Exciting adventures aboard Bombala

THE Bombala Times was very pleased recently to receive an interesting piece of correspondence from a reader in the ACT who owns a property at Creewah.

They wrote, “I thought perhaps your readers might be interested in the history of a ship named after their town”.

And we think all will agree that this excerpt from “The Vanished Fleet; Australian Coastal Passenger Ships 1910-1960”, by TK Fletcher, is indeed of interest.

Bombala, Cooma and Canberra

Bombala was the first of the Howard Smith ships that could be classed as famous liners of the great era of coastal passenger trade. 

The other two were Cooma and Canberra.

Bombala was built for the Howard Smith Company in 1904 at Sunderland, England, by Sir James Laing & Sons. 

For the whole of her 25 years on the Australian Coast she carried passengers and cargo between Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns and Port Douglas. 

She carried first and third class passengers and refrigerated cargo, and was a most successful and popular ship.

Bombala disgraced herself on only one occasion. 

On 9 December 1919 she ran aground on the Salamander Reef, about 34 miles south of Cape Cleveland. 

She had left Townsville at 9.30 in the evening, bound for southern ports. 

The majority of her 171 passengers had retired to their cabins when at 11pm a sickening lurch and a loud grinding noise brought them scurrying on deck in alarm. 

When Bombala came to a halt, with her bow tilted, it was at first imagined that she had torn herself open and was sinking. 

The passenger’s fears increased when the crew rushed to their boat stations, the boats themselves were swung out, and the order given to don lifebelts. 

However these proved to be precautionary measures. 

When it was announced that an inspection showed Bombala relatively undamaged, although aground from the bow to No.2 hatch, a possible tragedy turned into just an exciting adventure for the passengers.

Summoned by radio, AUSN’s Bingera, on her southern mail trip, stood by until it became apparent that her services were not required. 

The passengers, after crowding to the bow to inspect the scene, had the unique experience of going to bed on a ship hard and fast on a rocky reef.

In the morning the small steamer Woy Woy took off the 171 passengers and their belongings and landed them at Townsville. 

An attempt by the tugs, Alert and Innisfail, to tow off the stricken ship failed, because the tide had fallen considerably since she went aground.

On 22 December Bombala was successfully refloated and towed to Townsville. 

Fearing that the vessel might sink in the harbour and impede shipping, her owners decided to beach her at a convenient spot near the entrance.

At the inquiry held into the cause of the mishap, Bombala’s master, Captain Bailey, was found by the court to have been grossly negligent and careless, in that he was absent from the bridge when his ship approached a notoriously dangerous spot on the coast. 

Although his certificate was suspended for eighteen months, the blow to his reputation as a seaman fell lightly on his shoulders when the court at the same time complimented him warmly on the able manner in which he had handled both his ship and those in his care during the crisis.

After repairs, Bombala continued on the service to the north Queensland ports until 8 July 1929, when she was sold to a Greek shipping company for the tourist trade between Marseilles, Athens, Jerusalem and Alexandria. 

Captain W B Wilkinson, formerly of the Royal Australian Navy, came out from England to take her to her new owners.

During her 25 years’ service, Bombala (and her bigger sister, Cooma) occupied a rather unique position in the coastal passenger trade. Built in 1904, in her early years she became a firm favourite with commercial travellers and other businessmen, and all that appreciate the special qualities of a ship. 

Bombala and Cooma provided solid comfort, good service and speed, and those indefinable qualities that create an atmosphere of delight and wellbeing.

Later in her career, the little Bombala competed with ships twice her size and half her age, retaining to the end a clientele of faithful travellers that preferred her to the more modern luxurious passenger vessels. 

When she finally departed, Bombala received a touching farewell from ship lovers and many who remembered their happy days aboard her, steaming along the Queensland coast. 

Encouraged by the success of Bombala, in 1907 the company ordered from Alexander Stephens & Sons a larger version of her, which they named Cooma. 

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