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.

24 November 2014

The coastal steamer, trouble and strife.

The coastal steamer.
The daily grind of these intrepid little steamers was one of comings and goings.
In and out of harbours with shifting sand banks and fast running tides, loading and unloading cargo and passengers, thousands of sea miles to cover with not much in the way of navigation, communication or weather predicting aids, battling large seas and gale force winds, every trip might be your last.
The captains and crew relied on their experience gained by many hours at sea, for the captain in the wheelhouse and for the crew below the decks of these small cramped ships.
The engineers and crew had to be self sufficient, keeping the engines turning and the ship afloat was their job and their lives often depended on how well they did.
But things happen.

Below are some of the many stories that I have found that made up the life of just one of those coastal steamers.
The S.S. Mokau.

I researched the Mokau for this post because of the previous stories we have covered on this “handy little steamer”  which can be found here.

1904  - December.
The Damaged Steamer Mokau.

The steamer was on her way out to sea from Lismore when she struck the north breakwater inside the Richmond River bar.
She soon floated off however and steamed out to sea, but her steering gear became jammed and rendered the vessel unable to be managed.
The captain found the Mokau was making water fast and attempted to re-enter the river, which he succeeded in doing, but the vessel settled down inside the harbour. A tug went to her assistance and departed with the crew.
Examination found a hole 2ft long just abaft the fore rigging.
At the time she was carrying a cargo of sugar, half of which is thought, will be saved.

1905 – June.
Mokau Alterations.

The steamer Mokau had extensive alterations made to her at Cullen’s Slip. The vessel has been lengthened by 20ft, Cut through at the Iron bulkhead and extensive modifications to the frame, Keelson, scarf's, the side stringers were strengthened on each side by new stringers 60ft long made of ironbark. the story goes on to describe the alterations in more detail than I have provided here.
The end result was an additional carrying capacity of 65 tons and a better sea worthiness.

1907 – June.
Mokau Repaired.
On a trip to Sydney she had to return to Richmond River, crossing the bar at 6.45am  after the circulating pump was carried away effecting repairs.

1908 – February.
Fell from the rigging.

Byron Bay – W. Nelson. a seaman on the steamer Mokau broke his collarbone after falling from the rigging.

1908 – May.
Another Harbour Collision – The Wallaby and the Mokau.

Early in the morning a collision occurred between the steamer Wallaby and the steamer Mokau. The Wallaby left Circular Quay at 4.45am for Milson’s Point and was mainstream five minutes later, when she bumped the Mokau inward bound from Richmond River. The impact was not severe and little damage resulted. One of the planks on the bulwarks of the Mokau was stove in but the Wallaby was uninjured.

1909 – May.
Mishap to the Mokau.

She ran aground on the spit at tweed Heads. She was refloated at 4.30pm and is readiness for sea.

1910 – July.
The Mokau Aground.

Attempting to leave Tweed heads she grounded once again, but was refloated during the night.

1913 – November.
Mokau Engines Broken Down.

While off seal rocks the steamer signaled that her machinery was out of order.
At first no details were available to the owners as to what had happened. Steps would be taken to find out more details and to send whatever assistance might be necessary. All they knew,  she was out of control and a menace to navigation.
News eventually came that she had picked up a line on her propeller, she came into port without any more trouble, delaying the steamer for four or five hours.

1914 – February.
Collision – Mokau Strikes the Me-Mel. Ferry boat Sinks.

A sensational smash between the Mokau and the ferry Me-Mel resulting in the Me-Mel sinking in 4 minutes.
The Me-Mel left Darling Street at 20 minutes to 12, and when off the island saw the Mokau coming down the harbour from the bridge.
We were heading straight for the wharf when the Mokau – about ten lengths off – sounded two whistles, intimating that she was going to cross my bows. But I had not the slightest possible chance of swinging around, so I immediately sounded one whistle to indicate I was keeping to my course.
But the Mokau came around and struck the Me-Mel fair in the port side with tremendous force.
We were then about three of four lengths from the wharf, The Me-Mel was sinking rapidly and the water was rushing in. The Mokau helped to push us to the wharf and we landed all the passengers safely, then the Me Mel disappeared.
The captain following in the traditions of the sea, was the last to leave his ship just as it sunk he seized a rope and was hauled on shore.
The Mokau sustained comparatively little damage, she had struck the ferry stern on and cut right into her.

1914 - June.
Steamer Mokau.

Not sure what happened here, but it was reported as.
There is no alteration in the condition of the disabled steamer Moaku, which is about a mile from the Jetty. She has a local boat to keep in communication with the land. Her captain is reported to be improving, but has an injured hand.

1914 – June.
Captain Washed off Bridge.

Clarification of the story above.
On a trip to Byron Bay the steamer had apparently met with heavy weather during the recent gales and was badly knocked about.
She lost her rudder and sustained damage to her decks as a result of the buffeting received in the storm.
Waves broke over the vessel and one washed the Captain off the bridge, he sustained injuries.
Other steamers had a similar story of survival after this storm, one the Coombar, had 64 head of cattle on departure from Ballina , with only 24 surviving the journey to Byron Bay, the rest died on board or were washed overboard.

1914 – June
The Gales – Mokau’s Thrilling Escape.
More about the story above.

She left Richmond River with a crew of 11 and a cargo of Molasses for Sydney.
Off Smokey Cape she met the storm. She sought shelter in Trial Bay, and dropped anchor, but she had to leave through the force of the storm. She was driven to sea and sometime Thursday had her steering gear carried away twice.
Later she lost here deck fittings, wheelhouse and compass. She drifted about hopelessly until the storm subsided. She then made for Byron Bay using an improvised steering apparatus, her coal and rations were very low.
She started to whistle and sent up distress signals, she used improvised morse code to relay her plight.
A rescue life boat eventually reached the vessel and took off the first mate and five seamen and landed them safely.
The Mokau was riding at anchor well, but taking water when they left. The sea abated later on and the men returned to the steamer at 5am and got up steam. The Mokau was towed away by the steamer Kiltobranks.

1914 – June.
The Mokau Damaged.

The Mokau arrived at Byron bay with here decks swept. (Presumably from negotiating the large seas running at the time)The following day one of her boats washed ashore at Byron Bay.

1914 – March.
Marine Collision – Captains Certificate Suspended.

The Captain of the Mokau R.B.Davis had his certificate suspended for 3 months after the collision with the Me-Mel.
The court found that the collision was due to the captain’s wrongful act.

1918 – December.
The Mokau loses her tail shaft.

At 4.30 am the small coasting steamer Mokau put into Trail Bay with the loss of here tail shaft. At present the cause of the accident in unknown.

1919 - July.
Wreck of Mokau Sold.

The well known coastal steamer owned by B.M.Corrigan and Co has been sold to Messrs. Kirton and Earnshaw Ltd. for the south coast trade in connection with their sawmill and fire clay business. The price paid was something like 6000 ponds.

1922 – February.
Steamer Ashore.

After such a long time at sea this and many other vessels needed luck to survive many of their experiences in their daily grind.
The Mokau’s luck eventually ran out and she was wrecked at Sussex inlet in January 1922, she was sold for 300 pounds to Mr W. Watt of Nowra….The cargo of silica was sold for 10 pounds to Mr A.W.Setree.
She was never refloated and eventually broke her back and sunk beneath the sand.

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