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 May 2015

The Desikoko – an exciting life at sea.

1934 - The launch of a new boat at Huskisson
The launch of a new vessel would sometimes be accompanied by adds in local newspapers letting people know about the occasion.  The adds bought people from all over the district,  and would turn the launch into a gala affair.
After the launch,  celebrations were conducted in the Huskisson School of Arts, the present day Huskisson pictures.


The Desikoko 230 tons,  120ft long, was one such vessel,  


Desikoko during construction on the banks of the Currambene.


The Shoalhaven Telegraph. Monday May 28


There was a large assemblage of people from all parts of the district at Huskisson on Monday night,  the occasion being the launching of a new boat just completed by Mr, Alfred Settree. The breaking of the customary bottle of wine across the bow by Miss Vera Settree,  with good wishes and the naming of the craft “The Desikoko,”  heralded her graceful entry into the placid waters of Currambene Creek,  to the accompaniment of much applause from the onlookers.  So smoothly were all the details mastered,  and so capable was the organisation,  that the launching was over in a matter of seconds,  and the Desikoko took the water without the slightest hitch.  Later she was manoeuvred over to the wharf,  where crowds of people boarded her for a closer inspection,  and Mr Settree was the recipient of universal congratulations.


The Desikoko was a beautifully made vessel,  built by a highly respected shipbuilder of the time, Alfred. W. Settree learnt his trade in New Zealand, he knew the boat-building game from A. to Z., and the Desikoko was the eighth boat he has launched since coming to New South Wales.

Shipbuilding was a vital part of the local economy during this time,  employing local men in the construction stage and also providing employment for, and supporting local timber mills.

The Shoalhaven Telegraph May 28.

  It is worthy of note – and incidentally it is a big thing in the industrial history of the community – that the whole of the timber used in the construction of the boat,  was secured locally,  even the cedar used in the cabin fittings,  The deck is of spotted gum and the vessel is copper fastened throughout.  She took 10 months to build and employed 9 local men, paid an average weekly wage of 40 pounds.  

After the celebrations had finished the Desikoko was moved back along the river where final preparations were made for her to be towed to Sydney to have her engines fitted.
Loaded with timber, the final manoeuvre was suppose to be a simple affair, but nearly ended in tragedy.




Launched only on Monday night last week,  at Huskisson,  the Desikoko,  a vessel built by Mr A. Settree for the island-trading company,  was on Monday aground at the right of the entrance to Currambene Creek,  on a sand bank almost opposite where she was launched.
     The mishap occurred on Friday night when she was being towed out of the creek by launches,  A cylinder cracked in one of the launches, ropes broke, the outgoing tide boosted by recent rains and the Desikoko was soon in trouble..
    The Desikoko was loaded with timber,  some of which was removed,  when the steamer Erina from Sydney,  tried to mover her without success.
     Tides are low now,  the last big tide having been on the night of the launching;  but the ship’s position,  for the present at least is not giving rise to any great anxiety.
     Captain Stobo,  of the Sydney Marine Underwriters’ Association,  paid a visit to Huskisson to view the situation,  and future operations will depend on his report.


June 6Desikoko successfully refloated
Further investigation found she had suffered no damage and as long as the weather stayed in their favour, it was expected to get her off the sand bar on the next high water.
Thing’s didn’t go quite so easy, despite efforts she sat wedged on the sand bar for 5 days, before finally she was refloated of June the 6th,  without any damage, reloaded with timber to the order of Alan Tailor and Co., and made ready to resume her original purpose.

June 10
Arrives in Sydney
After an uneventful trip,  the Desikoko arrived in Sydney,  towed by the coastal steamer Bermagui,  where she will be equipped with Diesel engines and shortly sail for the islands with a large cargo of timber.

June 20 – Native Boy’s
Six New Guinea natives and two Solomon Islanders saw the wonders of the big city for the first time yesterday.
They arrived by the  Machui to man the Desikoko,  Captain R. C, Duncan who is to take charge arrived on the same vessel.

July 25 - Sea Trials.
After her engines were installed and her fittings were finalised she was taken outside Sydney Heads for sea trials, the engines proved themselves quite satisfactory and no further trials were necessary,  she was now ready to be loaded with timber and sail to the islands, where she will join W. R. Carpenters fleet of island traders.


1935 – The Desikoko, along with other island coastal vessels were involved in a fruitless search for the missing Government ketch Hermes, carrying 3 white officials and a crew of 14 natives.
The search was extensive, but no trace of the missing vessel was found.


May 1937 – The Desikoko had a very lucky escape from Rabaul Harbour after 2 volcano’s erupted and showered her with scorching ash,  During the turmoil she was thrown onto a mud bank by the tidal wave that accompanied the first eruption, but was later refloated.
     She was the only vessel of any size left afloat after the eruptions and despite repeated efforts could not find a way out of the harbour past the mud bank that had been pushed up during the eruptions blocking the harbour.
    Finally the Desikoko  pushed her way through dense masses of pumice on the surface of the harbour in almost total darkness,  the engine became clogged with pumice but the Desikoko eventually reached Nordup beach, giving hope that a passage was available for larger ships to enter Rabaul Harbour.
   Her keel was damaged and her superstructure badly burnt.

See some remarkable images and information about the eruptions.
Continue reading

December 1937 – She arrived in Sydney for repairs.


