HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

15 November 2017

S.S Tambo disabled off Jervis Bay 1895.

On this day - Friday 15 November 1895.

Friday 15 - S.S.Tambo in command of Captain Hipgrave left Sydney in the afternoon bound for Hobart, she carried general cargo and passengers which amounted to about 20 people including the captain and crew.

10.30 pm - While steaming past Jervis Bay her tail shaft broke and became completely disabled.


12.30 am - Her signals of distress were answered by the south bound S.S. Colac of the Adelaide Steam Ship Company which was luckilly steaming close by, dispite parting several lines,  towed the Tambo to a safe anchorage inside Jervis Bay.  The Jervis Bay lighthouse keeper sent a telegraph to the owners, Huddart, Parker, and Co., stating the information above.  The manager company immediately contacted the lighthouse keeper to gain further information.
The Colac stood by her all night then proceeded south to Melbourne.

Saturday 16 - The Tambo remained at safe anchorage until the following day.  A reply came back to the company that the steamer whilst being towed into the bay signalled, "want assistance". Several tugs were placed at the disposal of the company, but these were declined by the company until clearer information could be obtained. The company waited for a  reply from the captain, but the lighthouse keeper sent a message telling them the steamer was too far away to signal.

Monday 18 – The steamer Burrumbeet arrived in the bay to render assistance. She took the Tambo in tow and proceeded to Sydney against a fresh northeast wind which made the Burumbeets task a difficult one.

burrambeet steamer

Tuesday 1.30am – The Tambo gave a heavy lurch,  and the tow line snapped.  There was a nasty choppy sea at the time,  and both boats were knocked about,  a second line was put out,  and this also parted. The sail was set on the Tambo to keep her off the land,  while the Burrumbeet steamed at full speed to Sydney for fresh tow lines.


The tug Hero
– while this was all going on the tug Hero had left port to give assistance to the disabled steamer.

Tuesday 3.pm – Hero reached the Tambo and found her drifting south between Coalcliff and Bulli, securing a tow line she brought the Tambo safely back to the companies Margaret Street Wharf Sydney.


The passengers on being interviewed stated that they had no anxiety at any time.  When the shaft broke they all felt a heavy shock,  and immediately afterwards all called on deck by the captain. On reaching the deck they found all hands at the boats and the captain and officers were busy making distress signals. At the time the nature of the accident was unknown. Then an engineer came up and reported that the tail shaft had broken and that there was no danger.   The weather was fine, and the sea not to rough.  Captain Hipgrave had done all he could to make up for the misshap,  and the passengers were given a good time ashore at Jervis Bay inspecting the locality, while others engaged in Wallaby shooting.......( How things have changed! )

The passengers spoke in the highest terms of the behavior of Captain Hipgrave and the officers and men during the trying experience.


14 November 2017

Young Thomas Speechley.

The tragic story of Thomas Speechley and the mystery of the lonely grave.


Standing alone at the end of a small dirt track nestled amongst the bush on the eastern bank of Currambeen creek is a small grave. I first discovered the grave by accident around 1980, riding through the bush on my bike I came across a small overgrown track leading to the river.  I had past this track many times before without noticing.  After ducking and weaving a short distance through thick scrub I was quite stunned to come across an old gravestone.  The grave still had a few dilapidated timber pickets sticking from the ground, with other termite eaten pieces scattered about.   The grave was marked with the words "Thomas Speechley accidentally shot through explosion 14th November 1904."  This sparked my curiosity to find out who and why he was buried here in this quiet, lonely place.

On previous rides in the area I had come across signs of old habitation scattered amongst the bush, rusted iron, drums and the body and chassis of an old Cadillac truck, windscreen surround, steering wheel and one free spinning timber spoked wheel still attached to the differential..

What grave?
I asked my relatives who had been in the Callala area since the 1950's but they knew nothing about the grave.  Over time I asked around and was always  met with the same response..."What Grave?,  When I moved from Callala across to Woollamia the grave slipped from my memory until I became involved in research at the Denman Museum.  I came across some old photo's of the grave in the museum archives. Since then I have spoken to one of the relatives of the young boy and after 37 years, recently re-visited the grave.

