Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - PS Agnes Irving
Clark Irving (sometimes seen spelt as Clarke) was born in Bromfield, a small village near Wigton, Cumberland, England in 1808. In 1833 he married Adelaide Thanet and in 1836 they arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
|The PS Agnes Irving
Painting by James Cameron of Maclean
Image courtesy of Clarence River Historical Society
His first profession in the colony was as a watchmaker and jeweller in partnership with Richard Lamb. They were also merchants, agents and wool buyers. This partnership ended in 1842. The next year, 1843, Irving purchased Casino station on the Richmond River, on the Far North Coast of NSW. He also became director of the Australasian Sugar Company.
He obviously was well known in Sydney as he was secretary of a committee set up to farewell Caroline Chisholm (the famous nurse) and a steward at a public dinner for W. C. Wentworth (who was first to cross the Blue Mountains with Lawson and Blaxland).
By 1856 he had stations in the Darling Downs (South East Queensland), Gwydir and Maranoa districts and grazing leases of 279,040 acres in the Clarence River area. In 1856-7 Irving represented theh Clarence and Darling Downs area in the first Legislative Assembly for New South Wales (Queensland was not yet a state). He lost this seat at the next election and later stood unsuccessfully.
On 24 January 1857 Francis Mitchell, Clark Irving and Robert Waterson founded the Grafton Steam Navigation Company. One of the auditors was David Jones who went on to found the famous Sydney retail shop that is still in business today. In 1860 the directors decided to increase the capital of the company and at the same time it was renamed the Clarence and Richmond Rovers Steam Navigation Company. Irving became the Managing Director.
He managed to get a Goverment grant of Â£20,000 to improve navigation on the Clarence River. He wanted this to be the main sea port for the very rich New England/Armidale area. In 1858 Irving was a foundation director of the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company and a director of the Australian Joint Stock Bank, the Australasian Steam Navigation Company and two copper-mining companies.
In 1859 he started the Clarence & Richmond Examiner newspaper. By 1862 he was importing sugar though David Jones and Company. As you can see, Clark Irving was certainly a big player in the colony of New South Wales in the the 30 years he had been in Australia.
The PS Agnes Irving was a iron hulled vessel over 203 feet in length and displaced 440 tons. It was built in 1862 at Deptford Green, London, England. I am pretty sure that it was named after the eldest daughter of Clark Irving, the owner of Clarence and Richmond River Steam Navigation Company (CRRSNC). It was was specially adapted for crossing the shallow river bars of NSW. She was powered by twin 130 hp oscillating two cylinder steam engines, each turning one paddle. Clark Irving was also a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly representing the Clarence and Richmond Rivers area.
A report in the Courier (now called Brisbane Courier) on Monday 24 November 1862 said that the Agnes Irving has been signalled off the coast (not sure what this means) a nd that she was built for Mr Clark Irving and the Clarence trade but had been bought by the Australian Steam Navigation Company. This report does not appear to have been correct.
The following appeared in the Courier on Friday 28 November 1862:
The following description of the newly arrived steamer Agnes Irving is given by the Herald:
|Length over all
|Length between perpendiculars
| 199ft 5in
|Length of keel for tonnage
| 24ft 0in
|Breadth on deck
| 26ft 0in
| 12ft 2in
|Draught of water
| 6ft 0in
|Depth in hold
| 11ft 0in
Tonnage 566 76-94 tons O.M.
