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    TSS Hall Caine
    Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - TSS Hall Caine The TSS Hall Caine was launched on 26 October 1912 at Coopernook on the Manning River on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. The new timber ship was almost 40 metres long and displaced 214 tons. Built by Denis Sullivan, the Hall Caine was a coal powered steamship with twin engines. It had a single boiler. The compound engines were built by Poole and Steele Sydney of Balmain to the designs of Messrs. James R. Thomson and Son, of Pitt Street Sydney.

    I presume that the ship was named after the famous English author, Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine. Sir Thomas was born in 1853 in Runcorn, Cheshire, UK. He was trained as an architectural draughtsman, but became a journalist and gradually took up literary work. His novels, some of which were set in the Isle of Man, sold by the million, were made into plays and films, and were translated into many languages, It is surprising that today he is hardly known and that none of his books are currently in print. He wrote the famous novels The Manxman, The Christian (the first of his books to sell over a million copies, it was staged and twice filmed. ) and The Prodigal Son amongst many others. A number of other things were named after him, including the Hall Caine Airfield in West Ramsey.

    A Photograph of
    Sir Thomas Hall Caine

    The clock of the Hall Caine
    Courtesy of Damian Smith

    He moved his residence permanently to the Isle of Man in 1895 and was elected to the Manx House of Keys in 1903. He was made a Knight of the British Empire in 1918, a Companion of Honour in 1922 and granted the Freedom of the Borough of Douglas in 1929. He was created an Officer of the Order of Leopold by the Belgian King in 1917. He died in his home at Greeba Castle in the Isle of Man on 31 August 1931.

    It is not known why the ship was named after Sir Thomas, but I suspect it was because the first owner was named Nicholas Cain and it was a play on his name.

    The first owner was Nicholas Cain (Director N. Cain's Coastal Co-op. Co. Ltd). In 1916 the ownership changed to John Storey Rodger (but may have been run by Allen Taylor and Co., Ltd.) and in 1918 it changed again to Holyman Brothers (Ltd) of Launceston, Tasmania. In 1924 the ownership changed once more to William Holyman and Sons of Launceston, obviously related to the previous owner. The register was transferred to Melbourne at the same time. The last change of ownership was in 1933 when it was sold to Rocco Edmund Caminiti of Bondi, Sydney. The register changed to Sydney.

    At the launch there were about 400 to 500 people watching, including some on the vessel. It was built primarily to carry timber, up to 77,000 feet, but also other goods. There were no passenger accommodations. It was to run between Wauchope and Sydney.

    The ship was towed to Sydney to have her engines installed, arriving on Friday 15 November 1912. She was towed by Messrs. J and A Browns’ tug Gamecock. Even though she was not powered, a load of timber was in her holds.

    The first mention I can find of the ship in service in a newspaper is that on 31 December 1917 the Hall Caine arrived in Brisbane from Sydney. On Tuesday 15 January 1918 she was to sail from Melbourne for Sydney but it appears she might not have left till 17 January. On 24 January 1918 she left Sydney for Newcastle.

    TSS Hall Caine

    On 12 June 1918 she left Sydney for Brisbane. This seems to imply that the ship was on a regular route from Melbourne to Brisbane via Sydney and other ports. Around this time the vessel was sold to Tasmanian interests as detailed above.

    On Monday 7 October 1918 the Hall Caine was to leave Melbourne, probably for King Island. However, another report I found said it left Hobsons Bay (this is the bay immediately next to the city of Melbourne) bound for Duck River, Smithton in Tasmania (to the west of Stanley) at 5 pm on Tuesday 8 October 1918. It now appears that it was on a regular run as the next week it did the same voyage and Friday 18 October 1918. On 27 October 1918 she returned to Melbourne.

    For the next 11 years or so the Hall Caine plied this route with apparently little trouble, although there were a couple of incidents. On 14 July 1923 it was reported by The Argus (see references):

    that on both her last two trips from Smithton in Tasmania to Melbourne, the small wooden steamer Hall Caine, of 272 tons register, has met with fierce squalls in Bass Strait, and sustained extensive damage.

    The Hall Caine was put into dry dock at Williamstown yesterday with her stern bulwarks stove in by heavy seas and scattered over her decks in a disorderly mass. Captain MacDonald said yesterday that a westerly gale whipped up a choppy sea something like the rip, only more so which began to crash over the Hall Caine with monotonous regularity. As the gale increased in force, so the seas became higher and more vicious. One wave crashed up against Captain MacDonald's cabin on the bridge, stove in the port, and saturated his bunk and many of his belongings.

    Another sea struck the cabin of the chief mate (Mr. Bradley) smashed the wooden walls and for the second time, swept away all his personal effects. A third sea flooded the stokehold, and the crew was forced to tend the fires in swirling water. "One sea struck us with such force, said Captain MacDonald, "that the Hall Caine shuddered from stem to stern, and for a moment I thought that the whole of the port side had gone". Captain MacDonald caused the steamer to be hove to, and for a day and a night she remained with her head to the weather. When running for shelter to Flinders, the Hall Caine ran aground, but was later refloated and after bunkering, came on to Melbourne.

