Friday, 21 March 2014

Anecdote Saturday - SS Catterthun

The Catterthun was an iron hulled combination schooner rigged steamship, launched in 1881. She had a gross tonnage of 2179, covered 312 ft in length, and was powered by both sails and a twin cylinder steam engine of 250 hp. The Catterthun was built by William Doxford & Sons, Sunderland, England, and owned by the Eastern and Australian Steamship Company. She was designed to carry both cargo and 40 passengers.

Her main route was between Australia and China, carrying gold to China and tea back to Australia.
Her crew consisted mainly of Chinese sailors and freed East African slaves, commanded by Captain J. Miller. 7 August, 1895, the Catterthun departed Sydney en route to Hong Kong.  She carried an unclarified number of European and Chinese passengers. She ran into a gale after midnight, and struck a reef near Seal Rocks. The steamer was badly damaged, taking on water rapidly in the holds.
Confusion prevailed. Instructions to launch lifeboats were not passed down the chain of command and in the rough seas, Captain Miller and two crew were washed overboard.

The Catterthun foundered within 20 minutes, taking +/- 55 souls with her. One lifeboat, with 26 aboard, did however manage to make it to shore. Little could be achieved by way of rescue efforts due to the rough sea conditions. Two days later a further two crewmen were discovered aboard a lifeboat.

As many as 11 000 gold sovereigns were assumed to be aboard and salvage attempts were started soon after the disaster. 7000 sovereigns were recovered. Treasure hunters in the 1960's and 1970's tried, without success, to recover the balance of the gold, despite the wreck lying in only 60 m of water.

My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!

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