SS Casino shipwreck

Diver and shipwreck

SS Casino (1882-1932)

The tragic loss of Casino was felt particularly by people of Victoria's western district. For fifty years, the iron steamship took cargo and passengers between Melbourne and Portland, stopping at Apollo Bay, Warrnambool and Port Fairy. Although the ship’s departures and arrivals were seldom punctual, Casino was an important feature of local maritime life.

Casino made 2,500 voyages in the treacherous waters of Bass Strait and was considered one of the “immortals” of Port Phillip. The steamer had several brushes with disaster. It collided with another boat off Point Gellibrand, ran aground on a reef near Grey River, and was beached at Warrnambool while entering Lady Bay in a power blackout. Following each incident, the steamer was repaired and returned to its west coast run.

On July 10, 1932, Casino sank while trying to secure a mooring at Apollo Bay pier. This time, the steamer could not be saved and the Captain and nine other crew lost their lives.

The final voyage of Casino

On July 10, 1932, under the command of Captain Middleton, Casino was preparing to berth at Apollo Bay pier. The steamer carried a cargo of sugar, canned goods, drapery and raw animal hides as well as 17 crew and two passengers.

A south-easterly gale was blowing. Casino was battered and buffeted by waves but Captain Middleton managed to ease the ship towards the pier. The port anchor was dropped but the second mate was unable to throw a line to secure the vessel to the pier. All attempts to tie up the vessel were unsuccessful and the steamer bumped heavily on the sandy bottom. Captain Middleton gave the orders to take Casino out to deeper water until the storm abated but the port anchor had snagged and could not be raised.

As Casino steamed out into the middle of the Bay, water started rushing into the hold and Captain Middleton then made a desperate bid to beach the steamer. About 400 metres from the shore, Casino keeled over and sank. The crew and passengers were thrown into the sea. Captain Middleton and four of the crew clambered onto the hull while the others swam desperately to shore. Attempts were made to fire a rocket line from the shore across to the ship, but they failed. The Queenscliff lifeboat crew responded to the distress call but it was a seven hour journey to reach Casino.

Ten lives were lost in this disaster. The bodies of the captain and four of the crew were recovered and are buried at Sorrento Cemetery.

After Casino sank, two vessels carried on with the west coast trade for a few years, but the development of road transport, making the shipping of goods uneconomic, and loss of its replacement vessel SS Coramba in 1934 with all lives lost forced the Belfast and Koroit Steam Navigation Company into liquidation.

Ship construction

Casino was built in Dundee, Scotland in 1882 but was sold to Sydney firm, the Newcastle and Hunter Steam and Navigation Company for the New South Wales coastal trade. The ship left Dundee on March 18, 1882, and sailed to Sydney via the Cape of Good Hope. En route the ship stopped in Warrnambool to pick up coal. There it was inspected by the Belfast and Koroit Navigation Company, who decided to purchase Casino. The steamship sailed onto Sydney to deliver its cargo and then returned to Melbourne to begin the west coast run.

Casino was three masted iron screw steamer. It had one deck, iron framework, a schooner rig and an inverted compound two cylinder 65 HP engine built by Gourlay Brothers. In the early days, Casino was sometimes rigged as a topsail schooner as the ship’s big spread of canvas helped reduce fuel consumption.

Casino measured 160.4ft (48.86m) in length, 24.1ft (7.34m) in breadth and had a depth of 10.2ft (3.1m). The ships gross tonnage was 425 tons. It could carry 71 passengers as well as cargo.

Diving on the wreck of Casino

Casino is one of the many historic shipwrecks included in Victoria’s Underwater Shipwreck Discovery Trail. Qualified divers can explore the wrecks of old wooden clippers, iron steamships and cargo and passenger vessels located along the coast and in Port Phillip Bay. Some of these wreck dives are suitable for beginners while other wrecks require the skills and experience of advanced divers.

The steering wheel and port starboard lights from Casino are on display at the Apollo Bay Hotel and the anchor can be seen at the Apollo Bay Post Office. The propeller and lifting davits can be seen in one of Port Fairy’s municipal parks.

Victoria's historic shipwrecks

In the 18th and 19th centuries, an enormous number of ships sailed in Victorian waters. For instance, at the height of the gold rush, 50 ships were reported sailing past Cape Otway Lighthouse in one day. In 1852, 150 ships were reported anchored in Hobson’s Bay at one time.

Despite Victoria being such a busy shipping region and although Bass Strait and the entrance to Port Phillip Bay presented many hazards to the unwary sailor, only 800 shipwrecks have occurred along the Victorian coast since 1797. Fewer than 200 of these wrecks have actually been found. All Australian shipwrecks over 75 years old are protected by state and Commonwealth historic shipwreck laws. Some younger wrecks may also be especially declared to be historic e.g. World War II wrecks.

Casino was protected as a Historic Shipwreck on January 17, 1989, under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act (1976). Any deliberate damage or interference to SS Casino is an offence under the Act and offenders face tough penalties.

Dive information sheet (PDF 166 KB)