SS Myola

The Myola
SS Myola
The SS Myola was a collier built at Middlesborough in the UK by Smith's Dock Company Limited for Howard Smith. The new ship was 54 metres long, almost 9 metres wide and powered by a triple expansion steam engine of 150 hp. The two coal powered scotch boilers provided steam to enable the ship to make 12 knots. The ship was quite large for a collier of this era, much larger, for example, than ships like the SS Tuggerah and SS Undola which plied the run from the southern coalfields to Sydney. The Myola also had two masts and could use the sails to gain an extra knot or two in the right winds.

In November 1913 she started the voyage to Sydney arriving on 7 January 1914. The Myola was on the Newcastle/Sydney run and does not appear to have had any major incidents. In January 1919 she had a refit and was declared in good condition. At this time the vessel was owned by Australian Steamship Limited.

At 8.20 pm on 31 March 1919 the SS Myola left Sydney for Newcastle arriving at 3 am the next morning. It was under the command of a temporary captain and crew as the whole of the regular crew were in quarantine. One of the crew had contracted influenza (a deadly disease which killed millions upon millions all around the world after the Great War) so all the crew had been placed in quarantine. This was the first return trip to Newcastle for the crew and captain.

The ship was loaded with 675 tons of coal destined for the North Shore Gas Company and a Shipping Inspector who went aboard later stated that the ship was not overloaded. At 5 pm on 1 April 1919 the SS Myola left Newcastle for Sydney. The weather was not very good and there was a 30 mph south-easterly blowing creating heavy seas. The ship was under the control of the Master, Captain Higgins and the Second Officer E.J. Casey till 10 pm when the Chief Officer James Robertson (of Campsie) relieved them. It was later reported that the Second Engineer A. McNicholl remarked to the Chief Engineer I. McCanish about this time that the ship had a list to port. However, they did not consider it serious enough to report this to the Master. At 10.30 pm (or perhaps 10 pm) the fireman, E. G. Roberts, reported water had been entering the boiler room, perhaps for 30 minutes. It is reported that the Chief Officer ordered the engines to be made slow.

Just after midnight (perhaps 12.20 am) on 2 April 1919 the Myola was off Long Reef on Sydney's northern beaches. The ship suddenly listed to port then starboards and back to port again. The actions of the skipper was unable to save the Myola and she gradually went over and started to sink, port side first. The crew left their posts with the engine still running flat out and were unable to launch the lifeboats, all they could do was undo the lashings. The time was about 12.30 am.

A little over eight minutes later the Myola disappeared from sight, although it was reported that the crew of the SS South Bulli, following about four miles behind the Myola, saw distress flares at about 12.45 am. All of the 15 crew appears to have got off the ship. Once in the water, the Chief Officer Robertson reported that he heard some calls and swimming away from the ship, found three of the crew already in one of the lifeboats. They soon found two more men sitting on an upturned boat and pulled them aboard. It is reported in the 3 April 1919 edition of the Daily Telegraph that they found another man as well, giving a total of seven on board the lifeboat, but it also reports that one man, the Second Engineer, A. McNicholl, was pulled aboard the South Bulli directly from the water (see next paragraph as well).

About 30 minutes later at 1 am, the crew of the SS South Bulli, making passage from Catherine Hill Bay to Sydney, heard calls for help from the water. The skipper of the South Bulli, Captain E. Tucker, stopped and pulled the men aboard from the lifeboat. They launched their own boat and immediately they found wreckage and four men clinging to it. Among these was the skipper. There is obviously an error in the Telegraph's reporting as the numbers add up to 12 overall but only 11 survived. They spent some time looking for further survivors but none were seen.

The survivors were taken to Sydney by the SS South Bulli. Assistant Steward Alfred Cove, not even 20 years old, had already been shipwreck once before. He had been torpedoed in the Great War when on the Galway Castle. Even on board the South Bulli some of the crew were experienced with shipwrecks. For the South Bulli's Second Mate, T.R. Richardson, he had been sunk during the War when the Moorina in the Mediterranean was shelled by a German U boat. He was then captured and spent five months as a prisoner of the Senussi Arabs before being rescued in a dramatic raid.

For Thorvald Thomsen, one of the regular crew of the Myola, luck was on his side. He was not on the ship because of the influenza quarantine. He soon joined another vessel, the SS Tuggerah where he was to be one of eleven survivors when she sank only a few weeks later and almost 30 years later one of only two survivors of the sinking of the SS Bombo.

The missing men from the SS Myola were:

  • D. Cooper - Cook
  • ? Nelson - Able Seaman
  • W. Carroll - Fireman
  • H. Churchill - Able Seaman

Those rescued were:

  • Captain Higgins - Master
  • A. James Robertson - Chief Officer
  • E. J. Casey - Second Officer
  • I. McCanish - Chief Engineer
  • A. McNicholl - Second Engineer
  • Alfred Cove - Assistant Steward
  • A. Joyce - Donkeyman
  • G. Weir - Bosun
  • Nicholas Cost - Able Seaman
  • E. Roberts - Fireman
  • A. Ferguson - Fireman

The famous pilot steamer, the Captain Cook was sent to the area to search for the missing crew. They found three lifeboats, two were still on the water and these were recovered. The third was found on Mona Vale Beach, smashed up. It was left there. Other wreckage was sighted but no signs of the missing men was found.

A Preliminary Inquiry into the sinking was started at 11 am on 3 April 1919 under Captain Fergus Cumming, Superintendent of Navigation. Captain Cumming found that "...I consider that loose water had in some manner entered the ship and when she listed over to port more water entered the vessel in great volume through the ventilator and the engine room door causing her to list more until she foundered". He recommended that there should be a Court of Marine Inquiry but I am unaware if this was held.

Until 1994, the wreck of the SS Myola lay undiscovered. Over the more recent years, many people had looked for the wreck but to no avail. In August 1985, Peter Fields and John Riley started searching for the wreck of the Myola. Later that month John purchased a magnetometer and over the next three months they searched on and off for the wreck with no luck. They abandoned the search, but not the idea. In late May 1994 they resumed the search, with the first real searching taking place in early July. On the fourth day of this search they located the Myola.

They had located the Myola in just under 50 metres almost 6 kilometres off North Curl Curl and just under 5 kilometrs off Long Reef and a bit to the south. John and Peter released information that they had found the wreck at the 1994 Scuba Expo in Melbourne although the location was still secret. They continued to dive the wreck as they recorded it in detail. Many times we saw Peter's car and trailer at Rose Bay and the temptation to go out and find where they were was overwhelming. Finally, on 27 December 1994 the location of the wreck became public after they were seen on the wreck. In January numerous people were aware of its location but an extremely bad weekend of weather meant that it was not until the Australia Day Holiday (26 January 1995) that it was dived in quantity. I dived it two days later and was amazed at its intactness. Except for the bell, which had been removed by Peter and John with approval, everything was still on the wreck.

The wreck is facing south-south-west and like most real Sydney wrecks, the Myola lies on its port side, although the stern section has broken away from the rest of the wreck and sits upright. If you are using the mooring, this will bring you down on the prop. The first thing you will notice is that the propeller blade is broken. Of the four blades, one is almost completely missing, the second one almost as bad, the third is half broken and the final one is missing the end third. My guess is that this damage happened when the ship sank and the engine, (remember it was still running flat out when the ship sank), turned the prop over and it hit the rocky reef, breaking the blades. The rudder lies on the sea floor on the port side and the steering gear and steering engine are a bit further away.