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

Another postcard

Here is an undated postcard featuring the timber bodied ferries ‘Nepean’ and ‘Hygeia’.

Postcard featuring ferries "Nepean' and 'Hygeia'

And another photo

Undated photo of ‘Hygeia’ alongside the Queenscliff Pier.

Weaver collection via Queenscliff & Point Lonsdale Days of Old on Facebook

Further reading

Some photos from 1987

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20 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:

      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.

      • Slip says:

        G’day Marcus, glad to see the interest in the old girls. I worked for the service for nearly 20 years and have many fond memories of thousands of crossings. The Hygeia never actually sunk but did break her moorings one night and ended up on the sand near the aquarium at Sorrento. She was refloated and continued service for many years to come. I have a copy of a photo if you are interested.

  4. Clive Robertson says:

    Does anyone remember the original ferry service that operated there back in the 1950’s

    • Will Nicholls says:

      I thought it was called the “Queenscliff-Sorrento Ferry Service” owned by the Farnsworths the first boat i remember was the Weeroona i was about 4 Years old on Christmas holidays at Barwon Heads at around 1959/60 & remember a rough crossing back to Queenscliff on dusk there were waves breaking over the deck & every one was covering up with beach towels as i just sat fixated on the Diesel engine that was exposed under a cover in the back deck it was probably the best boat trip i have ever been on. My Dad used to sell engine parts to Jack Farnsworth & on school holidays he would drop me off at the ferry & i would stay on it until Dad had done his rounds in Portsea & Sorrento. I loved those beautiful boats as i recall the Weeroona, the Hygeia, the Nepean & the JJ Farnsworth. Those boats had a personality i used to love going down in the engine room of the Nepean & stare at the big twin Gardener diesel engines then run up and stare at the water right off the front from the little gap in the anchor pulley. Great Days so sad these lovely boats are no more doing their thing

    • Marcus Wong says:

      This sign at Sorrento details the ferries used over the years – the first one entered service in 1953:

  5. Russell Dehnert says:

    Marcus, doing some homework for a painting of the MV Nepean, although seeing her up close for many years, what was her Commercial Number MB-?? (on the small board above her name on the bow)
    Also, do you know the colour scheme changeover? according to the Fidgett book “Down the Bay” she had a different colour scheme at some stage to the (final) blue scheme. I want to do my painting in whatever the scheme was for the early ’70’s as this was when going on her ‘overseas’ was a huge adventure for a country kid.


  6. Tom says:

    Hi All,

    Does anyone know what type of vessel the JJ Farnsworth was. I can tell you that the vessel is still in service today carrying hundreds of passengers a week.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Now in use as a coastal trader up in Papua New Guinea according to this sign:

      History of the Sorrento - Portsea - Queenscliff ferry

      • Amanda says:

        Does anyone know who built the J.J Farnsworth and whether it has a sister ship.

        • Ken Morrison says:

          As far as I know there was only the one built, a mate completed the boat for Warren and we trailered the hull on one truck and the cabin on another from Dandenong to Melbourne to be launched by crane and then have the cabin dropped on. It was then motored to a birth in Docklands for final fit out and ballasting before heading to Sorrento.

  7. Chris Lee says:

    Does anyone have pictures of the Lonsdale built in Queenscliff in 1974 to service 80 passengers Queenscliff to Sorrento till 1980.

    Kind Regards


  8. Ant says:

    I was extremely fortunate to be married on the JJ Farnsworth on a Friday afternoon on the 1st day of summer 2000. I adored this vessel as a child. Luckily a friends Dad knew the owner and we were only charged $500 or $600 for hours of cruising between Rye and Portsea. Best day ever!

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