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.

27 March 2014

T.S.S Merimbula – On this day 1928

If you take a leisurely walk out to Bosom Beach near Currarong following the signs to the Merrimbula ship wreck, you might expect to see something that resembles a ship.  What you will find is a small pile of twisted, rusted steel.  The remains strewen across the rocks belie the once beautiful steam ship T.S.S Merimbula which carried passengers in luxury and comfort along the coast.

1928 The last voyage of the T.S.S Merimbula.

T.S.S. Merimbula was a large twin screw steamship belonging to the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company. Launched on 25th Novermber 1909 the steamer was the largest vessel ever ordered by the company. She was a luxuriously appointed ship, able to carry 80 first class and 20 second class passengers on regularly passages between Sydney and Eden.

March 26th -
With Captain O’Connor at the helm she left Sydney for Bermagui and Tathra.
She sailed into increasingly bad weather.


March 27th Merimbula runs aground.

Just before 1am travelling at 14 knots, 3 miles to the west of her set course the 13 passengers were woken by the grinding impact of the vessel driving onto the rocks at Abraham’s Bosom where she stuck fast. In heavy rain, the engines were stopped and everybody arrived on deck. The crew battled to free the lifeboats which had become stuck. Rescue rockets were fired but failed to attract attention. The Captain believed the vessel was in no immediate danger and sent the passengers back to the lounge, still with their lifejackets on. There they spent the remainder of the night drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. Rain continued the following morning as the lifeboats were lowered. No lives were lost and the passengers were rowed across to the mouth of Currarong Creek where they found shelter in a fisherman's hut. Currarong in those days was very remote and Captain O'Connor and the crew walked across Beacroft Peninsula to the lighthouse at Point Perpendicular. He then telephoned the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company in Sydney to advise them of the grounding.
35 passengers and crew had been safely landed.

Merimbula Survivors camped
Merimbula survivors camped.

28th March -
Assessors arrived at the wreck site and concluded there was a remote chance of refloating the vessel.

29th March -The next day the Merimbula it was determined the vessel was no going to be salvagable, the salvage operation was cancelled.


5th April - An article appeared in the newspapers telling of the sudden appearance of souveneer hunters entering the wreck via the gaping hole torn in her bows, clambering over the wreck "like crows round the carcus of a beast"
No one was left to protect the cargo and other valuables, men women, girls and boys entered the wreck and it was a case of the first there got the pick.
In the bush within a mile of the steamer were stacked piles of pilfered goods, rum, wisky, motor tyres, sewing-machines, prams, tables – everything that was not screwed down. Car loads of stuff have been removed. Men and women crawled into the heart of the ship and carried away toys, fruit, books, brooms, and even casks of beer. There was no one to stop them.

6th April - The remains were sold at auction for 300 pounds to Mr. A.W.Carey, of Melbourne, the cargo was not included in the sail.  The new owner gambled on the vessel being salvagable.
The new owner now had to advise the owners of the cargo that it must be salvaged within a week.

By the artice above it doesn't sound like much would be left.

After some time the battered remains  slid beneath the sea, The gamble didn't pay off as the ships back broke and slipped down the reef into deep water, now only the bow section remained visable on the rocks.
The loss of the Merimbula marked the termination of the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company's passenger services, and subsequent to 1928, they confined their activities only to cargo services.


Passenger report.
One woman said that after the mishap, “The first half hour's alarm and excitement, resembled a picnic more than a wreck. Immediately the captain gave the signal that there was no cause for worry, the passengers overcame their fears, and, after having a drink of coffee, played the piano and sang until morning then taken ashore, and put in the day in small huts, occasionally used by, fishermen. In order to maintain the cheery atmosphere, Mrs Sparks, the steamer's relieving stewardess, played records on the gramophone until the cars arrived from Nowra”.Lifeboat arriving with survivors
Lifeboat arriving with survivors.

Ships description.

Having a length of 209' 6", (63.86m) breadth of 32' 2" (9.8m) and depth of 21' 1" (6.43m). A fast speed of 14 knots was achieved through twin triple expansion engines. At the time the Merimbula was described as the most beautiful vessel to steam Australia's waters.
She had state rooms, large dining areas and a social hall which could be enjoyed by 106 passengers, along with an exquisite body and superstructure (11,011 gross tonnage).The vessel, however, was found to be unstable in some sea conditions. To increase stability, a large number of cast iron blocks were placed in the hold.

On boarding a high degree of luxury awaited the passengers of the Merrimbula.




Not much can be seen of this once grand vessel, over the years the exposed remains of the bow have all but disappeared from the rocks.

947-SS-Merimbula-wreck 946-SS-Merimbula-wreck Wreck of Merimbula 23.2.10

Venture beneath the surface and you will discover another story.
Just off shore you will find the remains of the vessel on a sloping reef where it came to rest after slipping back into the sea.
The remains are located adjacent to the north side of the reef which extends from Whale Point. Wreckage can be located in 4 meters of water and extends out from the reef to a depth of approximately 13 meters.
You will find sections of the hull plating, an anchor, engines, as well as large winches, and most impressive are the boilers rising from the bottom.
Pictures showing what was left of the bow of the beautiful vessel, as it gradually disintegrates over time.

merimbulawinch One of the winches
photo courtesy of NSW Environment and Heritage.

I first dived this wreck around 1979, it was a fun easy and interesting dive, on one particular dive we had a large school of giant King Fish circling above and around one of the boilers, we collected a few lobsters amongst the strewn wreckage. If you intend to dive this location, check the weather, the area is exposed to nth and east swells and winds, and can be dangerous.

Historic Shipwreck
The Merimbula is a gazetted Historic Shipwreck, under Section 5 of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. The listing applies to the shipwreck and all relics associated with the shipwreck.Currarong8aa

Lady Denman display
The museum has a collection of objects salvaged from the Merimbula, as well as historic photographs and information on display. Most notably a beautiful set of large timber doors from the kitchen.
The picture below is one of the door knobs off the door…you will have to visit the museum to see the rest…


Continue on to more images taken recently.

. http://www.michaelmcfadyenscuba.info/viewpage.php?page_id=117
. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/81115432
. http://www.southcoastregister.com.au/story/999653/wreck-that-ended-our-age-of-steamers/
. http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/?irn=212159#ixzz2wfLIoz3r

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