TSS Belbowrie

My Photos. Well some of the wreckage anyway

Michael McFadyen - Devilfish Diving Services

The TSS Belbowrie was built by R. Davis at Blackwatell, Brisbane Water on the NSW Central Coast in 1911. It was 37 metres long and displaced 218 tons. Built for J. Weston, the vessel was powered by two two cylinder steam engines manufactured by Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd, Balmain. In about 1914 the vessel was sold to Coastal Shipping Co-operative Co Ltd and the next year to the Coffs Harbour Co-operative Steam Ship Co Ltd. In 1918 the Belbowrie's list of owners grew when she was purchased by Bell and Frazer Ltd and in the early 1920s ownership changed again to Kirsten and Earnshaw Ltd (I am not sure of this as the entry in Lloyd's Register of 1924-25 that I checked is crossed out) and in 1923 or 24 sold again to Shoalhaven Steam Ship Co Ltd. In 1928 she was again sold to A. Auland and about 1932 onto Aulco Pty Ltd of Bond Street, Sydney. The Register of Australian and NZ Shipping of 1937 gives the owner again as A. Auland (presumably associated with Aulco P/L).

As well as having a few (heaps in fact) owners, the Belbowrie had a few incidents in her life. On Monday 25 June 1923, the Belbowrie left Red Head near Ulladulla to travel to Sydney via Sussex Inlet, She was carrying 25,000 feet of timber. The weather was bad and Captain H. Chamberlain decided to miss Sussex and go straight to Sydney. At 4.30am on Tuesday 26 June 1923, the TSS Belbowrie ran aground on Wanda Beach about five and a half miles north of Cronulla on Sydney's southern outskirts. There was gale force south-easterly winds and very heavy rain. Somehow the Belbowrie either travelled between the mainland and Jibbon Bombora or around the bommie and then headed right into Bate Bay and, I assume, rode straight over Merries Reef (which must have been breaking) as where it ended up, the reef is on a straight line from anywhere south!

After removing the timber to the beach, the Belbowrie was refloated on Sunday 2 July 1923 with the help of the lighter Zelma. The ship sailed to Sydney and was found to have suffered no damage. An interesting aspect is how the timber was removed from the beach when it is considered how far this spot was from the nearest road or track!

On 24 November 1938, the Belbowrie rescued two fishers off Norah Head on the NSW Central Coast after their boat sank. Less than two months later, the Belbowrie was to suffer the same fate.

At 7pm on 16 January 1939 she departed Balmain in Sydney Harbour with 10 crew to travel to Shellharbour to take on a cargo of blue metal. By 8.10pm the Belbowrie had left the harbour and at 8.50pm was off Ben Buckler (the northern headland of Bondi Beach). It was poor weather, with a strong southerly wind and very heavy rain. Despite this, it was reported that the seas were not exceptionally rough and apparently nothing undue could be seen. The Captain, Mr P.R. Dixon, went below as he thought they were well out to sea. Edgar Charles Ladd (41), the Mate, was left in control and the Belbowrie was travelling at 6.5 knots.

 

The Belbowrie below the surface
The wreck of the Belbowie is visible just off the rock platform
Mr Ladd reported that at first he thought that he could just see white-caps on the sea through a break in the weather but this was not correct. He then realised that what he could see was rocks ahead. All of a sudden, the vessel crashed onto rocks as Captain Dixon lay in his bunk. The Captain thought that they had hit a heavy sea but then realised they had hit the shore. Captain Dixon rushed to the bridge and found they were hard on the rocks at the southern end of Maroubra Beach. He ordered the engines to be reversed but after a few minutes the engine room was flooded and all was lost. Waves were breaking right over the Belbowrie and the ship was already breaking up with its back broken. Captain Dixon fired off a dozen rockets but the last one would not go off. A lifeboat was lowered but the seas flooded it.

By now people had arrived at the scene and the Belbowrie's crew attempted to get a line to shore. After several unsuccessful attempts, the line was tied to a buoy. One of the people on shore, Keith Tracey, risked his life by rushing into the seas on the rock platform and the rope was held secure by a squad of Police. The crew then went hand over hand the 60 feet across the boiling seas and rock platform to safety. Only one person was injured, one of the two fireman, John Joseph Duffy of Balmain, who hurt himself when he fell from the vessel. The last person to leave the ship was, of course, Captain Dixon. He became exhausted when travelling down the rope and he fell into the surf with a cry of "I'm done". Luckily, a number of men dashed into the seas and dragged him to shore. Apparently Captain Dixon put his failure to make his way down the line to the fact that "...I'm so fat, that's why I fell off".

The crew was transported to Maroubra Ambulance Station where they were warmed up and treated for shock. Within a few hours the stern of the ship was below water and by the next morning the vessel was declared a total loss by Captain D.W. Gibson for the underwriters. She was valued at 6,000 pounds.

Today there is still wreckage to be found in the area, although very little is identifiable as specific parts of either this ship or the nearby wreck of the SS Tekapo. There are iron plates and girders all over the place, as well as some brass pieces. For more details about the wreck site, see my article on South Maroubra.

References:
 

  • Sydney Morning Herald 17 and 18 January 1939
  • Lloyd's Register 1913-14, 1915-16, 1916-17, 1919-20, 1924-25, 1929-30
  • The Register of Australian and NZ Shipping 1937 page 21, 1933 page 19
  • Some Shipwrecks in the Randwick Municipality by Trevor L. Brignell pages 29-32