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
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
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.