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.

17 January 2014

The Coastal Steamer Mokau

SS-MOKAUDuring the 1800’s and 1900’s trade along the coast was running at full steam.
Coastal Shipping was the fastest way to get bulk goods over great distances between ports right around the world.
Australia was a vast country with goods and services spread far and wide. Resourses needed transporting, wool, timber, oil, coal, silica were all transported by ship.
In the late 1800’s and 1900’s coastal steamers made from timber and steel plied the sometimes treacherous coast.
Without the weather forecasting equipment we take for granted in this age, these small hard working ships  could easily run into trouble, the Captains and crews were usually made up of experienced hardened men well use to a life controlled by the elements.

The Australian coastline is littered with shipwrecks and the area around Jervis Bay and Wreck Bay has it’s fair share. The Corangamite, The Walter Hood, The Wandra,The Plutus, The Merimbula, The Hive, The Summer Cloud are just a few of the many wrecks in the area, a fine collection of relics from some of these ships are on display at the museum.

Here is the link to a video of the last voyage of the Mokau and what remains underwater of her today. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO – best viewed full screen.

The Mokau
david drake ship builder of the Mokau - ref trove 194 tons 35m x 6,9m x 2,7 meters Built at David Drake Limited in 1901 located at Balmain.

In 1922 the Coastal Steamers Mokau, was transporting Silica from Ulladulla to Newcastle when she sprung a leak under her boiler, the leak was considered serious enough to seek shelter at the entrance to Sussex Inlet.
David Drake Ship Builder coincidentally died in 1922.

The cargo - Silica.
Occurs as the mineral quartz, a major constituent in many igneous and sedimentary rocks.

Bannister Headland at the northern end of Mollymook beach was the site of a silica crushing facility and loading jetty in the early 20th Century. In 1924, a tramway was constructed across Narrawallee Inlet to transport silica from mining leases near Conjola for preparation and shipping. The industry declined during World War II.
Flint Point was the main area mined for silica. Rocks were found to be almost pure silica were transported to Ulladulla, then shipped to Port Kembla and Newcastle to be crushed and made into refractory bricks to line the furnaces of the steelworks.

History of events leading to the loss of the Mokau

January 18th Red Head: 
The Mokau had been engaged in salvaging a punt that had sunk during wharf construction.
This required the Mokau to anchor bow to shore directly over the punt with lines fixed stem and stern.
The punt was raised by means of tackle rigged at the bow, and the ship was then hove in towards the shore, pushing the punt ahead of it, until the punt was on the beach.

garboard_strake-illistration A diver employed by the contactor had stated he saw evidence of damage to the Mokau on the port bow and along the garboard strake and had advised the captain to head straight to Sydney for docking.
Instead the Mokau headed straight to Ulladulla and loaded with 110 tons of silica rock.

Garboard strake illustration. click to enlarge.

January 19th Ulladulla:
The next morning it was noticed the Mokau was making water much faster than usual, and at lunchtime the engineer informed the captain that it was about 13 inches per hour, He also stated she was “out of shape” after the loading was completed.
January 19th 4.30pm.
She left port bound for Wollongong, with the fore hatch uncovered, but shortly after leaving the harbour a strong southerly gale broke accompanied by heavy rain, thunder and lightning.
January 19th 6.30pm
The engineer had been continually monitoring the leak and by 6.30pm advised the master to head for the nearest port, They eventually made for Sussex Inlet, and got under the reef in Smooth Water dropping anchor.
January 20th.
As she was being moved the next day she touched bottom and never came off again. Meanwhile the engineer pumped the ship dry but the master did not think it safe to go on.
Later while moving cargo, water was found rushing in through the deadwood.
The captain informed Red Head by telephone as soon as he could
January 24th.
The underwriters surveyors arrived to access the damage to the ship.
January 26th
On his advise the crew were landed and the vessel was abandoned by here owners Messrs, Kirton and Earnshaw as a total loss.
By then the sea was breaking over the stern, the anchors having carried away, she later came onto the beach and broke her back.
March 14th the court case.
An enquiry into the circumstances attending the beaching and subsequent wreck of the steamer Mokau.
The court found that William Robinson master of the Mokau had been guilty of miss conduct in taking the vessel to sea in the face of an approaching storm in an unseaworthy condition and with here fore hatch uncovered, as a result of which she was compelled to run for shelter in Sussex Inlet, where she became a total loss and was abandoned.
The court called upon Captain Robinson to show cause why his certificate should not be cancelled.
Mokau-wreck-1926--rs Mokauwreck---rs

wreck photo 2014 


The Wreck Now.

wreck-of-mokau-1A coastal-steamer-rs-research An example of another 1920’s wooden coastal steamer the Narani

REF: Australian National Maritime Museum.

The wreck remains are still spotted periodically as the sand moves around at the entrance and exposes what’s left of the ship.
Last Sunday I had a conversation with Sonia,  Sonia is the owner of the holiday cabins located near the entrance to Sussex and she reported to the Museum that the remains of the ship had reappeared.
Since then I have dived the wreck a number of times and have put together this short video of the last days of the Mokau and some vision of what remains today of this once proud coastal steamer.
Visit the wreck site.snap-1-small snap-2-small

NOTE: best viewed in HD and ENLARGED to full screen.


  1. Croppers Cabins27 March 2014 at 12:23

    You have done an amazing job Rob, don`t forget to give us call so we can go over the other photo`s I have.
    Kind regards Sonya Cropper.

  2. Thanks Sonya, And thank you very much for drawing this to the Museums attention, it made extremely interesting research and has delighted many people..

  3. I will get in contact ASAP, thanks again Sonya

  4. Thank you so much for this footage and photos, I am a descendent of B M Corrigan who owned this ship from 1904 to about 1919

    1. That's fantastic Sue, I'm so glad you found the story interesting.
      Im always looking for information to add to the history, If you have anything to add to the story, please contact me at yourcontributions@gmail.com
      Thanks for your comment.