SS Dorrigo

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StateLibQld 1 130243 Dorrigo (ship).jpg
  • SS Dorrigo (1922 - 1925)
  • Saint Francois (1913 - 1922)
  • John Burke and Co Ltd, Brisbane 1925- 1925
  • North Coast Steam Navigation Co, Sydney 1925- 1925
  • Langley W. & Sons, Sydney 1922 - 1925
  • Compagnie Navale de l'Océanie, Bordeaux 1913 - 1922
Port of registry: Sydney
Builder: Smiths Dock Company, Middlesbrough
Yard number: 561
Launched: 15/10/1913
Completed: 12/1913
Identification: Official number: 150169
Status: Wrecked, 4 April 1926
General characteristics
Type: Iron screw steamer
Tonnage: 683 GT 359 net tonnage (NT)
Length: 180.3 ft (55.0 m)
Beam: 29.5 ft (9.0 m)
Draught: 14.5 ft (4.4 m)
Installed power: Triple expansion engine (16 inches (41 cm),26 inches (66 cm), 43 inches (109 cm) x 27 inches (69 cm)), 96 nhp
Propulsion: Single screw

SS Dorrigo was a cargo and passenger steam ship. It was built under the name of Saint Francois by the Smiths Dock Company at the South Bank in Middlesbrough on the River Tees in Northeast England for the Compagnie Navale de l'Océanie for the Pacific Island postal and general trade service, for which it sailed the waters of the Pacific from 1914 to 1921. The ship suffered minor damage during the First World War during the Bombardment of Papeete, prior to coming into the hands of the Langley Bros who placed it in the Sydney to Coffs Harbour route from 1922 to 1925. Upon the demise of the Langley Bros shipping firm in 1925 the vessel came into the service of John Burke and Co and was used for the Northern Queensland runs prior to its loss on 4 April 1926.

Ship description and construction[edit]

The ship builder[edit]

The SS Dorrigo was originally built under the name of Saint Francois by the Smiths Dock Company established by Thomas Smith who bought William Rowe's shipyard at St. Peter's in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1810 and traded as William Smith & Co. The company became associated with South Bank in Middlesbrough on the River Tees in Northeast England, after opening an operation there in 1907. Smiths Dock increasingly concentrated its shipbuilding business at South Bank, with its North Shields Yard being used mainly for repair work.

Ship description[edit]

Dorrigo underway in Port Jackson

The vessel was described as being a fine type of modern passenger and cargo steamer. It was specifically built for the mail service between the French Islands and had comfortable first class accommodation for 25 passengers situated in the deck, amidships, with electric bells, lights and fans to each berth. Adjoining the dining saloon which was also on the deck was a stately smoke lounge room. The vessel also had accommodation for 20 second-class passengers, situated under the promenade deck and described as in keeping with the first-class accommodation in the matter of comfort.

The vessel was fitted with a powerful searchlight and wireless, and all the latest appliances.[1]

The vessel was a steel single deck and the bridge ship with two masts. Its dimensions were:

Length from foredeck of stem to stern post: 180.3 feet (54.96 m)[2][3]
Main breadth to outside plank: 29.5 feet (8.99 m)[2][3]
Depth from uppermost continuous deck to bottom of the hold: 14.5 feet (4.42 m)[2][3]

The vessel had a displacement of:

683 gross tonnage (GT)[2] and a
359 net tonnage (NT)[2]


Dorrigo was powered by a single steel boiler producing 180 pounds per square inch (1,200 kPa) of steam pressure.[2]

This steam fed a triple-expansion steam engine. It had cylinders of 16 inches (410 mm), 26 inches (660 mm) and 43 inches (1,100 mm) bore by 27 inches (690 mm) stroke, developed 96 NHP.[2] The engines were capable of maintaining a speed of 14 knots (26 km/h).[1]

Ship service history[edit]

