'Archaeology of an Australian Steam Tug ~ The SS Dumaresq.'

Dr Michael MacLellan Tracey BA (Hons) (ANU), PhD (ANU).



The Bulletin of  the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology and this paper are copyright. Apart from any fair dealings for the purposes of study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any means without permission. Enquires should be made to the Publisher or Author.

Bibliographic Reference:

Tracey, M, M., 2009., 'Archaeology of an Australian Steam Tug ~ The SS Dumaresq',  Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 33; 32-47.


Archaeology of an Australian Steam Tug ~ The SS Dumaresq.


Michael MacLellan Tracey

Inhabitants in Australia, an island continent, have depended on some form of watercraft for thousands of years. Upon European settlement traditional dugout and bark canoes gave way to introduced shipbuilding technology. Although timber suitable for shipbuilding was available in the Colony of New South Wales its properties were poorly understood. Similarly, the timber industry depended upon men of decision, dedication and management, as well as workers and work boats to fulfil various entrepreneurial dreams. Work boats, such as steam-tugs were forgotten by history. This paper is an archaeological narrative of one such vessel. 



John Bach's classical ‘Maritime History of Australia’ remains the definitive historical, publication regarding the history of the Australian shipping industry. While archaeologists have explored isolated wrecks strewn along the Australian coastline, minimal investigation has been undertaken of shipbuilding processes, launching methods, operating procedures or of those who built, operated and maintained the vessels. Ships are constructed with defined purposes e.g. to travel, trade, exploit and to offend or defend. A vessel represents the intent and pride of her owner, the scientific and technological excellence of her builder and seamanship skills of her Master. A seagoing vessel represented the best applied technology of the day. However, it will be demonstrated certain decisions regarding the SS Dumaresq contradict this statement. Shipwright Alfred William Morrow Settree was a descendant of a pioneering family synonymous with wooden shipbuilding on the east coast of Australia, and in particular, New South Wales. The practice of shipbuilding, inherent skills and imported traditions was carried on for more than a century in successive generations of this family.


A Dynasty of Shipwrights of Convict Origin

The Settree family’s patriarch in Australia, James Settree (1775-1827), a butcher, was convicted and sentenced to death at the Old Bailey, London, for stealing a heifer (Old Bailey Proceedings 19 February 1812). His sentence was commuted to transportation for life to the penal colony of New South Wales. James arrived on board the Brig Fortune to Port Jacksonin 1813 and was assigned to the Government Slaughter House where he continued his trade (SRNSW, 17 September 1817:605). At this time the Colony was struggling to supply food and necessities for its increasing population. Convicts, particularly those from semi-skilled occupations were immediately put to work in their known professions. James Settree’s experience as a butcher would no doubt have been utilised to full advantage by his overseers.  


The standard of living, tastes of the settlers and the isolation of the colony created a strong demand for consumer and producer goods requiring non-rural occupational skills which the convict workers were able to provide (Nicholas and Shergold 1988:8).


The employment of a convict in their chosen profession or trade may have meant a slightly more stable and easier lifestyle, however that by no means meant that the colonial government considered a convict anything but a commodity. John Macarthur, a leader in industry in the Colony, wrote:


If the Colony is to be continued a receptacle for Convicts and if it be required, that they shall be retained in proper subjection, that they shall be compelled to procure by their own labour their own subsistence … (Onslow 1914:349).


Marines and free-settlers initially provided the nucleus of trades to the Colony of New South Wales. While the need for technical labour was evident many marines were experienced in various trades including mining and the secondary usage of mining products. However, Macquarie was well aware of the immediate disbursement of skilled convict labour to meet the demands of the settlers. King (1957:21) comments on Macquarie’s anxiousness for trained or experienced labour:


Macquarie was irritated by the fact that for those of the convicts who were mechanics and artisans he was plagued with requests from important settlers, but for no other class of prisoner did any demand exist and these remained the governor’s responsibility.


Ann Morrow (1776-1852), James Settree’s wife, was reunited with her husband following her arrival in the Colony in 1817 aboard Lord Melville. Their two sons James Robert Settree, aged four years, and Joseph Settree aged eleven years, had accompanied their mother on the voyage. The family prospered in the harsh conditions and their son Robert was born in 1817 followed in 1820, by their fourth son, Alfred William Morrow Settree. James Settree died in 1827. Ann Morrow Settree then married Fredereik Wilhelm Reics, also a butcher by trade, at Scots Presbyterian Church, Sydney on 29 March 1830 (NSW Births Deaths and Marriages Index V1830139 73A/1830).  James Robert Settree, James and Ann's eldest son, was, by this time, indentured to R. Williams of Castlereagh Street, Sydney as an apprentice shipwright. James’ commencement of his apprenticeship began the Settree dynasty of shipbuilders.


