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.

4 January 2017

S.S Benandra

The article below this one outling the finances of the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company ( I.S.C.S.N.C ) mentions the S.S Benandra.  Another beautiful small steamer that worked the south coast run between Sydney and Moruya carrying passengers and cargo.  She sought refuge in Jervis Bay through stress of weather a number of times.

March 25th 1924.



The Benandra was a twin screw timber vessel of 345 tons and by 1924 her days of coastal cruising were numbered.

The Benandra had already survived a few recent accidents,  only a few weeks before her final voyage she became stuck on the beach while trying to negotiate the Narooma Bar,  that time she was refloated without serious damage,  just prior to that she went ashore in the Clyde River.

Moruya Bar and breakwater.


2017 - The present day bar.  You can see the old pilot station perched amongst the trees on the southern headland, areas of shallow water are clearly visable,  the small swell formed waves on the shallows on entering the river mouth..

10.30am - March 25 1924 - The Benandra completed loading at Moruya Wharf.
Fully laden she set out along the river towards the rivers entrance, she had done this many times before on her way to Sydney via coastal ports.
11.20am,  she arrived at the bar on the ebb tide, as indicated by the tide signal on the flagstaff next to the signal station, the master of the Benandra Captain Richmond acknowledged the signal personally.

Leaving the bay on the ebb tide wasn’t an ideal situation,  the Benandra was drawing 7ft 10inches of water,  only 6 inches less than her total loading draft.

While negotiating the crossing  she grounded with her port bilge on the northern side.  Steps were at once taken to re-float the vessel,  but considerable delay was experienced.

After considerable effort she was refloated by hauling on wire ropes from the land.  The Master tried to back the steamer up against the tide, but without success.  Almost immediately after,  the vessel took the ground on the southern side of the crossing, causing further delay.

The master was afraid if the vessel remained aground throughout the whole of the ebb tide she would have sustained heavy damage,  and he considered the lesser danger would be to cross the bar.

The vessel proceeded outwards, but touched the bottom 100 yards outside the northern breakwater.  She was struck by a large sea and this turned her broadside on,  a second wave washed over her filling her with water. The heavy seas made her shiver from stem to stern and carried away the port lifeboat and penetrated the boiler and engine rooms extinguishing the fires.  The engineer informed the master of the situation,  and the position became more serious. She quickly settled down.

The master gave orders to abandon the ship, The first boat was to take away the stewardess, the cook and the passenger.

Cries of distress.
When the boat had been lowered the cries of someone in distress were heard in the vicinity of the engine room,  but access to that part of the vessel was impossible as the engine room was full of water.  The cries ceased, and on account of the increasing danger the search for the passenger was given up as useless.

The first boat's crew were landed,  and the boat returned to the vessel and took off all the other persons remaining on board,  with the exception of the master,  he was loth to leave the ship until fully satisfied that it must be a hopeless wreck.

The last person to see the passenger ( William Ward ) was the engineer, who stated that he saw him on the main deck,  and directed him to the boat deck.  From that time on the passenger was not seen again.

After she was abandoned she quickly settled in the channel becoming a navigation hazard until such time she could be removed. Pigs, cheese and other cargo was soon strewn along the southern beach.

The wreck was observed by the harbour pilot who informed the fishing launches in the river for help.

pilot-houseThe historic pilot station today, it was built in 1860.


Pilot station as it appeared 1917. REF: John Ross Moruya’s first pilot and harbour master.
Marine Enquiry. April 8 1924.
The court found that the loss of the vessel was not bought about by any negligence on the part of the masters or officers; and it was the opinion that the master and crew displayed great courage and self - restraint in very trying circumstances,  and that it was a matter for congratulations that their lives were saved.  The court expressed regret at the loss of the life of the passenger,  who must have been in some way disabled while below,  after having been directed by the chief engineer to the upper deck.

The Moruya Bar is a particuarly difficult bar to cross,  fast flowing tides, river floods and large swells constantly change the sand bars along the river and particuarly across the river entrance.  Even experienced masters had great difficulty negotiating the bar and the river.

Below is an example I found of the difficulty modern vessels have in crossing the bar and this was in relatively calm seas.

Uploaded on 23 Jun 2010

Boats attempting to cross the bar at Narooma, December 2008.
The boys in the yacht were intercepted by NSW Maritime just after I finished filming. They weren't wearing lifejackets.

Meaning: Ebb Tide - The period between high tide and low tide during which water flows away from the shore. Also called falling tide.

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