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James Orkney, MLA for West Melbourne, built the screw-steamer SS Sir Charles Hotham from a model of the SS Great Eastern. It was built in London under the superintendence of Mr Scott Russell, and shipped to Australia on the deck of a clipper. The aft was fitted out as a cabin and had a crew of five.

Weight 16 tons.
Length 44 feet.
Keel 42 feet.
Beam, 7 ft 6 inches.
Depth of hold 5 feet.
Draught 20 inches froward and 3 feet 6 inches aft.
Hull iron plated.
Engines two 5½hp double-oscillating engines.
Top speed under steam 8 or 9 knots.
Fuel capacity capable of carrying three days' fuel on board.
Sails fore and main lug.

On Friday, 5 July 1861 at an Adjourned meeting of the Exploration Committee held at the Royal Society hall, Mr Orkney placed his steamer, SS Hotham at the disposal of the Committee as he thought it would take too long to send the Victoria to the Gulf. Norman thought the Hotham too small to be of much use. Selwyn proposed and Gillbee seconded the motion that the Victoria be sent to the Gulf as speedily as possible and she should co-operate with Walker's land party from Rockhampton.

As Norman was going to take at least a fortnight to equip the Victoria, Orkney sent the Hotham. She was expected, from her light draught of water, to render much aid in exploring the rivers and steaming against currents.

At an adjourned meeting of the Exploration Committee held on 9 July 1861, the Committee wrote to Mr H Bowden of the Australian Steam Navigation Company to thank him for offering to tow the Hotham to Sydney behind the SS Rangatira.

The Hotham left the Railway Pier at Sandridge at 1.00 pm on Monday 8 July 1861 and was towed through the heads of Port Phillip Bay by the Rungatira. Captain Ebenezer Wyse was in command and the intention was to call at Sydney for despatches and then go via Rockhampton to the Gulf. Dr Mueller, Dr Wilkie and others witnessed the departure.

(Wyse commanded Lord Dufferin's yacht during his arctic voyage).

On the voyage to Sydney, the weather became stormy and the steamer was compelled to cut the Hotham adrift during the night after towing her for 200 miles. Left to herself and her gallant captain, with a crew of two men only, she made her way to Sydney. During this time the coast was visited by severe gales, and much anxiety was felt for the Sir Charles Hotham. The agents of the Sydney steamer regretted that they had not heard of the proposed arrangement a few hours earlier, as they would readily have taken her on deck. But they did all that was in their power.

On Wednesday, 17 July 1861 the Hotham sailed though Sydney Heads and anchored at Manly. The Hotham needed some repairs and was towed to Cirular Quay by the steamer Phantom, arriving at 2.00 pm on Thursday, 18 July 1861.

19 July 1861, page 5.

The stuffing box of the main shaft got loose, and the provisions, clothing, &c, are spoiled or damaged, but the vessel behaved admirably. She will be detained two or three days to go on the slip. The repairs were completed with as much speed as possible, Mr Orkney bearing every expense, including that of the telegrams, which was considerable.


At 3.30 pm on Tuesday, 23 July 1861 the Phantom towed the Hotham from Circular Quay out through the heads, where she proceeded northwards. The Hotham arrived in Moreton Bay on Wednesday, 31 July 1861.

Friday, 2 August 1861, page 2.

The miniature steamer reached Moreton Bay the day before yesterday, and anchored at the bar, Captain Wyse coming up to town in the Light-ship's boat yesterday, to procure some necessaries. The little craft made the voyage from Sydney in good style, having encountered some rough weather, and been obliged to heave to and ride out a stiff SSW gale. Captain Wyse having supplied his wants and reported himself, returned to the Hotham yesterday afternoon; and will proceed on his voyage today; making his next call at Port Denison.


The Hotham left Brisbane on the 3 August 1861, but around Lagoon Bay or Maroochy while Captain Wyse was steering her into shallow water, near shore, to anchor for the night, he ran her on the peak of the anchor, which made a hole in her bottom, and quite incapacitated her from further service. She returned to Brisbane on Wednesday, 14 August 1861.

Thursday 15 August 1861, page 2.

The Hotham started from the bar at the mouth of the Brisbane on the 3rd instant, with a light wind, which freshened as she passed the pilot station. On rounding Cape Morton it began to rain, and continued heavy until Monday, when land was sighted, supposed to be Double Island Point.

