Dangerous Waters

Long before the Pacific Highway and the North Coast Railway, travel to the Mid North Coast was by sea. Ocean travel was adventurous and perilous with ships and their crew, passengers and cargo at the mercy of the prevailing weather conditions and the skills of the ship’s captain.

Many ships and lives were lost in Mid North Coast waters, most of them whilst attempting to enter the safe harbours of our four rivers.

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Click to view A Princely Name

A Princely Name

One of the most significant maritime archaeology items found on the Mid North Coast is this bronze name plate fragment believed to have been attached to the engine of the Paddle Steamer, PS Prince Of Wales, which sank in 1862….

Click to view Colourful Sign Language

Colourful Sign Language

This collection of 26 brightly coloured signalling flags, made from cotton and linen, was used between 1890 and 1975 by pilots stationed at the Camden Head Pilot Station as a means of providing communication and navigational assistance to mariners and…

Click to view Fine Dining

Fine Dining

This round entrée plate featuring gold edging and transfer badge is from the schooner Wanderer, wrecked whilst attempting to enter Port Macquarie after suffering damage during a severe gale in November 1851. The Wanderer owned by Scotsman Ben Boyd was…

Click to view Shining Brightly

Shining Brightly

Lighthouses were an important navigational aid for maritime shipping and helped to mark dangerous coastlines and hazardous reefs. They were usually situated on prominent headlands.  Many ship wrecks occurred on the lower Mid North Coast before the Tacking Point lighthouse…

Click to view PS Ballina

PS Ballina

The PS Ballina was one of many ships operating on the NSW North Coast during the 1860s and 1870s. Owned and operated by the Clarence and Richmond Rivers Steam Navigation Company, the largest shipping company operating on the north coast…

Click to view In Loving Memory Of

In Loving Memory Of

This slightly faded mourning or memorial card mourns the death of Samuel Strutt aged 40 years who drowned in the Hastings River in April 1904 whilst trying to save the life of a young girl, Jacqueline Stewart. It is typical…

Click to view Marking the Watch

Marking the Watch

This engraved brass ship’s bell is from the Elmtree built at Cardiff UK in 1916, and renamed the Iron Chief in 1922. Ships bells are considered to be iconic and to have a spiritual association with their ship. As is…

Click to view Staying Afloat

Staying Afloat

This Standard Life Jacket is believed to have come from the passenger launch M.V. Ena which was built by Robert Henry Reckless, and his sons Robert William and Herbert, near the R.W. Reckless Boatshed at the northern end of Short…

Click to view Person Overboard

Person Overboard

This lifebuoy is associated with the XLCR, an offshore fishing trawler that was based in Port Macquarie from 1926 to 1962. She was owned by the Radley family who were well known and highly regarded not only for their role…

Click to view A Successful  Rescue

A Successful Rescue

This certificate and silver medal was granted to Maud Josephine Keneally, aged 14 years, by the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales in 1906.  Maud earned the medal for saving Jack Gough, a 4½ year old…

A Princely Name

A Princely Name

Circa 1861 / Learn more on Ehive
The PS Prince of Wales remained fast on the shore, eventually breaking in two and leaving only her bow jammed between rocks

One of the most significant maritime archaeology items found on the Mid North Coast is this bronze name plate fragment believed to have been attached to the engine of the Paddle Steamer, PS Prince Of Wales, which sank in 1862. Built in Britain in 1861, the Australasian Steam Navigation Company’s new iron vessel, PS Prince Of Wales was considered a superior vessel, combining great speed, carrying capacity and light draft of water, advantages absolutely necessary for trade on the New South Wales coast. However she would be in service for only a few months.

The PS Prince Of Wales left Sydney for Brisbane on October 2nd, 1862, with a cargo of horses, rum, ale, brandy, wine, tobacco, cigars and 12 passengers and 11 crew. At 3 p.m. the following day while passing inside Mermaid Reef off Crowdy Bay, she grazed on a detached rock, northwest of the reef. With water pouring into the hold it became evident they would not stay buoyant for much longer and the decision was made to beach her at Camden Haven. Fortunately the weather was fine and seas calm. All the passengers and stores were landed safely.

