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Wreck of MV MALABAR

MV MALABAR, built by Barclay Curle & Co at Glasgow, was designed as a passenger cargo vessel for the Australia-Java-Singapore route. It was owned by Burns Philp & Co and was 350 feet long with a gross tonnage of 4,512 tons and had a top speed of 13.2 knots. MALABAR could accommodate 156 passengers and had five cargo holds, as well as insulated holds for fruit and frozen meat. It was the second motor vessel to service Australian waters and heralded the decline of the steamship.

MALABAR was launched in July 1925 and arrived in Sydney via Colombo and Singapore in December that same year. It had an uneventful service history prior to its wrecking; its only major incident was an unsuccessful attempt to tow the stranded steamer RIO CLARO off Scott Reef, southeast of Cairns, in September 1926.

In 1929 Burns Philp & Co was awarded a contract by the Australian Government for a five year mail service to the Pacific Islands. This required a new ship to be built for the Singapore route (MV MACDHUI). MALABAR was to be reassigned to the Sydney-Rabaul service commencing in May 1931.

On 31 March 1931, MALABAR undertook its 32nd trip and left Melbourne for Singapore under the command of Captain George Leslie. On the morning of 2 April the ship was nearing Sydney when it entered a thick fog and ran on to the rocks on the northern side of Long Bay, 14km to the south of Sydney due to a navigational error. The bow was high on the rocks and Captain Leslie ordered the engines to be run full speed astern but this was insufficient to shift the ship. An evacuation was ordered and all 109 crew and 28 passengers successfully left the ship within half an hour. Three stud horses being transported to Darwin were also swum ashore. At 10am, the trawler CHARLIE CAM attempted to tow MALABAR off the rocks but the line gave way. The tug ST ARISTELL was readied but the weather and conditions rendered this attempt too dangerous and MALABAR was abandoned. News of the wreckage spread and it is estimated 100,000-300,000 people (depending on sources) visited the area over the Easter long weekend. The wreck was sold for scrap for £140 on 7 April to the Penguin Salvage Co. However, due to heavy seas, it broke up and was unable to be salvaged.

Due to the enormous interest in the wreck, the residents of the area petitioned the government to change the name of the suburb from Long Bay (due to association with the prison) to Malabar. This was granted in September 1933.

The rusted and twisted metal remains of MALABAR are still to be located off the rocks and are popular with divers. The wreck is protected under NSW heritage legislation.

From The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 1931:

'VESSEL SMASHED TO PIECES ON THE ROCKS OFF BONDI
WITNESSED BY 100,000 PEOPLE
PASSENGERS AND CREW SAVED
SYDNEY, Friday.
The Burns Philp motor-ship Malabar, went aground on the treacherous rocks of North Point, Long Bay, early on Thursday morning. Pounded by terrific seas, whipped up by a southerly gale, it was smashed to pieces last night and to-day. All the passengers and crew were saved. The vessel's back was broken shortly before day-light, and since then it has gradually settled into the water, and this afternoon only the bridge and mastheads were exposed.

The only road leading to the scene was choked with motor cars, and it is estimated that over 100,000 people visited the foreshores to witness the gradual breaking-up of the vessel. Many people remained on the edge of the cliff throughout last night waiting for the Malabar to make her last plunge but, although she was badly battered, a portion of the vessel was still visible this morning, but later in the day she settled down. About midnight when the tide high the Malabar regained even keel, but at 3.30 the crackling of iron and steel intimated that the vessel's back was broken. The bows remained fast on the rocks, but the rest of the ship swung towards the cliffs. Another wave dashed on to the promenade decks smashing them in, and then portion of the stern of the vessel disappeared. Still another wave took the funnel with it.

Two lights in the ship's deck could be seen for hours last night. Where they came from is not known, but a suggested explanation was that they were caused by a short circuit in the vessel's electrical equipment.

The foreshores of Long Bay were littered with piles of debris from the Malabar this afternoon. News quickly spread that the underwriters' ban on salvage had been lifted, and hundreds of people swarmed the foreshores picking over the debris which was washed up. Cases of tinned food were hungrily seized upon. Many
risked their lives in their efforts to obtain salvage. One man was trapped by a wave and had to be rescued by the beach inspector, L. Bond, who dived to his aid.
At other beaches south of Port Jackson, a large quantity of wreckage was also washed ashore.

Within a few hours of the accident the liner developed a sharp list, and the skeleton crew, which was left aboard after the passengers and crew had been taken ashore in lifeboats, was taken off. One attempt at salvage was made by a trawler, which passed a steel hawser aboard, but the line parted under strain without having shifted the vessel.

The Malabar was en route for Singapore, via Sydney, from Melbourne, when she went; aground. Although passengers managed to take some of their goods with them, a large quantity was left aboard, including a large amount of cash. The vessel became embedded in the rocks in a thick fog which hung low over the water. The shock of the impact was so slight that few outside the navigating officers realised that the trouble was to mean the end of the Malabar's career.