The engines wore manufactured by Mr. John Stewart, of Blackwall. They are a pair of 70-horse power, or 140 united. During the trial trip they worked up, it was reported, to 980 indicated, or seven times their nominal power. By the terms of the contract the ship was to be propelled twelve knots per hour. At the measured mile in Long Beach, at the top of flood tide, she made a speed of 13.688 knots but had to ease to give way to the Widgeon river steamer, coming out from Northfleet with a pleasure party, which ship was being steered in a direction right across the Agnes Irving's bow. Against the tide her speed was 11.180. She was then turned about, and performed the distance a second time, making 14.1 with the current, and 13.180 against it. Mean speed 13.5 knots, or an average of 1.5 more than stipulated for. She had 50 tons of coal on board. Diameter of cylinders 40 inches, stroke 4 foot 6 inches, revolutions per minute 32, pressure of steam 30 lb. The engines are horizontal, with oscillating cylinders, the only novelty in the machinery being a double eccentric, such as is used in locomotive engines. ""The link of each is attached by a cross bar, worked by screw and cog wheels. The centre or spar-wheel is worked by a hand-wheel, and both engines are operated upon simultaneously with ease. This permits the steam to be cut off at any part of the stroke, and affords great facility for working large engines. She has a single air pump and two boilers. The Agnes Irving was built under the special survey of Mr. Robinson, of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and is fitted with the latest improvements. She has Mr. Robinson's patent ventilator in the panels of her cabins, such as are fitted to the Peninsular and Oriental ships. On the exterior there is an open fixed venetian paneling; inside there is a rising flap, on hinges, permitting them to be run a few inches fore and aft to admit air, or to close the apertures. On raising the inner or falling flap, the openings are all free and clear. the iron cleats, stanchions, belaying pins, chains, and strops, whichever seen, are galvanized. The derricks at the hatchways are on Taylor's patented plan; and there is a vertical boiler, and a small donkey engine for supplying it with water, fixed just forward of the funnel, to supply steam to the cylinders of the derricks. The Agnes Irving has suffered by the bad weather encountered, and has lost her sponson houses, with which exception she has arrived in excellent order.
On Saturday 13 December 1862 the Agnes Irving left Sydney for the Clarence River. It appears to have operated this route for at least the first part of her career.
It was reported on 24 December 1862 that Mr Cracknell arrived at the Clarence River with "Electric Telegraph" equipment which was expected to be installed and operating by 17 January 1863.
Just after midnight on Sunday morning, 18 January 1863, Thomas W. Daft, Chief Officer of the Agnes Irving was seen to board the ship by the Chief Engineer. It was later stated that "there was not the slightest ground doubt as to (his) sobriety". At 6 am it was noticed that he was missing and a search was made without success. At about 1 pm a diver found the body of Mr Daft. He had a mark on his face and it was believed that he fell and hit his face, falling overboard and drowned (he could not swim).
On Tuesday 27 January 1863 the Clarence River was in flood, flowing over the banks into the town, and the Agnes Irving was unable to discharge her cargo.
On 6 February 1863 in the Brisbane Courier newspaper, there was a complaint that the steamers of Clarence and Richmond River Steam Navigation Company were not adhering to a promise made by Clark Irving for his ships to collect corn and other goods from Chone's Wharf at Ulmarra.
On Wednesday 3 June 1863 it was reported that Clark Irving had resigned from his seat in the NSW Parliament. It appears that he had been overseas for some time, probably in England overseeing the construction of a new ship which is mentioned below. In the same paper, it was announced that as the Agnes Irving had been such a success, the CRRSNC had ordered a new ship built along the lines of the Agnes Irving but 15 feet longer. It was expected to be launched in four months time.
The Clarence and Richmond Observer reported on 9 June 1863 that the Reverend W. Johnson had arrived in the area on the Agnes Irving to take up his position as the Roman Catholic priest. He had come from the Illawarra area.
On Tuesday 9 June 1863 at about 9 pm, a seaman named Drury Brown was washed overboard from the Agnes Irving and drowned. Brown and another seaman named Bryden were sent aloft to assist in securing the forelry sail. Shortly after returning on deck, the vessel shipped a heavy sea. It was very dark and a gale was blowing from the south-south-west. Brown was not seen to go overboard nor was he missed until 10 pm. Brown was 40 years of age and a native of Konigsberg. Prussia.
In the week leading up to 14 June 1864, the PS Telegraph was hit with heavy seas on her trip from Brisbane to Sydney. She did not arrive in Sydney till 4 pm on 17 June and suffered so much damage she could not do the return voyage. Accordingly, the Australian Steam Navigation Company chartered the PS Agnes Irving to take the mail to Brisbane "in order to prevent disappointment to the Brisbane public". The Agnes Irving left Sydney at 7 am on Wednesday 15 June 1864 and arrived in Brisbane at 8 pm on Friday 17 June 1864. Her skipper was Captain C. Wiseman. She brought the April mail from England as well as four passengers. The Telegraph would later sink on 8 October 1867 just south of Port Macquarie when she hit a rock.
