There is a lack of reliable records about the club’s origins. Facts are difficult to verify. Searches of Trove to find newspaper reports of business activities by the men who were listed as yacht owners on the 1856 register of the Victoria Yacht Club has revealed the following information about four members.
George F. Verdon, W.R. Probert, Mr. John Musson, Dr. J. Wilkins.
It is possible that during the summer of 1853, these four gentlemen were meeting at social gatherings at one of the hotels in Melbourne, the Tattersalls Hotel or the Port Phillip Club Hotel, and the Chusan Hotel in Sandridge, before the Port Phillip Yacht club was established in May, 1853. These men may have engaged in sailing races.
An advertisement appeared in the Argus on Saturday 25th February, 1854 to announce that a William Richard Probert had taken Mr. George F. Verdon into partnership at his business located at Sandridge. As from 17th February, 1854 the business would be known as ‘Probert, Verdon & Co.’ and operate as a ship chandlers and commission agents. They may have jointly owned the yacht ‘Petrel’.
Surgeon Dr. John Wilkins was a landowner and owned several hotels. Deceased persons were kept in the pub cellars before autopsy or/and burial. Dr. Wilkins was the Surgeon for the Port of Melbourne (1853) and in 1861, Dr. Wilkins built the mortuary at Williamstown which still stands in Ann Street.
Mr John Musson, is noted as a Contractor based in St. Kilda and was listed as a member (1857) of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria (PIV) and the Royal Society of Victoria (RSV) with business activities in Geelong.
Captain Charles Ferguson who became Vice Commodore of the Victoria Yacht Club in 1856, was the Harbour Master in Williamstown (1852) and the Water Police Magistrate. He may have had dealings with Mr. William Stawell, who became the State Attorney General in 1855. Mr. W.F. Stawell (later Sir) was known for his keen interest in sports and was the club’s first Commodore. It is highly likely that Captain Ferguson met the port surgeon, Dr. Wilkins as part of his duties as water police magistrate. The Port Phillip Club Hotel in Flinders Street, now known as the Young and Jackson Hotel, may have been owned by Dr. Wilkins.
There is more information available in yachting news reports from 1856 onwards. There are papers and sailing logs lodged with the State Library from ‘Colonel’ Richard Heath who was Vice Commodore in 1872. He sailed the yacht ‘Southern Cross’ with the Victoria Yacht Club from 1857. A manuscript by a Hartley R. Watson is lodged with the State Library of Victoria titled “Logs related to sailing: 1890-1956” and Mr H.F. Watson (Bill) was reappointed as the RYCV club’s Honorary Historian at the Annual General meeting in August 1965. He held this role for forty years.
Ann Goodwin, chair Archives Sub-committee, GC member 2018-19