The steamer Saint Francois, Pacific Service with Compagnie Navale de l'Océanie 1913 - 1922[edit]

SS Dorrigo as the SS Saint Francois undergoing sea trials in 1913

In November 1914 Saint Francois arrived in Auckland from Tahiti to undergo a general overhaul.[4]

The small passenger and cargo steamer first arrived at Sydney on Thursday 8 April 1915 from Tahiti, via Nouméa, with 350 tons of copra. The steamer was normally engaged in the inter-island trade between Tahiti and other South Sea islands.[5]

The Saint Francois next arrived in Sydney from Nouméa to undergo repairs to her stern in late February 1916, which had been considerably damaged in Tahiti, with the estimate of the cost of the work is £2000.[6]

In April 1916 the Saint Francois was involved in the rescue of the steamer Flora. The Flora had left Auckland on April 11 for the Eastern Pacific, and all went well until the ship was about 150 miles (240 km) out from Rarotonga, en route for Raiatea, when one of the two crank-shafts broke. When the mishap occurred the engineers of the Flora set to work to try to effect repairs. For four and a half days and nights the vessel drifted, while the engineers toiled in the sweltering heat of the engine room. On the fifth day temporary repairs were effected, and the vessel was once more brought under control. Two hours and a half later the rivets joining the broken shaft gave way, and the Flora again began to drift. Shortly afterwards it came into touch with the French steamer Saint Francois. Up to this time the weather had been fine, but when the Saint Francois hove into sight there were lowering clouds, and every indication of a storm. The Flora was taken in tow and Papeete was reached three days and three hours later, the distance of 437 miles (703 km) being covered at an average speed of 5 34 miles (9.3 km) per hour [7]

During 1920 the Saint Francois was involved in towing the hulks Pey Berland and Chateau Baret (formerly the British barque Cadwgan[8]) back to New Caledonia. Both hulks had typically imported chromium ore into Australia and took coal back to New Caledonia.[9][10]

WWI Service[edit]

In October 1914 the C&O companies Saint Francois arrived in Auckland from Raratonga for repairs, coal and water. The crew gave statements that the capital of Tahiti Papeete had been bombarded by German warships. A ricocheting shell had struck the funnel of the Saint Francois with another hole also in the vessel's hull above the water line.[11][5] Additionally part of the vessel had undergone repairs for a grounding several months earlier[12][13] as well as a survey.[14]

Langley W. & Sons Service 1922-1925[edit]

Dorrigo leaving Coffs Harbour
The Vessel SS Fitzroy at Coffs Harbour which the Dorrigo replaced upon its loss

In October 1921 Messrs. Langley Bros. purchased the Saint Francois and renamed the vessel Dorrigo to replace the ill-fated Fitzroy, which foundered off the coast the previous June, and the vessel was placed into the same Coffs Harbour to Sydney route. At this time the vessel was also modified with part of the after hold being converted into a butter chamber, to carry 5,000 boxes of butter to meet the increasing coastal trade.[1][15]

On Thursday 9 December the Dorrigo first arrived on its maiden run for Woolgoolga and Coffs Harbour for the passenger and cargo traffic trade between Sydney. An open invitation to visit and inspect her during the morning was extended to the public.[16] The vessel was described as to all intents and purposes a new ship and representing the last word in comfort for the coastal service, and capable of covering the distance between Coffs Harbour and Sydney in about 17 hours.[16][17]

By April 1925 the shipping firm of Langley Bros, went into voluntary liquidation[18] with the shipping fleet offered for sale by public tender following serious competition from the New South Wales Government railways in the Coff's Harbour trade. The Dorrigo had been laid up since December 1924 owing to the falling off in passenger receipts.[19][20]

John Burke and Co Ltd Service 1925[edit]

