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The Submarine Mining Company !

The Submarine Mining Company planted explosives on the seabed and could set
them off from the shore. Spanish Submarine Miners, despite what was written here
in the Cyclopedia of Victoria, may have been leaders in this field.


A Melbourne watchmaker, Louis Brennan, patented the Brennan Torpedo -- a twin
propellor, guided torpedo for harbour and channel defences. Brennan obtained technical
advice from Professor W. C. Kernot of the Engineering Faculty, University of Melbourne.
The torpedo was guided by steel wires. It had a speed of 32 km/h, a range of 2.5 km and
sped underwater at a depth of three metres. The weapon was patented in 1877, and
Brennan took it to England where it was tested by Royal Engineers. He was awarded
5000 pounds, and 1000 a year to further develop the project. In 1885, the weapon was
adopted by the British War Office. Brennan's reward was a princely 110,000 pounds.
Later difficulties with control when launched from ships led to the demise of the
Brennan Torpedo.

(Source: McPhee, Margaret: The Dictionary of Australian inventions and Discoveries: Allen & Unwin: NSW: 1993)



The lack of any suitable defence force in early Victoria became critical when the Goldrush
began in 1851. Initially, the Native Police Corps was assigned the job of helping to maintain
law and order at goldfields like the one at Ballarat. The Native Police proved so unpopular
that a plan to recruit former British soldiers who had been attracted as immigrants to
Tasmania by grants of land was contemplated. Some of these men were lured into
joining Victoria's Corps of Enrolled Pensioners. By 1 January 1854, there were at
Ballarat 74 rank and file, one Captain, six sergeants and two drummers. Their uniform
included blue cloth frock coats and forage caps.

Superintendent of Police, E. P. S. Sturt stated that military pensioners `appeared to me
to be the most drunken set of men I have ever met with, and totally unfit to be put to
any useful purposes'.
  Of course, not all pensioners were drunkards, but the Corps lacked
enough energy to properly
service the chaos of the goldfields.

The Pensioners at Ballarat were withdrawn by September 1854. By then detachments of regular
British Regiments were available. The pensioners were replaced at Ballarat at first by a
of the 40th Regiment. It quickly became obvious to everyone that more
were required. Visit the Eureka page to see what happened next.

Source: Webmaster's research


What really happened to 
Petty Officer James J. Ovenden?

Crimean War veteran and New Zealand medal-winner James Joseph Ovenden, a HMCSS Victoria veteran of the First Taranaki War, died in October 1886 in unusual circumstances. He was then 55 years of age and a petty officer on HMVS Nelson. The death certificate showed that Ovenden died as a result of "accidental poisoning with carbolic acid".

Photo og James Ovenden  PO JAMES OVENDEN

Evidence given at his inquest showed he had drunk carbolic acid mistaking it for a bottle of bitters. He was sober at the time.

Private speculation indicated that Ovenden was prone to an occasional `snifter', and that someone, either as a joke or for a sinister reason, had substituted poison for Ovenden's usual `refreshment'.

More than a century later, a descendant has speculated about the mystery. Utilising James Ovenden's diary entries leading up to his death and considering various strands of evidence, the descendant's interim conclusions can be seen below.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION PROVIDED (on 12 February 1998) BY `DEFENDING VICTORIA' WEBSITE VISITOR, FRANK NOONAN: [From Williamstown Advertiser, 9 October 1886, p.2] A sad death occured on Wednesday last, Joseph Overdon, Boatswain's Mate on HMCS Nelson, while on board the ship on Tuesday, took a bottle of carbolic acid from his cabin in mistake for beer, a bottle of which was close by, and drank it. An emetic was promptly applied by the dispenser, but Overdon became unconcious and died at two o'clock on Wednesday morning . . .

[From Williamstown Chronicle, 9 October 1886, p.2] A very distressing occurrence took place on Wednesday last, on board HMCS Nelson when the boatswains's mate, Joseph Overdon, died from the effects of swallowing, by mistake, a quantity of carbolic acid. It appears that he had several beer bottles in a locker in his room, in one of which was some beer, while another contained about an equal quantity of carbolic acid, there being no mark or label to distinguish one form the other. About two o'clock on Tuesday afternoon he took a bottle from the locker, and, raising it to his lips took a draught therefrom thinking it was beer, but he soon found he had swallowed carbolic acid instead. He at once, went to the ship's chemist, and informed him of what he had taken . . .

Born 1835, Folkestone, Kent
HMS Fury, 9 Jan 1852
Hospital, South Malta, 11 Oct 1854
Service HM ships Geyser and Stromboli
Embarked HMCSS Victoria, April 1860
Service in New Zealand, 1860-1: Gulf of Carpentaria, 1861-2
Embarked on HMVS Nelson in 1866 as Boatswain's Mate
Residence: 13 Cox's Gardens, Williamstown
Died October 1886.

