Tuesday, 28 June 2016



typepassenger/cargo ship
date built1883
tonnage567  grt
dimensions57.7 x 7.5 x 4.9 m
engine2 x 2 cyl. Compound engine, dual shaft, 2 screws
power98  h.p. (rhp)
yard no.65
IMO/Off. no.83765
about the loss
cause lostcapsized
date lost05/04/1908  [dd/mm/yyyy]
casualties max.38

The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 17 April, 1908.

BEGA, Thursday. 1
The members of the Navigation Department 
conducting a preliminary Inquiry concerning 
the foundering of the steamer Bega,
opened the investigation at Tathra this
morning in the wharf shed. During the examination 
Captain Newton critically examined witnesses 
who are employed on the wharf as to the presence 
of a broken pile at the end of the wharf. 
Witness stated the pile was broken by 
a bump by the steamer Allowrie some 
time ago. Much may hinge on the presence 
of the broken pile. It appears quite possible and 
feasible for injuries to have been caused the 
vessel (Bega) even by a slight surge bumping the 
ship against it that a plate may have started 
which caused the foundering.
Walter Dolton the postmaster at Tathra,
deponed that he noticed the ship had a slight
list when she left the wharf.  He was not
of opinion that the ship was overloaded. The
list was more than usual. He had often seen
boats come in with a bit of a list. 
After the examination of various witnesses
Mr Russell said that In order to prevent any
misunderstanding he would with the chairman's 
permission read a statement made by
Captain Bishop, master of the Bega, in Sydney.
Mr Russell then read the following
statement - I have been at sea for about 50
years and I have been in command of vessels
for about 27 years. I have been master of the
Bega for the past 10 years. She had just been
thoroughly overhauled and everything was in
good order with her refrigerating machinery
on the port side and her ballast tanks full.
The ship empty she would have a normal
slight port list. We left Eden and came to
Tathra. As near as I can judge she was
drawing 7ft 9in forward and 8ft 9in aft when
she left Tathra wharf. That is a mean
draught of 8ft 3in. On the port side the centre
of the disc would perhaps be immersed about
2 or 3 inches. I looked fore and aft at 8 o'clock 
on the port side to see how she was
drawing fully laden. The centre of disc
would be 21 inches above the water. Pigs
were put on the port side after that. There
were about 150 pigs the total weight of which
would be I suppose 7 to 10 tons. I should
say 7 tons would lower her further in the
water; from half an Inch to an inch or more
so that she must have been at least one and a 
half to two inches clear when we left Tathra
The cargo was certainly well stowed. 
There could be no shifting. 

Once butter is put in it is impossible for it to

shift. We put what deadweight there was
below and in my opinion It was quite sufficient 
deadweight. We had the after ballast tanks both 
full but not the fore ballast tank, and she had a 
slight list to port but nothing of any importance 
and everything was in good order. I did not look 
at marks on the ship after I looked at Tathra at 6 
o'clock. It is dark soon after 6 pm. I looked before
it got dark. The ship certainly was not top heavy
We left Tathra at 7 pm on the 5th inst.