SS Dorrigo

In July 1925 it was announced that The passenger steamer Dorrigo, which since 1921 had been engaged in the passenger and cargo service between Sydney and Coff's Harbour, had been purchased by John Burke, Ltd., for use in trade between Brisbane and North Queensland ports.[21] The vessel had only recently been purchased by the North Coast Steam Navigation Company, with other vessels of the Langley fleet. It was intended to run between Brisbane and Cooktown via ports, and expected to extend sailings to Thursday Island, when cargoes warranted.[22]

Upon arrival of the cargo steamer Dorrigo at Cairns in September 1925 the cargo was declared "black" by the waterside workers who were engaged in a dispute and who then decided not to remove the cargo from Brisbane, of which there were 100 tons for Cairns. The ship left again for Brisbane via Townsville and Bowen with the Cairns cargo still aboard.[23]

Sinking of the SS Dorrigo[edit]

The Dorrigo left Brisbane at 7 pm on April 1 for Thursday Island and intermediate northern ports carried a crew of 24, most of whom were residents of Brisbane and with between 500-600 tons of general cargo, including some benzene and kerosene.[24]

When the Dorrigo was ready to leave Brisbane on Thursday afternoon it was reported to the master that one of the firemen was ill. He was given attention, but his condition was such that it was deemed advisable to take him ashore. In his stead J. Wrench, a well-known seafarer of Brisbane, joined the ship ten minutes before it sailed.[24]

The steamer Dorrigo foundered at 6 am on Friday April 2, 1926 off Double Island Point.[24]

The first report of the disaster was not 'flashed across' the seas until an early hour on Saturday night. Then the lighthouse at Double Island Point had flashed to him a hurried alarm and a call of the mariner's "S.O.S." This was followed by a despatch intimating briefly the first news of the wreck. Within three hours of the flashes of the first word Brisbane was advised.[24]

It was reported by the Captain of the Dorrigo that the vessel had foundered with Double Island Point lighthouse, bearing north-west 14 miles (23 km). The Steamer Moruya had picked up a raft with Captain C. W. Gray and his son W. E. Gray on board.[24]

The cargo from the Dorrigo had been washed ashore along a 10-mile (16 km) stretch of beach at Fraser's Island. Cabin doors, cased goods and kerosene were included in the wreckage, but the searchers had failed in their search for survivors.[24]

It was claimed at the time by J. E. Burke, the governing director of John Burke, Limited shipping company that the Dorrigo "was exceedingly sea worthy and we were perfectly satisfied, with her. I cannot understand how the vessel foundered, more particularly as last week she was in the cyclone that dealt severely with the Cooma, and she entered port only a few hours late. She was a speedy vessel, and invariably did the trip from Brisbane to Sydney in 41 or 42 hours. These facts, combined with the knowledge that she was on her second voyage since her last overhaul, leads me to believe that something very remarkable lies contributed to her destruction."[24]

It was reported that the Captain and his son had survived the wreck and 30 hours lost at sea with tiger sharks 3 to 12 ft (0.91 to 3.66 m) in length nosing around the makeshift raft-of the aft deck sun awning-upon which they floated after the steamer had foundered.[25]

The Crew of the Vessel[edit]


Charles. A. Gray Captain from Potts Street. East Brisbane at the time of the incident was Commodore of the John Burke Ltd Line. He had worked as a seaman in various coastal steamers before he joined the North Coast Company. He took command in 1916 of the steamer Porpoise later Nautilus and Kallatina (hulked in 1931, lying as a breakwater at Tangalooma, off Moreton island) prior to the Dorrigo. He had previously been saved from shipping disasters when the Timaru sprang a leak off Burleigh Heads which lost two crew.[26]

Alban C Gray OS Potts St, East Brisbane


Herbert William Gadsby First Mate from Baines street Kangaroo Point, with a wife and children Ruby, Mary and Herbert.[27]

Alexander McIntyre Second Mate, resided with his wife in Melbourne but when in port at Brisbane boarded at 115 Warren St Valley. He worked on vessels along the eastern coast of Australia and had previously also worked for the Commonwealth line and had made two trips to England.[28]

