The journey of the ship's bell.
History of the School Bell
The School Bell has rung out at Swan Reach, calling children to assembly and into class, since the late 1930’s. It is a remarkable piece of history for the school, coming from the wreck of the Netherby, a ship which foundered on the coast of King Island on its way to Brisbane.
The captain of the Netherby was able to bring the ship close into the coast of King Island, ensuring no one aboard was lost – in fact a baby was born while the passengers waited for rescue. Five people were sent from the ship to walk to the lighthouse at Currie, a journey of five days. They arrived in time to meet the captain, who, becoming concerned had set out by boat to the lighthouse also.
After only a short rest, the rescue team sailed across to the Australian mainland, landing near Colac and making their way to the Roadknight homestead. A rescue mission was launched which brought all the passengers and crew to Victoria. Many stayed, probably concluding their journey to this part of Australia was mean to be.
How the bell of the Netherby came to Swan Reach is unclear but the same Roadknight family owned property at Swan Reach and Lakes Entrance (then Cunnighame). Children of the Roadknight family attended Swan Reach Primary School.
Maybe the ship’s bell was given in appreciation to the Roadknight family and they brought it with them to this district. In some way it then became part of St Columb’s Anglican Church at Swan each, hanging in a wooden belfry tower for about 20 years according to local knowledge.
Many a young lad was known to shake the belfry tower at the church until the bell began to toll. Over time this action and weather combined to weaken the tower until it collapsed. At this time, the 1930’s, the Head Teacher at Swan Reach School was Jack Elston, who was also a member of St Columb’s Church.
Jack arranged for the school to take ownership of the bell and it hung from the porch of the school building for nearly 60 years. Some past students remember the thrill of being bell monitor, entrusted with the responsibility of ringing the bell before school and at other times.
In 1995, the bell was restored and an investigation into its history helped everyone realise its historical significance. It has been registered as a significant artefact of shipping history and has now been retired to reside in secure comfort.
Excerpt from: “A School beside the Lower Tambo”, A History of Swan Reach Primary School 1875 – 2000. Compiled and edited by Jeanette Severs.
From Swan Reach to King Island.
In July 2012 the principal of the Swan Reach School, the guardian of the Netherby Bell, travelled to King Island for the official handover of the bell to the KI Historical Society and Museum. This was to be a temporary relocation for the 150th commemorations in 2016, however it is the hope of the descendants that a decision is made to retain the bell on King Island.
The handover occurred on Saturday July 14 2012 on the anniversary of the wreck and over 100 people attended the event. The day included a roll call of the Netherby’s passengers, a reading about the shipwreck, a reading of William Hickmott’s recollections by his descendant Jaiden Rainbow, a reading about John Parry’s walk and rescue, and an official opening by the Mayor.
The bell is significant to the descendants as we know it was brought ashore by the passengers and crew and was rung every half an hour to communicate the time, and for the distribution of food and information in the camp that spread around 1 mile along the shore and inland.
The KI Museum displayed the bell in the Netherby Room for the descendants during the 150th anniversary commemorations in 2016 along with many other artefacts and salvage from the wreck.