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.

21 December 2016

Wreck of the S.S.Plutus


On any day.
Today I visited the site of the wreck of the S.S. Plutus, you could easily walk right past the remains sitting in shallow water aprox 30 meters from shore.  Unless you are aware of exactly where she lies you would be hard pressed to pick her resting place from any other part of the beach.    When the conditions are clear and the sea is calm and you know where to look, you can still make out the dark  outline against the golden sands.    Any slight wave action caressing her remains causes swirls of water that stand out from the surrounding calm,  giving away her isolation.

134 years ago it was a very different scene to the one I observed today which greeted a newspaper correspondent who made the considerable effort to travel to the wreck site to report on the loss of the S.S. Plutus..

It was a sorry scene you would have witnessed if you had been able to visit the wreck at that time.

‘'The hull of the vessel had parted nearly amidships,  just in front of the bridge.  She was heading S.S.E, with a lurch to port of 20 degrees,  and lying in about 8ft of water.”


The S.S.Plutus was a relatively new vessel, built by T. and W. Smith and launched at South Shields England in April 1982,  just 7 months later she laying broadside to Currarong Beach with waves breaking over her with no hope of getting her off.

The Plutus was described as "strongly put together, so as to adapt her for the heaviest description of cargo".   The best materials had been employed in her construction,  with a view to safety incase of touching rocks,  she carried no stone ballast,  the hull was double bottomed to the extent of 343 tons. 

Described as a scow steamer, schooner rigged, Iron throughout including decks and spars,  812 tons register,  compound steam engines of 135 horsepower.  She was furnished with the newest and most efficient mechanical appliances for cargo haulage.  Coal can be shot into or whipped out of four very large hatches,  designed to ensure rapid dispatch with a coal capacity of 1700 tons, only drawing 14ft 8inches of water enabling her to travel the Yarra River without lightering in the bay.

Owners,  Kish Brothers and a number of other partners of Sunderland England.

She arrived at Newcastle in July 17 1882, to fill the demand for economical well equipped steamers for the ever increasing coal trade.  Chartered  by Mesa's. J. and A. Brown, of Newcastle. and had since been in the Newcastle to Melbourne coal trade in command of Captain Kish.

Captain Kish was a young man of around 27 years of age at the time of the grounding. 

Leaving Newcastle she proceeded south in good conditions, passing Sydney Heads as expected,  the master set her course to S.1/2 W, which should have kept her 10 miles from shore.

When asked about the grounding by a correspondent from the papers.

Captain Kish. - " I had no doubts about my position; I expected and was looking out for Jervis Bay light; there was neither carelessness or neglect on the part of myself, officers or crew."

7p.m the weather was described as thick and hazy with a west wind and a sea in her favour she made good progress down the coast.

8p.m  Captain Kish thought they were around 15 miles off the land moving at aprox 9 knots.  Before leaving the bridge,  Captain Kish gave orders to her observers to look out for the Jervis Bay Light, or Beecroft Head.

8.20 p.m. The master was called on deck by second officer saying that land was right ahead. 

Captain Kish. - 'When I got on deck she was heading S.E.,  with the land on the port bow, I  thought it was a fog bank.  ordered the helm hard a starboard to make sure,  and stopped the engines and reversed them full speed." 

LAND AHEAD!.  was shouted by one of the  four men on watch,  he was in a forward position,  he received no response,   he rushed back to the bridge to raise the alarm,  "but before the way was stopped the vessel struck,  went ashore,  and never came off afterwards."
Firmly wedged in the sand the sea started to break over her,  washing away the bulwarks and driving the ship right up on the beach.  The night was very dark and with the rough sea it was decided to wait until daylight before leaving the ship.

In the hope of attracting attention rockets were fired at intervals of 10 minutes for an hour.

Currarong in those times was a very isolated, location with few permanent inhabitants.

Sunday morning -  The sea was a lot calmer and all hands alighted the vessel by the boats and rowed to shore.  Over a period they landed all movable materials from the wreck. The Captain and crew left for Greenwell Point to raise the alarm,  leaving the chief and second officer in charge of the wreck.

Marine Enquiry.
When asked to explain how the Plutus came to be in the position it found herself in.

The Captain had no explanation.


Captain - 'the course steered should have taken the vessel 10 miles clear at least of the light,  from whence I should have taken a fresh departure.  I cannot in any way account for ar explain the position of the vessel when she struck.' other than to think the compasses were off."


Marine Board Enquiry findings.
After interviewing all the relevant officers and crew and Captain Kish and careful deliberation of all the fact, the Marine board bought down it's findings on the 5th January 1883.


" We find the loss of the vessel was caused through the wrongful act or default of the master, Captain Kish. in carelessly navigating his ship,  and in not taking proper precautions before it got dark of ascertaining her true position.
The boards decision is that Captain Fisk's certificate should be suspended for six months from the date of the wreck."

wreck-locationsShe lies close to the beach and within site of the wreck of the T.S.S.Merimbula, which ran headlong into the distant headland and became a total wreck…

50 years later
Coal from the deep.
1925 some 50 years after the Plutus was wrecked, her cargo of Newcastle coal could still be found strewn along the beach adjacent to the remains of the wreck...'the coal burns as well as the present day coal."  - J.D.

134 years later. 2016.
Even today as I did.  you can still find Newcastle coal washed from the wreck,  I found quite a large piece ( 200mm x 100mm x 80mm) sitting on the sand at low tide.
If you dive on the wreck what you see will depend on what the sand has revealed....I have dived the wreck many times over many years,  usually as a passing curiosity on our way to other dive locations.
I have seen it almost covered completely with nothing but a few rusted bits sticking out of the sand,  and other occasions have seen her exposed down to her twisted deck plates with clearly defined hatch ways. Close to shore it’s an easy dive on calm days, but please always dive with a friend.

IMG_3608Newcastle Coal recovered 21st December 2016.
_MG_1670Remains of a port hole I recovered from the wreck site in 1996 now in the collection of the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum.
IMG_3593Just to the east of the wreck is Plutus Creek, named after the wreck.



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