Length: Initial: 147.0 ft (44.8?m). After rebuild: 167.3 ft (51 m)
Lubra was built by Laurence Hill & Co. of Glasgow in 1860, specifically for the Australian coastal trade. It was initially 147 ft in length, and fitted with a simple 50 hp engine. It was built under Special Survey, and had two decks and five bulkheads. According to a photograph in Parsons (1986: 180) the Lubra was rigged as a two-masted schooner. It would have been expected to carry and use sails, as this was the norm for most steamers right up until the late 19th century.
Captain J.R. Hansford Ward was chosen by the initial group of owners to oversee its construction in Scotland, and then sail the vessel to Australia. His name appears on the registration papers as being one of the owners. This group formed The Steamship Lubra Co., which was later amalgamated with three of their other companies to form the Spencers Gulf Steamship Co. This was in turn taken over in 1882–83 by the Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd, who thereby became the owners of the Lubra at the time of its wrecking. The early owners included Thomas Elder and Barr Smith, the founders of Elder, Smith & Co. Despite several company name changes, substantially the same group of people owned the vessel during its working life.
In 1876–77 the Lubra was sailed to Melbourne where it was lengthened by 20.3 ft (6.2 m). This increased the tonnage from the original 246 gross, to that shown. At that time the engine was replaced by a 60 hp, 2-cylinder compound engine manufactured by D. & W. Henderson.
The Lubra was initially used between Adelaide and ports on the east coast of Australia, but it was brought to Western Australia in 1885. Just prior to this the figurehead was removed and renovations made to the accommodation, so that by the time it came to Western Australia it could accommodate 28 passengers.
The Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd’s contract with the Postmaster General of Western Australia lasted from 1885 until 1888. This contract provided for a round trip to be made from Champion Bay to Albany and return twice in every four weeks. The arrival at Albany was to coincide with the arrival there of the fortnightly P & O steamers from the eastern state capitals. After the southern contract expired, the Lubra continued in the cargo/passenger/mail trade, but between northern ports and Fremantle, until it was wrecked.
The Lubra departed Geraldton for Fremantle at 10.30 p.m. on 3 January 1898 under the command of Captain Arthur Denyer, with nineteen passengers and seventeen crew. At 9.30 the following morning the Chief Officer, Harris, altered course without advising the captain, as he thought the vessel was approaching too close to land. The course that had been set by the captain was south 1/2 east, but Harris changed this to south 1/4 west. Denyer came back on deck at 10 a.m. and saw that the course alteration had put the ship in a very dangerous situation. The engine was stopped, and then run slowly ahead to manoeuvre the vessel into safer waters. However the Lubra struck an uncharted reef that damaged the rudder, stern-post and propeller blades and caused a leak.
After the crew managed to get the vessel afloat the next morning, it proceeded towards Fremantle. However the damaged rudder carried away, and the Lubra became unmanageable until a jury rudder could be rigged. This rudder was constructed in about five hours using the ship’s derrick booms. The following morning the steamer Sultan (Captain Pitts), belonging to the rival Western Australian Steam Navigation Co., was asked to assist. The Sultan was either unable or unwilling to come and help, but did report the Lubra’s predicament on arrival at Fremantle. With the jury rudder in place, Captain Denyer had meanwhile headed towards Jurien Bay, the nearest port of shelter. There were high winds and seas when the ship arrived. Lubra had lost the two bower anchors and one of the kedge anchors as a result of hitting the uncharted reef, so the vessel was anchored in Jurien Bay, about 3 miles from the shore, using only the second kedge. The steamer Waroonga was asked to stand by.
The following day it was decided to beach Lubra off Island Point, but what had been thought to be a suitable sandy beach proved to be a line of reef. The kedge was again let go but the Lubra began pounding on the limestone and the rudder post and part of the stern carried away. The passengers, crew and mail were subsequently taken off by the Waroonga.
An inquiry was held and the Chief Officer’s unauthorised alteration of course was part of the evidence presented. The charges against Captain Denyer were as follows:
1. Neglect and carelessness in not paying sufficient attention to see that the courses he had ordered to be steered were properly kept, knowing that he had only one certified officer on board keeping watch;
2. Gross neglect in giving orders from his bunk at about 6.00 a.m., without going on deck to examine the ship’s position;
3. Carelessness in not having kept a chart in a convenient place so that officers keeping the watch could have access to it at any time;
4. Want of judgment in heading for Fremantle after getting off the reef, rather than returning to Geraldton;
5. Carelessness in not getting the starboard anchor ready to go when anchored at Jurien Bay;
6. Want of judgment in not veering more than 82 m of cable on the port anchor when anchored south of Jurien Bay;
7. Carelessness in not having left night orders in writing(Cairns & Henderson, 1995: 284).
Charges 1, 4 and 7 were found to be proven and Captain Denyer’s master’s certificate was suspended for nine months.
During the hearing Captain Denyer made accusations against Captain Pitts of the Sultan regarding his ‘inhumanity’ in failing to render assistance when requested. These accusations were later withdrawn.
The Lubra was carrying virtually no cargo and, apart from the mail, nothing was initially saved. The steamer Torrens was charted to attempt to recover the passengers’ luggage, crew’s personal effects and any moveable fixtures.
On Boiler Reef, 5 km on a bearing of 240° M from the jetty at Jurien Bay, between Favourite and Osprey Islands in 7 m of water.
The site is subject to considerable breaking surf on the surface and a strong surge on the bottom during normal swell conditions. A steam engine piston block approximately 3.7?m high just breaks the surface of the sea, and is surrounded by several lengths of propeller shaft, a thrust block, iron framing and some sections of hull framing and plating. Most wreckage lies in a depression 2–3 m deep in the otherwise flat sand and weed bottom. The extent of the visible wreckage is small, covering an area only about 25 m by 20 m.
EXCAVATION AND ARTEFACTS
During the initial wreck inspection on 15 May 1983 a sample of hull iron was raised for analysis. Also recovered were a sample of ceramic-like material, a bronze ringbolt, a bronze band and a circular rubber bushing or gasket.
Owner Adelaide Steamship Company
Master Arthur Denyer
Builder Lawrence Hill & Co.
Country Built Scotland
Port Built Glasgow
Port Registered Sydney
When Built 1860
Gouped Region Mid-West
Sinking Beached on reef
When Lost 1898/01/08
Where Lost Jurien Bay
Port From Geralton
Port To Fremantle
Cargo Flour, general
Engine 60 HP by Hendersons of Glasgow 2 Cyl Compound
Official Number 29368
Unique Number 1374
Sunk Code Wrecked and sunk
File Number 2009/0154/SG _MA-7/83
Chart Number AUS 333
Protected Protected Federal
Date Inspected 2002/10