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.

26 October 2017

S.S.Coomonderry. 1886

October 26th 1886 The cargo/passenger steamer S.S. Coomonderry entered Crookhaven Heads on the final leg of her long journey from Scotland.   Navigating her way along the Shoalhaven River before tying up alongside the Bomaderry wharf.   She was a brand new steel screw steamer especially built for David Berry.

David Berry took over the running of the Coolangatta Estate after his brother John Berry died in 1848.  The Coomonderry was originally intended for weekly
travel between Bomaderry and Sydney. Her travels under different owners extended from Cairns to Tasmania.  She frequently called into Jervis Bay and Huskisson.  She had a very long career spanning 83 years, with many adventures along the way.

Going by the number of times she appeared in newspapers it seems she had an affinity for becoming grounded, especially at the entrance to the Crookhaven River.

When trading to the Shoalhaven and further south some of her "skippers" were Captains Baker, Bruce, Barclain, Canty "and Davis.


S.S. Coomonderry as she would have appeared to the Jervis Bay residents  - Gratefully supplied by the Maritime Museum of Tasmania.

Below are just some of her notable inclusions in newspapers.

May 1896 - The Coomonderry arrived at Coolangatta with the governor and a party after a three-day shooting and fishing expedition to Jervis Bay.

February 1898 -  When steamer Atacama foundered 300 miles off the coast and intensive search for survivors was carried out.  The Coomonderry reported passing the captains lifeboat, waterlogged, seven miles south of Kiama.  At this stage, no one knew the fate of the crew.  After a few days of searching some of the crew were found including the captain, sadly, 12 other men were lost to the sea.

April 1899 - She put into Jervis bay through the stress of weather,  The weather improved during the day and she resumed her voyage south at 6.40 p.m.

July 1900 - During devastating floods of the Shoalhaven, the Coomonderry broke from her Bomaderry wharf moorings due to the rush of water and drifted a short distance before going aground.
She was later refloated and taken to safe moorings on the south side of the river.

July 1904 – On a voyage from Moruya to Sydney she ran into a strong east coast gale with thick rain and rough seas, she sought shelter in Jervis Bay.  She was joined a few hours later by the ketch Jess.

imageFebruary 1905 – One of the more unusual incidents accured when the Coomonderry was tied up the the Bomaderry Wharf.  On leaving the ship a passenger, the only one on the ship, stole a spotted dress belonging to one of the ships stewardesses valued at 2 pounds. She was arrested on the Nowra showground and taken to the local lockup. She pleaded guilty and was fined 2 pounds, the fine was paid by her mother.


August 1907 - She went ashore in the Crookhaven River, she was floated off at high tide sustaining no significant damage.


April 1908 - She was involved in the rescue of passengers from the ill-fated S.S.Bega  which foundered off the south coast near Tathra. She transported some of the passengers back to Sydney.

September 1908 - She struck the breakwater at Moruya and was slightly damaged. Two of her plates on the port bilge had been badly dented and water made its way into the vessel. Several weeks earlier the master of the Coomonderry furnished a report to the Department of Navigation calling attention to the condition of the breakwater and the spit, which were a menace to vessels trading to Moruya.

June 1909 – During loading operations at Wollongong the mate, John Marchant, fell heavily against the casing of the boiler and broke 3 ribs.

May 1910 - Captain Willis, R.N.R., steamed into Jervis Bay seeking shelter from a gale and a large swell which was hitting the south coast.

As steamer pre-1915
From the collections of the State Library of New South Wales.

July 1910 – The ships cook fell overboard and and nearly suffocated before being rescued. They continued on with their voyage south but on arriving at their next destination it was found necessary for him to seek medical aid.image

November 1910 - she went aground at Crookhaven heads while attempting to cross the bar she floated off with the rising tide and proceeded to Nowra.

January 1910 - She grounded at Crookhaven Heads entrance but was floated off with the rising tide.

January 1910 - One week later she grounded again at Crookhaven Heads entrance but was floated off with the rising tide.

September 1911 - She went aground at Crookhaven heads and remained fast all night. Floated off on the rising tide the next day.

December 1911 She went aground trying to leave the Crookhaven river, she suffered no damage and was floated off at high tide.

Sept 1912


March 1913
- She reached Sydney from Jervis Bay with the hull of a new tug in tow.

May 1913 - While attempting to cross the bar at Narooma she went ashore inside the bar on a sand spit,  she was refloated on the high tide.

August 1913 - She crashed into the Huskisson wharf after going full speed ahead instead of astern causing significant damage and displacing a ballast log.


1915 - She was converted into an auxiliary 3 masted motor vessel.
After laying idle at Williamstown for several years the old steamer owned by Mr.A.H. Hansell of Sydney was purchased by the Straits Shipping Company for the Tasmanian timber trade.  She was converted into an auxiliary motor vessel.

Auxiliary vessels.