John Lowe, Boatswain 57 Edward St, Brisbane John Lowe's body was found washed ashore about 14 miles (23 km) north of Inskip Point and identified by his tattoos of a sailor and girl, and a snake twined around a dagger.[29] Low had only two weeks prior to the sinking had been married. He had been twice wrecked previously and saved by a rocked propelled line and also had been picked up by a lifeboat.[30]

John Fisher AB 67 William St Woolloongabba Brisbane was 40 and was wrecked twice previously as a member of the sailing ship Swordship when it sank off the Queensland coast. He had been out of work before coming to Brisbane leaving his wife at home in Melbourne.[31]

Patrick (Paddy) Foley AB Gillan St, East Brisbane was 25 years of age. He came from a large family and lived with his widowed mother. He was a well-known swimmer.[32][33]

Thomas Henry Gelling AB Perkins St West Townsville was a husband and father

Joseph Dempsey AB 117 Wharf St, Brisbane

Frank J. May was a 15-year-old employed as the deck boy and had only joined the vessel three months earlier. He lived at Elizabeth St, Rosalie, Brisbane, and in a conversation with neighbors the day before the trip had declared that he was anxious about it.[34]

Alex B. Smith First Engineer 9 Oakfield Rd Birmingham England

George Lindsay Hutchinson Second Engineer Sargeant Rd, New Farm, Brisbane, married.[35] [36]

Charles Henry Smith Third Engineer Ettie St Sherwood Brisbane was single.[37]

Charles Wren Dockeyman greaser 208 Boundary St Brisbane

Edward Halsall Fireman Deighton Rd South Brisbane

Thomas Dawson Fireman Elizabeth St, Rosalie Brisbane

Albert George Stillaway Fireman Hemmant Cleveland Line Brisbane was the forth in a family to be lost at sea. All three of his elder brothers had perished at sea (aboard the SS Clan MacNaughton (1915), and SS Minnetonka (1918)[38]). He also had previously survived two shipwrecks,[39] and was survived by his wife and five young children (from 2 to 9 years old) and had spent the previous 20 years at sea along the African and American coasts.[40] He had been urged by his wife to stay in bed as he was suffering dengue fever but if it were not for that, one of his friends on the vessel was sick and "the others would be up against it, without me" he would sail as before, joining the Dorrigo he had been out of employment for 11 weeks.[41][37]

Frank Lawless Fireman 51 Herbert St Brisbane married to Charlotte.[42]

Thomas Froggatt Fireman Middle Rd Raby Bay Cleveland Brisbane [43] had expressed "I do not want to go" to his wife, and had children of 15, 14, 12 and 5. He had moved from Melbourne to Queensland for his wife's health looking for better times.[44]

William E Watkins Chief Steward Lamont St Wilston Brisbane was 46 and married with a 13-year-old son, and had survived five previous wrecks prior to joining the Dorrigo.[39][45] He had recently sold his home to meet medical expenses and had only worked seven months in the previous three years.[46]

Ernest H Stent First Grade Steward MacKenzie St Toowoomba

James McCourt Chief Cook 2 Argyle St Millers Point Sydney

Hans William Storch Assistant Cook 53 Phillip St Brisbane had a wife and four children (the oldest 22), and had been out of work for four months prior to getting his berth on the Dorrigo.[37]

J. W. Wrench Fireman Ferry St Kangaroo Point Brisbane had three young children (6,3 and 1) and a wife.[37]

Wreck location and wreckage[edit]

The wreck site is yet to be found.