The Settree’s second son, Joseph, had gone to sea as a cabin boy, eventually qualified as a Ship’s Mate and subsequently applied to Governor Darling for a land grant. After some contention with the regulations, and with the assistance of his mother who had gained considerable respect in the Colony, he was allocated his land grant of 60 acres at Goonoora, Settree Farm, at the northern end of Brisbane Water (SRNSW, 1830-1832). His mother and stepfather also lived on the Woy Woy Bay property. However, in December 1840 while Joseph was serving aboard the whaler Mary, the vessel encountered a cyclone near Lachlan Island off the New Guinea coast. The Mary was wrecked, Joseph Settree drowned and other survivors were eventually found in 1842 by the whaler Jane. When Joseph’s death was confirmed, his land holding, Settree Farm, passed to his brother Alfred William Morrow Settree.


Alfred William Morrow Settree(1820–1906) was a highly experienced mariner. He was born in Sydney on 25 February 1820 while his parents, James and Ann Settree were living at 32 Cumberland Street, The Rocks (Gulley, n/d, unpub. Mss). At the age of twenty he was master of the cutter Traveller's Bride built in 1840 for William Ward. He also served on many other vessels, several of which were owned by his stepfather, F.W. Reics. Settree developed a close association with many local Aborigines and obtained an appointment to the Native Institution Committee hoping that he could be instrumental in conversion of the Aborigines to European customs. Settree persisted despite the earlier experiences of Samuel Marsden who had:      


... disengaged himself from the Native Institution, not to create difficulties, but because of his doubt that the aborigines could be converted to the habits of the whites… (Ritchie 1970:202).


A.W.M. Settree married Martha Sawyer in Sydney in 1844. Their first son, Alfred William Robert (A.W.R) Settree, was born in 1845, followed by three other children, Mary Amilia, Martha and a son who died in infancy. Following his wife’s death, A.W.M. Settree married Maria Bateman in 1855 and moved from Sydney to Cockle Bay at Brisbane Water (NSW BDM, V1855253).  A.W.M. Settree retained ownership of Joseph's original land grant Settree Farm until it was sold to Edward Fagan in 1882. Maria and A.W.M. Settree raised eleven children. In 1886 Settree purchased an acre of land from Benjamin Davis near the Davis Brothers shipyard where A.W.R. Settree was an apprentice shipwright. In 1869, early in his shipbuilding career, Alfred built the ketch Day Dawn.The hull of the ship was built from spotted gum (Eucalypt maculata). In discussions with A.W. Settree in 1994, Settree stated that when building a hull, his father and grandfather ‘almost always used spotted gum as it worked well’.


Following the completion of this vessel, young Alfred’s business prospered given the reputation earned under the expertise of his father as Master and part owner. On 20 April 1871, Alfred married Mary Woodward of Kincumber, NSW, and by 1874 he had built and launched the brig Endeavour and the cutter Sylph in Davistown. These successful projects were followed in 1876 with completion of the brig Edith Settree named after their daughter. Tragically, Edith Emma Settree, aged four years, died as a result of scarlet fever shortly after the vessel was launched (NSW BDMs, 5263/1876). The ship was renamed Edith Keep and was lost at sea on a voyage from Port Jacksonto the Richmond River in 1880.


Alfred William Morrow Settree II (1877- 1957), the eldest son of Alfred William Robert Settree and Mary Woodward, was born in Davistown, NSW in 1877 (NSW BDM 9283/1977). The family moved to Balmain in 1886 and Alfred attended Fort Street High School. Following the tradition of Settree generations before him, A.W.M. Settree went to sea as a cabin boy about 1892 before departing to New Zealand to become an apprentice shipbuilder. There he began his trade with Lane and Brown, Shipbuilders and Sawmillers of Totara, Whangaroa, in 1896 (Kerr 1985:138). Settree returned to New South Wales in 1900 and established a small shipyard at Tomakin, south of Batemans Bay. There he built the two-mastered wooden schooner Three Cheers, for his father, A. W. R. Settree. The quality of Settree’s shipbuilding was recognised by George Skinner of Murwillumbah who commissioned him to build two wooden steamships, the Mibben in 1903 and the Booyong in 1904. These ships were specifically designed to carry passengers between Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads on the Queensland New South Wales border and provide a link for passengers travelling interstate by rail.


While in Murwillumbah, Settree met and married Henrietta, daughter of publican, William Collins and his wife Sarah Keppie. The couple relocated to New Zealand where Settree again worked for Lane and Brown building the 100 ton Wanganui. Their first child, Elsie Isobel, was born in New Zealand in 1905. The family returned to Camden Haven, NSW in 1907 where Settree established a small shipyard. The potential for shipbuilding around Camden Haven, and the exploitation of timber resources had been observed by John Oxleyon his expedition in 1818 (Oxley 1820:146). In 1908 Settree built and launched SS Our Elsiefor A & E. Ellis sawmillers. Our Elsie was of wooden construction, 213 tons (216 tonnes) powered by a 28 hp (20.9 kw) steam engine.


