melbourne Authority). We believe these records to be quite unique as they capture information that other areas of government didn’t at the time, such as weather and tides.
Included in the records transfer are log books from 1916 to 1966, tide and weather sheets 1909 to 1984 and signal station logs from 1975 to 1983.
These log books were maintained by harbour masters who documented arrivals and departures of vessels at Victorian Ports. Entries include vessel name, pilots name, tide gauge and weather conditions. It’s interesting to note some of the vessel names, including the Helen Moore, the Marjorie and the Fearless Falcon!
This series of records comprises of tide and weather logs for Breakwater Pier, Williamstown and Port Phillip Heads, the Shipping Control Centre and Victoria Dockhead. Depending on the location, these observations were made on a daily or hourly basis and recorded tide, wind direction and velocity, visibility, state of weather and on occasion, sunrise and sunset times. What’s also really interesting within these records is the instructions for the watchmen.
The instructions for Victoria Dockhead watchmen begins with "A continuous watch to be kept each day and night without exception." Also "The watchmen are not allowed to ferry any person across the Dock excepting Trust employees when on duty only, doctors called to attend a case, or the police in pursuit of law breakers." And "In the event of any of the River Lights being extinguished or not burning satisfactorily, or if there is any suspicion of fire on the wharves or shipping of the River or Victoria Dock, call up the Head Office at once… Anything that the watchmen can personally do for the protection of the Trust’s property or goods on the wharf in the vicinity is of course their duty."
Signal stations played a critical role in the commercial operations of fleets and navigational safety. This series comprises of signal station logs recorded at Breakwater Pier.
Volume 1 contains the most detailed information and records including:
- sightings of vessels
- reports and observations of events on the water
- messages received from Harbour Control
- reports of sunken boats or boats adrift
- whether the river open or closed
- other messages received at the signal station.
This page from Volume 1 even includes discussion on the re-naming of ships and the need for fresh water.
"There is one thing - we need fresh water if we are to sail to a distant port - if not a distant port we will be ok. R. I will try to pass that on to Mr Lewis tonight but I expect he will arrange this when he visits you in the morning. R yes. R. Informed Mr Lewis of water needs of vessel. 1820."
The remaining volumes in this series each comprise of information relating to inward and outward movements and removals of ships.
Accessing these records
These records are all available to order via the links above for viewing in our North Melbourne Reading Room.