The Agnes Irving left Brisbane on Sunday 19 June 1864 with 13 passengers as well as some in steerage. She also carried a large number of bales of wool and hides as well as three horses and fruit. She also had two cases of gold bullion worth Â£7140 being sent by the Bank of NSW (now Westpac). She arrived in Sydney on Tuesday 21 June 1864. After this the Agnes Irving returned to her normal Sydney-Grafton run.
On Thursday 13 October 1864 the PS Florence Irving, the new paddle steamer ordered by the CRRSNC, arrived in Brisbane. She was also intended to be used on the Sydney to Grafton run.
In late January 1865 Clark Irving died in England.
At 4:45 am on Friday 20 October 1865 the Agnes Irving left the CRRSNC wharf at Grafton with 15 passengers including Lord Bishop of Newcastle. She proceeded to Ulmarra where she tied up at Mr Wharrell's wharf. Captain Maides gave the order to cast off and as she left the wharf, "the lad" Robert Young (Engineer's Assistant - from Glasgow) heard a hiss of escaping steam. He was in the engine room and he climbed into a small tank of cold water. The Engineer, Thomas Hickey (native of Manchester) followed Young but could not fit in the tank so he ran for the ladder.
The ship was astern slow and had only done about six revolutions of the paddles when there was a huge explosion. The boiler guages showed the boilers to be well supplied with water, there was less than 15 psi pressure (25 psi was permitted on her operating certificate) and the safety valve was open and steam escaping. The vessel continued in reverse and ran aground on the other side of the Clarence River. As no one could enter the engine room, the engine kept running till the fires were put out by hot steam and water. The rudder was damaged.
Hickey was caught by the blast and was badly scalded. He had a wife and six children. I am not sure if he survived. Fireman Hugh Jones (from North Wales) was killed immediately, severely scalded and with a broken skull. The Second Engineer, Robert Cunningham (Londonderry - he was single), was also in the engine room and he was severely scalded. He died about three or four hours later.
Fireman Salvadora Fernandez was on the deck standing near a grating. The rising steam scalded him and he also died before medical aid reached the ship. Another fireman, George Hill (Dublin) was standing near Mr Fernandez (they were having coffee) and he was also fatally scalded. He did not die for some time, almost making it to Grafton.
Upon examination, it was discovered that the port boiler was spilt completely open. It was not clear what had caused the boiler to burst. Parts of the ship and water landed 300 yards away in the grounds of Mr Walls' house.
Jones left a wife and three children, Hill left a wife and five children and Fernandez was engaged to be married at the end of the trip in Sydney. Robert Young was burnt on the face and one leg and foot was scalded.
As a result of the explosion, four men were killed and two seriously injured.
At 4 am on Monday 30 October 1865 the Agnes Irving left Grafton using the starboard boiler and being towed by the PS Urara. In the evening of Tuesday 31 October when off Tacking Point (Port Macquarie) the tow parted when the hawser the line was tied to broke. The Urara stayed with the Irving till 9 am on 1 November 1865 and she later that day arrived in Sydney.
On 8 November 1865 the NSW Government announced that there would be an investigation into the explosion and that the Inspector of Steam Boilers had been suspended until the results of the enquiry were known.
On Friday 15 November 1865 The Brisbane Courier reported that the enquiry by the members of the Steam Navigation Board was underway and that it had recommended that Mr Evans, the Government engineer, surveyor and inspector should be suspended and that Mr Napier should he appointed to act in the position. This recommendation was adopted by the Government.
I have not yet been able to find out the results of the enquiry or what actually caused the boiler to explode.