Close to the Timber

Wooden shipbuilding on the coast of New South Wales was often a short-term industrial activity where the shipwright selected a specific area in which to construct a single vessel. In 1909, Alfred William (A.W.) Settree relocated to Wollongong and there he constructed the only large wooden ship built in that area, the steam tug Dumaresq. Short-term shipyards may have been a cultural practice imported to the Colony as Gustav Milne (2000:8) comments on medieval British shipbuilding on the English south coast:


The boatyard included no major installations of any kind - no dry docks or slipways, just 60 timbers arranged in groups, laid out over an area that had once been the open foreshore, just above the high-tide mark. … We had previously imagined docks and inlets and shipyards with facilities like those of Europe and America in the industrial age. The boatyard at Poole, where boats were simply laid out on the shore…’


Settree established his shipyard as close as possible to a reliable supply of timber (Kerr 1985). Initially he considered that the spotted gum growing below the Wollongong escarpment could be used to construct the Dumaresq. However, the local timber proved unsuitable and supply was sourced further south along the coast at Bawley Point, Pebbly Beach and Durras sawmills (Settree, pers. comm., 1997). The Bawley Point Sawmill had an established tramway with access to stands of spotted gum and turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) in the Termeil State Forest and Kioloa State Forest (Tracey 1997:188–209).


Figure 1: Location of Wollongong (Belmore Basin) showing the escarpment.


Settree constructed and launched the Dumaresqin 1909. Ephemeral archaeological remains relating to the construction of the vessel were located by the author on the foreshore of Belmore Basin, an area that has historical links with the settlement and development of Wollongong (Tracey 2007: 174-183). A comprehensive collection of archival material supports the archaeological evidence. The contemporary photograph below illustrates the maritime industries that have been established in the Belmore Basin area. In the background is a container ship and trawlers are seen working at sea. At centre left, a replica of a square-rigged vessel is being repaired on the slipway as two recreational sailing craft leave harbour. The Coast Guard office is located centre right with a boat sales yard and repair shed to the rear. At the waterline is the convict constructed sandstone wall of Belmore Harbour. Between the Coast Guard office and the slipway is a small area of sand and part of the seawall. This is the location where the Dumaresqwas constructed and launched.


Figure 2: Maritime activities at Belmore Basin in 2003.


The name ‘Dumaresq’ given to the vessel comes from the noted Dumaresq family from the New England Tableland district. John Saumarez Dumaresq had a distinguished career in the Royal Australian Navy and was the first Australian-born officer to command the Australian fleet (Settree, pers. comm., 1994). In 1955 the author inherited a collection of photographs of ships from his father, John Tracey, including a postcard that had been sent to John Henry Tracey (author’s grandfather). The postcard is annotated ‘The Harbour Wollongong’ and to the left is a crest marked ‘1909’. This was the year the Dumaresqwas launched. When a section of the postcard is magnified, the stern of a hull under construction is visible on the extreme left. Inquires to historians in Wollongong failed to establish that any vessel was constructed at Belmore Basin. Andrews (1983) commented in his publication South Coast Steamers:


The intriguing information on this photo tells that it is the launching of the first steamer constructed in Wollongong – but the name is not given! …. I’d appreciate any other information.


Figure 3: The postcard sent to the author’s grandfather showing Belmore Basin, Wollongong, NSW (Courtesy J. R. Tracey).


The Steam Tug

A steam tug is a small, powerful vessel with high manoeuvrability used to haul barges, to assist to berth large ocean going ships and for towing disabled vessels. Tugs were constructed with resilient wooden hulls to prevent damage to both ship and tug during operations. Tugs were used in several ways e.g. towing ahead, towing alongside and shunting. These methods often caused contact and strain on the vessel leading to damage, including opening of the seams and flooding.


Shipbuilding methods changed rapidly in Australia and internationally in the early 1900s as sail eventually succumbed to steam, and wood to steel. It was during this transitional period that the Dumaresqwas constructed. Experiments in propulsion technology brought major advances in Europe and Britain. In 1892 Rudolf Diesel patented his engine, and by 1900 diesel engines began to supplant steam power (Alper, 1990). SS Dumaresq was constructed nine years after Diesel’s invention. It is assumed that the cost and availability of diesel engines in Australia prompted installation of a second-hand steam engine into the Dumaresq (Dundon 1997:8-9; Page 1982:202). This design decision and the rising cost of coal as a fuel, eventually led to the demise this ship.


The history of marine technology involves study of the constant changes through which economical and cultural techniques have evolved, and of the social, economical, and political ramifications those changes have produced (Rapp, 1981:1-8). Discarded tools, derelict machinery or parts thereof, building foundations, decaying hulks of sunken vessels, cargo handling facilities, slipways and earthworks remain in the archaeological record as testament to human induced technological change. Rapp (1981:4) justifiably argues:


The outward sign of technology, instruments, machines, and other devices, stand out in sharp relief from objects of the inorganic and organic world.


To comprehend the development of applied technology it is necessary to consider a wide sphere of often very remote events that have influenced its evolution in a specific country or location. Shipbuilding is a complex process of invention according to the ‘… spirit of the times’ (Rapp, 1981:7). These processes represent the culmination of the combined skills of the inventor, shipwright, engineer and labourer coupled with and according to the prevailing known sciences.


