The story of 'Old Lysander'
A recent article by Roy Hay touched on a football match played as part of the celebrations in November, 1850, of Victoria's Separation from the rule of New South Wales.
The news reached Melbourne via a coastal vessel, the Lysander under the command of Captain C. Lulham. As well as carrying a cargo of iron piping, the Lysander had picked up the newspapers carrying the proclamation of the Separation from the English ship Delta in Adelaide a week before.
Hardly a glamorous vessel, the 476 ton brigantine Lysander was designed for cargo work with accommodation for 4 to 6 passengers.
The humble craft plied her trade carrying wool, timber and iron around Australian ports until the 1860's and as well as her part in one of Melbourne's earliest recorded football matches and despite a rather ignominious end to her career, the Lysander made another significant contribution to Australian football.
After the brig was decommissioned, she was sold to the Government and used as a prison hulk anchored off Williamstown in Hobson's Bay before being broken up.
The Prisons Department stripped the ship of most things of value and transferred the bell, originally cast in 1825, to Pentridge where it was used for some years to warn the local population of the escape of a prisoner.
The bell was then used by the Coburg volunteer fire brigade until the local group was absorbed into the Fire Brigade Board; "Old Lysander" as she became affectionately known (although probably few people knew exactly why) was then used at Richmond before being replaced by an electrically-operated alarm.
The bell was then stored at the Board's Eastern Hill station where it lay gathering dust for some years.
As football crowds following the resumption of play following the end of the Great War, most of the hand-rung "cow-bells" had become virtually impossible for the umpire to hear above the noise of the crowd.
Somewhere along the line, an observant and presumably Melbourne supporter apparently noticed the almost-forgotten bell (probably two-thirds to a meter high) and suggested to the football club that it could solve the problem of signalling the end of play at our largest ground.
Just before the commencement of the 1922 season, the Fire Brigades Board presented it to the Melbourne Cricket Club and to the cries of anxious supporters of "ring the bell", "Old Lysander" sounded the start and end of football's hostilities at the M.C.G. for over thirty years before being replaced with an electric siren system.
At the time, The Argus (22 August, 1922) noted :
“Football competition is so keen nowadays that a second may make all the difference in the result of a match. It is the duty of timekeepers to ring a bell at the end of each quarter, and the rules say that the ball shall be 'dead' at the first sound of the bell. It is thus essential that on each ground there should be a loud sounding bell, for a premiership may be won or lost in less than a second through an umpire nor hearing the ringing of the bell … Most of the bells used are insignificant. Recently the Melbourne Cricket Club installed a bell which should materially reduce the difficulty. It hangs from the front of the member's balcony and it's rich, deep tone echoes across the huge ground, so that no one will in future will be able to say that "he did not know that time was up."
The Argus went on to suggest one enterprising member of the St Kilda club some years previously had been credited with inventing "a patent football time bell", an experimental version of which was trialled with success at (modestly attended) practice games. In the days when clubs battling every sixpence they could lay their hands on, none were prepared to incur the expense of the installation of the new bell".
Sadly, the fate of "Old Lysander" is not immediately known (at least to the author) - perhaps sold off for scrap, or maybe hidden away somewhere in the catacombs of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Can anyone at australianfootball.com shed any light on “Old Lysander”?
For more details on the Separation and the subsequent celebrations, visit http://www.ozsportshistory.com/melbournerules/separation.html