Near Fisherman's Island, 50 miles south of Dongara
Built by Werf Gusto, Firma A.F. Smulders of Schiedam (Holland) for the New South Wales Government, the Cambewarra was designed to carry 400 tonnes of blue metal from the government quarries at Kiama and Port Kembla. It was specially designed for the rapid discharge of this cargo. It had two engines. The vessel was valued at £20?000. The Cambewarra was on its maiden voyage from the builders to Sydney under the command of Captain Van der Key (Van der Hey in the Proceedings of the Court of Navigation, WAM File MA-3/90) with a crew of fourteen. The captain had planned to sail through Torres Strait to his destination but en route he calculated that the strong currents in the strait would mean burning more coal than he had left on board. With no bunkering port near Cape York, he decided to sail via Fremantle instead, and take on coal there. He did not, however, have any detailed charts for this route.
After bunkering at Colombo in Sri Lanka the Cambewarra sighted the Western Australian coast on 1 February 1914. Because of high winds, the captain kept close to shore to minimize the amount of water the ship was taking from the heavy seas. It passed through the Geelvink Channel and sighted Point Moore Lighthouse at a distance of three miles. At 1.05 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, 3 February, doing 7.5 knots; it struck a reef a number of times but finished in clear water. The vessel was then steered away from the coast on a westerly course. It was found however that the port propeller was broken and the ship was taking in water entering through two large holes under the engine room. Attempts to stop the inflow of water using tarpaulins failed. The rising water extinguished the boiler fires, so steam was blown off to lessen the chance of the boilers exploding. Without boiler pressure the Cambewarra had neither engine power nor steam for the steam pumps. The vessel then drifted, with the men hard at work on the hand pumps. By daylight the ship was some 4–5 miles from where it had struck.
The ship’s boat was dispatched under the command of the chief mate, B.J. Staal, second engineer and three crewmen to row east to the coast (estimated to be 14 miles away) to get assistance. They reached shore, and Staal and two others headed north to seek help while the others remained where they had come ashore. After a 32 km walk that took a day and a half, the three men reached Dongara. The light keeper at Dongara advised the Geraldton harbour-master, who then sent a boat to collect the two crewmen still on the beach.
Shortly after the departure of the ship’s boat, two fishing boats arrived at the Cambewarra. These were Lapwing, owned by Angelo Fortunata, and La Mascott. The seas were too high for Lapwing to come alongside, so its dinghy was used to transfer some luggage and personal effects from the Cambewarra. While this work was being carried out the second mate, W. Roeske, and two crewmen launched a small boat. They had barely got into this dinghy when the Cambewarra’s stern went under and it heeled over to starboard and sank, upturning the boat and dragging all three men under the water. They managed to regain the surface and were picked up by one of the fishing boats. The sinking Cambewarra also sucked Captain Van der Key and the first engineer under, but they too were able to swim and were picked up by La Mascott.
Both fishing boats took the survivors to Fremantle, La Mascott had three and Lapwing had six aboard. The fact that the first mate and his crew had reached Dongara, and the two on the beach had also been rescued, was not known in Fremantle and so the Chief Harbour-Master dispatched the steamer Penguin to search for the crew of the Cambewarra’s boat.
There is a disagreement of facts between Totty and Loney. Totty indicates that all crew survived, while Loney states that that there was a loss of six lives. Various sources in WAM File MA-3/90, including the Court of Navigation proceedings and contemporary newspapers, indicate that all crew were rescued.
As the vessel was under the Dutch flag until handed over to the New South Wales Government, the Dutch Consul in Fremantle, R. Strelitz, proposed to hold a preliminary inquiry into the sinking. A Court of Navigation in the Netherlands on 15 May 1914 found that ‘reason of the wrecking of the Cambewarra must be ascribed to its striking a rock which was on its course but not indicated on the map’ (Proceedings of the Court of Navigation, quoted in WAM File MA-3/90).
Apart from personal effects saved by the fishing boat Lapwing no salvage was carried out. The vessel was covered by insurance on behalf of the builders, as the contract for construction was for safe delivery under steam at Sydney.
The Cambewarra lies in deep water 11.8 miles from Island Point, 8.37 miles from Seal Island, 10.8 miles from Green Head and 8.75 miles from North Head (all radar distances).
The wreck lies on a N–S axis on a sand bottom in 57 m of water. It appears to be virtually upright, with the lower part of the hull buried to a depth of 2–2.5 m. The bow and stern sections are relatively intact but the midships has collapsed inwards. The wreck is 45–47 m long and 10–12 m wide amidships. There are no loose artefacts visible.
Owner NSW Goverment
Master Captain B. H. van der Hey Jr
Builder Werf Gusto, firma A. F. Smulders
Country Built Netherlands
Port Built Schiedam
When Built 1913
Gouped Region Mid-West
Sinking Holed on reef
When Lost 3686
Where Lost Near Fisherman's Island, 50 miles south of Dongara
Position Information GPS
Port From Schiedam, The Netherlands
Port To Sydney, NSW
Cargo Delivery voyage
Official Number No Official Number, as the vessel was on its delivery voyage and not yet registered
Unique Number 1441
Sunk Code Foundered
File Number 2009/0082/SG _MA-3/90
Chart Number AUS 753, 333, 1033
Protected Protected Federal
Date Inspected 1990/04