There was a slight easterly wind and easterly 

swell. After running the usual course for Bermagui 
about an hour I could see the vessel was taking 
a greater list to port. I asked the chief engineer if 
the after ballast tanks were full. He assured me they
were and to confirm the same we got a sounding rod 
and we both went and examined the tanks. We found
on removing the plugs from the top of the tanks they 
were all full. I also asked about water in the bilges 
of the engine room. I found that there was not 
sufficient water for the bilge pumps to act. 
The cargo could not shift and the only thing 
that could account for an increasing list was loose water. 
We sounded the fore and aft holds. While the ship was 
listed to port we found no water, the sounding pipe being 
on the starboard side of the keels. On the starboard the pipe in
the forehold would be about 1ft from the centre of the ship 
and in the after hold it would be about a foot. As the vessel 
was listing more and the wind freshening being on the
starboard side we decided to turn round and get the wind 
and sea on the port side and went dead slow with the 
engines while trimming the ship to try and get upright.
After shifting a number of pigs over she remained upright 
for about a minute and then suddenly listed to starboard 
at a greater angle than before. The list increased which would
indicate that water was coming In somewhere. 
She was gradually getting lower by the head which 
would indicate that water was coming in the forepart 
of the ship somewhere. At this time he heard someone say
there was water in the tween decks. He again sounded the 
forehold 1 and found 2ft of water. It was quite evident the 
ship was in a serious condition. He told the chief officer
to unship the gangway and drive the pigs
overboard. Up to that stage he had no thoughts
that the position was serious but when she
listed that way he thought the position was
serious. Up to the time the pigs went over
board he had no idea the ship was in any
danger. When he found that the pigs did not
make any difference he came to the conclusion,
it was better to get the passengers out and
not try to beach the vessel for to try to
work the propellers with the ship like that
would only make things worse. He burnt
blue lights to attract the notice of a steamer
which appeared about two miles off and by
the glare of the blue lights saw the side upper
door open on the starboard side and water
rushing in in large quantities. The ship was
then lying on her beam end. He turned round
again but the ship would not right herself.
He ordered the starboard lifeboat to be pushed
out which was done in a few minutes and the
women and children placed in her in charge
of the chief officer, stewards fixing lifebelts on
them before going. At this time the quarter
boat on the port side was being lowered with
difficulty, the second officer jumping in and
bringing her round to the starboard side where
the remainder of the women and children were
placed in her and sent away. The lee side of
the deck being then flush with the sea it
made it impossible to get the port lifeboat
out. They got the rafts launched from the
awning deck with great difficulty the men
being unable to keep their feet. The rafts
were properly fitted and the boats were well
equipped. The rafts pushed off from the ship
and stood by till she sank about 20 minutes
after leaving her. Before leaving he expected 
every lurch of the ship to be her last as she 
was very low in the water forward. 
The officers and crew worked splendidly 
and order was thoroughly well maintained. 
If this had not been so there must have been 
considerable loss of life. The successful launching 
of the boats and rafts and the placing of people in 
them was entirely due to the splendid manner 
in which the officers and crew obeyed orders. There
was no sign of panic and the passengers behaved splendidly. 
They were about four miles off land. By the ship's 
usual course they would be about one mile or one mile 
and a half off land when he turned her round, put the
helm to port and then stood south with the
engines going dead slow. Then he put her
round again and that would take her out
again and as well there was a south east
current. It was not likely that she struck
the wharf at all at Tathra to cause any injury.'


Unique ID:19589
Description:BOT Wreck Report for 'Bega', 1908
Creator:Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown
(No. 7178.)

"BEGA" (S.S.).

The Court of Marine Inquiry, at Sydney.

IN the matter of a formal inquiry held at Sydney, before His Honour Judge ROGERS, K.C., assisted by HENRY WITHERSPOON, Nautical Assessor, and JOHN HENRY BERRY, Engineering Assessor, into the circumstances attending the foundering of the British ship "BEGA."

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, comes to the decision following:

(1) The British ship "Bega" (Official No. 83,765) was a steel awning-decked steamship of 567 tons gross, and 305 tons nett tonnage. Her length was 189 feet, and her beam was 24 feet. She may be described as a fairly flat bottomed vessel of light draft. She was surveyed by the Navigation Department, and was under overhaul for ten consecutive weeks, concluding in March of the present year. It is stated that her hull was in good seaworthy condition and all sound.

(2) She left Sydney on the third day of April last for Eden via Wollongong, Bermagui, Tathra, and Merimbula, which are all ports on the south coast of New South Wales. As she was not to call at Merimbula on her return trip, her cargo from Merimbula for Sydney was shipped on the way to Eden. Having taken in cargo at Eden, she left that port early on the morning of the fifth day of April, and arrived at Tathra at 6.15 a.m. the same day. The cargo taken in at Merimbula amounted to a little over 47 tons, that at Eden to a little over 18 1/2 tons, and that at Tathra to something approaching 62 tons 14 cwt., and it may therefore be taken that her cargo in round numbers amounted to 130 tons. She also had 53 passengers and her crew, amounting in all to 76 persons. The cargo was distributed as follows:

In the holds there were 60 tons 5 cwt. 3 qrs. 621bs.

Between the main and awning decks 60 tons 12 cwt. and 17 lbs.

On the awning deck 7 tons 8 cwt. 1. qr.

The cargo in the after hold consisted principally of undumped wool, in weight nearly 10 tons.

The after tanks, which held about 81 tons of water, were filled just before the vessel left Tathra.

The fore hold contained various items of cargo, the principal part of which consisted of wattle bark packed up in bags and weighed about 47 tons.

There were on board also 171 pigs, which, together with a horse and some calves, were put on the awning deck.

(3) The captain states that about an hour before leaving Tathra the vessel was drawing 7 feet 9 inches forward, and 8 feet 9 inches aft; this was before the Tathra pigs were put on board.

