Prominent among the rolling green hills at Green Cape, south of Twofold Bay, are the tombstones erected to the seventy-one persons lost in the SS Ly-ee-Moon disaster of 1886, one of the most atrocious disasters to befall a vessel on the New South Wales’ coast.
Built as an iron sided three masted paddle steamer at Blackwall, London in 1859, the Ly-ee-Moon’s (Flying Fish) began life as a sister ship to the Royal Yacht "Victoria and Albert" but by 1886 (after many refits) was plying passengers between Melbourne and Sydney. It was one of the fastest ships of it's time and its initial life was without incident.
When the vessel was refitted in 1874 and converted to screw propulsion, the new compound direct acting surface condensing engine generated 160 horsepower. The graceful steamer retained its elegant clipper bow and now had a tonnage of 1202 tons and a length of 282 feet. Schooner rigged on its two masts, the Ly-ee-Moon had three decks.
The steamer was ultimately wrecked on the night of 30 May 1886 while rounding Green Cape at a speed of 11.5 knots in a strong on-shore wind she drifted from her due North course.
At 8.30pm on the fatal night, Captain Arthur Webber left the Third Officer, James Fotheringhame, on watch with instructions to call Webber when the ship was to pass the Green Cape Lighthouse, or at least no later than 9.45pm. Fotheringhame later claimed that he called Webber at 9.10 pm. Captain Webber however claimed he was called at 9.28 pm, just two minutes before the ship was wrecked, the ship was steaming directly for the rocks at the foot of the lighthouse. The vessel crashed to a halt as he put the engines into reverse, but became stuck fast. Any hope failed when the hull broke completely in two after ten minutes. The stern remained on the outer reef, but the bow section containing the saloon broke away and drifted towards the shore.
Despite heroic rescue attempts, only 5 of the 45 passengers and 10 of the 41 crew survived, and only 24 bodies were subsequently recovered from the sea. In total, seventy-one passengers and crew lost their lives, amongst them Flora MacKillop, mother of Mary MacKillop. Those bodies that could be recovered, except that of Flora McKillop were buried just north of the Green Cape Lighthouse (about 100 metres into the scrub off the access road), as they could not wait for transportation to Sydney.
An Inquest was held on 1 and 2 June 1886 at Eden before the Coroner, Mr Magnus, JP, of Eden. The jury delivered its verdict at 8.30 pm on 2 June 1886. It said in part that "gross neglect has been shown, but there has not been sufficient evidence before us to point to the guilty person or persons".
Immediately after the inquest Fotheringhame was charged with manslaughter and then in Sydney was joined in the dock by Webber facing the same charge, but both men walked free. At the later Marine Enquiry, Captain Webber was charged with gross negligence, but Third Officer Fotheringham who was in charge when the steamer struck, was not charged. Captain Webber appeared before a judge and jury but the jury could not reach agreement and he was remanded to appear again, but never did because the Crown elected not to proceed any further.
More detailed information on the Ly-ee-Moon from Michael McFadyen Scuba Diving Web Site
Further image of the Ly-ee-Moon from the Australian National Maritime Museum