Saturday, 2 November 2013

Anecdote Saturday - SS Clan Ranald

The Clan Ranald was a twin deck, turret ship built in 1900 by Doxford & Sons in Sunderland, England. 355 ft long, powered by steam driven screw (propeller), manned predominantly by Lascars (Asian sailors), the Clan Ranald was designed specifically for the transport of bulk grain cargoes.

The turret deck design in essence describes a curvature of the sides of the vessel, inwards after reaching the widest point. This in effect created a 'ledge' roughly half way up the vessel's hull serving dual purposes:

- increased cargo loading capacity

- reduction in the shifting of cargo (by compacting it).

An economic factor also contributed to the popularity of this design in the form of reduced port charges and Suez Canal dues, because of the narrow deck width.

15 January, 1909, the Clan Ranald was loaded at Port Adelaide with 39 862 bags of wheat, 28 451 bags of flour, 638 tons of coal (significantly, 170 tons on the top decks). 31 January, she left port with a list of 4 degrees to starboard, bound for South Africa. Captain Gladstone , 4 Manilamen,  16 Calcuttamen and 34 Lascars made up the crew. Off the coast near Edithburgh, south of Troubridge Island, at 2 pm, the Clan Ranald suddenly listed dangerously (45 degrees) to starboard. Crew scrambled onto the port deck (the starboard deck was submerged). Subjected to strong winds, the rudder out of the water, the vessel drifted towards Troubridge Hill. The lifeboats were lost in the rough sea conditions and crew were forced to create makeshift rafts from debris.

Distress flares were fired as the steamer drifted closer to the cliffs and a passing steamer was sighted.
The passing vessel, SS Uganda should have noted the distress flares but did not come to the Clan Ranald's assistance, for reasons unknown. By 10 pm, a full 8 hours later, the Clan Ranald capsized and the crew were forced into the sea, some sucked down with the vessel. Those who managed to reach the cliffs discovered that it was virtually impossible to climb over jagged rocks up the steep cliff face to safety, and many perished, some of the bodies battered beyond recognition. Those remaining in the rough seas were subjected to freezing conditions.

Troubridge locals who had seen the distress flares and recognised them for what they were, rushed down to the shore to render assistance. 24 survived of which 4 were British and the remainder, Lascars. The survivors were relocated to Adelaide, where the 4 British Officers were admitted to Woodcock's Royal Arms Hotel, and the Lascars relegated to the basement of the Prince Alfred Sailor's Home, whereupon they were subjected to a handprint and dictation test designed for them to fail. Having fulfilled this inevitability they were declared illegal immigrants under the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, relating to the White Australia Policy, and sent to Melbourne for deportation to Colombo on the Clan McLachlan. Despite this contrived legislation to get rid of them, the Lascars were given food, clothes and cigarettes by the people of Adelaide and the Mayor kindly sent them on their way with a monetary gift and good wishes.

Captain Kilpatrick of the SS Uganda claimed that he mistook the flares for light from the Troubridge Lighthouse. This takes us back to the Waratah and the crew of the SS Harlow, who also claimed to mistake distress flares for veld fires on the shore. Horrifyingly a witness from the shore alleged that the SS Uganda did in fact respond to the distress flares with a light signal, but decided to ignore the vessel in peril.

Another similarity to the Waratah apart from allegations of listing due to top heaviness, no established reason was found for the Clan Ranald listing over on her side and capsizing. There was no evidence of holes in her hull, and speculation ran to the 'stop cock' of the water ballast tanks being left open during the voyage and a crew of drunkards.

The Clan Ranald sunk in 20 m of water within easy reach of scuba divers who have plundered the wreck site, including blasting her propeller off with dynamite. Much of her collapsed hull remains with two large boilers and propeller shaft a popular scuba attraction. These wreck remains lie 14 km south west of Troubridge Hill within the Troubridge Hill Aquatic Reserve.

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