Walking along the rutted bush track from the Myola Boat Ramp car park for about 1200 meters I came across 4 timber posts sticking from the ground.  There the only indication of something different along the track.  Without those posts you could easily miss the grave site.  I pushed through the overgrown bush towards the river and came across a plaque attached to a large rock by the National Parks.  From there it's a very short walk to the gravestone...

The whole site is overgrown and easily missed if you didn't know it existed in the first place.

Thomas Speechley was a young boy aged 6 years and 8 months living with his family on the banks of Currambene Creek on the north eastern side of present-day Myola.  The area was an aboriginal settlement from 1895 – 1920's and was known by the aboriginal people as Bilong.   At one time there were between 10 -15 cottages there.  There are many middens in the area and association with aboriginals is recorded as far back as the early 1800's, other signs show the aboriginals have been using the area for many thousands of years.    Thomas's father William Speechley  was an Englishman married to an Aboriginal woman, earning a living by collecting the gum from Grass Trees on the north side of the bay near Beecroft Peninsula.   He owned a small boat and would travel from the Currambene across the bay to collect gum.  His boy Thomas would sometime accompany him.


14th November 1904.
The Speechley's and Christie Carpenter from Bilong, set off across the bay as they had done many times before.  While William and Christie were going about their business of collecting gum, Thomas played on the beach nearby.  

Thomas came across a 7lb shell casing, often found in the area. He showed his father who promptly threw it away and told Thomas to leave it alone before resuming his work of gathering gum.  Soon after a loud explosion occurred, when William arrived on the scene he found his son Thomas was already dead. Thomas had been fatally wounded by the exploding shell, ripping his hand off and doing extensive damage to his abdomen, killing him instantly.   Thomas was brought back to Huskisson and buried in the grave on the side of Currambene Creek not far from the families homestead.
As the years passed the grave and settlement were abandoned and slowly dissappeared into the bush.

Shell cases on the beach.
Why were there shell cases on the beach?.  The Navy had from the very beginning used Jervis Bay as a place for live shell practice and training.  The area where the incident took place was well known by locals for finding shell cases on the beach which they eagerly collected and sold back to the navy.  No one was aware that some of those shells could still be active,  all were thought to be "plugged" with no bursting charge.


The tragedy made news in papers all over the country including newspapers in England, many asking how this accident could have occured.


The Navy was puzzled by the death of the boy.

The authorities held an enquiry into the tragic accident and could not account for the shell being found on the beach in that location.   The navy explained, "when firing is carried on at Jervis Bay targets are moored out in the entrance of the bay and the guns are therefore, directed out to sea. Under no circumstances are the shells fired on to the mainland.  Occasionally targets are erected near Bowen Island, an uninhabited spot some distance from Jervis Bay. Those are fired at with both plugged and live shells, and it is thought that the fishermen of the neighbourhood have been in the habit of collecting the shells that have been thrown on to the island."

A target being redied for shell practice from the Quarterdeck of H.M.S Challenger in Jervis Bay one month before the fatal accident.

The shell that caused the death of young Speechley is believed to have been a 71b. shrapnel with an R.L. percussion cap. The slightest blow on the nose of the shell would cause the bursting charge of about 4oz. of powder to explode and shatter the shell, which Is composed of steel.
One explanation was that the shell could have come from a badly directed firing and could have landed on the beach after ricocheting, striking the ground sideways and not exploding. They also suggested the shell could have been from the time of the HMS Orlando which operated in the bay in the late 1890's. There was no way of knowing which ship the shell came from.

H.M.S Challenger. 
On the 3rd, 4th and 5th of January H.M.S. Challenger arrived in the bay and dispatched parties of about 80 men to conduct a  search of the beaches looking for live projectiles. It was reported that about 40 projectiles of 9.2in., 6in., 4in., 4.7in., and 4in., calibre were found, and collected together, but 11 were practice projectiles.  The existance of other live shells was a definate possibility.


