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.

28 October 2015

The S.S. Wollumbin

Wreck of the Wollumbin. 1896.

On a recent trip to Norah Head lighthouse I notice on one of their signs listing the ships that have been wrecked close to Norah Head the name  'Wollumbin".  She was built in Huskisson by Henry Hardiman for Mr. G.W. Nicoll of Albian wharf,  Sydney.
She had recently changed owners when the North Coast Company took over the Nichol fleet.


A wooden coasting steamer of 231 tons gross and 147 tons net.
Length 112 ft 9 inches.
Breath 24ft 7 inches.
Depth 10ft 3 inches and was driven by a 45 horsepower engine.
Her captain at the time of the disaster was Captain Colvin.


The Launch
9th November 1893 - 9 a.m

Into the deep waters of Jervis Bay (by Currambene Creek) and with ceremony befitting the occasion,  was launched  one of the best specimens of the shipbuilders craft,  in the shape of a steamer,   built at the yards of the Messer’s, Dent by Mr. Henry Hardiman. (Late of Balmain)  A finely modelled coasting steamer to the order of  Mr George. W. Nicholl (the owner) and Mrs. Nichol were among the large crowd of residents present and as the
"Wollumbin" started from the ways,   Mrs. Nichol broke a bottle of Champaign against her bows,  and the large assemblage cheered lustily.

The steamer is designed to carry a large cargo on a light draught,  and is a substantial craft.  No expense or time has been saved to have the very best materials in her construction,  she is of the best picked quality colonial hardwood,  and was fitted with houses on deck for the fist and second passengers.

Her boiler, engines and deck appointments were fitted in Sydney.

The vessel is expected to replace the steamer Tweed, wrecked on the Tweed River Bar.

She is built with a  raking clipper stem, and a spar deck, she has two cargo holds and will have all modern conveniences for the special class of work required in coastal business.

An adjournment was made to the residence of Mr, George Dent, Jnr,  where a sumptuous spread was partaken of,  and the health of the owner and of Mrs. Nichol and success to the new steamer were drunk to in bumpers.

All the visitors were received in a manner characteristic of the Dent family.

A ball was held in the evening.

Just 3 years later she was in desperate trouble.

The steamer Wollumbin struck on Bungaree Norah Head close to Tuggerah Beach Lakes at 4 am on Tuesday 28th 1896.

At the time of the disaster she was bound from Sydney to Byron Bay with a small general cargo. She had only just been recently fitted up with refrigeration machinery to convey butter from the Byron Bay Factory.

The captain sent up rockets and the steamer Sophia Ann went to the Vessels assistance.

A Mrs. Wilkie and her two children,  Messrs, Cann, W. Hansen,  and the stewardess were all transferred safely and bought to Newcastle.

At the time no particulars as to the cause of the disaster,  but the Wollumbin struck head on,  and fast about 300 yards south of the spot where the Gwydir last year came to grief.

The steamer Saxonia arrived from the scene and reported that the Wollumbin was in a hopeless position facing north- west.

Captain Colvin arrived on the Saxonia and was immediately interviewed.

The captains statement.

12.00 pm - He stated that his watch terminated at 12 o'clock on Monday Night,  but he remained on the bridge until 1 o'clock.  The night was fine,  and the sea smooth.

12.30am - The steamer was six miles off Broken Bay light,  and the light was bearing north-west.

1am -  Captain Colvin left the bridge and the mate took over the watch.  He gave the mate the course as north by east half east. He then went below and turned in.  He new nothing further until he was aroused by the crashing of the vessel's bottom on the rocks.
He was entirely unable to account for the steamer getting into that position.

Some on board spoke of a haze over the land,  but then the light on the coast were visible,  and he couldn't understand why the accident should have occurred.

During the ordeal there was no confusion whatever among the passengers or crew when the vessel struck.  All were cool and collected,  and every order given was promptly obeyed.

Every endeavour was made to get her off the rocks,  the engines were kept going full speed astern for an hour and a half,  but all efforts were futile.  The water then commenced to pore into the hold and soon rose to a height of three feet. The water gained on the pumps and it was found impossible to get her off.

The seas also began to break over the vessel,  and seeing that it was useless to persevere further,  Captain Colvin decided to abandon the vessel.

Tuesday 7am - The captain secured all the instruments and papers, and the crew with their efforts were transhipping to the steam collier Saxonia.

When the captain left the vessel heavy seas were washing over her,  and there seemed every possibility that she would become a hopeless wreck.

The stewardess,  Mrs. Ackerman showed plenty of resource and pluck under trying circumstances and wished to remain by the ship:  but was persuaded to leave with the passengers.

The mates statement.

Mate Mr. W. May states that he rigidly adhered to the course given him by the captain - vir. north by east half east - and was at quite a loss to explain how the vessel got ashore,  unless it was that the compasses were effected by the ironstone formation on the coast.  It will be remembered that those on board the steamer that went to the assistance of the Gwydir when she struck at the same spot,  noticed their compasses behaving in a most erratic fashion as she neared the wreck.

The captain of the tug Stirling report.

10.30 pm - The tug Stirling arrived at Newcastle from the scene of the wreck.  The captain reports that he boarded the Wollumbin and found 20 m of water in her hold.  Her fires were alight,  and the boilers showed 30il of steam.  He thought that if steps had been taken promptly to get the vessel off the rocks, they would have been successful. 

He also said he would not ask for a better opportunity of getting her off than was presented at 6 O.clock last evening,  when the tide was at the flood.   He made no attempt to tow her off,  because he had received no instruction on the subject from the owners or the underwriters.

The southerly buster which has just come up will probably complete the destruction of the Wollumbin.

Sydney Underwriters decided to make an attempt to float the vessel.
The steamers Sir William Wallace and Mermaid were chartered,  and left the quay at 10 o'clock last evening.  Captain Grainger took with his two divers and a gang of men to assist in the salvage work.

A light at Norah Head.
Several shipmasters are of the opinion a light is needed at Norah Head to guide vessels clear of the Numerous dangers there.  The point,  is argued,  is one of the most eastern on the coast,  and a light would prove most invaluable.  In 1864, between thirty and fourty acres were resumed by the Government for a lighthouse and public reclamation at Norah Head.

Continue reading about the Steamer Tweed also built at Huskisson and subsequently wrecked on the Tweed River Bar.

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