It's the end of an era for Woodford's tiny Presbyterian Church with services ceasing, but it has brought to light its links with a famed shipwreck of "Titanic" status.
The bell of the Schomberg has been on loan to Warrnambool's Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum for four decades but before that it rang out across Woodford on Sunday mornings for 75 years until it was stolen in 1968.
With the Woodford church no longer having an active congregation, elder Chris Drury said a decision would have to be made about the ownership of the bell.
"There will need to be a new chapter in the ownership of the bell, whatever that chapter might be," he said.
"We'll get to a point where we don't exist as an entity."
The Schomberg story, which came to grief off the Peterborough coast on Boxing Day 1855, has been referred to as the nineteenth century's Titanic.
And there are similarities to the world's most famous shipwreck that went down in 1912.
Built at great expense in Scotland, the Schomberg was labelled "the most perfect clipper ship ever" and was designed to be the most comfortable vessel to sail to Melbourne.
But like the Titanic, it too sank on its maiden voyage.
But the story of how the bell came to be at Flagstaff Hill is as much of a tale as the story of the wreck itself.
Mr Drury said that after the Schomberg came to grief on rocks off Peterborough, the salvage rights were sold to Warrnambool merchants Manifold and Bostock.
In 1968 they turned up to church and there was a wheelbarrow at the front gate...someone had cut the bell down from the bell tower and wheelbarrowed it down to the front gate and taken off.- Chris Drury
"The boat was stranded on rocks so you could actually get to the boat and get on it and start doing work on it," he said.
"They went down to do a bit of a surveillance of the whole thing and got a lifeboat and a couple of bells and a few things.
"They did a contingency planning on how they would tackle the rest of the project and what was left but, of course, the south-west coast being the south-west coast, the winds and surf got up and destroyed the boat.
"So nothing else was salvaged except for bits and pieces on the beach."
Manifold and Bostock put the bell up for auction and St John's Presbyterian Church in Warrnambool bought it and hung it in their tower.
Years later, when St John's upgraded the bell in 1893, they gifted the Schomberg bell to the Woodford congregation.
"Woodford hung it on a bell stand in front of the Sunday school and it sat there and they used to ring it on Sunday morning," Mr Drury said.
"But in 1968, they turned up to church and there was a wheelbarrow at the front gate...someone had cut the bell down from the bell tower and wheelbarrowed it down to the front gate and taken off."
Mr Drury said there were plenty of rumours at the time of who might have taken the bell.
"The Warrnambool police started chasing down what might have happened to it and they tracked it down to a second hand shop connected to a scrap metal yard," he said.
"They were able to get the bell back again and give it back to the Woodford church, which is quite an amazing piece of work by those Warrnambool police."
But the congregation never hung the bell up again because it had been damaged when it was cut down.
"It was just put under a table and was collecting dust," he said.
When Flagstaff Hill opened, the church agreed to loan the bell to the museum.
"That's where it has been for the last 40-odd years," Mr Drury said.
"It's amazing that it didn't end up scrap metal or sold in the second hand shop.
"The fact that it was recovered was just a terrific piece of police work."
The Schomberg had set out from Liverpool on October 6, 1855 with 430 passengers and 3000 tons of cargo.
The captain was aiming to get to Melbourne in 60 days, but a few windless days at the equator meant the vessel had no chance of breaking the record, according to the Victorian Heritage Data Base.
The ship had sighted Moonlight Head on Christmas Day but through a deadly combination of wind, currents and unmarked sand spits, the vessel ran aground on Boxing Day.
The SS Queen was nearby and managed to save those onboard.
In a sign of the times, according to Don Charlewood's book Wreck and Reputations, the crew of the Schomberg walked the distance from the wreck back to Warrnambool on foot and arrived in town on January 4.
The captain was charged in the Supreme Court under suspicion that he was playing cards with two female passengers below decks when his ship ran aground but despite a protest meeting, two inquiries and the court proceedings, he was found not guilty and cleared of all charges.
It is unclear what the future of the church building will be, with church rules stating that it must sit empty for a year before it can be sold.
The first Presbyterian church in Woodford would have been a timber structure, Mr Drury said, which probably sat at the front of where the stone building that was built in 1890 now sits.
"Woodford was going to be the settlement because it was the bridge over the Merri River, but there was always a bit of a push to get Warrnambool going," he said.
"When they started building bridges over rivers Warrnambool really took off and Woodford went into decline."
The Woodford bridge over the Merri River was built in 1848.
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum's new curator Justin Croft said the Schomberg was one of the most luxurious ships built to bring emigrants to Australia who were cashing in on the gold rush era.
"The Schomberg is almost like the nineteenth century's Titanic as it sunk on its maiden voyage on Boxing Day in 1855 near Peterborough," he said.
"The bell demonstrates that every object has multi-layered stories and meanings, sometimes several that add to its significance."
Mr Croft said the bell not only provided an opportunity to learn about the history of the doomed ship, but helps unlock the history of the region.
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