Wreck Dive | Boat access
Level: Open Water and beyond.
The HMAS Countess of Hopetoun (HMVS) was a first-class torpedo boat. She is historically significant as the last vessel to be built for the Victorian naval force. It's also significant for the vessel's role in patrolling Port Phillip during World War I.
The Countess of Hopetoun lies about 250 metres offshore from Swan Island in Port Phillip.
Ideal Conditions: Best with no wind and calm seas. Light to moderate offshore westerly to northerly winds are okay. Don't bother goinf if there are moderate to strong north-easterly to south-westerly winds. See WillyWeather (Swan Island) as a guide for the tide times and the height of the tide.
The 75-ton First-Class Torpedo Boat was laid down in 1890, in the yards of Yarrow & Co. at Poplar in London, and launched the following year. She was completed as Torpedo Boat No. 905 on 25 August 1891, at which time she embarked a crew of 27 to undertake builder's trials.
A sleek vessel, the Countess of Hopetoun was 130 ft (40 m) long, with a beam of 13.5 ft (4.11 m) and a draught of 7 ft (2.13 m), with a single funnel situated between the fore and main masts. She had a top speed of 24 knots (44 kpm).
For her long delivery voyage to Melbourne the vessel was rigged as a three-masted schooner carrying 1,800 square feet of sail. The voyage to Australia, via the Cape of Good Hope, took seven months and she arrived in Port Phillip on 22 May 1891 after 154 days under way.
TB 905 was officially christened Countess of Hopetoun on 25 July 1892 at Alfred Dock, Williamstown. She was named after Hersey Alice Eveleigh-de-Moleyns, the wife of the then Governor of Victoria, John Adrian Louis Hope, the Seventh Earl of Hopetoun, who later became Australia's first Governor-General.
Following her commissioning, Countess of Hopetoun participated in the usual pattern of exercises conducted on Port Phillip by the Victorian Naval Forces. This saw her launch mock torpedo attacks on other ships including the venerable flagship HMVS Cerberus.
Following Federation in 1901, the vessels of the Victorian Naval Forces became part of the Commonwealth Naval Forces (CNF). In practice little changed and for the next few years the former Victorian warships continued to exercise as they had done as colonial vessels. With the appointment of Captain William Creswell as the Director of the Commonwealth Naval Forces in 1904 this soon changed, as he began transforming the CNF into what would become the Royal Australian Navy.
In February 1905 the Countess of Hopetoun steamed in company with Childers to Launceston, Tasmania; a voyage she repeated in December 1907 when the two visited Devonport and Hobart. Both vessels shipped large amounts of water during the outward and return passage through Bass Strait and it was with some relief that they arrived back in Williamstown on 14 January 1908.
During the annual Easter manoeuvres of April 1908 Countess of Hopetoun joined the torpedo boats Lonsdale, Nepean and Childers for the annual instructional cruise and manoeuvres. In January 1910 she proceeded to Sydney where she was refitted with new water tube boilers at Cockatoo Island.
Countess of Hopetoun transferred to the control of the Royal Australian Navy following the granting of the 'Royal' title to the existing naval forces in 1911. As such, she became one of a handful of vessels to have served in the colonial, commonwealth and Royal Australian navies.
Between 1911 and 1913 she was employed chiefly in Victorian waters exercising in Port Phillip and off Swan Island. In January 1914 her 3-pounder gun was removed and an assessment made concerning her suitability for continued service. Remaining in service, HMAS Countess of Hopetoun continued to participate in annual exercises and also performed minesweeping duties following the outbreak of World War I.
In December 1915 tragedy struck the vessel when Signalman Sydney Percy Baker of the Naval Reserve was lost overboard following exercises in Bass Strait with HMAS Childers. A heavy swell was encountered in the strait and at 12:30 on 14 December Countess's engineer reported that a boiler tube had ruptured and that the ship was losing steam. She subsequently lost way. Childers attempted to take Countess of Hopetoun in tow but the rough conditions resulted in the tow-line ripping both the port and starboard bollards from her deck. Consequently a sea anchor was deployed and Childers sent to get help.