Many steamers and sailing vessels were converted into auxiliary vessels. By either adding sails or an engine, these vessels were no longer at the mercy of the wind.  Steam and sail combined reduced running costs, by using their sails when the conditions were favourable as well as having the luxury of being steam driven when the need arose.  With the rapid developement of diesel engines,  owners quickly converted to this new and more efficient power source, combining wind power with diesel power increased the vessels speed and therefore shortened their port to port time.

copyright free
Source / Donor: Gift of Mr. Allan C. Green ca. 1940.

March 1915 - she was sold to the Trawl Fisheries Ltd., who employed her in the trawling and fishing business off the Australian coast.


thumbnail_Coomonderry P_OM_F_18c


August  1923 - She had a lucky escape when she went aground off Emu Bay, Bernie, Tasmania suffering hull damage.  At first it looked like she would become a total wreck, but she was eventually towed to safety by the S.S Hilsmeads which by coincidence was built at Jervis Bay, repairs carried out. Her captain was cleared of any wrong doing.  More on the S.S.Hillsmeads

October 1925 – Crew member Phillip Franklin  accidently threw fuel on the fire in the galley thinking it was kerosene,  he suffered burns to the face and head and was taken to Melbourne hospital for treatment,  he was later allowed to return to the ship.

July 1926 – During a passage from Smithton to Melbourne the vessels engine broke down. While attempts were being made to repair it,  the vessel ran into heavy weather. She tried to return to Smithton but the wind veered and the captain decided to run for the Victorian coast. The weather was so bad the tops of two masts were broken.  The voyage which usually took about 2 days took the damaged Coomonderry 11 days.  Suffering from lack of food the crew lived largely on potato's and turnips from the hold.


June 1932 – The vessel cleared Port Phillip Heads and soon after ran into a severe gale, the vessel was constantly awash with large waves, during the storm 26 year old John Gustaffsen, a Finn, and an able-bodied seaman, while on watch was washed overboard.  A lifebuoy with a patent flare attached was immediately thrown overboard.  Captain O'Neill at imminent risk made a desperate but futile efforts to put the vessel about.  Gustaffsen had to be left to his-fate. The engineer praised the engine which for three days of the grueling voyage never missed a beat. The crew praised the seaworthiness of the vessel, and Captain O'Neills skill in seeing the Coomonderry through what was described as one of the worst storms to hit the straits

June 1935 - The Coomonderry collided with the cargo steamer Lutana in Port Phillip Bay.  The captain's certificate was suspended for one month after he was found guilty of failing to keep a proper lookout,  and having failed to alter his course in time to avert a collision.


March 1939 - 50 years old and still trading, she ran aground with her crew of seven half a mile north of St Leonards Pier early in the morning, first attempts to refloat her on the evening's high tide failed, she was refloated the next morning.

August 1946 – Caught in a 70 mph gale the Coomonderry berthed at Melbourne. She was carrying 80.000 super feet of housing timber.  During the height of the storm the cooks pots and pans were washed over the side. Men asleep in their bunks found themselves caught in waves bursting into the forecastle,. Some timber deck cargo went overboard, and the lifeboat was filled with water from the sea. After docking the men had their first sleep for 24 hours.

January 1948 – She went aground on the "Doctors Rocks" at the mouth of the Inglis river, Wynyard, she was refloated and surveyed, agents  C. H. Smith 8i Co., re-issued a certificate of seaworthiness.

1949 she was refitted for the South Australian wheat trade.


1950  - she worked in the Kangaroo Island trade.

1968 – she was sold to a P.E. Goulish, Cairns. 

The S.S.Coomonderry had a continuous working life of 83 years....she was regarded as a very fine vessel travelling thousands of sea miles from Queensland to Tasmania. She was highly regarded as a well-built ocean-going vessel.  She suffered many times being caught on shifting sandbars at the entrance to ports,  not an uncommon occurrence for many of the vessels working the east coast of Australia.

Her luck finally ran out in October 1969 when she was wrecked on North Minerva reef 500 miles south of Suva. No futher details are known.

A sad end to a long and successful career under the command of many captains. She had been bought and sold many times, refitted with new engines on a number of occasions and travelled to many ports along the east coast and beyond, she weathered many storms that could have ended in disaster to a lesser ship.

Continue reading about the S.S.Hillsmeads.

Dimensions - 110 ft 2 inches in length
20 feet 1 inch in brath
7ft 6 inches deep.
147 tons

Builder - Thomas B Seath & Co, Rutherglen at Broomloan
Registered owners
1898 Berry Estate
11/1898 Moruya Steam Navigation Co, Moruya NSW
6/1904 R Anderson & Allen Taylor.
11/1905 Illawarra & South Coast Steam Navigation Co Ltd, Sydney NSW
1915 Arthur H Hassell, Melbourne - reg Melbourne
1920 Henry Massey, Melbourne
c1922 George Lee, Melbourne
1930 J S Lee & Sons, Melbourne
1940 J S Lee & Sons (Melbourne) Pty Ltd, Melbourne
1943 J S Lee & Sons (Tasmania) Pty Ltd, Melbourne
19xx P & E Goodlich, Cairns. 


No comments :

Post a Comment