The TSS Tuggerah

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The SS Tuggerah, lying 2.2 kilometres off the coast of Royal National Park on Sydney's south, was one of the "Sixty Miler" steam powered colliers that plied the New South Wales coast for about 140 years from the mid-1800s till the 1990s (yes, the last one did not actually finish until the early 1990s). Built by Clyde Ship Building and Engineering Company Ltd at Port Glasgow, Scotland for the Wallarah Coal Company Limited, the Tuggerah was launched in 1912 (not sure what date but on 31 August 1912 it was in the fitting out basin) and appears to have been completed in October 1912. Displacing 749 tons and 50 metres long, it was powered by a triple expansion steam engine with the steam provided by two scotch boilers.

The Tuggerah was used on both the southern and northern coalfield runs and had a relatively incident free career until she ran aground near the entrance to Wollongong Harbour on 26 October 1918. It suffered a fair bit of damage and required repairs back in Sydney at the Morts Dock. Less than five months after the loss of the SS Undola off Garie Beach in Royal National Park and less than six weeks after the loss of the SS Myola north of Sydney Heads, the Tuggerah was to be lost in a violent storm.

After loading 820 tons of coal at the Bulli Jetty on Saturday 16 May 1919, the Tuggerah put to sea at 2.30 pm. During the preceding few days, fairly strong seas had been running along the coast but the weather was not exceptionally rough at the jetty. When she left Bulli, the Tuggerah was noticed to have a slight list to port and coal was not evenly distributed in the holds and 10 tons of coal was on the deck. Rather than trim the boat and fix the hatches before leaving the wharf, the skipper, Captain McConachie, decided to do it at sea. It is not known why the coal was not trimmed before she left Bulli, but a good guess is that it would have delayed the Tuggerah and cost the owners money. Soon after passing Bulli Reef, it became obvious that the seas were worse than previously thought. Despite this, the ship continued north, all the way taking water on board due to the list and the fact that the two hatches were not in place. The crew faced considerable difficulty in trimming the coal due to the seas.

Just after 4 pm when off Marley Beach in Royal National Park, a huge wave, later estimated as six metres, came over the port side. Within a few minutes the Tuggerah "turned turtle, and sank".

As the ship rolled, Captain McConachie saw she was doomed and ordered the lifeboat to be launched. The Tuggerah went down stern first and the survivors scrambled into the only lifeboat salvaged. After an hour searching for other survivors, the 11 lucky crew rowed to Port Hacking, arriving there at 7.15 pm. Six persons died, including Captain McConachie. However, one survivor was Thorvald Thomsen. Six weeks earlier he had been absent from the SS Myola when she sank (all the crew were in quarantine due to influenza) and almost 30 years later he survived the sinking of the SS Bombo.

A Marine Court of Inquiry was held but it did not find anyone to blame for the sinking. Subsequently, a Royal Commission into the loss of the Undola, Myola and Tuggerah was held (as well as the trade generally) but it did not really achieve anything.

Today the Tuggerah is lying on its port side at a maximum depth of almost 48 metres off Wattamolla in Royal National Park. Like all of the older Sydney wrecks, the depth of the wreck has not really protected the "Tug" and it has been greatly affected by the huge seas that pound the Sydney coastline from time to time. While the rear of the ship is intact to a certain degree, the area in front of the boilers is totally destroyed by the combination of seas and rust.

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