At 20:45 the tug Nyora was dispatched from Williamstown, rendezvousing with the helpless vessel at 07:30 on 15 December 1915. As a consequence of the towing bollards being pulled from her deck, a tow line was passed and secured around the torpedo boat's circular conning tow. Unfortunately this resulted in pulling the vessel sideways through the water and as Countess of Hopetoun healed over Signalman Baker was lost overboard. Numerous life rings and buoys were thrown in Baker's direction but he was unable to reach any of them and subsequently disappeared from view. A search lasting more than two hours failed to find any trace of the rating.
At 18:45 that evening all three vessels passed through the heads into Port Phillip arriving at Williamstown two hours later. A court of inquiry into Signalman Baker's death concluded that it was attributed to the heavy seas and that all possible steps had been taken to rescue the hapless sailor.
Following repairs, Countess of Hopetoun remained in Port Phillip continuing the usual pattern of training cruises on the bay and conducting target practice. In 1918 she operated with HMAS Protector towing targets, patrolling troop transports and visiting the quarantine station at Portsea. These duties continued periodically until 1920 when she was placed in reserve. During the visit to Melbourne by the Prince of Wales in 1920 she was spruced up and briefly reactivated before returning to reserve status.
In April 1924 Countess of Hopetoun was sold as scrap to Edward Hill of 77 Chapman Street, North Melbourne for the sum of £299. She was scrapped the following year although her engines were subsequently in use at the Gordon Institute of Technology, Geelong, Victoria.
The hull of the torpedo boat Countess of Hopetoun was beached ashore on Swan Island, in Port Phillip, where it remains mostly covered by sand and in water from .5 to 2.5 metres deep.
See also, Royal Australian Navy: HMAS Countess of Hopetoun (HMVS),
Wikipedia: HMVS Countess of Hopetoun,
Heritage Council Victoria: Countess of Hopetoun (HMAS),
Heritage Victoria slide collection on flickr: Countess of Hopetoun, and
Australian National Shipwreck Database: Countess of Hopetoun (HMAS).
Heritage Warning: Any shipwreck or shipwreck relic that is 75 years or older is protected by legislation. Other items of maritime heritage 75 years or older are also protected by legislation. Activities such as digging for bottles, coins or other artefacts that involve the disturbance of archaeological sites may be in breach of the legislation, and penalties may apply. The legislation requires the mandatory reporting to Heritage Victoria as soon as practicable of any archaeological site that is identified. See Maritime heritage. Anyone with information about looting or stolen artefacts should call Heritage Victoria on (03) 7022 6390, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Traditional Owners — This dive site is in the traditional Country of the Wathaurong (Wadda-Warrung) people of the Kulin Nation. This truly ancient Country includes the coastline of Port Phillip, from the Werribee River in the north-east, the Bellarine Peninsula, and down to Cape Otway in the south-west. We wish to acknowledge the Wathaurong as Traditional Owners. We pay respect to their Ancestors and their Elders, past, present and emerging. We acknowledge Bunjil the Creator Spirit of this beautiful land, who travels as an eagle, and Waarn, who protects the waterways and travels as a crow, and thank them for continuing to watch over this Country today and beyond.
Countess of Hopetoun Location Map
Latitude: 38° 15.156′ S (38.2526° S / 38° 15′ 9.36″ S)
Longitude: 144° 41.573′ E (144.692883° E / 144° 41′ 34.38″ E)
Datum: WGS84 | Google Map
Added: 2012-07-22 09:00:00 GMT, Last updated: 2022-05-05 17:00:45 GMT
Source: GPS - Trim sounder location
Nearest Neighbour: S.F. Hersey, 1,124 m, bearing 44°, NE
First-Class Torpedo Boat.
Built: Poplar, London, England, 1891.
Swan Island, Port Phillip.
Depth: 7 m.
DISCLAIMER: No claim is made by The Scuba Doctor as to the accuracy of the dive site coordinates listed here. Should anyone decide to use these GPS marks to locate and dive on a site, they do so entirely at their own risk. Always verify against other sources.
The marks come from numerous sources including commercial operators, independent dive clubs, reference works, and active divers. Some are known to be accurate, while others may not be. Some GPS marks may even have come from maps using the AGD66 datum, and thus may need be converted to the WGS84 datum. To distinguish between the possible accuracy of the dive site marks, we've tried to give each mark a source of GPS, Google Earth, or unknown.