Mean draught 8.25 ft. - Depth = 16 ft. - freeboard = 7.65 ft. almost double the value for a ship of this size, suggesting that she was light (top heavy) when she departed Tathra...confirmed by total cargo 130 tons, total capacity about 600 tons = 22% full. Forehold cargo predominance compensated by 81 tons water aft ballast tanks. 7 tons pigs on awning deck (similar effect as coal on Waratah's spar deck, but worse - mobile / shifting) = 5%.

She was observed to have a list to port of from 4 1/2 to 5 degrees shortly before she left Tathra wharf, but this does not appear to have caused any anxiety as it was supposed to be due to the trimming of the cargo, and also was not exceptional, as several voyages had been made with the vessel in a similar condition. (refrigerating machinery on port side = slight list to port). She left Tathra wharf about seven in the evening bound for Sydney via Bermagui. It was a fine clear night, with a slight north-easterly swell, and an east-north-east breeze. When the vessel got under way, she righted herself a little, but, shortly before eight o'clock, the list had increased to such an extent (said to be from 10 degrees to 12 degrees), and the ship being then down forward, that the captain examined the after ballast tanks. They were found to be full. (The fore tank had been sounded on the previous evening about ten p.m., and found to then contain two inches of water.) The after and fore holds were then sounded and no water at all was found. About ten minutes past eight the engines were slowed, and the vessel turned round with her head to the south, it being thought that the wind, which was freshening from the east, and the shifting of some of the pigs from the port to the starboard side, would right the ship. Accordingly thirty-five pigs (the weight of which would be about 1 1/2 tons) were driven over from the port to the starboard side, and the vessel came upright for a very short space of time (the captain says about half a minute), and then fell to starboard with a greater list than she had ever had to port. The chief officer was directed to drive the pigs over to port again, but was unable to get them up the incline of the deck; and the captain then told him to unship the gangway, and let them go overboard. About 120 pigs were put overboard, their weight being about 6 tons. While the pigs were being put overboard, the captain sounded the fore hold again, and found two feet of water. He then directed the boats to be put out and the engines to be stopped. The starboard lifeboat was first put out, the time then being about fifteen minutes past nine. It was found impossible to get the port lifeboat into the water on account of its position and the list of the vessel. The port quarter boat was lowered, and two rafts were also launched. The boats and rafts took off all the passengers and crew, and also the body of a passenger who had died just previously. The coast was reached safely. There is no doubt that the starboard lifeboat leaked very seriously - it is said that she bumped heavily several times against the steamer when taking off the passengers, and this may have started some of the planking. She has since been examined by a competent shipwright at Bermagui, and all her woodwork found to have been in a sound condition.

(4) The "Bega," after she was abandoned, went round with her head to the north, and in about twenty minutes appeared to get momentarily on an even keel, and then sank head first. There can be no doubt that the immediate cause of this disaster was the presence of loose water in the ship. It appears from calculation that the depth of two feet of water in the fore hold indicated a body of water weighing forty tons. How that water got there is, and will probably always remain, a mystery; one theory is that the "Bega" must have struck either a submerged log or submerged wreckage after leaving Tathra and received such injury that a leak was caused and the water so got in. But, of course, this is nothing more than speculation, and the grave questions now for consideration are, whether the vessel was improperly loaded, and, if so, whether such improper loading tended to cause the disaster. The opinions of the chief officer (a duly certificated master) and of the chief engineer, founded on their practical experience of her, were that she was a tender ship, i.e., easily affected by distribution of weight. And, bearing in mind that there were approximately 65 tons in the lower holds, 58 tons on the main deck, and 11 tons 8 cwt. on the awning deck, and also having a strong impression that she was not originally designed to carry cargo on her awning deck, the Court, fortified as it was by the evidence given in the first instance by the expert called by the Navigation Department, would have strongly inclined to the opinion that, when the "Bega" left Tathra, she was in such a touchy and sensitive condition, owing to the disposition of her cargo, as to be incapable of resisting any abnormal or unusual condition that might have arisen. And the Court would also have been much impressed with the view that, but for such improper loading, she might have been able to continue her voyage to Sydney, or make the nearest port without disaster, notwithstanding the existence of the loose water.

(5) However, after the expert evidence above mentioned had been given, a postponement of the hearing was allowed on the application of the Illawarra Steam Navigation Company, Limited, in order that the evidence of other experts might be obtained. And, accordingly, three experts were subsequently called who stated that, independently of each other, and in possession of all available data, they had made calculations which enabled them to state with absolute certainty that, when the vessel left Tathra, she was neither overloaded nor improperly loaded, but was in a perfectly stable condition, and that the disaster was due to loose water coming into the ship at a constantly increasing rate.

