The "Undola"   

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The SS Undola was a sixty miler collier designed by William Sinclair of J. Wildridge and Sinclair Ltd, Sydney. Originally, she was designed for E. Vickery and Sons Ltd which owned the Coal Cliff coal mine. However, in April 1909 the ownership of the coal mine changed to Coal Cliff Collieries Ltd, the majority shareholder of which was E. Vickery and Sons Ltd. Therefore the plans for the new ship were taken over by the new company and in May 1909 an order was placed for the construction of the new ship by J. Fullerton and Co., Paisley, Scotland. The contract cost of the vessel was 7,675, paid in five equal instalments of 1,535.

The ship had a triple expansion coal powered steam engine with a rating of 580 hp. The front hold of the collier held 160 tons of coal and the second hold 260 tons. There was a mast between the two holds and this held the coal handling grabs. The Undola was specially built for the Coal Cliff wharf where it was expected to mainly operate from. The new design had a quite shallow draught and also had self-trimming hatches to minimise time spent at the wharf. Of note is the fact that the ship did not have electric lighting as the owners decided that the cost of 225 was excessive.

The original plan was for the new ship to be named SS Hilda after the collier that sank 13 years earlier off Cape Baily on Sydney's southern edge. Instead, it was named SS Undola, presumably after the locality in the southern section of Royal National Park, when the British Board of Trade declined to register the name Hilda.

The ship was launched on 13 October 1909 (one source says November, but this may be when it was handed over to the owners). The Undola displaced 429 tons and had a length of 41 metres and was 8 metres wide. On about 13 November 1909, the Undola left Scotland under the command of Captain James Leslie. She arrived in Sydney on 26 January 1910 after a voyage of 74 days. The cost of the delivery voyage was 1,365. On arriving in Sydney she was given a quick overhaul at Grants Wharf, Pyrmont, had her coal handling equipment installed and was dry docked at Morts Dock where her hull was scraped and painted. In late February 1910 she entered service on the southern coalfield run. Virtually all her career was spent on this run but in her later years she made a few runs to the Newcastle coalfields.

Although owned by Coal Cliff Collieries Ltd, the Undola carried coal for an organisation called "The Southern Coal Owners' Agency" for a great deal of her life. From when she entered service in February 1910 till June 1915 the ship was hired by the organisation for certain trips and payment was on the basis of the tonnage carried. From July 1915, the arrangement changed to one where the ship was chartered to the organisation for 150 per month.

The Coal Cliff wharf was used by the Undola only till 1911 when it was closed. Despite the fact the ship was especially designed for the wharf, she continually hit bottom while loading and sometimes had to abandon loading altogether. For this reason, the wharf was closed and the mine sent its coal to Sydney by the railway. She then operated out of the other wharves on the southern coalfields, presumably including Bulli, Wollongong, Port Kembla and Bellambi.

During her first five full years of operation, the Undola was heavily used. The annual carrying capacity of the ship was 63,200 tons of coal and the attached table shows her usage. This indicates that even though the ship was often subjected to poor sea conditions, it was still heavily used. Note also the profit (or lack of) made by the ship.

Financial Year Ending 31 March 1910/11 1911/12 1912/13 1913/14 1914/15
Coal Carried - Tons 46,382 45,226 48,348 44,459 46,830
Percentage of capacity 73.4% 71.6% 76.5% 70.4% 74.2%

Despite this, the ship only turned a profit in 1912/13 (304) and lost a total of 2,159 in the other years for a total loss of 1,855.

It is reported that the Undola was a good ship and she handled rough seas quite well. In addition, the ship was well maintained and the designer, William Sinclair, supervised all work on her.

In November 1910 the ship was dry-docked for a routine maintenance. During this work, it was noticed that the keel of the ship under hold one was "hogged", that is, pushed upwards by 2 1/2 inches. After some consideration, it was agreed that this damage was caused on 13 September 1910 when in a heavy south-easterly gale and carrying 45 tons of water ballast in hold one, the Undola rose considerably out of the water and hit hard. Only minor repairs were possible at this time.

In June 1911 the Undola was dry docked for more substantial repairs at Morts Dock in Sydney. At a total cost of 1,082, the hull was strengthened, the damage repaired (499) and routine maintenance carried out.

