Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - TSS Merimbula
The TSS Merimbula was a twin screw steel steamship built by Ailsa Shipbuilding Company at Troon, Scotland in 1909. It was over 209 feet long and displaced 1111 tons. She was built for the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company (SCSNC) following the loss of the SS Bega on 5 April 1908.
The new ship was powered by two triple expansion coal powered steam engines built by Ailsa with two boilers built by Hudson and Sons of Glasgow. The ship was also rigged as a two masted schooner. The largest ship built for the SCSNC, the Merimbula was primarily a passenger vessel with some cargo capability. There was accommodation for 96 First Class passengers and 10 Second Class passengers.
The new ship left the Clyde River (Scotland) on 20 October 1909 (also reported as 14 October) for Sydney under the command of Captain Plugge. She travelled via the Suez Canal, Aden, Colombo, Fremantle and Albany. She arrived in Sydney on 19 December 1909 and immediately went into service on the South Coast run, going from Sydney to Bermagui, Tathra, Merimbula and Eden. She normally did two runs a week. During the first few months of service, it was discovered that the Merimbula was unstable in certain seas so some heavy cast iron blocks were added to the hold for stability.
During World War II, the Merimbula was used to refloat the Cumberland off Gabo Island (July and August 1917) after she had hit a German mine and been run aground. This ended up been unsuccessful as the Cumberland foundered and sank while being towed to Eden.
While she continued on her normal souther route, at times the Merimbula was used elsewhere. In 1918 she was chartered to J. Rowe and Sons of Hobart to carry produce (mostly apples) and passengers between Hobart, Sydney and Brisbane. In August 1920 she was used to carry coal from Newcaslte to Hobart. I am not sure if these were single or multiple trips but they only happened when there was insufficient trade on her normal route.
On 25 March 1928, the Merimbula left Sydney bound for Eden under the command of Captain O'Connor. She carried 13 or 14 passengers and 35 crew. As she travelled south, the weather worsened. At 1 am on 27 March 1928, the Merimbula ran aground on Whale Point at Currarong, just north of Jervis Bay. No lives were lost but the ship was mortally wounded. It was believed that the ship was salvageable, so there was no great rush to evacuate. The passengers and crew drank coffee, ate sandwiches and walked around in their lifejackets.
|TSS Merimbula aground on Whale Point|
Later that morning, the passengers and crew entered the lifeboats and rowed to Currarong Creek, only a couple of kilometres away. They sheltered in a fisherman's hut as it was raining. While this was going on, the Captain and some crew walked to the lighthouse at Point Perpendicular, the northern headland of Jervis Bay. Using the lighthouse keeper's telephone, he phoned SCSNC in Sydney and the keeper phoned Sergeant Matheson of Nowra Police.
The passengers were taken back to Nowra by three cars. The marine assessors arrived on 28 March 1928 and decided that there was a possibility of salvage as the bow was well out of the water and the stern was just above water. Unfortunately, the next day saw the ship taking water so much that the planned attempt to refloat was abandoned. The skipper and crew left Currarong on 31 March 1928 and the ship was sold at auction on 2 April 1928. The price was £300. The salvor was going to try to refloat the ship but this did not succeed so she was blown open to assist the removal of certain items. The ship soon slipped off the rocks.
The GPS reading for the Merimbula is a latitude of 35ΒΊ 00' 16" S and longitude of 150ΒΊ 49' 42" E. Note that all the GPS Readings on my Web Site are taken using AUS66 as the map datum. If you use another datum you may be about 220 metres off the wreck. See my GPS Page for more details and how to convert readings. Today the wreck lies in very shallow water (in fact some is still up on the rocks). The bow section is on the rocks and the ship runs away from the reef in a north-north east direction. The hull bottom lies on a rocky reef, basically uncovered. Half way along there are the remains of the two engines, each lying where it fell outwards from the ship. The prop shafts run towards the stern from each engine. The port boiler is adjacent to the port engine while the starboard one is towards the rear.
There is an anchor up towards the shore on the port side and between it and the boiler there is a large winch. On the starboard side there is a large piece of machinery. A piece of the stern is located off the reef edge on sand in a direct line with the main part of the wreck.
Although the TSS Merimbula was not yet 75 years old, it was been declared an historic wreck back in the 2000s.
A very interesting dive in calmer seas.