The liner went ashore on a full Easter tide, and as it dropped over five feet the position became more serious. The first crash ripped the plates under the forward hold and water poured in at an alarming rate. She immediately took a list of about 20 degrees to starboard. After the passengers left the list became more acute.
Radio messages were sent out, and arrangements were made by Burns, Philp and Co. Ltd - and the Sydney Marine Underwriters' Association to begin salvage operations. The J. and A. Brown tug St. Aristell was commissioned.

In the meantime, Captain R. S. Stobo, of the association, rushed to the scene, and made an examination of the vessel. By that time her stern was well down in the water. Her engine room was flooded, and a belch or two of black smoke told of the ingress of the water. The stern had taken in as much sea as the gaping holes forward.

Captain Stobo at once realised that the position was hopeless, and a message was sent to Sydney to cancel the departure of the tug. The trawler Charlie Cam, on the way out for a cruise, diverted at 10 a.m., and made an attempt to tow off the liner. A line was thrown over the stern, but as soon as it took the weight it snapped with a crack. For over an hour the trawler stood by, and then turned to sea. She could be of no assistance. Meanwhile, green rollers from the swell raced at the Malabar.
She began to sway, and was right over on her starboard side, showing the red paint of the bottom on the port side, and as the breakers regularly receded water could be seen spurting from her cracked forward plates .

She was on the rocks almost to her bridge. At any moment it looked as though she would slide off into deep water. By noon the wind had freshened from the south-west, and ugly-looking clouds speckled the sky. It was a bad omen for the stricken ship. The swell died down slightly, however, and a choppy sea was running. With the tide ebbing the Malabar became firmly wedged in a cleft of the
rocks. As the tide went down the agonising rolling, which made her hull rumble and the deck gear rattle, ceased, and she became steadier, with waves lapping over the stern. Oil was escaping from her. The water for yards was stained, and the air was heavy with the smell of it. High tide last night, it was thought, would seal the fate of the Malabar.

News of the grounding had spread during the afternoon, and hundreds of cars were parked half a mile from the cliff top. A crowd of over 1,000 watched the drama in the fierce wind, sheltering wherever they could in the lee of the rocks.

PASSENGERS AND CREW.
The Malabar carried a crew of about 108. There were about 63 Chinese and 26 Malayans, with British officers.
The whites on board were:- Captain G. W. Leslie, Chief Officer K. Morris, Second Officer V. G. Hildebrand, Third Officer N. H. Grantham. Chief Engineer A. E. Walsh, Second Engineer H. E. O'Keefe, Third Engineer F. Sandeman, Fourth Engineer C. A. Long, Fifth Engineer S. Britton, Sixth Engineer W. G. Ure, Seventh Engineer R. N. Mortimer.

Dr. R. K. Kaines (ship's surgeon), Charles Marshall, Chief Steward and Purser J. Rosen, Mrs. A. Davidson (stewardess), C. L. Caley (first radio operator), B. Martin (second, radio operator), Walter Hilder and B. F. Lounder (deck cades).

Melbourne passengers booked by the Malabar were:-
Mr. A. C. Munro Kerr, Mr. and Mrs. K. M. Campbell, Mrs. J. M. Henderson, Mr. H. Miller, Miss M. Stearn, Mr. T. Bennett, Mr. R. Wy- att, Mr. and Mrs. L. Tivendale, Mrs. C. J. Hay, child, and infant, Mr. .and Mrs. R. Bridgland and child, Mr. and Mrs. F. C. Mulligan and two children, Mr. H. Trotten, Mr. J. E. Kopp, Mr. J. Dawson, Mrs. N. Wilkinson, Mrs. T. Webb and two children. It is not known yet what arrangements will be made regarding the passengers who were booked by the Malabar, and who were landed yesterday morning at Long Bay. Those who joined the ship at Mel- bourne were taken to a city hotel for the night. lt is expected that some of them will return to Melbourne.

THE VESSEL.
With the exception or the Macdhui, now on her maiden voyage after construction in Scotland, the Malabar was the latest addition to the Burns, Philp fleet.

She was of 4512 tons gross, 350 feet feet long, 45 feet wide, and 22 feet deep, and was built at Glasgow in 1925. She entered the Australia-Java-Singapore trade, replacing the Montaro as soon as she was handed over by the builders. The Malabar was on her way from Melbourne to Sydney at the time of the disaster, to load here for Java and Singapore. Captain S. Rothery, the regular commander, went ashore to spend a few days at home, and Captain G. W. Leslie joined the Malabar
as relief master.

Captain Leslie is a former Sydney Harbour pilot, and holds exemptions for Australian ports. He has power to navigate an overseas liner in and out of port without a pilot.

OWNER OF CARGO.
It is not a case of "finding is keeping" with cargo washed ashore from
the Malabar.

Had she been a ship bound from an overseas port the cargo would have been seized by the Customs. But as it is Australian it still belongs to the shippers. Police and Customs Patrols, with Inspector R. Wilson of the Customs Department, last night patrolled the foreshores of the bay to recover goods washed ashore and to prevent pilfering.'