THERE is a cannon in the gardens of the house on Churchill Island that has caused a great deal of concern in certain quarters. It has also caused me no small worry. In a story I wrote in about 1974 I said the cannon was from the Confederate States of America raider 'Shenandoah'. That was certainly my belief and, indeed, it still is.
The Trust contacted me asking if I could help locate some proof. I couldn't. I couldn't even remember where I first got the information. Perhaps there is a reader out there somewhere who can help. If so, please get in touch!
Any connection between Lieutenant Waddell, commander of the raider, and Samuel Amess, or John Cleeland, could offer a vital clue.
The 'Shenandoah' was originally a British vessel, the 'Sea King'. Between 1861 and 1865, when the Union was at war with the Confederacy, both sides sent raiders to sea to prey on each other's shipping.
Few were as successful as the 'Shenandoah'. She was at sea for more than a year, sailed 58,000 miles and visited every ocean except the Antarctic. She sank 32 ships belonging to the US and captured six as prizes. She was eagerly sought by the Union Navy and her main contribution to the unsuccessful war effort of the Confederacy was probably in the number of Union ships involved in the hunt for her.
Our colonial masters in England had warned us that under the rules of war (yes, there are rules) we could only offer ships from the warring parties medical aid and emergency repairs, and such ships must then put to sea immediately.
The citizens of Melbourne ignored this advice and the 'Shenandoah' was made very welcome. Her officers and men were treated as romantic heroes. A ball was held in their honour at Ballarat and some 2000 people attended. The ship was open to the public on several occasions when she was moored at Port Melbourne. On one day alone she had 800 visitors.
John Wells is a Gippsland historian and author. His books include Colourful Tales of Old Gippsland and Gippsland - People, a Place and their Past. This essay was first published in the West Gippsland Trader.
The Churchill Island cannon. Photo: Phillip Island Nature Parks.
CSS Shenandoah on the Williamstown slip, February, 1865. Photo: US Naval Historical Center
Samuel Amess, Melbourne Lord Mayor, 1869. The story is that Lieutenant Waddell presented the cannon from CSS Shenandoah to Amess, in view of the great hospitality the ship's crew received in Melbourne in 1865, and that Amess then took the cannon to Churchill Island, which he owned.
The ship's exploits were well known. She had sunk something like £6 million worth of Union shipping and newspapers in every corner of the globe carried stories about her.
She was allowed to provision fully, carry out extensive repairs and to remain in the port from January 25, 1865 to February 18, hardly an 'immediate departure'. Perhaps the most significant sign of her welcome in Melbourne was that, when she sailed, 42 Victorians had joined her crew.
This put Victoria in very clear breach of international law and when the Union finally won, the British Government was required to pay a "fine" of £50,000. That didn't seem to worry anyone in Melbourne.
One of the people to offer hospitality was Sam Amess, prominent citizen, councillor of the City of Melbourne and later Lord Mayor, and owner of Churchill Island. The ship's officers were entertained at the Melbourne Club.
The story is that Lieutenant Waddell presented the cannon and some cannon balls to Amess and that Amess then took them to Churchill Island. The US historians argue that this cannon was not on standard issue for the Confederacy at this time and so could not have come from the 'Shenandoah', but it could have been taken by her from one of the ships she sank.
No-one knows. It seems probable that no-one ever will know now, but if sufficient connection between Waddell and Amess, or Waddell and Cleeland (he had a part of Phillip Island at one time and knew Amess well) could be established, it might lend weight to the claim. After all, no-one has come up with a better story, or any proof either way.
The island is itself a treasure chest of our history. George Bass was almost certainly the first white man to see it when he entered Western Port on January 5 1798. Legend has it that he marked a rock of the south-east corner of the island.
Lieutenant James Grant sailed from England in the new survey sloop 'Lady Nelson' on March 23, 1800. His ship was designed for coastal survey work, with a shallow draught and sliding keelboards. After a slow but safe journey, he arrived in Port Jackson in December. He was sent back to explore Western Port in March 1801 and on March 22 he came to Churchill Island, where he planted a wide variety of seeds as an experiment.
The island seemed suitable for agriculture and this is the source, too, of the name, because the seeds were given to Grant by John Churchill, of Dawlish, in Devonshire.
Lieutenant Murray then took charge of the Lady Nelson and he visited Churchill Island aboard her in December 1801. He was delighted to find that Grant's crops had flourished.
In about 1857, Sam Pickersgill, from Yorkshire, moved onto the island with his family. He stayed there for about six years but it seems he never bothered to get any formal licence to hold it.
John Rogers took up the first Crown grant of the island on January 29 1866, at a cost of £210, which seems to have been a very high price at that time.
Rogers mortgaged the island to John D. McHaffie, whose run covered most of Phillip Island at the time, and the mortgage was only repaid when Rogers sold the island to Samual Amess in June 1872. Samuel Amess, the man who probably brought the cannon to Churchill Island, was a wealthy fellow from Scotland's Fifeshire. He came to Melbourne in 1852, made a successful trip to the goldfields and was back in Melbourne in 1853 as a prominent and successful builder.
Sam Amess died in 1898 and the island passed to his son, then his grandson, each of whom was also named Samuel.
When the grandson died, the island was sold to Gerald Neville Buckley, perhaps in 1920. In 1935 the title passed to a partnership of various members of the Buckley family but in 1938 it was bought by Harry Jenkins.
He died in July of 1963 and left the island to Sister Margaret Campbell, who had nursed his crippled son. She decided to sell the island in 1973 and it was bought by A. Classon.
In 1976 the Victorian Conservation Trust bought the island for the people of Victoria and they are the current owners.
They own the island, and they own the cannon. That means, of course, that they also own the problem of finding out just whence it came. I cannot help them. Can you?
(Of course, if I maintained a sensible filing system, I'd be better informed....)