Very Early History
Looking back to the early days of the Victoria Yacht Club in 1853.
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 (need to verify this).
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
Royal Yacht Club of Victoria has a long and proud history being one of the oldest clubs in Australia founded in May 1853 as the Port Phillip Yacht Club. In 1873 the club was granted the privilege of flying the Blue Ensign of the Colony of Victoria. Queen Victoria, in 1886 granted the club the privileges of a royal club and the Admiralty granted a Full Warrant to fly the Blue Ensign of Her Majesty's Fleet. The Club added the name 'Royal' to its name and it has since been known as the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria.
The club is continually looking to explore every opportunity to improve yet further the experience for members. In 2013 the club celebrated its 160th year with a formal evening at one of Melbourne’s biggest icons, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). An exciting time for the club lays ahead, both on and off the water.
Club races in the very early days were held on Corio Bay, but in 1873 the club moved to its present site at 120 Nelson Place, Williamstown, just across the Westgate Bridge, on the banks of the picturesque Port Phillip. It was to be the dawn on a new era, and a move the club has never regretted.
The average class of yacht on the club register was much different from today, with straight-stemmed deep-keel cutters ranging from 6 to 40 tons. Most of the famous yachts seen in Port Phillip have been on the Royals register, including the 400-ton schooner Undine, owned by the Millar brothers, and the beautiful 35-ton Cushie Doo.
As a senior club, it is no surprise that two of the biggest sailing events in Australia’s history, the 1956 Olympics and the 1983 America’s Cup both featured RYCV. To Royals went the honour of hosting the 5.5 metre yachts at the 1956 Games. The 1983 Australian challenge for the America’s Cup was perhaps the most significant commitment ever entered into by the club over its long history. Although Williamstown-sponsored Challenge 12 was not successful in defeating Australia II for the right to challenge, some members of the Victorian team were co-opted into the victorious Bond syndicate which wrested the America’s Cup from New York.
The Club has had some fine sailors over the years and although a number of Royals crews has competed in the Sydney to Hobart race, it wasn’t until 1996 that a club boat won: Terra Firma, sailed by clubmen Dean Wilson, Scott Carlisle and as principle helmsman, Ian ‘Barney’ Walker.
Lack of funds in the early days prevented the acquisition of a clubhouse, with members sailing from Williamstown but meeting at the Port Phillip Club Hotel in Flinders Street and later in the Old Temple Court, Collins Street. It was not until 1905 that the club moved into a home of its own, when it obtained the lease on Wickliffe House, a grand building on the Upper Esplande in St Kilda.
It being felt that the city rooms tended to make the club more of a social than a sailing club; it was decided to make Williamstown the sole clubhouse. It represented a huge commitment financially, but finally in 1935 the club had its own building.
In 1967 the club began construction of a marina and the 100-year-old two-storey boathouse was demolished to make room for an extended hardstand. What was not planned though, was the loss of the clubhouse three years later in 1970. A fire began in the kitchen and raced through the wooden building, destroying the majority of the club’s treasured relics such as pictures, half-models and honours board. Stoically members rallied and the club rose metaphorically from the ashes, a new brick building having been constructed for the benefit of the 350 members only a little over a year later.
In 2002 there was an extension of the clubhouse with the addition of fresh office and meeting spaces. Not long after this a new and significantly larger decking was also constructed, allowing club events to spill out from the clubhouse to overlook our magnificent lawn area and enhance our view of the Melbourne CBD. Royals is fond of its past but equally looks to the future.
Want to know more?
You can read more about the history of the Club in the souvenir booklet prepared for the 150th Anniversary.
Make a contribution to the archives
Interested in helping us build our Club archives? We'd love your help! If you have anything you'd like to add to the club archives, please contact the office on (03) 9397 1277 or submit your contribution to Ann Goodwin (Archives Chair 2018-19).
She's always looking for stories, photographs and documents that can be added to our collection. Volunteers are always needed to help us with:
- Sort through and organise the Club archives
- Present the collection in a meaningful way