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.

7 August 2018

The launch and loss of the steamer Currumbene.

The launch of the steamer Currumbene 1922

On a glorious Monday morning on the 13th February 1922, The normally quiet seaside village of Huskisson was a bustle with cars and people. Motor buses arrived from Nowra crowded with passengers, and cars kept arriving with visitors, all eager to see the launching of the fine vessel,
built by Joseph Dent.

18 months earlier the keel made from locally sourced timber was laid on the banks of Currumbene Creek at the Dents shipyards. Joe Dent's workmen set about to construct a fine cargo boat for E.D. Pike and Co., Timber Merchants of Sydney.

Like so many other vessels constructed by the Dent family, the launch was marked with a large celebration. Invitations were issued to the launch. On the Monday morning at 9.30am, a large crowd assembled from all over the district to see the launching.

At precisely 9.30am on the high tide, Mr. Dent gave the signal, and the sound of many heavy hammers on the dog-shores gave notice that the work of launching had commenced, within a few minutes the vessel glided "majestically" into the creek from which she was named. 

The vessel was built for the North Coast timber trade between Bellinger River and Sydney. Measuring 132ft in length, breadth 28ft and a depth of hold at 8ft, she was built of colonial hardwood mostly sourced from the local forests.

Mrs. Burroughs, the wife of managing director of the owner, broke a bottle of champagne across the bows as the boat commenced its first journey into the blue waters and named her "Currumbene."  the large gathering clapped and gave a mighty cheer as the vessel entered the water.

The vessel was hauled alongside the wharf, everyone partook of refreshment of every kind, liberally provided by Mr.Dent.


"The jolliest time possible was spent, and there seemed no end to the good things provided."

The managing director of the company Mr. Burrows, in a speech, said he was very pleased with the outcome of their investment.

" It afforded him the greatest pleasure to propose 'The health of Mr. Dent and the men working on the job." He said they had not stinted Mr. Dent for money, but they had full value for the money spent, and he also wanted to compliment the men working on the job, they were the only men he had seen working that he would care to give another job too."


Not everything went to plan during the launch, caught in the outgoing tide the Currumbene went aground for a short time, before being towed to the wharf.


The celebrations continued into the night finishing with a dance in the new hall of the School of Arts, present-day "Huskisson Pictures" and given to the public by Mr. Burroughs, and greatly appreciated by the young folk.

Currambene after fit out.

Not much information has come to hand on the life of the Currambene after her launch

Currumbene ashore

1924 -  March, She was stuck on the bar entering the Bellinger River, later refloated on the high tide without damage.

1925 -  October, She had a lucky escape from disaster after going ashore at the Bellinger River, on inspection she was found to be badly damaged, she was refloated and repaired.

1926 - She was once more stuck on the bar at the entrance to Bellinger River, again refloated without damage.

No blame was ever laid on the Captain or his crew for any of the standings, it was the peculiarities of the channel and sand shifting with currents and tides.


1928 - She was moored in Sydney when one of the fiercest Cyclones ever recorded hit the NSW coast. During the storm, the steamer White Bay foundered near Morna Point with the loss of 16 men. The steamer Euralla went aground, her crew of 16 were rescued.  At the time the storm hit there was a seaman's strike in progress, so many of coastal steamers were moored in Sydney Harbour.
The tremendous storm hit Sydney causing steamers anchored in the harbour to drag their moorings, the Currumbene was one of those. She broke adrift and was in danger of fouling several other steamers before being removed by the tug Leveret.

1928 - She was chartered for salvage operations on the luxury coastal steamer Merimbula which had gone aground near Beecroft Head Currarong. The charter was
canceled when it was found the Merimbula had settled considerably by the stern and salvage operations were canceled.

No other information comes to hand until 1934.


By 1934 the once busy steamer had become a liability to her owners, E. D. Pike and Co., Her last contract was by the Newcastle  Stone Crushing Company Ltd., finished in July 1931, since then no further work could be obtained for the vessel. She remained moored at Newcastle.
Built at a cost of 19.500 pounds, valued by the company at 10.500 pounds, she was insured for 5000 pounds. The Currumbene  had been a losing proposition to the company.


1934 - The once mighty steamer was lost in a mysterious, devastating fire on the banks of the William River Seaham.  The fiercely burning vessel lit up the countryside for half a mile or more.
The fire was watched by scores of residents from the verandas of their homes. Every now and then explosions like those of rockets could be heard."
She burnt for a few hours down to the waterline, she was still smoldering the following morning before sinking in 15 ft of water.  A large area of bush around the vessel was badly burnt as well.

Coroners inquiry.

The  Currumbene was moved to Clarencetown to remove the saltwater growth in 1932, but owing to bad weather she was moored at Seaham on the return journey, where she remained. Mr. Kelly was engaged as a caretaker. Kelly was instructed to light a fire in the boiler and take the vessel to
Clarence town for repairs. Mr. Edward Wilson of Seaham was on board the vessel on the night of the fire and left her at about 10.45 p.m., he
could see the vessel from his home.  The first he knew of the drama was when two rockets were fired by Mr. Kelly.

John Willam Kelly, the caretaker of the Currumbene, said he lit the boiler fire at Cullen's direction to shift the vessel to Clarencetown. He retired to bed at 11.p.m. and was awakened by smoke coming from the engine.  He did not know how the fire had started, He had inspected the ship before the fire.
The coroner returned an open finding.

Continue reading about the T.S.S Merimbula


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