Remembering the other Queenscliff-Sorrento ferry

I’ve previous written about the history of the Queenscliff-Sorrento car ferry, but today I’m looking at a different ferry service that plied the same route – the passenger ferry that stopped off at Portsea on the way across Port Phillip Bay.

Postcard featuring Sorrento - Portsea - Queenscliff ferry 'J.J. Farnsworth'

Founded in 1953 by local brothers Jack and Harry Farnsworth, the pair commenced operations with a 41 foot long converted cray boat named ‘M.V. Judith Ann’, transporting holiday makers between Sorrento the Mornington Peninsula with Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula, with a stop being made at Portsea Pier in both directions. By 1955 the growing numbers of tourists saw them purchase a longer vessel – the 71 foot long ‘M.V. Komuta’ – and in the years that followed the fleet also grew in size.

In 1975 the operation was purchased by Sorrento businessman Warren Neale, and in 1984 he commissioned the largest ferry to operate on the service – the 80 foot long steel hulled ‘J.J. Farnsworth’. Able to carry a total of 300 passengers, there were two levels – the main deck, and a smaller deck hidden below the waterline, that had tiny portholes peeking above the waves.

The photo above shows ferry ‘J.J. Farnsworth’ – below is the slightly older timber hulled ‘M.V. Nepean’:

Sorrento - Portsea - Queenscliff ferry 'M.V. Nepean'

The commencement of the parallel car ferry service in 1987 took away passengers from the smaller passenger ferry, with it turning into a summer-only operation. Around the 1999/2000 period I travelled on the Sorrento – Portsea – Queenscliff ferry a handful of times, with only ‘J.J. Farnsworth’ in service and the Queenscliff berth having been moved to Queenscliff Harbour, next door to the car ferry terminal.

With the upgrade of the car ferry service to hourly each way in 2001, the passenger ferry went into further decline, with the last service operating in 2003. Today all that remains is a sign at Sorrento Pier, detailing the history of the the Sorrento – Portsea – Queenscliff ferry.

Signage at Sorrento Pier detailing the history of the Sorrento - Portsea - Queenscliff ferry

Further reading

Some photos from 1987

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6 Responses to “Remembering the other Queenscliff-Sorrento ferry”

  1. Andrew says:

    Interesting slice of history. I noticed a more barge like boat used during Around the Bay bike ride.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The two passenger ferries were sold off to new owners after the service ceased. The boat you saw was probably the ‘Peninsula Princess’ – it was the original car ferry that was used until the first ‘big’ ferry arrived in 1993.

      'Peninsula Princess' off Chinaman's Hat on Port Phillip

  2. Keagan says:

    I grew up in Rye on the Mornington Peninsula and frequently as a child remember taking trips on these two ferries, two and from Sorrento and Queenscliff. I had quite a fascination with the J.J Farnsworth and recall one time letting the captain let me take the helm for a short while, it was one of the most exciting experiences of my childhood. It’s a shame these two were put out of use, It would be absolutely to see them restored, not ‘updated’ but restored to their original state, maybe equip them with more modern/more powerful engines, and have them back in service running between the two Peninsula’s and Portsea stop, as well; was tradition with these ferries and vivid in my memories. I was always curious to know why the bigger Ferries never stopped where the other ones did when they first came into service.

    Thank you kindly, for having this on here, it’s made my week! }

    Yours truly,
    Keagan Pettigrew

  3. Jeff says:

    Great story Marcus used to go on a trip every summer when I was kid
    The Hygeia which was in Geelong sunk in a storm at I think Sorrento
    Also worth a mention have you ever heard of the Watertaxi it used to take people around Corio Bay and it sailed from the landing stage on the Eastern Beach Promenade it originally came from Holland

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I haven’t heard about the Hygeia sinking – the operator of the 1962 vessel retired it in February 2012:

      http://www.hygeia.com.au/Us/History.aspx

      The first vessel to bear the Hygeia name was intentionally scuttled off Barwon Heads in 1931.

      As for the water taxi on Corio Bay, unfortunately that must have been before my time.

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