Sail and Steam

The late nineteenth century witnessed the overlap of two great eras of maritime technology e.g. sail and steam (Johnson, 1983; Cole, 2006:145). Most ports displayed a bevy of tall masts, crossed yardarms and the smokestacks and funnels of steamships including steam tugs. Sail and steam propulsion formed an alliance for a short time capitalising on the advantages of both designs. In 1812 Henry Bell designed the hybrid PS Cometand it became the first commercial paddle steamer to operate in European waters. Her hull was typical of a sailing ship and she was fitted amidships with twin steam powered twin paddles port and starboard.

SS Strathleven carried the first consignment of chilled meat from Australia to England in 1888 using the advantage of both steam and sail (Burke, 1979:242, The Times, UK, 9 February 1888, Arthur, 2006: 63-82). The marriage of the two technologies was evident in the timber trading vessels of the 1920s.


Sailing ships remained a common sight when the Dumaresqwas sold by her original owner in 1911 and entered into service for Mark C. Reid and John Callenof Newcastle (Callen, 1986, RANZ Shipping 1912-1913). Curiously enough, it was the steam tug that assisted sailing ships to endure into the twentieth century. The highly manoeuvrable steam tug assisted the sailing ship to move in and out of slips, piers and docks of modernised harbours. The tug-assisted manoeuvres were executed without the need for sailing vessels having to take advantage of the wind or compensate for tidal currents. In the early 1900s shipbuilding trends tended towards oil fired internal combustion engines. However, in 1910, the Dumaresq was fitted with a steam engine without the foresight of installing a diesel engine. Diesel technology had proven to be reliable, efficient and economical in Britain and Europe and was beginning to dominate in the United States of America.


Figure 4: Drawing of SS Dumaresq compiled from photographs and registry descriptions.



Ships can be very elusive entities from an archaeological perspective. A ship by definition is mobile, which is its fundamental design purpose. The two indelible marks it imparts to the land and seascape, are where it was constructed and launched, and for some vessels, where they come to rest. A slipway may be considered by some archaeologists above the high water mark and therefore hence belonging to the land based archaeologists. Nayton’s hypothesis that marine transport has a dynamic nature that influences land sites is a strong, acceptable argument (Nayton, 1992:17-24).  It would be naive to attempt to separate the shipyard, the slipway and indeed the forest and sawmill, from the life of a wooden ship. These landscapes, while subject to individual interpretation, may be the only extant remains to assist in the archaeological reconstruction of the vessel. Physical properties of the timber used in the construction of a vessel may assist interpretation of the reasons for its demise. In addition, this may also reveal why a ship was constructed in a particular area or the methods of construction. Arguably, land-based aspects pertaining to the vessel are part of the dynamics of maritime transport and are equally as important as any wreck site. Another factor that may be added to the investigation of a particular vessel is the work practices of the shipwright.


The IllawarraMercury, 31 December 1909, reports that: ‘the SS Dumaresqbears the distinction of being the first to be constructed in Wollongong’. The comment ‘of being the first to be constructed’ must be questioned given John Cunningham’s shipbuilding activities in the early 1830s (RAHS, Vol. 20, p. 298). However, from the time Cunningham worked on the foreshore at Five Islands, until the construction of the Dumaresq at Belmore Basin in 1909, no evidence of any other shipbuilding has been located. A search of the Lloyd's Registers and the Register of Australian and New ZealandShipping also fails to identify any other further shipbuilding in that locality between the years of 1880 and 1920. The extensive photographic record kept of the construction the Dumaresqmay indicate that the event was unique in Wollongong. Alternatively, it may have been the shipwright’s desire to keep a comprehensive record of the construction method. Arguably, the Dumaresq was the first and only steamship constructed in Belmore Basin. Similarly, SS Douglas Mawson was the only vessel constructed at Bawley Point where shipwright Settree set up his temporary shipyard between 1912 and 1914 (Tracey, 1994).


The SS Dumaresq(Reg. No. 125533) was designed as a wooden steam tug with a gross tonnage of 55 tons (49.9 tonnes), a net tonnage of 38 tons (43.5 tonnes). The ship was 68.8 feet (21 m) in length with a beam of 16.9 feet (5.1 m) and a draft of 6.6 feet (2 m). It was powered by a 14 hp (10.4 kilowatts) coal-fired steam engine. The steam tug was commissioned by John and Robert Horn of Horn Brothers, Pyrmont, Sydney. The spelling of ‘Horn’ is confirmed from business records. However, the name ‘Horne Bros’ was used repeatedly in the press. When reporting the launch of the ship, the Illawarra Mercury, 12 December 1909 states that: ‘Mrs Horne broke the customary bottle on the bow as the vessel left the ways’.\


Source of timber

The IllawarraMercury reported the: ‘hull was made of hardwood, with kaurie [sic] top, sides and deck’. Alfred Settree confirmed that his father stated the hull was made from spotted gum and the keel from ironbark and also that these species of timber were used to construct  the Our Elsie. Settree further stated that his father sourced the spotted gum from the Termeil Forest near Bawley Point and the ironbark from Pebbly Beach. The timbers were transported to Belmore Basinby Our Elsie. There were small stands of spotted gum below the Wollongong escarpment; however the trees were not of sufficient height to supply of the lengths of timber required by the shipwright. If A.W.M. Settree's modus operandi included constructing the vessel as close as possible to the source of timber, it could be argued the timber was acquired in the Wollongong area. However, in this case, the timber was cut from forests at Termeil and Pebbly Beach. Settree had a young family and remained at his home in Wollongong for two years while constructing the Dumaresq.


