Sea Pilots notch up 150 years

MELBOURNE: The Port Phillip Sea Pilots will mark their 150 years anniversary in June and July 1989.

Licensed pilots have been available at Port Phillip Heads since 1839, when merchants petitioned Governor George Gibb of New South Wales to grant Captain George Tobin a license. The petition was successful.

Captain Tobin’s license was dated 17 June 1839; Thomas Falk Sutton was granted the second license five months later.

There were six pilots operating by 1841, when the cutter Ranger was sent to assist.

The Government claimed one sixth of the pilotage dues to maintain the Ranger and her crew.

However, whaleboats, rowing and sailing from Shortland’s Bluff were still used to board incoming ships.

Ships approaching too close without local knowledge often came to grief on the reefs bordering both shores; wrecks that convinced the government of the necessity for a pilots cruising station well offshore.

In 1857, when 2190 ships entered the Heads, fifty-three pilots were operating. One was in charge of each pilot ship with an apprentice pilot as chief officer.

Today, 35 former Australian and New Zealand shipmasters are licensed by the Marine Board of Victoria to perform all pilotage within Port Phillip and Western Post Bays.

One if permanently in charge of the Williamstown pilot office as president; the others, in turn, take charge of the pilot stations at Queenscliff and Western Port or are rostered for the various pilot duties.

A program of events will be held to mark this anniversary in June and July.

  • A memorial service at St Georges Church, Queenscliff, on May 28.
  • A pilot service reunion of all past and present members of the Services at the Williamstown Town Hall on June 17th.
  • A reception for members of the shipping industry in early July.