Australia’s First Shot
German Steamer Pfalz Fired Upon
Vessel Returns to Melbourne
A Valuable Prize
The first shot of the war, as far as Australia is concerned, was fired from Point Nepean fort at the Heads shortly after noon yesterday, when the German cargo steamer Pfalz was held up while passing out to sea. When the news reach Melbourne through an official wire from Queenscliff considerable excitement was aroused, as it was rumored the vessel had cleared out to sea after being fired upon, and following so soon upon the news of the declaration of war between Great Britain and Germany, proved that Victorian defences in readiness for active warfare.
The Pfalz left the Victoria Dock, where she had been unloading cargo during the past week, at 7.45 am, and, according to clearance papers taken out at the Custom House on Tuesday afternoon, was bound for Sydney and Brisbane. As customary, the services of river and deep sea pilots were requisitioned. Slow progress was made down the Bay, and it was noon before the vessel arrived off Portsea. Here she was met by the pilot steamer Alvina, from which the naval authorities are conducting the examination of all outgoing shipping. Upon naval officers boarding the Pfalz, her papers were found to be in order and nothing of a suspicious nature apparent to warrant her detention. At the time the naval boarding party was unaware that war had been declared between Great Britain and Germany, while Captain Kuniken and his crew were also oblivious of the grave turn of events since their departure from Melbourne.
Upon permission to leave the port being granted, the Pfalz, with her pilot still on board, headed towards the Rip. About ten minutes later, when in a direct line between Point Nepean and Queenscliff, those on board were startled by the report of a big gun fired from the fortress at Nepean. A puff of white smoke suddenly rose over the fortification, and a shell came screeching past, to fall into the water about 50 yards astern of the vessel. Spray was thrown up in all directions, and those on board were thrown into a state of alarm at the sudden attack upon them.
Officers were surprised at the turn of affairs, and at a loss to understand the summons. Fearful less further shots might be fired, the vessel was stopped. Signals were then observed flying from Queenscliff, which soon enlightened the now thoroughly alarmed officers that they were to turn back. No time was lost in responding to this order, and at 1.30 pm Australia’s first prize of war commenced her return to Hobson’s Bay. The pilot remained on board and assisted in the navigation till anchor was cast of Williamstown at 5.15 pm. Naturally the officers of the Pfalz were uncommunicative, but they are said to have raised no demur at their enforced return and take their “hold up” quietly.
Last night the vessel was boarded by customs officials, who notified those on board of the existence of war between Great Britain and Germany, and carried out an inspection of the vessel’s papers. They were accompanied by a guard of ten men from the naval depot at Williamstown. The men were fully armed, and their warlike appearance amply confirmed the German crew’s fear of an outbreak of hostilities. No demonstration was made on board when the armed guard scrambled up the vessel’s side, and the crew accepted the situation in good grace.
Looming grimly a short distance away was the Australian cruiser Pioneer, cleared for action and ready for any emergency. She had been cruising in the Bay during the afternoon and remained off Williamstown last night. Her presence no doubt had an awesome effect, no resistance was offered the naval party when the vessel’s machinery was disarranged as a precaution against her departure during the night. No guard was placed on the vessel, and the naval party came ashore on completing the task.
The future career of the detained vessel will be watched with interest in view of the outbreak of hostilities between the two countries. Should she be regarded as a prize she will be a valuable asset. She belongs to the Norddeutscher Lloyd, a wealth German shipping line, and is comparatively a new vessel of 6557 tons gross register.
The Pfalz was the only foreign vessel in Melbourne, and it was rather unfortunate for her that news of the declaration of war was flashed to Queenscliff a few minutes before her arrival there. Had she left half an hour earlier she would probably have passed out through the Heads and out to sea before she could be intercepted.