HMS Challenger by Allan Green

Remarkably William Thomas was using shells for ballast and at the time of the accident carrying 18 shells weighing up to 80lb's in his boat.

Visiting Thomas.
The site is a beautiful, lonely place, sitting only metres from the rivers edge, disturbed only by passing boats and bird song.  There are known to be 4 other graves in the area,  these are unmarked,   suggesting the site was originally central to the small community which lived there.

The beautiful Currambene Creek adjacent to Thomas's Grave.


10 November 2017

Ships in the bay.

November 9th 2017

HMAS Stuart (III) is the fourth of eight Anzac class frigates built by Tenix Defence Systems at Williamstown, Victoria for the Royal Australian Navy.  Stuart is a long-range frigate capable of air defence, surface and undersea warfare, surveillance, reconnaissance and interdiction.



5 November 2017

77 year anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Jervis Bay

On the 5th November 1940 acting as escort to 37 merchant ships, the HMS Jervis Bay steamed directly into battle against a far superior enemy, the German Warship Admiral Scheer.
Named after Jervis Bay the ship and 187 crew including Captain Fegan paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Besides the name of the ship there is another connection to Jervis Bay.

Continue reading this amazing story and watch a short video account from one of the 65 survivors.



28 October 2017

The crew of the fast response vessel Jervis Bay 40 conducting winch training with CHC.

Click the link below for some fantastic footage from the Jervis Bay Marine Rescue Facebook page.




Ships in the bay -- MATV Sycamore

Last night I took some photographs of what for me at the time was an unknown ship anchored just off the beach near Moona Moona Creek. I have seen many ships in the bay but this one was the most illuminated,  looking fantastic against the black of the bay.  A light fog across the bay enhanced the glow around the ship.

I went back early this morning hoping she was still there and captured some images of what turned out to be Australia’s new multirole aviation training vessel MATV Sycamore.  Designed to support Defence helicopter training, having been launched in Vietnam in August 2016, built by Skelder and overseen by Serco Defence, the 94-metre ship is a flight deck equipped sea-going training vessel for the crews of most types of helicopters used by the Australian Defence Force.

John Gallimore,  lives opposite the beach sent me this image from yesterday afternoon.
Thanks John greatly appreciated.


MV Sycamore.


26 October 2017

S.S.Coomonderry. 1886

October 26th 1886 The cargo/passenger steamer S.S. Coomonderry entered Crookhaven Heads on the final leg of her long journey from Scotland.   Navigating her way along the Shoalhaven River before tying up alongside the Bomaderry wharf.   She was a brand new steel screw steamer especially built for David Berry.

David Berry took over the running of the Coolangatta Estate after his brother John Berry died in 1848.  The Coomonderry was originally intended for weekly
travel between Bomaderry and Sydney. Her travels under different owners extended from Cairns to Tasmania.  She frequently called into Jervis Bay and Huskisson.  She had a very long career spanning 83 years, with many adventures along the way.

Going by the number of times she appeared in newspapers it seems she had an affinity for becoming grounded, especially at the entrance to the Crookhaven River.

When trading to the Shoalhaven and further south some of her "skippers" were Captains Baker, Bruce, Barclain, Canty "and Davis.


S.S. Coomonderry as she would have appeared to the Jervis Bay residents  - Gratefully supplied by the Maritime Museum of Tasmania.

Below are just some of her notable inclusions in newspapers.

May 1896 - The Coomonderry arrived at Coolangatta with the governor and a party after a three-day shooting and fishing expedition to Jervis Bay.

February 1898 -  When steamer Atacama foundered 300 miles off the coast and intensive search for survivors was carried out.  The Coomonderry reported passing the captains lifeboat, waterlogged, seven miles south of Kiama.  At this stage, no one knew the fate of the crew.  After a few days of searching some of the crew were found including the captain, sadly, 12 other men were lost to the sea.

April 1899 - She put into Jervis bay through the stress of weather,  The weather improved during the day and she resumed her voyage south at 6.40 p.m.

July 1900 - During devastating floods of the Shoalhaven, the Coomonderry broke from her Bomaderry wharf moorings due to the rush of water and drifted a short distance before going aground.
She was later refloated and taken to safe moorings on the south side of the river.

