When Things Go Very Bad For A Ship
Sometimes They Go Very Right For The Fish
The Adelaide Steamship Company was a progressive company. It had seen the need for a passenger service along the east coast of Australia and also saw the struggles the cargo ships were having with competition so they decided to combined both efforts. On March 23,1911 in the early afternoon the steam ship SS Yongala of the Adelaide Steamship company left the port of Mackay headed towards it next port of call Townsville.It was her 99th sailing in Australian waters and She had 122 people on board, passengers and crew. She also had 617 tons of cargo that included a racehorse and a prized bull. Shortly after she departed the port, the telegraph office received a notice of a cyclone directly in the route between Mackay and Townsville.
Wire-less radio was still a new item at the time, and while a radio had been purchased for the SS Yongala it had not arrived. So the SS Yongala was headed directly towards the storm with no notice of it. She never arrived at Townsville and in the days that followed debris started to appear along the shore line and the body of a dead horse believed to be the horse that was aboard the SS Yongala.
Search effort were started but the ship was not founded nor any wreckage that proved that the debris was her.
In 1947, the Navy identified a sunken ship and it was presumed to be her but no efforts were taken to identify her. Later in 1958, she was discovered again and efforts were made to explore the wreck. The first efforts was unable to recover anything and a second attempted was made later in the year. That attempt retrieved a number of items including a safe. However, when the safe was open everything inside it had already been destroyed. The safe did however lead to the first identification that the wreck was the SS Yongala.
The manager of a safe company saw a photograph of the safe in the newspaper and believed it was a model of a safe made by the company he worked for. Further investigation lead to finding a partial serial number which allowed the manufacturer to trace the safe back to the SS Yongala.
The wreck was found in about 30 meters of water with the superstructure just 16 meters below the surface about 48 nautical miles away from safe port at Townsville. The SS Yongala was rated at 15 knots, but had many times reached 17 knots. On a good day her location was just three hours away. The bottom is sandy in the area and no nearby reef structures. There was no signs of a collision or explosion. The shallow water and a direct line to the open seas would of heighten the waves from the storm and the position of the ship suggest that she went down because of water coming over her bow.
The SS Yongala’s hundred plus years underwater has been kind to her. Most of the ship is still intact with only some deck equipment and the funnel being missing. While a few items have been removed for preservation and are now in museums, the ship is mostly the same as she was found over 50 years ago. The wreck is 109 meters long and has become home to a wide range of marine life.
As a historical wreck she is protected and penetration dives are not being allowed. The dive site is a three hour ride by dive boat from Townsville, or a 30 minute boat ride from Ayr which is an hour drive from Townsville. The Liveaboards who depart from Townsville also make this dive site a stop.
Link to photograph
http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/30553 SS Yongala, courtesy State Library of Victoria, Allan C. Green Collection.