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.

30 August 2018

Jervis Bay's mystery wreck.

The mystery of the sunken wreck at Callala Bay.

When I was a young boy and holidaying at Callala Beach, on occasion my father took me fishing on the rocks at the northern end of the beach.

Sticking from the water on the southern end of the reef was a large, rusted cylindrical object.
Dad told me it belonged to a ship which was sunk by the Japanese during World War Two, and what you could see was all that remained, this was pretty exciting news to a 10-year-old.

Many years later in my early 20's while diving the reef looking for lobsters I came across the rusted remains sitting in shallow water amongst the kelp. There wasn't much left by this time, but you could still make out the cylindrical shape with a hole in the side. My imagination took hold, and had me wondering if this was caused during the "battle with the Japanese."


By 1976 I belonged to a wreck diving club in Sydney called Canterberry Underwater Divers.  A good friend and diving buddy John Sumner was a foundation member of the club, he was a leading authority on wrecks and part owner of a wreck salvage business.  John was what you would call "obsessed" with wrecks, in particular, their bells.   His obsession saw him put together a comprehensive shipwreck index of all the wrecks around the Australian Coast.  I did many dives with him on wrecks over many years.

By 1983 I moved permanantly to Callala Beach with my family.  John was visiting and we launched the boat at Callala Bay and headed out across the bay for a dive, passing the reef I drew his attention to the old boiler remains, to my surprise he told me he believed it was the remains of an old Sydney Harbour Ferry, at the time he didn't know any other details about how the ferry ended up wrecked on the point, and like the boiler slowly disappearing beneath the waves, thoughts of the boiler disappeared  from my memory.

Many years later the remains came up in a conversation with an old resident of the bay. He told me the boiler belonged to the Sydney Harbour ferry Lady Hampden, but he didn't know any other details.

- Was this the vessel dad told me had been sunk so dramatially by the Japanese.?

Recently doing research into the bay, I came across information about the Lady Hampden.


The Lady Hampden was a timber vessel built at Balmian in 1896 The 'Lady Hampden' was the fourth in a series of 'Lady' vessels. They were ferries that characterised the refined operation of the double-ended type, just like the Lady Denman on display at the Museum. These ferries formed the mainstay of ferry operations and act as a legacy for Walter Reeks, an Australian based naval architect who was a leading pioneer in the design of the double-ended ferries. The off-centre funnel of ‘Lady Hampden’ made her unique on Port Jackson.  She was one of the first propeller driven ferries that began to replace the paddle steamers.

The real story.

The Hampden was sold to the Royal Australian Navy, and during World War 2 was anchored at the entrance to Jervis Bay to act as a decoy. 

- By this stage I was starting to think dads story was true, the story continued.

During a storm she broke away from her moorings and was washed across the bay ending her days on the reef where she slowly disintegrated.

- So dad's story was just that, a story,  - The old saying, "never let the truth get in the way of a good story.' comes to mind,  especially when your trying to impress a 10 year old, a bit of an anti climax really.

or was it?

Not totally convinced I had found the final piece of the mystery, I did some more research and came across information on the Australian War Memorial website, which stated the Lady Hampden was sunk in 1943 as a naval target during World War II."  no mention of Jervis Bay, or being used as a decoy, or being lost in a storm,  so for me the mystery of the old wreckage remains just that, a mystery.

I still like my fathers story the best.

If you have any further information about this mystery please contact me here.


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