July 1904 – On a voyage from Moruya to Sydney she ran into a strong east coast gale with thick rain and rough seas, she sought shelter in Jervis Bay.  She was joined a few hours later by the ketch Jess.

imageFebruary 1905 – One of the more unusual incidents accured when the Coomonderry was tied up the the Bomaderry Wharf.  On leaving the ship a passenger, the only one on the ship, stole a spotted dress belonging to one of the ships stewardesses valued at 2 pounds. She was arrested on the Nowra showground and taken to the local lockup. She pleaded guilty and was fined 2 pounds, the fine was paid by her mother.


August 1907 - She went ashore in the Crookhaven River, she was floated off at high tide sustaining no significant damage.


April 1908 - She was involved in the rescue of passengers from the ill-fated S.S.Bega  which foundered off the south coast near Tathra. She transported some of the passengers back to Sydney.

September 1908 - She struck the breakwater at Moruya and was slightly damaged. Two of her plates on the port bilge had been badly dented and water made its way into the vessel. Several weeks earlier the master of the Coomonderry furnished a report to the Department of Navigation calling attention to the condition of the breakwater and the spit, which were a menace to vessels trading to Moruya.

June 1909 – During loading operations at Wollongong the mate, John Marchant, fell heavily against the casing of the boiler and broke 3 ribs.

May 1910 - Captain Willis, R.N.R., steamed into Jervis Bay seeking shelter from a gale and a large swell which was hitting the south coast.

As steamer pre-1915
From the collections of the State Library of New South Wales.

July 1910 – The ships cook fell overboard and and nearly suffocated before being rescued. They continued on with their voyage south but on arriving at their next destination it was found necessary for him to seek medical aid.image

November 1910 - she went aground at Crookhaven heads while attempting to cross the bar she floated off with the rising tide and proceeded to Nowra.

January 1910 - She grounded at Crookhaven Heads entrance but was floated off with the rising tide.

January 1910 - One week later she grounded again at Crookhaven Heads entrance but was floated off with the rising tide.

September 1911 - She went aground at Crookhaven heads and remained fast all night. Floated off on the rising tide the next day.

December 1911 She went aground trying to leave the Crookhaven river, she suffered no damage and was floated off at high tide.

Sept 1912


March 1913
- She reached Sydney from Jervis Bay with the hull of a new tug in tow.

May 1913 - While attempting to cross the bar at Narooma she went ashore inside the bar on a sand spit,  she was refloated on the high tide.

August 1913 - She crashed into the Huskisson wharf after going full speed ahead instead of astern causing significant damage and displacing a ballast log.


1915 - She was converted into an auxiliary 3 masted motor vessel.
After laying idle at Williamstown for several years the old steamer owned by Mr.A.H. Hansell of Sydney was purchased by the Straits Shipping Company for the Tasmanian timber trade.  She was converted into an auxiliary motor vessel.

Auxiliary vessels.

Many steamers and sailing vessels were converted into auxiliary vessels. By either adding sails or an engine, these vessels were no longer at the mercy of the wind.  Steam and sail combined reduced running costs, by using their sails when the conditions were favourable as well as having the luxury of being steam driven when the need arose.  With the rapid developement of diesel engines,  owners quickly converted to this new and more efficient power source, combining wind power with diesel power increased the vessels speed and therefore shortened their port to port time.

copyright free
Source / Donor: Gift of Mr. Allan C. Green ca. 1940.

March 1915 - she was sold to the Trawl Fisheries Ltd., who employed her in the trawling and fishing business off the Australian coast.


thumbnail_Coomonderry P_OM_F_18c


August  1923 - She had a lucky escape when she went aground off Emu Bay, Bernie, Tasmania suffering hull damage.  At first it looked like she would become a total wreck, but she was eventually towed to safety by the S.S Hilsmeads which by coincidence was built at Jervis Bay, repairs carried out. Her captain was cleared of any wrong doing.  More on the S.S.Hillsmeads

October 1925 – Crew member Phillip Franklin  accidently threw fuel on the fire in the galley thinking it was kerosene,  he suffered burns to the face and head and was taken to Melbourne hospital for treatment,  he was later allowed to return to the ship.