By the time the iron paddle steamer PS Diamantina arrived on the scene the following Sunday, the seas had risen and the PS Prince Of Wales was found to be a total wreck on the beach. A boat was sent ashore but while returning through the surf it capsized on the Camden Haven bar. The engineer of the PS Prince Of Wales and two seamen from the PS Diamantina drowned.  The mound grave of those drowned can be found near Prince of Wales Point (Dunbogan).

The PS Prince of Wales remained fast on the shore, eventually breaking in two and leaving only her bow jammed between rocks. Today nothing remains visible apart from the wreck mound covered in seaweed in 3m of water some 50m offshore. The name plate was recovered during a scuba dive at the wreck site in 1989.

Colourful Sign Language

Colourful Sign Language

Circa 1890 / Learn more on Ehive
it was essential that pilots had a thorough knowledge of the channels, sea conditions and wave movements, and it was also essential that they had a detailed understanding of the meaning of the signal flags

This collection of 26 brightly coloured signalling flags, made from cotton and linen, was used between 1890 and 1975 by pilots stationed at the Camden Head Pilot Station as a means of providing communication and navigational assistance to mariners and ships entering the Camden Haven inlet.

Because only a few colours can be readily distinguished at sea, the colours used are red, blue, yellow, white and black and except for a plain red flag and a plain yellow flag, all the flags and pennants are made up of a combination of these colours.  The flags were introduced prior to the use of radios in order to facilitate communication between two ships at sea or to send messages from ships to the shore or vice versa.

By the late 1880s the Camden Haven inlet was a busy port with steamers and ketches using the wharves inside the estuary.   Land was set aside for a Pilot Station in 1890 and the Signal Shed was the first building to be erected on the site. Because the Camden Haven bar is notoriously dangerous, it was essential that pilots had a thorough knowledge of the channels, sea conditions and wave movements, and it was also essential that they had a detailed understanding of the meaning of the signal flags, both individually and in combination, in order to communicate with mariners and to ensure their safe passage into the Camden Haven waterways. By 1975 more sophisticated means of communication had been developed and the use of flag signals at the Camden Head Pilot Station ceased.

Today, although at least three signalling flags are still displayed on all ships at sea, and many flags are used at boating regattas, in fleet parades and on ships in areas of heavy international shipping traffic, it appears that flags that were once used in Australian coastal pilot stations have rarely been saved.

Fine Dining

Fine Dining

Circa 1841 / Learn more on Ehive
its fine appointment and luxurious fittings were enjoyed by members of the British Royal family before the yacht sailed to Australia in 1842

This round entrée plate featuring gold edging and transfer badge is from the schooner Wanderer, wrecked whilst attempting to enter Port Macquarie after suffering damage during a severe gale in November 1851.

The Wanderer owned by Scotsman Ben Boyd was once a unit of the Royal Yacht Squadron and its fine appointment and luxurious fittings were enjoyed by members of the British Royal family before the yacht sailed to Australia in 1842.

Boyd arrived in Australia with grand business ambitions matching his opulent yacht, and for a time found great success however his less than straight forward business practices and financing arrangements resulted in his financial demise in the late 1840s. Like many others Boyd then tried his fortunes in the Californian gold fields and this too failed. His attempts to establish business in the Pacific Islands resulted in his death; reportedly murdered by natives. Following the loss of its captain the Wanderer was sailing back to Sydney when it struck bad weather and was subsequently wrecked.

Local reports suggest that the Wanderer attempted to enter the Hastings River despite advice not to do so and speculation remains about why the crew decided to make the fateful attempt. The Wanderer is one of several ships wrecked at the Port Macquarie entrance between 1821 and 1879.

Shining Brightly

Shining Brightly

Circa 1879 / Learn more on Ehive
Each lighthouse was assigned a specific signature flash to enable shipping to readily identify the lighthouse particularly in poor weather and at night

Lighthouses were an important navigational aid for maritime shipping and helped to mark dangerous coastlines and hazardous reefs. They were usually situated on prominent headlands.  Many ship wrecks occurred on the lower Mid North Coast before the Tacking Point lighthouse was built south of Port Macquarie in 1879.

This shaped glass cylinder is the original Fresnel lens from the lighthouse. The lens is made to mathematical proportions designed to provide a powerful light source without the weight of conventional lenses. Each lighthouse was assigned a specific signature flash to enable shipping to readily identify the lighthouse particularly in poor weather and at night. This lens is also from a time when all lighthouses were manned. Initially operated by liquid fuel, the lighthouse was converted to bottled acetylene gas in 1919 and continued to emit light using this lens. In 1974 when the lighthouse was converted to mains electricity the lens became redundant and was removed.