    On 21 July 1928 the Hall Caine lost her rudder in a gale off the Victorian coast and was towed to Melbourne by the Holyman steamer Laranah. A new rudder was being fitted to the vessel when she was in dry dock. Other minor repairs were also made at the same time. She resumed her run to the Gippsland Lakes in mid-August 1928. It seems that when purchased by Holyman her regular run was a weekly service between Melbourne and Lake Entrance, reaching this port on Sunday, and leaving again on Tuesday each week. The mishap caused her to miss one trip.

    At 9:00 am on Friday 26 October 1928 the Hall Caine passed Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, obviously on this regular service.

    On Wednesday 17 September 1929 the Hall Caine was removed from service and was kept in Melbourne and laid up. At some time it appears she was moved to Launceston in Tasmania where she was kept laid up. Here she was to stay for the next three and a half years.

    In the afternoon of 15 July 1933, the Hall Caine left Low Head for Sydney. Low Head is the entrance to the Tamar River which runs up to Launceston. As far as I can see, this was the first voyage to Sydney since 1918. The reason for this trip became apparent on Tuesday 18 July 1933 when it was announced the the ship had been sold to Cam and Sons of Sydney. Cam and Sons were operators of a large number of fishing trawlers, including the SS Olive Cam and SS Goolgwai that were later to sink near Eden and Malabar respectively. The Hall Caine was to be used as a store ship for the trawlers.

    In October 1933 the Hall Caine had engine trouble on a trip from Newcastle to Sydney. The trawler SS Olive Cam came to her rescue. On 6 November 1933 she left Sydney for "North".

    On Sunday 23 December 1934, a violent storm hit Sydney. On Sydney Harbour, three small boats were capsized. The occupants were rescued by the Water Police, a Manly ferry and the Hall Caine.

    On 4 February 1936, the Hall Caine was forced to turn back to Sydney after losing a tap from one of her seacocks.

    A painting of the TSS Hall Caine

    On Wednesday 17 March 1937, the Sydney Morning Herald reported heavy seas were pounding the NSW coast. Extremely heavy rain was falling right along the coast, with floods around Coffs Harbour and the Audley Weir in Royal National Park, southern Sydney, closed due to flooding. It was reported that many places had over 10 inches (250 mm) of rain in the preceding days.

    At 10:55 am the Hall Caine left Sydney Harbour bound for Lake Macquarie, just south of Newcastle. It was carrying a cargo that included tea and drums of benzene. Its skipper was Captain Donald B. Stanley-Turner (given as Captain Turner in later press reports) and there were a total of nine on board.

    By 4:30 pm the Hall Caine had only made it to Cape Three Points. This is the most easterly point of the mouth of Broken Bay (Hawkesbury River) and just south of Avoca. At this time it had big problems. It started taking on water and at this time, the Captain decided to send up distress signals (flags, flares or rockets?). The SS Indant was heading south from Lake Macquarie to Sydney with Able Seaman Eric Woodger at the wheel when he spotted the signals and came over to investigate.

    The Hall Caine's boiler fire had been put out by water and it was heavy at the stern. It was also listing to starboard. There was a heavy swell running, but apparently it was not too bad. Until the Idant turned up, Captain Turner was about to order the lifeboat to be launched. An interesting fact is that a few years earlier, Captain Turner had been employed on the Idant!

    Captain G. Manson, the owner and skipper of the Idant (I have also read that the Indant was owned by Cam and Sons), decided to take the Hall Caine in tow and attempt to make Broken Bay where he hoped to beach her. All the Hall Caine crew except for the Engineer were taken off the ship and onto the Idant. Captain Turner and an Able Seaman later returned. It seems that Turner then removed the ship's clock and perhaps some other things.

    Once underway, the going was very slow. In the next 90 minutes the pair of ships only made six miles (9.6 kilometres) towards Broken Bay. By this time the Hall Caine was in a hopeless condition and about to sink. The list to starboard had increased dramatically. Captain Turner and his two crew took to the lifeboat and rejoined the Idant.

    At Palm Beach, a few kilometres away, Miss Jessie Grant and Miss Marie Kinnard were on holidays. They noticed the two ships and using a pair of field glasses, they watched the drama unfold.

    At 6:50 pm, the Hall Caine rolled over and sank, witnessed by not only the crews of the Hall Caine and Idant, but Misses Grant and Kinnard. They appear to have reported the sinking to the authorities as the Sydney Morning Herald later interviewed them.

    A Court of Marine Inquiry was held with Justice Curlewis presiding. After Peter Baikie, a shipwright's surveyor, had given evidence regarding the ship, His Honour remarked "With a new hull, new engines and new masts, she would become a perfectly good ship"! Captain Turner stated that he had become used to seeing a certain amount of water in the engine room. He also said that about midday the men told him that while they were in the mess room they heard a noise which he thought could have been fastening in the hold going.