July 1926 – During a passage from Smithton to Melbourne the vessels engine broke down. While attempts were being made to repair it,  the vessel ran into heavy weather. She tried to return to Smithton but the wind veered and the captain decided to run for the Victorian coast. The weather was so bad the tops of two masts were broken.  The voyage which usually took about 2 days took the damaged Coomonderry 11 days.  Suffering from lack of food the crew lived largely on potato's and turnips from the hold.


June 1932 – The vessel cleared Port Phillip Heads and soon after ran into a severe gale, the vessel was constantly awash with large waves, during the storm 26 year old John Gustaffsen, a Finn, and an able-bodied seaman, while on watch was washed overboard.  A lifebuoy with a patent flare attached was immediately thrown overboard.  Captain O'Neill at imminent risk made a desperate but futile efforts to put the vessel about.  Gustaffsen had to be left to his-fate. The engineer praised the engine which for three days of the grueling voyage never missed a beat. The crew praised the seaworthiness of the vessel, and Captain O'Neills skill in seeing the Coomonderry through what was described as one of the worst storms to hit the straits

June 1935 - The Coomonderry collided with the cargo steamer Lutana in Port Phillip Bay.  The captain's certificate was suspended for one month after he was found guilty of failing to keep a proper lookout,  and having failed to alter his course in time to avert a collision.


March 1939 - 50 years old and still trading, she ran aground with her crew of seven half a mile north of St Leonards Pier early in the morning, first attempts to refloat her on the evening's high tide failed, she was refloated the next morning.

August 1946 – Caught in a 70 mph gale the Coomonderry berthed at Melbourne. She was carrying 80.000 super feet of housing timber.  During the height of the storm the cooks pots and pans were washed over the side. Men asleep in their bunks found themselves caught in waves bursting into the forecastle,. Some timber deck cargo went overboard, and the lifeboat was filled with water from the sea. After docking the men had their first sleep for 24 hours.

January 1948 – She went aground on the "Doctors Rocks" at the mouth of the Inglis river, Wynyard, she was refloated and surveyed, agents  C. H. Smith 8i Co., re-issued a certificate of seaworthiness.

1949 she was refitted for the South Australian wheat trade.


1950  - she worked in the Kangaroo Island trade.

1968 – she was sold to a P.E. Goulish, Cairns. 

The S.S.Coomonderry had a continuous working life of 83 years....she was regarded as a very fine vessel travelling thousands of sea miles from Queensland to Tasmania. She was highly regarded as a well-built ocean-going vessel.  She suffered many times being caught on shifting sandbars at the entrance to ports,  not an uncommon occurrence for many of the vessels working the east coast of Australia.

Her luck finally ran out in October 1969 when she was wrecked on North Minerva reef 500 miles south of Suva. No futher details are known.

A sad end to a long and successful career under the command of many captains. She had been bought and sold many times, refitted with new engines on a number of occasions and travelled to many ports along the east coast and beyond, she weathered many storms that could have ended in disaster to a lesser ship.

Continue reading about the S.S.Hillsmeads.

Dimensions - 110 ft 2 inches in length
20 feet 1 inch in brath
7ft 6 inches deep.
147 tons

Builder - Thomas B Seath & Co, Rutherglen at Broomloan
Registered owners
1898 Berry Estate
11/1898 Moruya Steam Navigation Co, Moruya NSW
6/1904 R Anderson & Allen Taylor.
11/1905 Illawarra & South Coast Steam Navigation Co Ltd, Sydney NSW
1915 Arthur H Hassell, Melbourne - reg Melbourne
1920 Henry Massey, Melbourne
c1922 George Lee, Melbourne
1930 J S Lee & Sons, Melbourne
1940 J S Lee & Sons (Melbourne) Pty Ltd, Melbourne
1943 J S Lee & Sons (Tasmania) Pty Ltd, Melbourne
19xx P & E Goodlich, Cairns.