A descendant has added family details (April 2000) and corrected some errors in the newspaper accounts. James Ovenden was born at Folkestone but in 1831. Consecutively, he served on HM Ships Stromboli, Geyser and Fury, being wounded during the seige of Sebastopol and was evacuated to South Malta Hospital. He was awarded the Turkish Khedives 'La Crimea' medal and British Crimea medal with Sebastopol clasp. The other medals shown in the photograph (above) are the New Zealand medal and the Victoria Long Service Medal for 25 years service to the Victorian Navy. Treasured by the family are his snuffbox and bosun's whistle.




Victorian Navy officers and personnel of last century took exceptional pride in the Service and its vessels. This pride, still evident in their descendents today, made accidents the more embarrassing when they occured.

HMCSS Victoria was nearly scuttled by accident when the ship was being fitted out and loaded with stores at Deptford in London on 24 November 1855. An inquiry found that donkey valves had been left open. As the ship settled down with coal and provisions, she had begun to fill. Prompt action by labourers, police and engineers saved the day.

In the end, the only naval shell ever to land on Melbourne came not from a foreign raider but from the guns of HMVS Nelson during gunnery practice. An organ workshop in St. Kilda was badly damaged by the practice shell, and damage was done to a neighbouring house. Luckily no-one was killed. The Victorian Navy was unable to adequately explain the `accident'. Other than a paragraph here and there, the incident was kept out of the newspapers . . .


The Cerberus Accident in 1881

While the band of HMVS Cerberus entertained a crowd at Queenscliff on the afternoon of 5 March,
a selection of tunes from `HMS Pinafore' was interrupted by a loud explosion from the Bay.

Looking seawards, the spectators were amazed at seeing the fragments of a boat
and what appeared to be limbs of men thrown into the air amid a vast upheaval
of water. The dreadful nature of the disaster was not at first realised, a number of
people believing that a boat filled with `dummies' had been blown up. Unfortunately
this was a delusion. Immediately the truth became known, the band played the `Dead
March', and returned to the ship (The Argus, 7 March 1881, p. 6).

Torpedo (mine) practice had gone dreadfully wrong. Five men were killed but there
was a miraculous survivor -- James Jasper -- who had the horrific experience of seeing
a man's heart floating past his face before he was rescued.

Conflicting evidence about the cause of the accident was given at the inquest. There
had been successful mine explosions earlier that afternoon. The explosives had been
detonated by wires from batteries on the Cerberus under the control of Volunteer
Lieutenant K. L. Murray, an electrician in civilian life.

But the coroner commented that it was clear to him that the explosion had not
been brought about by electricity. One of the deceased, Gunner Robert Samuel Groves,
was claimed to have added dynamite to the explosive. The coroner speculated that Groves
`ignored or was not aware of the fact that the nitro-glycerine in the dynamite had become
free and highly dangerous'.

The jury returned a unanimous verdict that the deceased were killed by the explosion
of a torpedo, but that there was not sufficient evidence to show how the torpedo
was exploded (newspaper reports from which this section was completed supplied by visitor Frank Noonan).

Unannounced showers of bullets on Beach Road, Port Melbourne, in the early 1890s,
shocked local residents. The bullets seemed to be coming from warships in the bay.
Investigation found that the crew of HMVS Albert had been shooting at shags perched
on the masts of a nearby hulk with a machine-gun . . .

Accidents otherwise were rare in the Victorian Navy, and other branches of the Local Forces.


penned in Melbourne

Dr Charles Bean (1879-1968), who had been present as an official war correspondent
with the first AIF at Gallipoli and the Western Front, later presented a plan to the
Federal Government for the writing of an official history of Australia's part in the
War of 1914-1918. He began as general editor and part author of the official history
in 1919, in temporary accomodation in Victoria Barracks, St Kilda Road, Melbourne.
Bean did not complete his herculean task until after the outbreak of World War 2.
He was also founder and director of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.





Commanding Officer of this unusual unit for most of WW1 was Victorian
Maj. Jack Hindhaugh. It has been described as 'the wrong unit in the wrong
place at the wrong time--trench warfare was not conducive to cycle charges'.
Tasks of the unit included 'directing traffic, unloading railway wagons,
harvesting hops for local families, and burying the dead'.

Taken at face value, the unit was a complete failure. But only twelve years
before--during the Boer War--Australian cyclists had performed well as
scouts, some, as shown below, on machines improvised for use on South
African railway lines:

Photograph in UK Intelligence Corps Museum

The 1st ANZAC Cyclist Battalion never served in the front line as a fighting
unit, but it was exposed to regular bombardments by artillery and aircraft.
Cyclist detachments, however, took part in the last stages of the war, as the
German Army retreated from the trench systems to the Hindenburg Line.
Thirteen men were killed in action. The 2nd Battalion (officered by New
Zealanders) fared even less well with a loss of 59 dead.
[Source on 1st ANZAC Cyclist Battalion is 'ANZACS at War on Bicycles', Jim Fitzpatrick,
Royal Historical Society of Victoria of Victoria Journal, Vol. 54, No 3., September 1983,
pages 31-38]

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