Search the Register
Advanced Search
Image Not Available

Wreck of the BELBOWRIE

TSS BELBOWRIE was built by R Davis at Blackwall, Woy Woy, Brisbane Water on the NSW Central Coast - the famous shipbuilding family in the Central Coast area from 1848 till 1913 building some 168 vessels. After Rock Davis's death in 1904 the yard continued to operate until 1913 under the management of W Davis and J Cameron. Launched in 1911, the BELBOWRIE was 37 metres long and displaced 218 tons. Built for J Weston, itl was powered by two twin cylinder steam engines manufactured by Mort's Dock and Engineering Co Ltd of Balmain.

In about 1914 the vessel was sold to the Coastal Shipping Cooperative Co Ltd and the next year to the Coffs Harbour Cooperative Steam Ship Co Ltd. In 1918 it was purchased by Bell and Frazer Ltd and in the early 1920s ownership changed again to Kirsten and Earnshaw Ltd and in 1923 or 1924 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.

BELBOWRIE had a number of incidents in its career. On Monday 25 June 1923, it left Red Head near Ulladulla to travel to Sydney via Sussex Inlet, 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, the TSS BELBOWRIE ran aground on Wanda Beach on Sydney's southern outskirts. There was gale force south-easterly winds and very heavy rain.

After removing the timber to the beach, the BELBOWRIE was refloated on Sunday 2 July with the help of the lighter ZELMA. The ship sailed to Sydney and was found to have suffered no damage.

On 24 November 1938, the crew of the BELBOWRIE rescued two fishermen off Norah Head on the NSW Central Coast after their boat sank. Less than two months later, BELBOWRIE was to suffer a similar fate.

At 7pm on 16 January 1939 it departed Balmain in Sydney Harbour with 10 crew to travel to Shellharbour to take on a cargo of blue metal. By 8.10pm it 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, 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.

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. The Captain thought that they had hit a heavy sea but then realised they had hit the shore. He 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 ship and was already breaking up with its back broken. Captain Dixon fired off a dozen rockets. 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 firemen, John Joseph Duffy of Balmain, who hurt himself when he fell from the vessel. The last person to leave the ship was Captain Dixon. He became exhausted when travelling down the rope and he fell into the surf with a cry of "I'm done". 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.