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SS Riverina Lifeboat

Vessel Number: HV000608
Date: c 1905
Vessel Dimensions: 8.5 m x 3 m (27.89 ft x 9.84 ft)
Classification:Vessels and fittings
The lifeboat from the SS RIVERINA was probably built around 1906 when the SS RIVERINA was built in Sunderland, England. The ship operated on the Australian coastline until grounding off Mallacoota on the Victorian coastline in 1927. The grounding and wreck became a focal point for the region and remains an important event in the region’s history. Lifeboats were used to ferry passengers ashore from the vessel, and this lifeboat is one of the extant relics connected with SS RIVERINA. It is a typical example of a clinker lifeboat, and was later adapted with a motor for private use as a fishing boat before it was donated to the Mallacoota and District Historical Society (M&DHS) and Mallacoota WWII Bunker Museum.
DescriptionThe lifeboat is around 8.5 metres long, has a double-ended hull shape and is clinker built with 12 narrow strakes. It has a straight keel profile, and represents the typical shape of a ship’s lifeboat for the period. Estimating the vessel’s age has been difficult. The SS RIVERINA was launched in 1906 with its full complement of lifeboats, but it is not known if all of these were built new for the vessel, or some were adapted from other ships that had been scrapped. In 1923 the SS RIVERINA underwent a refit, and new lifeboats were part of this work, but research has shown these were likely to have been the additional, much larger craft, placed at the stern.

The 113 metre long passenger and cargo steamer SS RIVERINA was built in 1906 and well known for a period as the fastest Australian coastal trader. It was eventually put onto the Sydney to Hobart route and operated by Huddart, Parker & Co. It could accommodate 370 passengers over three classes. The ship grounded in low visibility during a gale on the 17th April 1927 at 7.00pm. It was bound for Sydney and had left Hobart the previous day. It came ashore 11 km east of Mallacoota and opposite Gabo Island, and was fortunate not to hit that rocky and dangerous island and instead ground more gently on a long sandy beach. The crew soon ascertained it was not taking water and not in danger of sinking or capsize.

The bad weather continued over the next day and night, than abated. A lifeboat was then lowered and connected to the ship and shore with a safety line and haul line. The 100m crossing was still difficult due to the shore break. Passengers were then taken ashore and walked the 11 km back along the beach to Mallacoota where residents provided accommodation. They were then taken to Eden and transferred to the SS BOMBALA.

A newspaper reported that “Glowing tributes were paid to the manner in which the officers and members of the crew worked in getting the passengers from the ship".

Attempts to salvage the ship failed when it grounded again after briefly being re-floated. The ship then broke its back and was declared a wreck. A great deal of material was salvaged, and some of the lifeboats were taken south by truck to Gippsland Lakes. The wreck then became a tourist attraction over the years before being used for target practice in World War II, and now little of the wreck remains visible. Material and stories from the wreck formed a focal point for displays for the Mallacoota & District Historical Society, and this is located with the Mallacoota WWII Bunker Museum. The incident has become a significant event in the region’s history.

The lifeboat’s subsequent use on the Gippsland Lakes has included the addition of an engine, raised deck and cabin allowing it to be used as a motor launch in the area.

In 2011 the owner Craig Smith from Bairnsdale offered the boat then named LIVELY LADY to the Paynesville Maritime Museum, who then offered it to the M&DHS so that it would be returned to the site of the wreck of the SS RIVERINA. At least a couple of the other lifeboats remain extant, and one of the larger ones was known to have belonged to an owner in Orbost, however Smith's lifeboat was considered the most suitable example as a project for restoration and display.

The hull is now stored ashore at Mallacoota and a new shed is being planned to house the vessel, along with a conservation plan that would include new supports and restoration work, so that the craft can be used as a focus point to tell the story of the wreck of the SS RIVERINA and the lifeboat's role in rescuing the passengers.

Vessel Details
Current status:on public display
Deck layout:open
Hand propulsion/steering mechanism:oar
Hull material and construction:clinkerglued lapstrakelapstrake
Hull material and construction:timber
Hull shape:canoe stern/double endedDE
Hull shape:monohull
Hull shape:round bottom
Keel/centreboard/rudder type:docking keel
Additional Titles

Primary title: SS Riverina Lifeboat

Previous title: Lively Lady

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