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.

10 March 2016

S.S Chimborazo ran headlong into Point Perpendicular.

Morning mist

Below this post there are some pictures of a dense fog taken on the 8th of March 2016.  At 5.30 am the bay was very clear, the water was as smooth as glass, with a very slight almost undetectable offshore breeze,
the stars were still visible, Jupiter was bright in the eastern sky and Point Perpendicular and the revolving lighthouse could be clearly seen from Huskisson.
At the time I was at Moona Moona Creek looking back at Huskisson, the town was shrouded in a rising mist, that was slowly drifting offshore, becoming thicker by the minute.
By 7 am. visibility had been reduced to around 40 meters, Point Perpendicular had disappeared,  the rising sun was reduced to a strange subdued glow, it looked like a dim light globe in the mist.

S.S Chimborazo


138 years ago on March 14th 1878 the grand steamer S.S Chimborazo was passing Jervis Bay Under the command of Captain John Vine Hall, known as a gentleman of some experience in Australian waters,  she was travelling to Sydney carrying cargo and passengers.
The ship was making good way at full speed in fine weather on a remarkably smooth sea, shrouded in a heavy veil of mist.

Captain Hall was hugging the coast more closely than would have been prudent in such a large vessel.  At a quarter to 10a.m. St Georges Head was observed "not far off" the port bow,  the officer on deck sent word to the captain that the course the vessel was steering would bring her close to land.  Captain Hall merely altered her course to be N. by E. which would cause the vessel to go a little more to eastward than she would otherwise had done.

A second message was sent about seven or eight minutes later,  to the effect that the ship was close to land,  and that the officer on watch had hauled out.  This bought the captain on deck,  he found the ships heading to be N.E. by compass,  with a deviation of two points E. he saw Cape St George not very far distant; and when he was asked by the second officer whether he should keep the vessel's course up the coast his reply was - "No keep her as she is going at present."  all this time her speed was 12 knots an hour.

It's important to remember the sailing rules of the mercantile marine direct that when in fog the whistle should be sounded and the speed slackened, the Chimborazo was going ahead at full speed despite being in a heavy mist..


"Breakers ahead!"

Suddenly the alarm was given by the look-out on the forecastle in a tone bespeaking terrified earnestness  "breakers ahead".  There was no possibility of averting the danger,  quickly responding to orders the machinery was promptly stopped in it's action, but then quickly followed the crash, which was severe enough to throw passengers off their feet. There was a rush of passengers to the deck,  and before many moments had passed the shock explained the meaning of the sudden stoppage.

There was intense excitement and confusion particularly amongst the ladies.   The whole of the ships crew came swiftly into action,  and the steady and quick way in which orders were attended to spoke of the excellent nautical discipline.

The first order was to swing the ship's boats out in their tackles ready for lowering if the worst fears were realised,  and simultaneously guns were fired to inform the lighthouse - keeper of their distress.

The water was found rising forward of the collision bulk heads,  and then in the forward compartments,  but none had made it's way into the main compartment. It was found the ship had struck the rocks on the inner side of point perpendicular, and rested with her bows on the rocks,  and that round the place there was 23 to 25 fathoms of water,  while on the starboard side a sunken rock was visible.

15 or 20 minutes had elapsed when efforts were made to get the ship out of her critical position;  orders were given for all the passengers to run aft with a view of tilting the ship up,  and the engines being
reversed the ship slowly moved off but was not yet out of danger,  for grave fears were entertained that the fire compartments bulkheads might give away,  and in that case would have gone plumb to the bottom.

A coasting ketch observing the danger,  ran down and stood by the ship until she had got to an anchorage.

As the ship drifted into Jervis Bay,  all the passengers behaved admirably,  and were soon transferred to the boats,  the ladies and children being first placed in them with a supply of provisions.

In about half an hour all the passengers were landed on a little beach,  a few hundred yards from where the vessel struck,  the sailors  and others carrying the women and children through the slight surf.

The Chimborazo then went to Darling Roads,  a sheltered position in the southern part of Jervis Bay.

The passengers re-embarked onto the A.S.N. Companies steamer Collaroy,  which had been chartered by the agents, Messre. Gilchrist, Watt and Co,  to take them to Sydney.

chimbozaro repair

The ships bottom was examined by a diver and it was found that about 24 ft of keel from the cultivator aft, is gone;  some of the garboard planking is also damaged,  and there is a hole about 10 feet long in the garboard.

The cargo was unloaded onto the steamer 'Corea" to lighten her, and after a few days she slowly made the rest of her voyage to Sydney, where she was shored up in the government dock at Cockatoo Island.
The repairs were carried out at Messrs, Mort ADN Co's establishment.

'The bulkhead saved the vessel."
"Every one who has seen the fissure made by the rocks cannot but wonder and be thankful that she did not founder on the passage"

Fortunately the Chimborazo was built in compartments and, as Captain Hall laconically put's it 'the bulkhead saved the vessel."


June 14 1878 - The Chimborazo's repairs were complete and she was launched from the dock at half-past 5' o'clock in the evening in the presence of some 400 spectators,  who cheered as the ship floated out into the bay.

Marine Board Inquiry.
After all the facts were presented the Marine Board decided the Captain Hall would have his license suspended  for six months.

This caused an uproar in the press of the day.

The Argus Tuesday 23rd April 1878.

"The punishment is ludicrously disproportionate to the offence.  If the Chimborazo had gone to pieces,  and the coast strewn with corpses of her passengers and crew,  with her valuable cargo, and with the wreck of a noble piece of marine architecture - her master would have been legally and morally responsible for the terrible disaster,  By  a wonderful stroke of good fortune this calamity was averted, but the culpable negligence or temerity of Captain Hall was so great as to deserve a commensurate penalty, if only to serve as a warning to other master mariners occupying similarly responsible position.
The temptations to make a rapid run from port to port in coasting voyages are so great,  while the means by which it is accomplished are full of peril to life and property that these adventurous experiments require to be sternly discouraged and repressed. But the decision of the Marine Board in Sydney in the case of Captain Hall is more likely to encourage than to refrain other 'smart" skippers who may be addicted to hugging the coast where the unnoticed inset of a current and a few minutes' fog,  are sufficient to doom a magnificent vessel, with all on board, to total destruction"

Hugging the coast.
The issue of vessels hugging the coast to reduce their time spent travelling from port to port and thereby reducing costs comes up time an time again in relation to ship wrecks.  in this case as described,  “It was a perfect marvel" the Chimborazo incident didn't become another tragedy that could have been avoided.



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