Settree had previously established an association with A. & E. Ellis, the owner of the Bawley Point Sawmill, when contracted by them to construct the Our Elsie.This business association provided for an accessible source of suitable trees and transportation for the spotted gum required for the Dumaresq's construction. The use of kauriwas confirmed in a report by Captain Crossleyof the Adelaide Steamship Company who stated that: ‘the topsides were of kauri with the decks of 1¾ inch tongue and grooved kauri’ (NBA N46/1029). If the gunwales and deck were made from kauri as reported, the species does not, and did not grow, in the Wollongong area. Kauri is readily available in New Zealand and this may well have been the source of the timber. Settree had become familiar with the properties of this timber and its suitability for maritime use during his apprenticeship in New Zealand. A. & E. Ellis, through their sawmilling operations at Bawley Point, exported hardwoods to New Zealand and the kauri pine required could have been back-loaded cargo to New South Wales (Tracey 2007:86). Further evidence to support that the importation of kauri from New Zealand was a common practice comes from the history of John Charles Smith of Goodlet and Smith. Smith’s Sydney residence Yester Grange, designed by architect James Barnet Jnr., was constructed ‘of the finest New Zealand kauri timber that Goodlet and Smith could obtain …’


SS Dumaresq's Engine

In 1908 John and Robert Horn acquired the salvage rights to the stricken Ketch Kincumber, 98 feet (30 m) 85 ton (77 tonnes) Reg. No.ON106198 and constructed by George Frost for the Manning River Limestone and Steamship Co. Ltd of Newcastle, NSW. On 22 October 1908, it sank with the loss of the captain and one crewmember. Nine of the crew survived the incident. According to the salvage rights granted, Horn Brothers removed the engine from the ketch Kincumber (Kerr, 1985:138). Dundon (1997) states: ‘engine and boiler said to have been shipped to Wollongong and put into tug Dumaresq constructed in 1910’.


Transporting the engine to Wollongong is unlikely if A.W. Settree’s relationship with Chapman and Co. Ltd is taken into consideration. SS Our Elsiein 1908 and SS Douglas Mawson in 1914 were fitted out in Sydney, and it would stand to reason that the hull of the Dumaresqwas also fitted out at engineering facilities in Sydney. The engine was not fitted to the vessel before launching nor was this the practice of the shipwright (Settree, pers. comm., 1995). Following their launchings, the hulls of the three ships, Our Elsie, Dumaresq and Douglas Mawson, rode high out of the water suggesting that the weight of their engines had not been added. This is evident in the photograph of the Dumaresq, Figure 10. Also, the Illawarra Mercury, 12 December 1909, reported that after the launching of the Dumaresq ... Her owner and builder quickly boarded her and towed her round from the small cove at the tee jetty into Belmore Basin, from whence she will be towed to Sydney’.


If the engine was ‘shipped to Wollongong and put into tug Dumaresq’ the vessel could have made her own way to Sydney to undergo marine survey and fitting out. This would have negated the expensive and dangerous towing of the completed, top-heavy hull in the open sea. The boiler and engines were tested in Sydney in February 1910 two months after launching (RANZS, 1910-1911). There is no extant archaeological or archival evidence to support any engineering facility at Belmore Basinin 1909, particularly one that would facilitate the fitting of a boiler, large marine engine and propulsion equipment.


Bilge Launching

SS Dumaresqwas launched broadside into the sea. Bilge or broadside launching was considered hazardous and was a method that caused considerable concern for shipwrights, owners and engineers. The launching of SS Great Eastern in 1857 was undertaken using the bilge method and prompted newspapers to comment about its designer, Isambard Brunel: ‘… he was worried sick by the uncertainty of the launch’. Immediately after releasing the winches to launch the Great Eastern she slid sideways from the 1 in 12 gradient of the slipway to be become stuck in the mud. Vaughan also states on Brunel’s behalf: ‘there can be no doubt that the launch from an engineering point of view was a disaster’ (Vaughan, 1991:261). Perhaps this historical launching was known to Settree and prompted his fears at using the method.

 Figure 5: SS Dumaresq was bilge launched e.g. broadside to the sea.


The completed hull, less its engines and superstructure, was much lighter than the finished vessel and therefore had a high centre of gravity. This would cause the vessel to settle high in the water with a tendency to make the hull top heavy. The probability of capsizing upon entering the water was greatly increased. There was further danger associated with the launching of the Dumaresqs hull. The archaeological survey identified the remains of a steel pylon and concrete pier in the small cove where the hull was launched. The steel pylon was the support for a steam crane installed in the harbour c.1882 to replace the old hand driven crane. The Illawarra Mercury on 22 August 1882 reported:


The recently erected crane on the new jetty at the lighthouse was finally tested yesterday afternoon. The crane lifted and lowered upward of fifteen tons of iron rail quite readily, and swung them around most admirably. The whole machinery worked so smoothly that it made little more noise than an ordinary sawing machine.