During WW2 many small ships in Australia, were commandeered into the US Army Small Ships Section.  In 1942 the now named USS Desikoko, number S-129, and was used to carry supplies round the islands,  petrol, rations and mail convey soldiers and civilians from Rabaul shortly before the Japanese captured the town on the 23rd of January 1942.

28th January 1942 she arrived in Cairns from Samarai,  of the tip of Papua,  disembarking evacuees.

Mr. Hood had poignant memories of the war in the South West Pacific.


Mr Hood was an engineer of the Desikoko at Rabaul when the town was attacked by the Japanese.  When the last aircraft had taken off, The Desikoko left Rabaul,  Two days later the Japanese landed and after a fierce battle the Australian Garrison was overwhelmed.
    He was aboard the the Desikoko when it picked up evacuees from Samarai, and unloaded in Cairns,   reaching Townsville a large hole in the vessels side was repaired.
    Once back in Australia the Desikoko was not out of danger.  When attempting to enter Port Stephens in NSW,  the vessel was mistaken  by a coastal battery for a Japanese craft and fire was opened on her.
    After two “near misses” and a strafing by lighter weapons the vessel was able to satisfy the coastal batter that it was not an enemy ship,  but was told to leave the area as the port was closed.
    The Desikoko miraculously escaped damage from the shelling and strafing.

Surviving the war,  she was returned to W. R. Carpenter who had no further use for her as the companies coconut industries had been destroyed during the war.


All seafarers know by changing the name of a boat you will anger the sea gods and curse the boat with bad luck,  right or wrong,  in this case it appears to be true.


December 1946 – She was sold to the Chinese and while in Sydney the Desikoko was renamed the “Yua Hwa”, there seems to be some confusion about the actual name, research of the NSW Environment and Heritage site has the name listed as ‘'Yau Wha” while all other references have the name as previously stated.


January 1947 – After many years of faithful and sometimes exciting service for the island trading company W. R. Carpenter, after thousands of hours crossing the oceans between the islands and Australia, her final voyage was a sad and undignified affair.

The Sydney Morning Herald January 6 1947


NEWCASTLE, Sunday. – the ships company had to jump overboard when a 230-ton wooden motor vessel, the Yau Hwa (formerly the Desikoko)  sank five miles south of Newcastle early this afternoon while being towed to port.
     They were the 72-year old English master, Captain James Baldwin,  two Norwegian officers,  and 10 Chinese.  Only the captain was hurt.  He is in Newcastle Hospital with a fractured knee-cap.
     The vessel left Sydney at 2 p.m. yesterday with a cargo of flour for China,  but sprung a leak last night and began to take much water.
     The Newcastle pilot boat Birubi took the Yua Hwa in tow about 1 p.m. today.  However after being towed for an hour the Yua Hwa suddenly listed and sank within two minutes.
      The crew jumped overboard and were taken in by a lifeboat from the Birubi.

Prompt action saves crew.
      The crew were saved from possible drowning by the prompt action of Dr. Keith Watkins,  a prominent Newcastle surgeon,  who saw the plight of the Yua Hwa as he was passing by in a fishing launch.  He notified the pilot station which sent the Birubi to rescue the Yua Hwa.


“I am the luckiest man in the world to be alive”


“I am the luckiest man in the world to be alive.” said captain Baldwin in Newcastle Hospital last night.
       “When the ship listed badly,  the deck cargo began to fall overboard. I remember practically nothing until the lifeboats from the Birubi picked me out of the water.  I was bombed and sunk off the China Coast soon after the war with China broke out,  but my experience today was the worst I have had in 50 years at sea.”

No inquiry into sinking.

“Because the “Yua Hwa” was sailing under a Chinese flag no inquiry was held,  and it fell to the Chinese authorities to instruct it’s representative in Australia to hold an inquiry into the sinking”

IMG_8884 The museum has a beautifully made scale model of the Desikoko on display, along with other photographs and information.

69 years after she foundered,  the Desikoko is discovered.
Until recently this once beautifully handcrafted ship laid like so many other pieces of Australian maritime history,  forgotten, broken and slowly dissolving back into the elements until the early 80’s when trawler operators on the north coast reported to a local diver and his son that they knew where a wreck was located,  the diver investigated these claims and the remains of the Desikoko laying lonely on the sea floor were found.
   69 years after she went down, the objects below were given to the museum in April 2015,  and are now undergoing a stabilisation process.


Museum curator Graham Hinton showing some of the relics.

instrumentconglomerate  conglomerate-2
instrument2 instrument3 part
Stabilisation process.

After so many years being in salt water these objects need to be stabilised to avoid further deterioration, once objects are exposed to air and drying,  decay is quickened, to arrest this process the objects have to undergo a process called “desalination”, the relics are submersed in fresh water that is changed on a regular basis, the next stage will be to “de-water” the objects by immersion in acetone.  Once this process is complete the objects will enter the museums collection and be available for display.


Submerged in fresh water during the process of desalination.

Meaning: Desikoko - desiccated coconut


  1. Hello, I have just come across the history of the Desikoko.
    My grandfather sailed on this vessel in WWII.
    I am very interested in any history that may be on hand, about the time she spent during WWII as I have traced much of my grandfather's history and service and would love to fill in more gaps.
    Bob Doherty

  2. Hi Bob the museum has a fantastic display about the Desikoko, I will pass on your details to the museum curator.