On 14 April 1911, the collier SS Brisbane had just loaded 1,300 tons of coal at Port Kembla when she broke her moorings and ran aground on rocks between Big Island and the shore. The Undola was at Wollongong Harbour and went to the larger ships aid. A boat from the Undola carried a large rope over to the stranded vessel but it snapped. A second rope suffered the same fate. However, the third attempt was successful and the Brisbane was pulled off the rocks and the rope later also snapped. The Coal Cliff Collieries Ltd sent the owners of the Brisbane a bill for 1,500 but was awarded 600 by the Admiralty Court. Of this sum, the owners received 350 and the crew shared 250.

In May 1911 the Undola broke her steering chains off Bondi, an event that apparently happened more than once.

Some time in 1912 (possibly December or just before this), the Undola collided with the SS Moana owned by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. This was obviously only a minor incident as the cost of damage to the NZ ship was only 25. At another time the ship collided with a launch owned by Morts Dock and caused 15 damage.

Apparently, in 1916, an offer to purchase the Undola was rejected. The price mentioned, 14,000 was considerably above the purchase price and as it was losing money every year, it is a wonder that the owners did not sell her then.

From 8 August 1917 to 21 February 1918 the Undola was idle due to the prolonged coal miners' strike. In July 1918 the Undola gave assistance to the Malachite (I am not sure where or how).

Late in the afternoon of 20 December 1918, the Undola finished loading its cargo of coal at Bellambi, 70 kilometres south of Sydney Harbour. The weather that day was extremely hot, with the Sydney temperature hitting 101F at 1 pm. At 2 pm a southerly buster hit, dropping the temperature over 30F in less than two hours. The winds picked up to 44 mph and presumably the seas also became very large. Despite this, the Undola left for Sydney as planned under the command of Captain Arthur McDonald.

The next morning, the Undola did not appear at its berth in Sydney Harbour as planned. Alarm was raised and later some wreckage was found on the Cronulla beaches. This led to the fear that the Undola had gone down somewhere off Royal National Park. Search parties were sent out but all that was found was more wreckage on the beaches and rocks. The owners of the ship hired the tug Koputai for 45. The tug searched for the wreck for a few days after the sinking. A few days later a lifebuoy with the Undola's name on it was discovered on a Wollongong beach, confirming that the ship had sunk with the loss of all 11 crew members.

Over the years many different theories have been put up as to why the Undola went down, including one that it hit a German mine (some were put down in the First World War off Gabo Island on Victoria's northern coastline). However, the most likely theory, in view of the weather and the loss of other ships (the SS Myola sank off Sydney Heads just over three months later and the SS Tuggerah went down near the Undola only five months later) was that the seas, possibly combined with an unstable cargo, caused the Undola to either take water and sink or to turn turtle and sink.

Today the wreck of the Undola lies 2.5 kilometres off Garie Beach in Royal National Park at a maximum depth of 45 metres and an average depth of 43 metres. The GPS readings can be found here.

The Undola is a bit more difficult to find than the Tuggerah as it is a much smaller and lower wreck. However, once you have the right marks, it is fairly easy to locate. Once you arrive at the GPS Mark (the last couple of times I have dived the Undola it put me right over the wreck), line up the mound at Cape Baily off to the north with the pointy rock at the tip of Marley Point as per the diagram above. Run north on this (perhaps the point a bit to the right of the mound's apex). You should be over the wreck when the houses are as above. This should be right near the engine or boiler but could be in front of it.

Anchoring can also be a problem as there is sand in between the boiler and the bow of the wreck. There is not much metal here, or at least a lot of spots where the anchor can drag right across from one side to the other without hooking on. At times we have had three goes without hooking the wreck and we have had to go down as soon as we have dropped the anchor to hook it in.

Today, the Undola lies upright on the bottom with its bow facing to the north-east.

Like its more famous neighbour, the SS Tuggerah, the SS Undola is alive with fish. As well as the millions of nannygais and bullseyes over the wreck, schools of yellowtail kingfish often visit and circle the wreck. You also get huge schools of seapike, yellowtail and silver sweep on the wreck. Sunfish and seals have been known to drop in on divers. The boiler tubes are home to conger and moray eels and the sand supports numbrays, sea pens and serpent eels.

The head (toilet) is still in place and you can still read the manufacturers name on it "Shanks of Barrhead" which made toilet products fro the Titanic.

Some extracts from Michael McFadyen