    When the evidence had been concluded, on Monday 3 May 1933 Judge Curlewis handed down his decision. He remarked that he had reached the conclusion that the Hall Caine was a coffin ship and that it should never have gone to sea. ''We are inquiring into the reason why the steamer went down in a calm sea," continued Judge Curlewis. "Not the slightest blame attaches to the master, the mate, or the engineer. I think they all did very well indeed We have had evidence that she was a thorough patchwork job".

    Judge Curlewis also said "The reasons that the ship sank were that the hull was rotten, the hand pump was in bad order, and not properly fitted with a strainer, and other pumps could not be worked because the boilers could not supply sufficient steam".

    The wreck was apparently known to fishers but was not revealed to scuba divers until 1976 when a fisher told Les Graham, owner of Terrigal Diving Centre. The fisher told Les that he pulled the bell to the surface one day when fishing (a bit hard to see how a fisher could catch the bell!). Corrosion had eaten away part of the name and the fisher called it the "alcaine" wreck. When Les later asked him what became of the bell, he said it lay around in his garage for a while and then he took it to the tip! When Les dived on the wreck the same year, he said that the timber had already rotted away.

    Wayne Heming with one of the enginesAnother shot of one of the engines
    Photos by Rudy Van Der Korput

    However, all the engine room gauges were still in place in front of the engines and on either side of the boiler there were pressure gauges galore. They all sat on the ends of copper piping and brass fittings, swaying in the surge. Because of the lack of actually seeing the bell, it was a while before the name of the wreck was known/worked out. Apparently the wreck became known to quite a number of divers on the Central Coast but for about five years, not one piece of the brass or one gauge was removed from the wreck. Then, the wreck was plundered and every gauge and "stealable" item was removed as was a great deal of the copper and brass.

    Today the TSS Hall Caine lies in 45 metres of water off Bouddi National Park on the Central Coast. A GPS Reading of 33Âș 32' 49'S 151Âș 25' 20"E will put you near the wreck. There is normally a buoy on the wreck to make it easier to find. For more details, see GPS Page.

    One of the props of the shipWayne Heming with one of the props
    Photos by Rudy Van Der Korput

    As you drop down the mooring to the wreck, the first part you see is the huge boiler which reaches up to 38 metres. The top of the boiler has some very nice sea fans of many different colours as well as some sponges and sea squirts. The mooring is attached to the port engine. The twin engines are quite large and there is a considerable amount of copper and brass in the area between the engines. The prop shafts can sometimes be seen but in October 1997 they were both under the sand. The large props have three blades, two of which can be seen. There is a good deal of fishing netting and ropes in this area.

    Returning to the engine area, the boiler is a very interesting part to examine. You can see under the boiler which sits clear of the sand. There are some conger eels and large flatheads in this area. The front of the boiler has two large fireboxes. These are also home to some conger eels, at least three on my dive here. There are more in the boiler pipes. From here, swim forward and you will see a small winch and some unidentified circular ring-like objects which are also home to conger eels.

    Not sure what this is - note the commercial fishing wirePerhaps the funnel top?
    Photos by Wayne Heming

    In front of here there are a couple of steel girders (possibly parts of a crane system?) but there is not much else.

    This is a very compact wreck site, not even as big as the wreck of the TSS Wandra which it resembles in a number of ways. It is quite easy to explore the whole wreck in detail in one dive of about 14 or 15 minutes. Worth a dive every year or two.

    As with other deep wrecks, you must be experienced and properly equipped before attempting to dive the TSS Hall Caine.


  • Sydney Morning Herald 17 March 1937 - page 18
  • Sydney Morning Herald 18 March 1937 - page 11 and 12
  • Personal conversation with Les Graham, owner Terrigal Diving Centre, 11 October 1997
  • E-mail from Les Graham, owner Terrigal Diving Centre, 23 October 2000
  • Short Web Biography of Sir Thomas Hall Caine
  • Argus - Tuesday 1 January 1918
  • Argus - Saturday 12 January 1918
  • Argus - Saturday 5 October 1918
  • Argus - Wednesday 9 October 1918
  • Argus - Saturday 27 October 1928
  • Argus - Monday 17 and Tuesday 18 July 1933
  • The Courier Mail - Tuesday 7 November 1933
  • Canberra Times - Thursday 18 and Friday 19 March 1936
  • Canberra Times - Tuesday 4 May 1936
  • Emails from Damian Smith dated 25 April 2017
  • The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate Saturday 2nd November 1912
  • Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate Monday 18th November 1912
  • The Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW Saturday 5th April 1913
  • The Daily Telegraph - Thu 15 Aug 1918
  • The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.) Sat 14 Jul 1923
  • Daily Commercial News and Shipping List - Sat 4 Aug 1928
  • Advocate (Burnie, Tas) - Tue 4 Jul 1933
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