The Wreck of the Speke

The guest speaker at the August meeting of the SEHA was Julie Box (nee Harris). The Harris family have lived on Phillip Island for over 100 years. Julie spoke on the wreck of the Speke at Phillip Island.

The Speke was an all steel ship of 310 feet, beam of 35 feet and weight of 2,712 tons and triple masted. She was built in 1891 at Carnarvon in Wales for a cost of 22,000 pounds. The wreck of the Speke was purchased for a mere 12 pounds after it went aground in 1906.

The Speke had come from Peru to Sydney. She was then on her way to load wheat in Geelong when she ran aground on the 22 February 1906. Captain Tiltson confused a bushfire, near Cowes, for navigation lights. The ship drifted close to shore in Kitty Miller Bay and was eventually holed at 3 pm on the rocks. Life boats were immediately lowered and the ship’s crew all made it to shore except Seaman Frank Henderson, who lost his life.

The news did not reach Cowes until 8 pm that night. Most of the locals were attending the horse races at Ventnor that day and so there were not many people around. Some of the crew ended up at the Harris house, where they were looked after by Julie’s grandmother, Sarah Harris. Julie’s father who was a young boy at the time can still remember the event. The family were given the Compass box by the Captain and this is now in the Heritage Centre.

Local people soon salvaged parts of the wreck, timber was used for houses and sheds, brass lamps inside houses and the ship’s bell is at the Presbyterian Church. The figure head of the Speke was in the shape of woman, wearing a flowing shite dress with blue cuffs and collar and carrying a large bunch of daffodils. It was originally nine feet four inches long. This sculpture went missing after the event and decades later the head only was re-discovered in Mr Thompson’s garage. It was then restored, and this and other items from the ship are on display at the Heritage Centre, Thompson Avenue, Cowes.

Further Reading

  • Phillip Island in picture and story compiled by Joshua Wickett Gliddon. Published by the Cowes Bush Nursing Hospital, 1958.
  • Phillip Island and Western Port by Jean Edgcombe. Published by the author, 1989.
  • Wrecks on Phillip Island by Jack Loney. Published by Marine History Publications.

*Originally published in South Eastern Heritage Issue 4 September 2006 and written by Heather Arnold.


3 thoughts on “The Wreck of the Speke”

  1. Interested to come across this. My grandfather Alexander James Cook was First Mate on the Speke and apparently played a major part in saving most of the crew.

    1. Hi Grant, Just to say that my wife Jenny’s grandfather Jocelyn Rawlins was also aboard (referred to in the official write up as Apprentice Rawlins). He was 18 at the time and obviously reported to your grandfather and would have known him well after many thousands of miles together. his mother kept all the press cuttings about the shipwreck and we still have them. Jocelyn went on to get his Master’s Ticket later in life. What an amazing event to be involved in.
      Robert and Jenny Howell
      Hampshire England

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