As the charts with which Captain Wyse had been provided were not clearly marked, he had, while in the Bay before, seen the Surveyor-General and obtained information from him; and he calculated that, by passing through this passage, he would be able to save the distance round Sandy (Frazer's) Island. Being, however, in doubt, from the width of the passage, he stood out and along the coast, and obtained information from blacks that the passage was used by vessels and steamers.

He then returned and took the passage, which was very narrow and serpentine, and just as he got to the inner spit, the wind veered, and to save her from backing on to the bar the anchor was thrown out. She however passed over it, and in so doing stove a hole in her bottom with the fluke of the anchor. As she took in a large quantity of water, the pumps were kept working until the tide receded, and then with the aid of some friendly blacks, she was got on to a solid sand bank, and after some difficulty the leak temporarily repaired.

As Captain Wyse and Mr Campbell, the representative of the Exploration Committee, deemed it unadvisable to proceed farther north, with a large quantity of the provisions damaged and the repair to the leak not to be depended on, the Hotham started on her way back to Brisbane, boating against a head wind, and reached Moreton Island on Monday, and the ferry yesterday evening. She will go on to the boat slip to-morrow, after the Bremer comes off: but whether she will, after repair, resume her voyage to the Gulf of Carpentaria, or return to Melbourne, we believe depends on the will of Captain Norman of the Victoria. Those of her crew whom we have spoken to, speak highly of the services rendered by the blacks, both in assisting to get the Hotham on the bank and off again when the repairs were completed, and four of them obtained a passage to Brisbane by the vessel.


A meeting of the Royal Society of Victoria held on Monday, 9 September 1861 read despatches from Commander Norman of the Victoria, who had requested the arms and ammunition entrusted to Captain Wyse for the use of William Landsborough's Queensland Relief Expedition be handed over to the SS Firefly.

H M's ship Victoria,
Brisbane Heads,
24 August 1861.

Sir, - I do myself the honour to forward a continuation of my report of proceeding since my last of the 18th inst.; and to inform you, for the information of your committee, that the horses, thirty (30) in number, were safely shipped on board the Firefly on the 21st and 22nd inst., and that in all other respects we are now completed for proceeding with the expedition at once.

I also beg to enclose copies of correspondences with Captain Wyse, relative to the continuance of his voyage to the head of the gulf, and the delivering over arms for the use of Mr Landsborough's party, and in explanation of my decision to state, the Hotham cannot carry any horses without taking her decks up, and then only two. That her draught of water, from all reliable information, would prevent her going near enough to the shore to land them in safety.

I have therefore provided sufficient planks to build a flat punt, and will prepare her on my voyage; and having plenty of boats and men, I have no doubt of my being able to succeed in safely landing the horses.

The committee is aware that the arms will be required by Mr Landsborough and party immediately they arrive at the Albert; and as others can be procured at Brisbane, if the Hotham should continue her voyage, which I very much doubt, from the crew having all left her, and, I am informed, cannot be replaced here.

Upon written application from the supercargo of the Firefly on behalf of the owners of that vessel, I have authorized an advance in the sum of £10 (ten pounds) on account of her charter party, whioh should be made known to the Government storekeeper, or whoever has the settlement of the charter, in time to be deducted.

I have also, at the request of the master, granted a certificate for the number of days his ship has been detained at this port; and although lus charter party does not express very clearly if he is entitled to demurrage for detention here, I think, in justice to the owners, it should be allowed, as everything that could be has been done by them to forward the service.

I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
Commander, and Commander-in-chief, Northern Expedition.

To the Hon J. Macadam, M.D., Hon Sec, Exploration Committee.

Copies of correspondence in connection with the arms, ammunition, &c, furnished to the Hotham by Exploration Committee;

16 August 1861.


As the accident to your vessel, the Hotham, will prevent your arrival at the Albert River before the Victoria or Firefly, which was expected by your owner and the Exploration Committee, and the surveyor-general, with myself, having examined the Hotham as to her usefulness to the expedition for the landing of horses in the river, and finding she is not adapted for such service in any way, I do not recommend your continuing the voyage up to the Gulf of Carpentaria for that purpose; but the Exploration Committee having supplied you with a quantity of arms and ammunition, with the understanding they would be handed over to me for the use of the party organized by the colony, I have the honour to request you will be pleased to deliver them to the bearer, who will grant a, receipt in my name for them.