The 16 hp (11.9kw) crane called ‘the Conqueror’ was manufactured by Mort’s Dock and Engineering, Sydney, NSW and supplied to the Harbours and Rivers Department for £3000 (Eardley, 1968: 9). A boardwalk was constructed from shore to the crane allowing access for loading and unloading. In the 1860s the boardwalk was extended seawards to the lighthouse and then to the beach and the northern extremity of the Belmore Basinsandstone wall. Therefore, at the time of the launching of the Dumaresq's hull, the boardwalks completely enclosed the area of the small cove where the hull was constructed.

Figure 6: SS Dumaresq: Frames fitted to the keel. Shipwright A.W. Settree is the first person from the stern holding the saw (Courtesy J.R. Tracey).

Figure: SS Dumaresqspotted gum planking being attached to the frames (Courtesy: Alfred Settree, 1995).

Figure 8: SS Dumaresq: The spotted gum planking, the kauritopsides and the decking in place. Note the rudder is fitted and no propeller shaft is visible (Courtesy Mavis Settree, 1998).


Figure 9: Completed hull of the  Dumaresq  prior to launching. Note the railway lines forming the slipway. The rails are unequal length and positioned at slightly different angles to turn the vessel to the right upon entering the water (Courtesy Mavis Settree, 1998).

Figure 10: SS Dumaresq: immediately after launching. The vessel has entered the water safely and turned to the right. Note the sliding way floating to the vessel's stern. The bow has snared the rope visible on the right hand side of the photograph (Courtesy JR. Tracey).


Figure 11: The only known photograph of the steam tug SS Dumaresqin service. Note the mast of the sailing ships in background (Courtesy J.R. Tracey).


The hull of the Dumaresqwas constructed with the bow facing seaward. Upon release of the sliding way the hull slid down the rail line slipway and entered the water. The momentum produced during this process could have propelled the hull through the water until it collided with the boardwalk or the crane pylon. To prevent such a catastrophe, a rope, set from the sandstone wall to the boardwalk and from the shore to the crane’s foundation was used during launching. The rope is visible rising from the water and crossing the bow of the vessel in Figure 18. Upon launching, the rope would swing the bow of the vessel towards the beach. However, the shipwright deliberately swung the bow of the Dumaresqtoward the sea during launching. This was achieved by making one rail of the slipway closest the bow shorter than the slipway rail nearest the stern. One section of rail line for the slipway was shorter and would have caused the bow of the vessel to enter the water first and assisting to right the hull quicker than a parallel broadside. It would also turn the bow away from the shore to seaward.  

Figure 12: Wollongong Harbour, Tee jetty and crane c.1897. Note the bearers and pylons for the boardwalk. The hull of SS Dumaresqwas towed through this opening (Courtesy Wollongong City Library 1998).


SS Dumaresqin Service

The hull of the Dumaresq was towed to Sydney and the engines and superstructure fitted. The vessel was then delivered to the owners, Horn Brothers of Sydney. The ship saw service in Sydney Harbour as a general tug until 1911 when it was sold to Mark Christian Reid and John Henry Callen of Newcastle, NSW. Mark Reid was proprietor of the Melbourne Steamship Company, ship owners and coal merchants of Newcastle (NCC:1918). The Callen Brothers established their shipbuilding interests at Brisbane Water followed by their Newcastle enterprises in 1876. The Stockton shipyard north of Newcastle was under the management of Peter Callen, the senior brother in the firm. By 1888 operated two steam lighters, one seagoing steamer, two sailing vessels, three ferryboats, five pile-driving machines and employed seventy-five workers (Morrison, 1888:730). Callens established a considerable fleet and in addition to their shipping interests, operated a large timber yard, a steam sawmill at Stockton and a dockyard with slipways capable of accommodating ships up to 500 tons (453 tonnes). SS Dumaresqjoined the Callen’s fleet and saw service in Newcastle as a tug from 1911 to 1918.


The Callen brothers recognised that most tugs were underpowered and could be dangerous to the ships they served, stating: ‘Many a vessel cast off her tug while in a dangerous position near the Oyster Bank because the tug could not hold her’ (Callen, 1986: 90). Ship Surveyor Captain Crossley did not comment about the power of the Dumaresq when conducting sea trials prior to purchase. However, he noted that he found the vessel to ‘steam exceptionally well’ quoting an average speed of 10.5 knots untethered and 7 knots while towing (NBA N46/1024). The Dumaresqwas primarily used for towing lighters and barges rather than seagoing tug operations. During sea trials Crossley used the Dumaresq to tow a barge of 105 feet in length, a beam of 24 feet and a draft of 6 feet. He stated that the vessel performed equally well ‘both alongside and ahead with towline, inside and outside the harbour’ (NBA N46/1027).


The Town and Country Journal, 17 November 1909, reported that the prolonged effects of a coal strike that had besieged Newcastle in 1909 eventually caused the lay off and cancellation of shipping contracts. Reid was anxious to sell the Dumaresq in this ongoing depressed economic situation. Crossley states:


I saw Mr. M. Reid, the vendor, and he advised me that as things were at present in Newcastle, there was absolutely nothing profitable for her to do and that he was anxious to sell the craft (NBA NA 46/1027; NBA N46/1024).