This lens has been modified as a working museum exhibit and illustrates the light the lens once brightly and proudly emitted protecting those who sailed by Tacking Point on our coastal highway.

PS Ballina

PS Ballina

Circa 1989 / Learn more on Ehive
The wreck began to be looted and in order to protect it the PS Ballina was proclaimed a Historic Wreck by the New South Wales government on 12 April 1979

The PS Ballina was one of many ships operating on the NSW North Coast during the 1860s and 1870s. Owned and operated by the Clarence and Richmond Rivers Steam Navigation Company, the largest shipping company operating on the north coast at that time it carried freight and passengers to Sydney on a regular basis stopping at ports along the way including Port Macquarie on a needs basis.

On the morning of February 14 1879, the vessel became grounded on the Port Macquarie bar and was entirely swamped and broke in two. Her cargo had already been thrown overboard in an attempt to float the vessel. No passengers or crew were lost.

In 1908 the Ballina’s funnel was regarded as shipping hazard as it was sticking out above the water however attempts to remove the wreck from the river entrance by detonation proved unsuccessful. The wreck remained in the Hastings River entrance and during 1978 was ‘rediscovered’ in the process of building the new North Breakwall. The wreck began to be looted and in order to protect it the PS Ballina was proclaimed a Historic Wreck by the New South Wales government on 12 April 1979, the only local wreck listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

A number of relics from the wreck were retrieved under permit in 1979 and are now held in the collections of the Port Macquarie Historical Society and Mid North Coast Maritime Museums. The port paddle wheel and engines remain in the wreck and are believed to have the potential to provide valuable information about the maritime technology of the 1860s.

This 1: 48 inch scaled model depicts the wreck of the P.S .Ballina, a 299 tons and 65 metres long paddle steamer now lying at the bottom of the Hastings River. The Ballina is the only local wreck on the NSW State Heritage Register. This model also reflects the community’s growing interest in maritime history which culminated in the opening of the Mid North Coast Maritime Museum in the late 1980s. The model was made by Maritime Historian, Mike Richards based on photographs provided by the Mid North Coast Maritime Archaeology Association.

In Loving Memory Of

In Loving Memory Of

Circa 1904 / Learn more on Ehive
A trip on a log punt intended as an outing during the school holidays for Strutt’s wife, her friend Mrs Stewart and the Stewart children became a great community and personal tragedy

This slightly faded mourning or memorial card mourns the death of Samuel Strutt aged 40 years who drowned in the Hastings River in April 1904 whilst trying to save the life of a young girl, Jacqueline Stewart. It is typical of mourning cards of the era. Few such cards appear to be held in public collections probably because they hold special significance to family members.  Perhaps because Strutt’s widow Louisa did not remarry there were no close family members to hand the card down to as a family keepsake.

 

A trip on a log punt intended as an outing during the school holidays for Strutt’s wife, her friend Mrs Stewart and the Stewart children became a great community and personal tragedy. Samuel Strutt was firing the furnace on a log punt when the child fell overboard and he immediately dived into the river to save her. Initially it appeared he had done so, but for some reason he began to flounder with the girl in his arms and both sunk below the surface and did not reappear. Their bodies were retrieved and buried together at the General Cemetery in Port Macquarie.

 

This mourning card is an enduring reminder of Samuel Strutt’s heroic efforts in trying the save the life of a young girl. It is also an enduring reminder of the tragic accident that took Samuel Strutt’s life and the impact of that loss on his wife Louisa. The poem on the card is an expression of her loss.

Marking the Watch

Marking the Watch

Circa 1916 / Learn more on Ehive
As is tradition, despite the ship’s name change, the Iron Chief retained her original bell, indicating the year and place the ship was launched

This engraved brass ship’s bell is from the Elmtree built at Cardiff UK in 1916, and renamed the Iron Chief in 1922. Ships bells are considered to be iconic and to have a spiritual association with their ship. As is tradition, despite the ship’s name change, the Iron Chief retained her original bell, indicating the year and place the ship was launched.