I have the honour to be, &c.,
W H Norman,
Commander-in-chief, N. Expedition.

To Captain Wyse, steamer Hotham.

List of arms, ammunition, &c., provided by tha Exploration Committee, to the steamer Hotham, afterwards delivered over, on demand, to Commander Norman, for the use of the party organized at Brisbane, August 20, 1861:

4 double guns,
2 double guns,
2 breech-loadiug guns,
6 Colt's revolver pistols,
2 Colt's revolver pistols,
6 Colt's revolver pistols,
1 Enfield rifle with sword,
300 Enfield cartridges,
300 breech-loading cartridges,
2 gross wire cartridges,
3,000 double waterproof caps.
1,000 double military caps,
2,000 Colt's military caps,
2,000 pistol cartridges,
1½ dozen shot pouches and straps,
1½ dozen powder flasks,
3 cleansing rods,
1 pocket compass,
3 chamois skins,
3,000 wads,
50 lb gunpowder,
4 bags shot.

21 August 1861

As it is my intention to proceed on my voyage for the sale of my steamer, calling at the Gulf to fulfil my former agreement, and from thence to some port or ports in the Indian seas for the sake of disposing of my vessel, as I cannot do it here, the arms and ammunition, that I received from the Exploring Committee for the protection of my vessel and now to be delivered to you when I left the Gulf, which I have now delivered to you on demanding at Brisbane, as commander-in-chief.

I am now placed in a very critical position for want of fire-arms and ammunition for carrying out my instructions when leaving Melbourne; for I will ask you for a few of thoso same to protect my crew and vessel.

Also, please to let me have something to show the people of Melbourne that I have been stopped on my voyage to the Gulf. By doing so you will confer a favour to me.

I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
Ebenezer Wyse,
Master S.S. Hotham

To: W H Norman, Commander-in chief of expedition.

Will Mr Landsborough be good enough to inform me what number of arms he will require for the party under his command?

W H Norman,
21 August 1861

I require, at least, seven carbines and fourteen revolvers, with a good supply of cartridges.

W Landsborough

To Captain Norman.
21 August 1861

21 August 1861

In answer to your letter of this day, stating your intention to continue the voyage to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and thence to some port in the Indian seas, for the purpose of selling your vessel (as you cannot do so here), and asking for some of the arms which were given up yesterday, in obedience to my request, in order to protect your vessel.

I have the honour to inform you that Mr Landsborough, the leader of the party from here, states that he will require the whole of thom on landing, and as they are ordered to be handed over to him on his arrival at the Albert River, where the Exploration Committee expected you would arrive some time before him, I am, therefore, unable to comply with your request without incurring an expenditure, which you are no doubt in a position to do yourself, for the protection of your ship.

I again repeat that for any service to the expedition under my command it is not necessary for the Hotham to go up the Gulf of Carpentaria, and after my long detention here I cannot undertake to supply provisions for her crew. Regretting that your unfortunate accident compelled your return to port after the exertions you made to render assistance until my arrival at the Albert,

I have the honour to be, Etc.,
W H Norman
Commander-in-chief N. Expedition.

To: Captain Wyse, steamer Hotham.

Saturday 31 August 1861, page 2.

The Hotham, steamer has had her engines cleaned and overhauled, and yesterday afternoon she got up steam, and ran a few miles up the river; this, however, was only to get her machinery in motion. We understand that when everything is in proper trim, Captain Wyse intends to make a trial trip under steam to cither Ipswich or Lytton.

Thus Mr Orkney lost the hope he entertained and the satisfaction he would have enjoyed, of being serviceable to the lost explorers; but the credit due to him is far from being diminished by his want of success, and the patriotic effort deserves to be recorded to his eternal honour.


In mid-September the Hotham was advertised for sale in Brisbane. The new owners used the Hotham as the Brisbane River mail steamer.

S.S. Sir Charles Hotham's crew during the 1861 search for Burke and Wills:
1 Captain Ebenezer Wyse
2 Crew H W N Campbell (continued on with Landsborough)
3 Crew Mr Ball (continued on with the Firefly?)
4 Engineer Joseph Milbourne Parry
5 Crew  

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