  1. ^ a b c "Langley Bros. New Purchase, The "Saint Francois"". The Grafton Argus and Clarence River General Advertiser. 18 October 1921. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Lloyd's Register of Australian and New Zealand Shipping 1922-1923
  3. ^ a b c "Shipping and Shipbuilding Research Trust Tees Built Ships". Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  4. ^ "Shipping". New Zealand Herald. 4 November 1914. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b "The French Steamer Saint Francois at Sydney". Daily Commercial News and Shipping List. 9 April 1915. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  6. ^ "French Steamer Damaged". The Maitland Daily Mercury. 23 February 1916. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  7. ^ "Disabled Steamer Flora Drifting for Five Days". The Sydney Morning Herald. 6 June 1916. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  8. ^ "The Hulk Chateau Baret". Daily Commercial News and Shipping List. 28 September 1918. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  9. ^ "The Hulk Pey Berland". Daily Commercial News and Shipping List. 11 February 1920. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  10. ^ "Saint Francois from Noumea". Daily Commercial News and Shipping List. 7 July 1920. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Editorial". Samoanische Zeitung. 3 October 1914. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  12. ^ "The Saint Francois at Auckland". Daily Commercial News and Shipping List. 6 November 1914. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  13. ^ "The Saint Francois leaves Auckland". Daily Commercial News and Shipping List. 8 December 1914. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  14. ^ "Shipping". New Zealand Herald. 24 November 1914. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  15. ^ "New Coaster Langley's Purchase Replacing the Fitzroy". The Newcastle Sun. 8 October 1921. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  16. ^ a b "SS Dorrigo". Coffs Harbour Advocate. 7 December 1921. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  17. ^ "New Steamer for Coffs Harbor SS Dorrigo Calls for First Time". Coffs Harbour Advocate. 10 December 1921. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  18. ^ "In Liquidation". Tweed Daily. 28 April 1925. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  19. ^ "Shipping Fleet Offered For Sale". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 May 1925. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  20. ^ "A Shipping Retrospect the Passing of Langley Bros. Ltd". Tweed Daily. 30 May 1925. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  21. ^ "Steamer Dorrigo Sold". The Sydney Morning Herald. 21 July 1925. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  22. ^ "Activity on Waterside". Cairns Post. 24 August 1925. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  23. ^ "Dorrigo Declared Black Sails with Cargo Aboard". The Telegraph. 23 September 1925. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g "Wreck of Dorrigo foundered off Double Island captain and son rescued from raft fate of rest of crew unknown". The Evening News. 5 April 1926. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  25. ^ "Survivor's story of Coast Disaster How the Dorrigo Was Lost". The Daily Standard. 5 April 1926. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  26. ^ "Dorrigo Disaster". Northern Star. 6 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  27. ^ "Family Notices". The Brisbane Courier. 2 April 1932. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  28. ^ "The Second Mate". The Daily Mail. 7 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  29. ^ "One Body Found". The Telegraph. 7 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  30. ^ "Dorrigo Crew's elatives Pathetic Cases". The Sun. 8 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  31. ^ "Twice Wrecked". Daily Mail. 8 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  32. ^ "Patrick Foley". Daily Mail. 8 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  33. ^ "Family Notices". The Brisbane Courier. 2 April 1928. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  34. ^ "Was it Premonition?". The Daily Mail. 6 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  35. ^ "Significant Finds". The Brisbane Courier. 7 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  36. ^ "Family Notices". The Telegraph. 2 April 1927. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  37. ^ a b c d "List of Dependents". The Queenslander. 10 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  38. ^
  39. ^ a b "In 11 Wrecks". The Daily Mail. 8 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  40. ^ "Hand of Fate in Dorrigo Disaster". The Labor Daily. 16 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  41. ^ "Without Money - Family's Plight". The Daily Mail. 8 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  42. ^ "Family Notices". The Telegraph. 2 April 1927. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  43. ^ "Only One Pound". The Daily Mail. 9 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  44. ^ "True Service". The Brisbane Courier. 8 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  45. ^ "Waiting Relatives". The Brisbane Courier. 7 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  46. ^ "Home Sold to Pay Debts". The Daily Mail. 8 April 1926. Retrieved 19 August 2017.

External links[edit]