Modifications were made to the vessel during its service in Newcastle. The drawing shows a vertical upper topside on the stern while all photographs show a slanting upper topside. This may have been part of an extensive upgrading carried out on the vessel or was a misinterpretation by Crossley. It is considered that this change of configuration represents modifications to the vessel after launching.


Figure 13: This plan of the SS Dumaresq  shows the configuration at the time of the sale from Reid and Callen to the Adelaide Steamship Company c.1918 (Courtesy J.R. Tracey).

 Unnamed Tropical Cyclone

On 21 January 1918 a tropical cyclone with a central pressure of 932.6 mb and subsequent tidal surge struck the city of Mackay in North Queensland at 2 am, causing the loss of eighteen lives and considerable property damage (Bath,1957:46-59). The Bureau of Meteorology recorded the tidal surge produced by the 1918 cyclone as the ‘highest tidal surge ever to hit Mackay’. The resident lighthouse keeper on Flat Top Island, George Randall, unsuccessfully attempted to signal passing ships warning them of the destructive force of the cyclone. Randall established communication with SS Wyreema at 3:30 pm requesting the Master to wait offshore to relay a ‘message of utmost importance’ from the Harbour Master to Brisbane. The Master agreed and the following message was relayed at 7 pm:


Cyclone, floods and tidal waves losses 14, bodies recovered, all wharves and sugar stores have collapsed. Relief, Quasha and Brinawarr sunk. Tay, Apa and Pelican ashore. Mackay is on military rations and only 10 days food on hand. No lighterage plant available. … All buildings, Pilot Station and Signal Station unroofed and vacated by crew. All markers except lighthouse destroyed and no means of replacing same. Boat shed and all plant completely swept away (Bath, 1957; 51).


Over £1,000,000 damage was caused to the Mackay district (Visher and Hodge 1925, Moore, 1978: 12-13). The Harbour Master's message included notification of the sinking of SS Brinawarr, a wooden vessel constructed by J. Hawken, shipwright of Coolangatta, NSW for J. Hay of Sydney. She had a gross tonnage of 144 tons (103 tonnes) and was powered by a steam compound engine engineered by Kincaid and Company, Glasgow, Scotland. She was capable of 8.9 knots and in 1893 the Adelaide Steamship Company acquired the vessel (NBA 46/856). Brinawarr served the sugar port of Mackay in various roles, carrying passengers, troops and as a tug for sugar lighters (Page, 1982: 202). During the cyclone the Forgan Bridge over the Pioneer River collapsed onto the ship. The owners abandoned the sunken vessel and she was not salvaged. The wreck of the Brinawarr was disturbed by bridge construction works in 2009.


Although this cyclone impacted several thousand kilometres away from the SS Dumaresq,the havoc wrecked upon the northern community played a major role in a decision that affected that steam tug’s remaining working life. The 1918 ‘Annual Report of the Adelaide Steamship Company’ notes that the steam tug SS Dumaresqwas purchased from Mark C. Reid and John Cullen to replace the crippled SS Brinawarr (Page, 1982:202).


Figure 14: SS Brinawarrin service at Mackay, North Queensland. (J. R. Tracey Collection).

Figure 15: Forgan Bridge over the Pioneer River. SS Brinawarr wreckage in centre of photograph. (J.R. Tracey Collection).


When the Dumaresqwas offered for sale by its owners the ship was inspected by the Marine Superintendent of the Adelaide Steamship Company, Captain Crossley. He described the vessel as made of Australian hardwood with kauri topside, kauri tongue and groove decking and the hull coppered to the waterline. Crossley praised the ship in his recommendations stating: ‘Found the vessel to steam exceptionally well having harbour speed of 10/14 knots, 7 knots towing the above barge in the harbour, and about 5 knots against heavy S. E seas.’ The barge referred to was the Neptune, 105 feet in length, 24 feet in beam and a draft of 6 feet. He continued his praise of the vessel and in turn Shipwright Settree, with his comments: ‘I have never seen a handier tug. She could do anything with the barge. … She is a very good sea boat’. Crossley recommended an offer of £1,500 be made for her purchase (NBA N46/1024).


The Adelaide Steam Company Limited purchased the Dumaresqfor £1,600 (Bill of Sale, 17 April 1918). She serviced Mackay Harbour from 1919 to 1928 and carried a complement of seven, including the Captain, engineer, two deck hands, fireman, a cook and one boy (NBA N46/856, Hayter, 1950).

The Adelaide Steamship Company had experienced heavy financial losses as a result of the cyclone and continued to recover from the loss of SS Yongala in 1911 (Hayter, 1950). A prolonged strike by the Queensland Railways led to a strike by the Waterside Workers and losses were also suffered in WWI. Hayter states:


 … the vigorous building programme of the early twenties stands out in sharp contrast to conditions during the period which followed not only in Australia but the whole world suffered the effect of an economic depression. … signs of the decline in trade had appeared in 1926 (Hayter, 1950).