It appears that the repairs to the Agnes Irving were not completed till sometime in March or April 1866 as the next mention of the ship I can find in papers is not till she arrived in Sydney on 11 April 1866 from Grafton. It appears she returned to her normal run. I believe that two new boilers were fitted to the ship during the repairs as I have found a newspaper report that says identical boilers were later fitted to the (slightly larger) sistership PS Florence Irving.
At 3 pm on Wednesday 2 May 1866, the CRRSNC ship PS Urara sank when she hit the south reef at the entrance to the Clarence River (site of Yamba township). The Agnes Irving arrived on the scene at daylight on Saturday 5 May 1866 with divers and diving equipment with a plan to attempt to raise the Urara. It was immediately obvious that salvage would not be possible so the Agnes Irving continued onto Grafton.
In 1867 the Agnes Irving was working the North Coast run as she carried school supplies from Sydney to Lawrence which is on the Clarence River. The cost was two shillings. I am not sure if these supplies were for the Lawrence Primary School or for the Casino Primary School (since this information came from a web site page entitled " History of Casino Primary School"). Either is possible.
On Wednesday 22 May 1867 the Agnes Irving left Sydney bound for Gladstone. I assume that this is the small town on the Macleay River in NSW, not the town in Queensland. This appears to be a one-off voyage.
On Sunday 23 June 1867 Captain Creer took the Agnes Irving into Newcastle to collect mail and passengers who had been stranded there because of floods on the Hunter River. He then proceeded to Sydney.
Sometime before 8 August 1867 the Agnes Irving collided with the schooner Welcome Home off Bird's Island. I believe that this is Bird Island, near Lake Macquarie on the Central Coast. Both were said to be much damaged. I cannot find any more mention of this incident.
On Saturday 15 May 1869 the Agnes Irving arrived in Grafton with the famous race horse "Fireworks". The owner, Graham Mylne accompanied the horse and was enroute to his station Etonswill on the Clarence River.
In April 1870 the Agnes Irving took Lieutenant Gowland to Grafton with his staff. He had been appointed to survey the Clarence River prior to it being dredged.
|The PS Agnes Irving at Lawrence on the Clarence River - 1870
On the evening of Monday 30 May 1870, the Agnes Irving was alongside the wharf and the CRRSNC river steamers Ramornie and Ulooa were tied up to her. Seaman Antonie Barbeck (or Darbeck), 22 from Hamburg, tripped over an eyebolt while shifting the stern line of the Ramornie. He fell overboard and between the river steamers. He appears to have immediately sunk below the surface. His body was found almost straight away by using a boathook but it was 45 minutes before it could be recovered using grappling hooks.
In mid 1873 the sistership of the Agnes Irving, the PS Florence Irving was renengineered and the paddlewheels removed. Twin screws were fitted and the ship extended by almost 28 feet (making her now 43 feet longer than the Agnes Irving). In addition, new engines with greater power were fitted. She would only serve about four more years as in 1877 the Florence Irving was wrecked off Port Stephens.
On 8 December 1874 the clipper ship Centurion was either entering or leaving Sydney Harbour when it had a collision with the Agnes Irving. The Centurion sank just over 12 years later on 16 January 1887 inside the North Head of Sydney Harbour.
On 24 June 1875 it was reported that a man named Kennedy threw himself overboard from the Agnes Irving and he hit the paddlewheel of the ship and he was instantly killed.
In 1876/77 the skipper of the Agnes Irving was H. Crear.
On 3 June 1879 a cutter named the Chance left Newcastle skippered by Charles Smith. There were two other seamen on board. Their destination was Lake Macquarie. Before they reached Lake Macquarie, a stiff westerly gale drove the vessel out to sea some 70 miles. All their efforts failed to get the craft back against the constant land winds that prevailed. Day after day passed and the and the little craft was tossed about by violent winds. Once or twice there were hopes of regaining the land but each time adverse gales swept the cutter seaward.
There were very little provisions on board (as the trip was so short) and the crew were on short rations for the first twelve days till finally the last piece of bread and the last pint of water was divided. The succeeding four days were passed without a particle of food.