Ships bells were used to indicate the time aboard a ship and to regulate the sailors’ duty watches, to warn other boats, generally mark the passage of time, as a fog signal, audible alarm in poor weather, to raise the attention of the crew and to call the passengers and crew to formal services

The Iron Chief regularly sailed in the waterways of the Mid North Coast and also carried cargo to various parts of Australia.  On the 1st of April 1928 the Iron Chief left Port Stephens bound for Coffs Harbour but struck Mermaid Reef near Crowdy Bay and put ashore south of Diamond Head. There was however sufficient time to retrieve the cargo, equipment and ship’s crew before the ship sank.  Despite the bell’s age it is intact, complete and in almost original condition.

Staying Afloat

Staying Afloat

Circa 1930 / Learn more on Ehive
At that time and maybe up until the Ena was destroyed by fire in 1956, it was not necessary to have a life saving device for every passenger on board

This Standard Life Jacket is believed to have come from the passenger launch M.V. Ena which was built by Robert Henry Reckless, and his sons Robert William and Herbert, near the R.W. Reckless Boatshed at the northern end of Short Street, Port Macquarie in the 1930s.

 

The M.V. Ena was a motor launch, 30 feet long and 9 feet wide and was able to accommodate 40 passengers.  Launched on 30 November 1935, the M.V. Ena was used to ferry workers to the northern breakwall at the entrance to the Hastings River during the breakwall’s construction.

 

At that time and maybe up until the Ena was destroyed by fire in 1956, it was not necessary to have a life saving device for every passenger on board a marine vessel, especially one that operated in enclosed waters.  It is therefore possible that this life jacket was one of only a few on the launch.

 

Compared to life jackets today the jacket is quite large and bulky, with floatation pouches of equal size at the front and back, indicating that it was designed as a buoyancy vest to keep a person afloat and to turn a person from a face down position to a vertical or slightly head-back position while floating in the water. It is not known if the jacket was ever used.

Person Overboard

Person Overboard

Circa 1926 / Learn more on Ehive
She was also used on numerous occasions as a rescue boat when there were accidents at sea

This lifebuoy is associated with the XLCR, an offshore fishing trawler that was based in Port Macquarie from 1926 to 1962. She was owned by the Radley family who were well known and highly regarded not only for their role in the development of the local the fishing industry, but also their involvement in many local community events.  The crew members of the XLCR were often called upon to utilize the trawler as a safety boat at sailing regattas held on the Hastings River and at surf carnivals conducted on the local beaches.  She was also used on numerous occasions as a rescue boat when there were accidents at sea, or when vessels got into difficulties whilst crossing the notorious bar at the Hastings River entrance.

 

The XLCR rose to national prominence on 29 April 1943 when Claude Radley and his crew, Mervyn, Tom and Russell Radley, and Arthur Beatie and Raymond Smith rescued five crew members from the SS Wollongbar II after she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine off Crescent Head.

 

It appears that this lifebuoy was retrieved from the XLCR before the Radleys sold her in 1962.  After some time in Victoria, a group of marine enthusiasts brought the XLCR back to Port Macquarie in 1997.  She was relaunched in September 2005 and is now used as a training vessel and floating classroom helping senior high school students learn skills and crafts associated with the marine industry.

A Successful Rescue

A Successful Rescue

Circa 1906 / Learn more on Ehive
An alarm was raised by other children playing nearby and Maud Keneally plunged into the river fully clothed

This certificate and silver medal was granted to Maud Josephine Keneally, aged 14 years, by the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales in 1906.  Maud earned the medal for saving Jack Gough, a 4½ year old boy from drowning in the Macleay River at East Kempsey. The boy was playing with a ball near the Keneally residence when the ball rolled down the river bank and into the river, followed by the boy running after it. An alarm was raised by other children playing nearby and Maud Keneally plunged into the river fully clothed. She swam out to the boy and after a struggle managed to get him near the river bank where she was assisted by her younger brother John. John Keneally was awarded a bronze medal for this role in the rescue. Jack Gough made a full recovery thanks to the efforts and quick actions of the Keneally siblings.

The National Shipwreck Relief Society of New South Wales later named the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales was formed after the wreck of the Yarra on 15 July 1877 at the entrance to Newcastle Harbour, with the loss of 14 lives.  Today it continues to recognise acts of bravery under the banner of the Royal Humane Society of New South Wales.