The effects of protracted strikes caused the laying up of many ships and the rising costs of coal prompted the Company to modify their fleet. Coal imported from the Britain was cheaper than that purchased in Australia and several vessels were converted to the cheaper fuel alternative diesel engines. In 1926 the Adelaide Steam Ship Companyplaced an order with Mort’s Dock and Engineering for a steam tug, SS Uta, to tow sugar lighters in Queensland rivers (Page, 1982:225). The Dumaresq was not considered for conversion to diesel and the acquisition of a replacement vessel meant her working life was over. The possibility that the hull was not in as good a condition as Crossley had first claimed is possible.

Figure 16: The last artefact of SS Dumaresq. A note in the logbook of the secretary of the Adelaide Steamship Company F.R Harris, 6 February 1929.


In 1929 the Dumaresqwas withdrawn from service The following epilogue was published in the Adelaide Steamship Company’s Annual Report, 10 September 1929:


The tug "Dumaresq" having become obsolete and expensive to work has been dismantled and sunk off Mackay. (NBA N46/856).



 Figure 17: Map showing the location of the sinking of the SS Dumaresq.



Construction and Launching Site of SS Dumaresq, Belmore Basin

Activities in the use of Belmore Basin as a harbour and shipyard have destroyed much of the archaeological evidence relating to its early use, including the construction and launching of the Dumaresq. However, in 1998, two lengths of rail line used as the slipway for launching the vessel and other associated materials were located in situ. The steel had been severely twisted when boulders and infill were placed on top to form a seawall. The slipway is visible in historical photographs of the launching.


Site surveying was undertaken in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2007. Results from these surveys were analysed along with archival materials and historical photographs. A drawing was then compiled to represent the site at the time of the launching in 1909.


Figure18: Site survey of the slipway and construction site of the SS Dumaresq, Belmore Basin, Wollongong NSW.



Figure 19: Belmore Harbour c.1930. SS Dumaresqwas constructed in front of the shed and launched from the seawall (Courtesy Wollongong City Library 1998).


Figure 20: Steel rail lines c.1999. Slipway for SS Dumaresq, 1909.

Figure 21: Steel rail lines from slipway twisted by the weight of the rock infill c.1999.


Archaeological excavation in the area immediately adjacent to the fence of the modern boatyard, may have led to clarification of the techniques used in the construction of the vessel. While excavation was desirable it would have caused considerable disturbance to the fragile vegetation on the foreshore. The area where excavation was considered was grassed and atop the rock wall where surface and sub-surface soil was eroding.  Some artefacts were evident in the eroded area. Tourists visiting the present slipway and persons fishing off the rocks, walk in this area. Damage to the site caused by human impact and continual erosion led to a decision to salvage the surface artefacts and to excavate part of the undisturbed area. The salvaging of the artefacts was the right decision. A severe storm struck the area intended for excavation and it was destroyed. A Coast Guard officer reported that the storm washed away the beach and most of the seawall overnight.

Figure 22: Location of the seawall before the storm damage (white dotted line), 2004, (looking south west).


Figure 23: The rock wall rebuilt after a severe storm destroyed the seawall. The sections of rail line remain under the rocks (looking south west).

Figure 24: Area where artefacts associated with construction of the SS Dumaresq were located (looking north east).

The artefacts collected from the surface are shown in Figure 12. No major diagnostic value can be attributed to the artefacts. All the artefacts had been burnt and three fragments of bottle glass BB/S/016, BB/S/006 and BB/S/015 have been fused by heat. The insulation has been burnt from the copper wire BB/S/011, BB/S/013, BB/S/009 and BB/S/013. Many early vessels were wired with DC (direct current) and thick braided, copper cables were necessary to prevent decrease of current and to avoid voltage drop. Smaller diameter, wound wire BB/S/013, is often used in radios or as an internal aerial. As the vessel was not fitted out at Belmore Basin this wire is most likely from a radio used on site during construction.


Artefact BB/S/008 is nodule of white metal commonly used in filling or installing bearings for propeller shafts etc. The rudder and propeller were installed at the construction site and are visible in the photographs of the launching sequence. Copper nails were located BB/S/001 and BB/S/002. This type of nail was used by shipwrights in affixing panelling or railings. The nails were usually driven through the timbers to be joined and then bent over at the back to provide a secure joint and eliminate movement. A third option was to drive the copper nail into the two boards, bend the tip of the nail and drive it back into the inside board. This type of joint was safer as the tip of the nail was not exposed.


Figure 25: Surface artefacts salvaged from the SS Dumaresqconstruction site.



After the launching of the Dumaresq,A. W. Settree shifted his operations to Bawley Point to commence construction of SS Douglas Mawson, the only ship constructed at Bawley Point and the largest vessel Settree had constructed. Tropical cyclonesplayed a significant role in the demise of both vessels (Tracey, 2007).




The author acknowledge the assistance of Professor Peter Bellwood, ANU, Canberra; Captain (Rtd) Graeme Andrews. Sydney; Wollongong Historical Society, NSW; the late Alfred Settree, Huskisson, NSW; Mavis (Settree) Marsh, Wollongong, NSW; Dr. Jennifer Lambert Tracey.




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