Just as they were only a day from succumbing to starvation, the PS Agnes Irving under the command of Captain Bracegirdle, came across them at 9 am on 19 June 1879 a little north of Port Macquarie. The cutter was observed flying a blanket as a signal of distress. The men said they were starving and unable to keep their leaky, weather beaten craft free of water.
A boat in charge of Mr Harper, the Chief Officer, was sent with provisions, and on its
getting alongside the cutter one of the men got into it, declaring if they did not take him away he would drown himself. The other seaman then got into the boat and the master, Smith, also left, declaring that the vessel was sinking. They were then taken on board the Agnes Irving and under "the careful and kind treatment they received, steadily recovered". They arrived back at Sydney yesterday. When the cutter was last seen she was drifting to the eastward.
In November 1879 the Agnes Irving came back into service after Â£4,500 was spent on refurbishing her.
At 1pm on Christmas Day 1879 the PS Agnes Irving left Sydney bound under the command of Captain McGee for the Macleay River with 12 to 15 passengers and a small general cargo. While trying to enter the Macleay River (the old entrance which is located about five kilometres north of the current entrance at South West Rocks) at about 1pm the next day (Sunday 26 December 1879) the Agnes Irving hit bottom while crossing the bar and became stuck on the South Spit. She was immediately hit by a large swell which drove her onto the spit and the engines became useless. All of the passengers and crew were taken off the vessel at about 9pm (Captain McGee was the last to leave) and only their luggage was saved.
On 29 December 1879 it was reported that there was no possibility of saving the ship as the water was now over the forecastle of the ship and the poop was under four foot of water.
The Agnes Irving was valued at about Â£12,000 and insured for Â£9,000. By 12 noon on 27 December the ship was breaking up and the Captain advised Mr John White, Manager of CRRSNC, that there was no hope of saving the vessel. I am not sure whether the cargo was removed. It would appear that the ship at some time was washed (or pulled) off the spit and now lies in the open ocean.
In December 1888 the Clarence and Richmond River Steam Navigation Company was renamed Clarence and Richmond and MacLeay River Steam Navigation Company Limited. In 1890 it merged with John See and Company and became North Coast Steam Navigation Company. This company survived till 18 February 1954 when competition from rail and road forced it into voluntary liquidation.
|A diagram of the PS Agnes Irving by John Riley
John Riley Memorial Collection, Heritage Branch, OEH
As mentioned above, the wreck of the PS Agnes Irving is located off the old entrance to the Macleay River. This is off the small town of Stuarts Point. After coming out of the Macleay River (beware of the bar - it is very dangerous), head north of 8 kilometres till you are jsut off Stuarts Point. The GPS Reading for the wreck is 30Âº 48' 29"S 153Âº 00' 14"E. Note that all the GPS Readings on my Web Site are taken using AUS66 as the map datum. If you use another datum you may be about 220 metres off the wreck. See my GPS Page for more details and how to convert readings.
|Peter Trayhurn with the paddlewheel remains
|The main midships section of the wreck
Even though it sank in 1879, almost 130 years ago, its intactness is quite amazing. Its shallow depth (13 metres) means that you can spend ages exploring the wreckage. The wreck is in five sections. The bow faces the west, still heading towards the entrance of the Macleay River (remember, this was the old entrance and it no longer exists). The bow is in one piece, tipped on its starboard side and nearby is a small boiler (auxiliary power for winches?). About 10 metres east is the middle section of the boat. This is sometimes almost covered in sand. Adjacent to this is the huge boiler.
Another 10 metres to the west is the main part of the wreck. This contains the engines and the hull on either side still stands high. On the port side there is the almost complete paddlewheel, lying flat on the sand. Near is a double bollard. On this side in front of the engines is a large wheel of some sort. Further east is a low section of wreckage and about 10 metres to the east again (and a little south) is the stern section of ship.
|The engine of the Agnes Irving
|The engine's flywheel
The fishlife on the wreck is also very good, with fish inside every part of the wreck. A great dive, with 10 metre visibility being very good although you could make do in four metre visibility.
When diving South West Rocks, I recommend South West Rock Dive Centre. Contact them on 02 6566 6474.