(6) In the face of such evidence it would amount almost to an assumption of infallibility for the Court to hold to the view it had previously been inclined to entertain. And, therefore, the decision must be that the Court is not satisfied that there was improper stowage which conduced to the loss of the vessel. With regard to equipment, the Court cannot see that there is any evidence of insufficiency. The leaking of the lifeboat seems to have been due to damage suffered when taking the passengers off the vessel. With regard to the absence of sticks for the rockets it seems that they had been mislaid, and whoever is responsible for their custody is deserving of severe reprimand for not having them placed handy to the rockets.

(7) As to the action of the captain when he realized the danger of his position fault cannot be found, and both he and his officers appear to have done all they could to save life when the ship was abandoned, in which endeavours they were happily successful.

(8) But there is one matter that seems blameworthy, both as regards the chief engineer, and, in a perhaps lesser degree, the captain. The sluice valve in the bulkhead, which separates the fore hold from the engine-room, appears never to have been opened. When suspicion as to the condition of the ship first arose, it would surely have been a prudent step to have opened the valve, especially as the ship was down by the head. If there was then any serious amount of water in the fore hold, some must have flowed into the engine-room, from which it could have been easily pumped out, and indication of the danger would have been probably given in time to allow of some steps being taken to prevent the loss of the ship.

(9) Considering all the circumstances of the case, the Court does not deal with the certificates of either the master or the chief engineer.

Dated this twentieth day of June, 1908.



I, John Macvicar Anderson Bonthorne, Registrar of the Court of Marine Inquiry at Sydney, hereby certify the foregoing to be a true copy of the decision of the Court in the matter of the inquiry into the circumstances attending the foundering of the British ship "Bega."

Dated at Sydney, this seventh day of July, 1908.


Registrar of the Court.

(Issued in London by the Board of Trade on the 28th day of August, 1908.)

120 Wt 4 8/1908 D & S 1 33357

This is a fascinating case study with issues harking back to the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. It was acknowledged that both vessels were inherently tender / top heavy: "she was a tender ship, i.e., easily affected by distribution of weight". Bega had a 'flat bottom', 'light draught' no doubt to assist with the clearing of sandbars gaining access to ports along the coastal route. This made her inherently tender. Waratah on the other hand had an additional third superstructure deck which made her inherently tender despite adequate depth of hull. Both ships needed adequate cargo deadweight and ballasting to offset top heaviness. 

It was noted that the Bega was NOT designed to carry cargo on the awning deck, especially 7 to 10 tons of 'shifting' livestock. Being only 22% loaded for the voyage in terms of total cargo carrying capacity the Bega with double freeboard for her size was significantly tender / top heavy when she departed Tathra and should not have had cargo of any kind on the awning deck. The refrigeration machinery on the port side must have caused trimming challenges, hence the general list to port, particularly when empty. 

When the port side list first was noticed to have become significant / problematic - an additional 7 degrees to port after an hour into the voyage, NO FREE WATER WAS FOUND IN EITHER HOLDS. By assumption at 8 o'clock there was no good reason for the increase in list unless the pigs had moved en mass over to the port side of the awning deck by themselves prior to intentionally being moved - not likely.

There could be another reason. Bega went to sea in light condition and with only the aft ballast tanks full, perhaps a decision was reached to partially fill foreward ballast tanks to increase GM and steady the ship. If this was done, free water would intentionally have been introduced to the fore end of the ship, which would naturally have destabilised her, increasing a list to which ever side (shifting centre of gravity).

If the culprit had been free water - as alleged - in the foreward hold, the captain would surely have opened the sluice valve to allow water to drain into the engine room from where it could have been pumped out. This was not done suggesting that the catastrophe was created by attempting to fill ballast tanks at sea. She was after all 'in such a touchy and sensitive condition, owing to the disposition of her cargo, as to be incapable of resisting any abnormal or unusual condition that might have arisen'

The captain, himself, denied that the Bega had sustained damage against the 'broken pile'. Bega was essentially in 'good condition'. But like circumstances aboard Waratah, it was tricky establishing a suitable GM / stability and in both cases a price was paid. I suspect in the case of the Bega, the captain and officers were lucky to escape censure. 

Bega was underloaded and too light - Waratah was stable but too heavy.

The captains couldn't win...

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