Wednesday, 29 June 2016


SS Sumatra:

typecargo ship
date built1889
is nicknameno
tonnage584  grt
dimensions52.2 x 8.3 x 3.7 m
enginetriple expansion engine
power61  n.h.p.
speed10  knots
yard no.187
about the loss
cause lostgale/storm
date lost26/06/1923  [dd/mm/yyyy]
casualties max.45rank: 624
about people
Howaldtswerke A. G.Kiel
next owners
[1]New Guinea Administration
SS Sumatra (+1923)
period 1914 ~ 1923
last owner
[2]Norddeutscher Lloyd - Ndl - North German Lloyd,Bremen
period 1889 ~ 1914
captainBell, Edward
no. of crew44
no. of passengers1

The Argus (Melbourne) Tuesday 3 July, 1923.

Unseaworthiness Denied,
SYDNEY, Monday

- From all appearances the loss of the 
steamer Sumatra will add to the secrets 
of the sea. No additional bodies have come 
ashore, and time has been no more evidence 
that would throw light on the disaster. 
Sensational charges have been made 
regarding the seaworthiness of the vessel, 
but these have been repudiated. 
It was stated to day that the Commonwealth 
Ministry would probably appoint a Royal 
commission to investigate the condition 
of the vessel, and that the lnquiry is being 
requested by Government officials who
desire that their position be vindicated.

There is no definite clue as to how the
vessel was lost, and the disaster has aroused
keen discussion in shipping circles. It is
generally accepted that the vessel met her
doom in the night, and the fact that only
two bodies, those of the captain and the
chief officer, have come ashore, has led to
the conclusion that the Sumatra was engulfed
by huge seas, and that those below did not 
have a chance to escape. From a mass of 
conjecture, the most tenable is that the 
chief officer was on the bridge when 
the storm broke over the vessel and 
that the situation was so alarming tha
he sent for the captain. This is supported
by the fact that Captain Bell was clad in pajamas
with his ordinary apparel hastily donned over them. 
In the terrible seas which buffeted all the shipping
along the coast, the remainder of the complement
would be kept below, and this would also apply
to the native boy, from whom, in the presence 
of danger, one or more of the officers would have taken the
Allegations and Denials.
Sensationial charges were to day made
against the seaworthiness of the Sumatra
by Mr V A B Willis, a member of the
Sydney Stock Exchange, who volunteered
for Benlee with the expeditionary force to
Rabaul. Mr Willis, who left Sydney as a
captain in the force, stated that while he
was in Rabaul he was in charge of the
militia, and that he was twice ignored in
complaints made to the authorities concerning 
the seaworthiness of the vessel.
These complaints were made against the
Sumatra in 1915, only 12 months after
Lloyds Register, the highest authority on
seaworthiness, had marked the Sumatra as
been given a classification of seaworthiness
by the Germanischer Lloyd, which is the
corresponding body in Germany.

The Mercury (Hobart) Monday 2 July, 1923.

All Hope Now Abandoned.
The Captain's Body Identified.
SYDNEY, July 1.
All hope for the safety of the unfortunate 
crew which left Sydney on Monday afternoon 
in the steamer Sumatra has been swept 
away by the events of the week end. 
The second body which came ashore 
near Crescent Head has been identified 
as that of the master, Captain E. (Edward) Bell. 
A message from South West Rocks on Saturday 
announced that a third body had been washed ashore,
but it had not been identified. Wreckage is coming 
ashore along the north coast, which is believed to 
have come from the steamer.
Along the beaches of the north coast
from Port Macquarie northward many
parties were out to day searching for
traces of wreckage or more bodies. The
wreckage picked up established beyond
all doubt that the Sumatra has been
lost. Pieces of a boat, chairs, companion way, 
and of the galley amidships,
and timber accompanied by three bodies,
made it certain that the steamer foundered 
in the gale which swept along the
coast on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Word was received by the Secretary
of Navigation on Saturday that the tug
Undaunted, which left Port Macquarie
on Friday had returned after a fruitless search.
The police of the north coast have
been supplied with a full description of
each of the white people on board in order 
to assist with the identification of
any bodies that might come ashore. One
of the most difficult tasks was communicating 
with the relatives and families
of the people on board, and answering
anxious heart rending inquiries, which
were prompted by the news that the
steamer was missing.
The statement that the vessel was
overloaded was denied by Mr W C Harvey, 
manager in Sydney of the New
Guinea Trading Agency, the agents for
the vessel. "I was particularly careful," 
said Mr Harvey, "to see that
everything was all right in connection
with the steamer before she sailed, and
on Monday afternoon I went down my-
self to go over the boat before she left
the wharf. The Plimsoll mark was
then six inches above water, and the
vessel was riding appreciably higher at
the bow " Mr Harvey added that Captain 
Bell was a most careful and scrupulous man
An eye-witness, who was close to the
Sumatra as she proceeded down the 
harbour on her last voyage, also said that
the vessel was not overloaded. The
Plimsoll mark was above water, and the
mark forward was about two feet above
Important information was gained on
Saturday morning regarding the life-
boats and life saving gear. During the
stay in Sydney, not only was the vessel's 
hull thoroughly overhauled and repaired and 
engines inspected and over-hauled, so as 
to gain a certificate from the Department of Navigation, 
but the life saving apparatus was scrupulously
attended to. The Superintendent of
navigation (Captain Morse) was particularly 
careful with the lifeboats of the
vessel, and before granting a certificate
he ordered one of the lifeboat's to be
overhauled This was done, and when
the vessel sailed her two lifeboats were
as seaworthy as it was possible for boats
to be. The two lifeboats carried were
considered ample for the whole complement 
of the vessel The lifebelts were
also inspected and brought up to the
standard required by the Department
of Navigation Three new regulation
belts were shipped, and this fact may
account for the belt round the body of
the second officer (Mr Fewtrell) bearing no name.
The value of the cargo on board was
£5,500. It was consigned to the Expropriation 
Board at Rabaul but was not covered by insurance, 
and did not exceed 300 tons.

Another mystery of the sea and no concrete explanation as to the cause of the loss. Rumours of unseaworthiness abounded, promptly refuted by the agents and officials. 

Sounds familiar?  

One thing is clear, the Sumatra, like the Waratah, was not a SPOTTED ship - insurance cover would have been high if the owners were 'expecting' a total loss at sea - which suggests that the rumours were unfounded. 

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